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Pensacola News Journal
December 24th, 2000
Bringing Them Home
Pensacola News Journal
December 24th, 2000
Military Experts To Decide If Recovery Risks Acceptable
The Mercury News
June 15th, 2003
A Final Honor For Vietnam War Casualty
Washington Post
June 18th, 2003
At Last, Flight Crew at Rest
Detroit Free Press
June 19th, 2003
9 Veterans Honored At Burial -- 35 Years Later
Crosswind
July 4th, 2003
It's Been A Long Time Coming

BRINGING THEM HOME
By David Tortorano
Pensacola News Journal
December 24th, 2000
(Forwarded by Mike Walker)

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MILITARY EXPERTS TO DECIDE IF RECOVERY RISKS ACCEPTABLE
By David Tortarano
Pensacola News Journal
December 24th, 2000
(Forwarded by Mike Walker)

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A FINAL HONOR FOR VIETNAM WAR CASUALTY
By Barbara Feder Ostrov
Mercury News
June 15th, 2003

For 35 years, Rebecca Siow missed her husband Gale like a phantom limb: there but not there, the Navy airman who disappeared during the Vietnam War brought pain and uncertainty every time she thought of him.

The San Jose woman has known for some time that her husband perished in 1968, along with eight other crewmen, when his plane crashed in a remote and mountainous region of Laos. But late last month, the Navy arranged for the crew to be buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Gale is coming home. And Siow, at age 60, thinks now she will find the peace she has craved for decades.

On Saturday her younger son Sean flew to Honolulu to escort the remains of a father he never knew to Arlington. There, surrounded by family, Petty Officer 3rd Class Gale Robert Siow will be laid to rest along with the rest of his crew. A group ceremony will take place Wednesday, with Gale's burial on Thursday.

``I never had a chance to grieve,'' Siow recently told the Mercury News, her eyes tearing. ``It will be a relief finally to welcome him back, to find rest in the soil of the country he fought for and loved.''

On a cloudy day in November 1967, Gale Siow hugged his wife and children goodbye at Alameda Naval Air Station on his way to his final mission. He was 27.

Sean was only 1 1/2 years old. Robert, 4, and Elizabeth, 3, were barely old enough to understand what was happening. But Rebecca was worried.

``I've been told it's a slow bird,'' Gale Siow told her earlier. ``I have a feeling somehow I may not come back from this mission.''

Indian bloodline

Gale Siow, part Hopi and part Laguna Indian, had been working as an insurance company accountant in Huntington Park when his brother Larry, a Navy man, urged him to join up. It would give some shape to his life, he said. Larry gave him a crash course in electronics, allowing Gale to start his Navy stint as a radio operator.

Born in Albuquerque and raised in Arizona, Gale Siow had been an easygoing athlete, pole vaulting and running track and playing football at an Indian high school, his widow said. Reserved and meticulous about his work, he ``never raised his voice,'' she said. ``He was such a nice and gentle person.''

His tastes were simple: He drank Bud, liked Chinese food, watched westerns and laughed uproariously at Jerry Lewis and the Three Stooges. Rebecca can't recall why his squadron nicknamed him ``Beaver.''

They had met at a YMCA dance in San Francisco. ``He was just an absolutely stunning young man,'' she recalled. ``I said to myself, `If I ever marry, he's going to look like that one.' ''

She had recently graduated from high school when they began dating in July 1962. She was 19, he 21 when they married. As they bounced from Memphis to Alabama to Alameda as his career progressed, she grew to accept the loneliness of the military wife.

But his absences always stung.

On Jan. 11, 1968, Gale Siow, his fellow crewmen and a mascot dog named Snoopy took off in a Lockheed OP2E from an air base in Thailand. Their plane was designed to drop electronic sensors to detect truck movements along a North Vietnamese supply route through Laos known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Military experts believe the plane, flying through dense clouds, crashed on the side of Phou Louang Mountain in the Khammouane province of Laos, according to the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.

The wreckage was discovered two weeks later. But the remoteness of the crash and continuing enemy fire kept U.S. forces from retrieving the plane or its crew.

