Member Frank opened up an old wound this morning when he mailed me this WP article published yesterday. I find it hard to believe it was a mere forty three years since I departed the Kingdom of Laos on the C-46 Klong flight from Wattay to Udorn. I also see the article descended into a political donnybrook of the worst sort in the comments section. I added my own.
I am saddened that anyone, be it from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church or any other individual or entity, would sink so low as to dishonor the commitment of a fellow American who volunteered to serve in any war. Anti-war, Monday morning quarterbacking seems to be in good form lo these four decades later.
So, with joyous heart for the families of Major James E. Sizemore and Major Howard V. Andre, I welcome home their husbands and fathers.
I remember well those years from 1965 on as I watched the friends of my father, many with children I attended school with, fail to return. Those who did survive were often a hollow shell of their former selves like Bob Purcell. Captain (at the time) Purcell was a Thud driver for the 4th Fighter Wing. Bob ‘s son and I attended St. Mary’s when we lived at Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, N.C. from 1962 to 1964. When my parents were out of town, I was farmed out to stay over with them. I remember the dachshund they had that liked to poop at night indoors. Midnight trips to the bathroom were a careful undertaking.
We moved to Langley AFB, Virginia in 1964 and I never saw them again. My father left to go to RVN slightly over a year later in June 1966. His replacement, Bob Worley, was shot down and died several months after Dad returned in 1968. I went to Hampton Roads Academy with his son Rob Worley in those years. Again, reassignments caused us to part company never to see each other again. And then I went to war.
As time moves on, we’ll eventually recover more lost souls. However, in Laos, those will be few and far between. When an aircrew augered in over the fence, rescues were dicey propositions. Often, an Air America chopper pilot was the first one on the scene. With virtually little or no weaponry, they would often swoop in for a rescue long before our own ARRS choppers were wheels-up over at Long Tieng. As for a nighttime air rescue, I never heard of one. They might put up a gunship with flares overhead if they knew the location of a crash but this was rare. Armed recon at night in an A-26 painted black as a sack of cats did not often result in a lot of recoveries.
My fondest hope will be to see Major Park Bunker’s remains returned to his family in my abbreviated lifetime. Capt. Bunker was not an adventurer like most of his fellow FACs. He didn’t fit the mold. He actually was cautious and hidebound-one for doing it by the book- but had no qualms about getting down in the weeds. He augered in 30 December 1970. Capt. Bunker was what we called a “negative objective”. His O-1 was clobbered by groundfire and he actually landed in one piece. Knowing full well that there were no POW camps for us in Laos and that repatriation was not in the cards, he fought to the end with little more than a CAR-15 and his .38 cal. M&P revolver. With no air support, his fellow FACs watched from altitude as he and his Hmong GIB were killed. When this happened, the AF was rather a stickler that no more air assets be expended in recovery. Sadly, the forlorn radio message went out announcing Negative Objective. Thus Capt. Bunker joined the Sizemores and Andres in a long pantheon of KIA BNR (body never recovered). I’m sure that at some time on the 9th or the 10th of July, 1968 that negative objective was announced for Majors Sizemore and Andre. It always was.
This is why we celebrate so heartily when one of our fallen finds his way home. We talk of “closure” and giving the family a meaningful plot to visit at a cemetery but it is far more than that. The ethos of the military has always been that you do not leave your fallen on the field. People seem to think this is a Marine affectation. I can assure you it is not. In Laos, it was more often the rule rather than the exception that we lost our pilots-day or night.
It is enervating to see the eventual return of these brave men who volunteered for what they knew was a very dangerous job when they could do their 100 missions from a “normal base” in RVN or Thailand and not take inordinate risks.
Capt. Bunker’s photo above bears little resemblance to the man I met. I enclose a picture of the Captain below which more will be familiar with. Welcome Home, gentlemen. I’m glad your remains were not desecrated.