The fateful call

Rebecca Siow was in a ceramics class on the base when the call came. A chaplain and two officers asked her to sit down, asked if she needed anti-depressants.

``I couldn't bring myself to cry because there was so much confusion,'' she said.

Within weeks, her husband was presumed dead. But she still wasn't sure he was truly gone, even after a memorial service was held in late January 1968.

``It just didn't hit me,'' she said. ``I tried to find my emotions, but I couldn't find them there.''

After the memorial service, Rebecca was at a loss. How could she work and at the same time raise three children? Traditional in his values, her husband had discouraged her from having a career.

The Alameda military community was a comfort, but she wanted to make a fresh start. She bought a home in the Cambrian district, but felt her husband's absence even more keenly amid the sympathy and casseroles from neighborhood homemakers who all had husbands.

Rebecca Siow and her children moved several times, as she tried on different careers like sweaters: cosmetologist, travel agent, receptionist at a Stanford sleep laboratory.

The Navy would send letters updating her husband's case. Because of the family's moves, she didn't get all of the letters. Unlike other squadron wives, she didn't always keep in touch with the Navy officer assigned to her husband's case, something she now regrets.

Lots of questions

``There was always a `but,' a little question,'' she said. ``Was it the actual plane? They did not know for sure. It was very frustrating.''

When the Navy considered calling off the search, ``that was the bottom,'' she said. ``Here we are in America, with all of its technology, and it's too dangerous to bring Gale home? My husband and his crew gave their lives for this country.''

But the Navy reversed its decision. From 1993 to 2002, a series of missions retrieved the plane and the remains of its occupants.

Gale's sister, Jo Anne McKenzie, and Rebecca's daughter donated samples of DNA to help the Navy identify him. There wasn't much left to work with, just a small section of his femur and part of his jaw, along with an identification card.

In the meantime, there were certain joys, such as son Robert's marriage in 2001, and larger tragedies: daughter Elizabeth, 38, died of liver and kidney failure in February.

Gale's death did not change his family's views on the justness of the Vietnam War, or any war.

``They did a job they were trained for,'' Robert Siow said. ``He lost his life for us, his family, his country.''

Now, with the Navy's missing-in-action case #0982 finally complete, there is pride, remembrance, a sense of finality.

``There's closure now,'' Robert Siow said. ``We just didn't think our dad would ever come home.''

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At Last, Flight Crew at Rest
Burials End 35-Year Wait to Honor Men Lost in Secret Mission
By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 18, 2003; Page B01
Washington Post
June 18th, 2003

The mourners who gathered at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday included widows who have become frail since their husbands died at the height of the Vietnam War, children now grown into middle-aged parents, and comrades in arms turned gray.

For 35 years, they had waited to bring home the nine men, members of a secret Navy squadron who perished when their plane plowed into a Laotian mountainside on a mission so hush-hush the government wouldn't speak of it for years. They maintained hope when one recovery effort after another failed to retrieve everyone's bones from treacherous ledges on a sheer cliff surrounded by a snake-infested jungle. After all, they assured themselves, the military is expected to move mountains to bring back its dead from the battlefield.

This week, three decades of waiting end with a series of funerals that hold a measure of hope for families of the 1,876 Americans still unaccounted for from the war in Southeast Asia.

Two crew members from the Navy plane that crashed in Laos in January 1968 were buried yesterday; three more will be in the next two days. In addition, there will be a group funeral today at Arlington, with a coffin holding bone fragments that DNA analysis could not identify.

Three other crew members already have been laid to rest in the past month. Arrangements are undecided for the ninth crew member. The crew's mascot, a bull terrier named Snoopy who died in the crash, will be buried elsewhere because Arlington cemetery does not permit dogs to be interred.

Many believed the crewmen's remains would never be retrieved from the remote and unforgiving mountainside, where their bodies were located within days of the crash. For a time, it was considered too dangerous to risk other men's lives attempting the recovery of dead men's remains.

But family and friends persevered. One son threatened to launch his own recovery mission in a rented helicopter, and former squadron mates mounted a letter-writing campaign urging the federal government to bring the Navy crew home. From 1993 to 2002, investigative teams returned to Laos six times, battling monsoons, poisonous vipers and leeches as they rappelled down the north wall of Phoulouang Mountain, to recover bone fragments that took more than a year to analyze.

This week's funerals are the reason the teams led by Joint Task Force Full Accounting -- a unit established to find missing service members -- kept returning.

"It's sad, and you could cry at any moment, but it's a celebration, too," said Sue Jenkins, whose husband, Lt. j.g. Denis Anderson, will be buried tomorrow, as she left the funeral yesterday of his flight crew leader, Cmdr. Delbert Olson. "It's a promise kept."

Their secret squadron was called VO-67. Formed in 1967, it existed for 500 days. Twelve nine-man crews flew hundreds of dangerous missions along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia, which remained classified information because the United States was denying that its forces were operating in those officially neutral countries.

In an effort to stop North Vietnamese troops and supplies from moving south into the war zone, the Navy had twin-engine OP-2E Neptunes drop sensors along the trail that burrowed into the ground to monitor footsteps and truck movements or that hung in trees to eavesdrop on conversations. The network was called "McNamara's Line," after then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara.

The U.S. planes flew perilously close to the ground, in straight lines for several minutes at a time, and thus were ready targets.

"We all knew it was going to be dangerous," said retired Navy Cmdr. Adam Alexander, 73, who headed a VO-67 crew. "I'd go right down the treetops. To this day, my crew swears that when we landed, I had limbs hanging on my engines."

During a six-week period in 1968, the squadron lost three planes and 20 crewmen, including the nine aboard Olson's plane.

Flying alongside Olson the morning of Jan. 11, 1968, Alexander had just finished dropping his sensors and climbed above the clouds. Listening in on Olson's frequency, Alexander heard him tell the forward air controller, "I am going down through this hole in the clouds."

"And that's the last thing you heard," said Alexander, who considered Olson a skilled pilot and believes that he was shot down.

Twelve days later, an Air Force reconnaissance plane located the crash site on the sheer side of Phoulouang Mountain, about 150 feet below the 4,583-foot summit. The cockpit was burrowed into the mountain; a section of the fuselage landed below on a nine-foot-wide ledge. The landing gear was on another ledge, 200 feet below the first, and the tail an additional 400 feet down on a third ledge.

The bodies of a few crewmen could be seen scattered across the site, along with that of the mascot, Snoopy.

For the next three decades, the site was virtually untouched.

"It's an extremely hazardous mountain," said Tom Holland, scientific director of the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, which did a series of DNA tests on the bone fragments. "That's the reason no recovery could be attempted at the time of the initial loss."

That and the fact that the area was heavily defended.

The first three investigative teams, sent in 1993, 1994 and 1995, failed to locate the crash. A fourth team, deployed in 1996, recovered some human remains and dog tags but was forced to stop because of the dangerous conditions.

"I was upset," said David Olson of Prairie Village, Kan., who was 7 when his father died. "Everybody who goes and fights for his country deserves to come back, hopefully alive. I wanted to try again. I was ready to get a helicopter and go. A dear friend who works in the aerospace industry was going to fly with me, to get people to get the guys out."

David Olson was not the only one frustrated by the lack of progress. Squadron members who started having reunions in 1999, one year after their mission was declassified, began lobbying government officials, urging that recovery efforts resume.

Holland said the team was ready to try again, anyway. "It reached a point after we had done some recoveries in Tibet and China on similar sorts of terrains, we realized this site was within our capability," he said.

The mission still was one of the most difficult ever conducted. Because of cloud cover and monsoons, teams could be sent only during February and March. Twice, in 2000 and 2001, a team flew in by helicopter and rappelled down to the crash site. They brought a medic because of the potential for fatal snakebites from bamboo vipers and banded kraits. They hacked through thick vines with machetes. They trod on ground undulating with leeches. They camped on the mountain for weeks at a time.

"Why?" Holland said. "Because those men . . . were somebody's husband, father, brother or son. It's a debt we owe, one generation to another. It's not only keeping faith with a generation past, but with a generation in the future that is going to be sent in harm's way. It says, if something happens, we're going to get you back."

To the sons and daughters of those who died and to the men they served with, the risk was worth taking.

"This gave me one more chance to do something in my father's honor," said Richard Mancini, 36, of Amsterdam, N.Y., who last month buried his father, Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Mancini, and is attending the Arlington funerals this week. "The only thing I'd ever done for him was to escort his body from Hawaii to America."

Also on that flight was Sean Siow, who was only 2 weeks old when his father, Petty Officer 3rd Class Gale Siow, was lost.

Siow, who lives in San Jose, will see his father buried tomorrow at Arlington. "It was something I felt I had to do," he said. "Anyone who has someone missing from a war, I hope it gives them hope."

Like Mancini and Siow, most of the relatives who have gathered for one final goodbye say they consider the occasion a happy one.

"It's a great day, because he's home," said Eric Thoresen, 37, of Phoenix shortly after burying his father, Petty Officer 2nd Class Donald Thoresen, yesterday morning. "I lived all my life wondering, 'What if he is still alive, living in the jungle, even starting a new family?' This brings closure."

Where the naval airmen lay for 34 years, there is a bronze plaque bearing their names. In all the years they were on "this sacred Laotian mountain," the plaque reads, "these VO-67 heroes were not forgotten by their country."


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9 Veterans Honored At Burial -- 35 Years Later
Families Say Good-Byes To Loved Ones Missing Since 1968
By Frank Witsil
Free Press Staff Writer
Detroit Free Press
June 19th, 2003

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. -- On a drizzling Wednesday morning, the families heard the names of their loved ones read aloud -- Delbert Olson, Michael Roberts, Denis Anderson, Arthur Buck, Philip Stevens, Richard Mancini, Donald Thoresen, Kenneth Widon and Gale Siow -- and knew with certainty they finally could mourn.

Alive only in photographs and memories for so long, their boys came home.

The families came to Arlington to bury loved ones missing for more than 35 years. The funeral -- which included a horse-drawn caisson, a traditional Navy firing party, and a somber playing of "Taps" -- will let the dead, and perhaps also the living, finally rest in peace.

"This is a day of memories," a Navy chaplain said in a small chapel filled with mourners.

A widow held her husband's wedding band. A sister touched her brother's casket. A daughter, now grown, said good-bye.

Nine Naval aviators, three from Michigan, went to war in southeast Asia more than 35 years ago, flying dangerous and secretive missions into Laos -- where, at the time, officials said there was no fighting. They disappeared on Jan 11, 1968, when their airplane, an OPE2 Neptune, crashed into a mountain.

They were presumed dead.

But all the families had were messages from Western Union, old photographs and hope.

"I never got to say good-bye," said Dana Snyder. She was 8, and her brother was 7, when their father, Cmdr. Del Olson of Arthur, N.D., died.

"When you are a child and you never see the person and never see the remains, you can't conceive that he is really gone," she said. "You still fantasize and want to believe that he still may be alive."

The last picture of the three of them together is preserved in a photo album. In it, Olson, the plane's pilot and executive officer, is wearing his uniform. Snyder, now of Overland Park, Kan., is on one side of him, her arm draped around his shoulder, and her brother, David Olson, now of Prairie Village,Kan. is on the other.

"He didn't want to be left out there and forgotten," Snyder said.

So, she said, they brought him to Arlington, "the most honorable place to be."

Here, among the rolling hills and magnolia trees, 260,000 veterans are buried in long, neat rows and marked with marble headstones. This is the resting place of President John F. Kennedy, at whose grave an eternal flame burns. From this cemetery, you can see the tip of the Washington Monument, pointing toward heaven.

Each year, the federal government spends $100 million to search for U.S. servicemen lost in war, Pentagon spokesman Larry Greer said. Since the Vietnam War ended, 699 missing people have been accounted for. Another 1,884 are presumed dead, but still out there. More are missing from other conflicts: 8,100 from the Korean War and 78,000 from World War II, he said.

The interest in recovering men lost during the Vietnam War is so intense because it was such a controversial conflict, said Lewis Carlson, professor emeritus of history at Western Michigan University.

"There is a cynicism that was not there in World War II," he said.

Mary Schantag, archivist for POW Network, a nonprofit in Skidmore, Mo., has compiled about 5,000 pages of information from public records and published news accounts on missing military personnel and posted them on the Internet.

"The families aren't always comfortable with the information they are getting from the government," she said.

Documents about the OPE2's missions in Laos were not declassified until 1998, family members said.

In fact, the missions were so secretive that crew members were forbidden from discussing them with anyone, Adam Alexander, 73, of Whitefish, Mont., said. The commander of another crew that flew the day the plane crashed, he said he could hear the lost plane's final radio transmission.

"The last thing I heard was: 'I'm going down through a hole in the cloud,' " he said.

Then, nothing.

What happened?

"Only God knows," Alexander said.

The missions the VO67 squadron that flew in Laos for less than two years were dangerous because the aircraft were "too big, too slow and too vulnerable," said Michael Walker, 65, of Pensacola, Fla. He was part of another crew of Navy fliers in the same group.

Charlie Tiffany, 58, of Kissimmee, Fla. attended the funeral to pay respects to his best friend in flight training, Lt. j.g. Arthur Buck, of Sandusky, Ohio.

"He was so strong, I saw him pop a football -- made it burst," Tiffany said. "It's funny the things you remember."

Excavation teams began recovering the nine men's remains in 1996. The wreckage was on a steep cliff, which made the effort difficult, Pentagon officials said. And last month, the Pentagon said it recovered as many remains as it could. Bones that could be identified through DNA analysis were returned to the families for burial.

The remains that could not be identified were buried together, at Arlington, in Section 60.

Remains of the crew's mascot, a bull terrier named Snoopy or Seagram, depending on who's talking, also were found. They will be buried somewhere else. Animals, the families were told, are not allowed to be buried at this cemetery, even if they were unofficially part of the crew.

The teams also found camera parts, a Zippo lighter and wedding ring.

Sue Jenkins, of San Marcus, Tex., recognized the ring and wore it on a chain around her neck to the funeral. She and Lt. j.g. Denis Anderson, the 25-year-old copilot, were natives of Hope, Kan., and college sweethearts. They were just four days short of celebrating their first anniversary when the plane crashed.

Dick Stevens, 68, of Commerce Township, and his sister, Joy Warren, 65, of White Lake Township, attended the funeral. They buried their brother, Lt. j.g. Stevens of Twin Lake on June 3, in Dalton in a grave next to his parents that had remained empty for so long.

"It's taken a lot of years," Stevens said.

The funeral was an opportunity for the families, and distant members of the same family, to connect.

Mark Thoresen, 41, and Darlene Long, 64, both of Riverview, attended the funeral to honor their father and ex-husband, Petty Officer 2C Donald Thoresen of Detroit. But they also reunited with Donald Eric Thoresen, 36, of Phoenix, the deceased's son from another marriage.

"One door closes," said Donald Eric Thoresen, "and another one opens."

Suzanne Valenti, 58, of Brighton, said her late mother, Mary Gerigk, clung so tightly to hope that she carried in her purse an inspirational poem and a small calendar on which she marked each day her son, Petty Officer 2C Kenny Widon of Detroit went missing.

Valenti dreamed she would hear a knock at her door, and her older brother would be standing there.

Finally able to touch his casket, she said: "He is resting."

Michigan crew members of the downed Navy OP2E Neptune

LT. J.G. PHILIP P. STEVENS, 25, of Twin Lake grew up in North Muskegon and graduated from North Muskegon High School. He went through Navy ROTC at the University of Minnesota and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. He also was a pilot. His remains were buried next to his father and mother in Dalton.

PETTY OFFICER 2ND CLASS DONALD (DONNY) THORESEN, 30, of Detroit died four days before his birthday. After high school, he enlisted in the Army, and later in the Navy. He left behind three children, one of whom has died.

PETTY OFFICER 2ND CLASS KENNETH (KENNY) H. WIDON, 27, of Detroit attended Pershing High School and followed his older brother into the Navy. He played the violin and ukulele. His sister, Suzanne Valenti, of Brighton still has his violin and many of the letters he wrote to his mother before he died. In one of them, he asked his mother to draft a will for him.

Sources: Interviews with family and POW Network, a nonprofit that compiles information on missing military personnel from public documents and published news accounts; members of the Navy OP2E Neptune crew.

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It's Been A Long Time Coming
By Greg Fischer
Crosswind Staff
Crosswind
July 4th, 2003


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THIS NAVY OP-2E reconnaissance aircraft is flown by Crew 3 of VO-67 during the Vietnam War

Peace of mind has finally come to the families and friends of nine Servicemen whose modified P2V aircraft crashed 35 years ago during the Vietnam War.

Crew 2 of VO-67 was flying a classified mission from their home base at Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, dropping sensors and listening devices along the Ho Chi Min Trail, when they crashed into the Laotian mountainside. The nine crewmembers were initially classified as missing in action, but changed to killed in action only three or four days later.

Ed Witt of NAS Whidbey Island's Supply Department was a plane captain (equivalent to today's Flight Engineer) with another crew of VO-67 during the same period.

"These missions were very hazardous," said Witt. "We had to fly low and slow, about 500 feet at 250 knots."

Repatriation has been a slow process as recovery procedures can only be carried out during a three-month period each year. The recovery process is part of the Joint Task Force Full Accounting Mission (JTFFA).

Recovery of the remains did not begin until 1996 and was completed January through March 2002 while two Sailors from AIMD Whidbey, PR1(AW) Nicholas Williams and PR1(AW) Benjamin Umayan, were temporarily assigned to JTFFA and worked at the Crew 2 recovery site. Umayan said, "It was surreal working on a dig where a crew crashed so long ago. I feel it was the high point in my six and a half year career so far, being able to help repatriate the crew with their families."

Finally this year, full identification was complete for the ill-fated crew and remains were returned to their families.

A group ceremony was held on June 19 at Arlington National Cemetery where six of the nine were buried and a monument for the entire crew displayed. Witt and 25 others from VO-67 attended the ceremony along with their families and friends. In all, over 150 turned out to pay their last respects to a crew that perished over a quarter century ago.

"It was a very emotional ceremony and well put together," Witt continued. "It was gratifying to finally get these guys home and in the ground."

Robert Siow was only 4 years old when his father, Gale Siow, left for his tour in Vietnam. He recalled riding on his dad's shoulders the day he left and not knowing why he was going, or when he would be back. When the ceremony was over, he turned and saluted his father's casket.

Two complete crews were lost from VO-67, totaling 20 brave men from three downed aircraft. Today, Capt. Paul Milius still remains unaccounted for. He was the aircraft commander of Crew 7 and the last to bail out of his burning aircraft in February 1968, allowing the remaining seven survivors to be rescued.

Milius was initially in radio contact with rescue helos on the day of the crash. The next day, only his radio beacon was heard and the rescue mission had to be aborted due to heavy enemy gunfire. His status was changed to presumed killed in action 10 years after the crash.

Now there's a U.S. Navy ship named after this brave pilot, USS Milius (DDG-69) in San Diego, Calif. The ship's website opens with, "The USS Milius is the 19th and best of the Navy's new class of Arleigh Burke Guided Missile Destroyers. The ship is named for the late Captain Paul L. Milius, an OP-2E reconnaissance pilot who was shot down during Vietnam. She was commissioned into the fleet on Nov. 23, 1996."

As you finish reading this article, please pause for a moment out of respect for Crew 2 of VO-67, Denis Anderson, Arthur Buck, Richard Mancini, Delbert Olson, Michael Roberts, Gale Siow, Philip Stevens, Donald Thoresen and Kenneth Widon and all the other brave souls who gave their lives in the name of freedom.

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