Veterans

October 26, 2012

Remains of two airmen lost in 1969 identified, honored

vietnam1
Air Force photograph by MSgt. Cecilio Ricardo Air Force Honor Guard members carry the remains of Col. Wendell Keller, of Fargo, N.D., and Capt.Virgil K. Meroney, of Fayetteville, Ark., at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Oct. 18, 2012. Family members were present at the arrival. March 1, 1969, Keller and Meroney were the crew of an F-4D Phantom II aircraft that went down while carrying out a night time strike mission in Khammouan province, Laos.

The remains of two airmen who died when their F-4D Phantom II was shot over Laos in 1969 were returned and honored at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors Oct. 19.

Col. Wendell Keller, of Fargo, N.D., and Capt. Virgil K. Meroney III, of Fayetteville, Ark., were killed when their aircraft was hit by enemy fire March 1, 1969, and went down while carrying out a nighttime strike mission in the Khammouan province, Laos.

Their remains were buried in a single casket representing the crew.

Michael Keller, son of Wendell, recounted his father’s story during an interview with Inforum.com.

He described how Keller and his copilot, Meroney, prowled the night sky above Laos in their F-4D Phantom jet, on the lookout for North Vietnamese forces stealthily making their way along the Ho Chi Minh Trail far below when muzzle flashes revealed the location of anti-aircraft guns.

Although nearly out of ammunition after sustained strikes on enemy positions, Keller spent his last moments protecting his wingman.

While radioing his intentions to a spotter plane that helped direct his attacks, Keller pointed his plane into a dive and sent his final volley of rockets at the enemy.

Members of Keller’s squad in the spotter plane watched enemy tracer bullets stream skyward from the ground.

They reported seeing small blooms of fire erupt on the ground as Keller’s rockets hit their mark.

Then, moments later, the flashes were dwarfed by a much larger explosion nearby when Keller’s aircraft hit the ground.

Michael Keller, who was 4 years old in 1969, knows the story well, having collected declassified data on the mission and accounts of the incident published in military magazines.

“I pretty much knew he had been killed in action, and I just thought that, after all these years, they’d never find anything,” Keller said.

But in 2010, more than 40 years after his father’s plane went down, a search team traveled to Laos to take a closer look at a spot that had been identified many years before as a crash site.

From 1994 to 2011, joint U.S.-Lao People’s Democratic Republic teams, led by Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, conducted several investigations and excavations of the crash site in Khammouan province. The teams located human remains, military equipment, a military identification card and the wreckage of an F-4, including an engine data plate and radio call-sign plate. During the 17 years of investigations, analysts evaluated the material evidence and the accounts of more than 40 eyewitnesses to confirm the information correlated with the crew’s lost location.

To identify the remains, scientists from JPAC used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, including dental comparisons and radiograph comparisons.

Today, 1,655 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. The U.S. government continues to work closely with the governments of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to recover Americans lost during the Vietnam War.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO website at www.dtic.mil/dpmo or call (703) 699-1169.

Editor’s note: Much of this story was reprinted with permission from Dave Olson, Inforum.com journalist.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Air Force photograph by TSgt. Anthony Nelson

Doolittle Tokyo Raiders receive Congressional Gold Medal

Air Force photograph by TSgt. Anthony Nelson Retired Lt. Gen. John “Jack” Hudson, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force director, accepts the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders April 15, 2...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SSgt. Alex Montes

WWII veteran reunites with former aircraft

Air Force photograph by SSgt. Alex Montes Retired Lt. Col. Alston Daniels beams as he sits in the cockpit of a Douglas C-47D Skytrain for the first time since 1962 April 7, 2015, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. Daniels flew ...
 
 
Navy photograph by PO1 Katherine Hofman

DOD to disinter USS Oklahoma unaccounted for service members

Navy photograph by PO1 Katherine Hofman PO2 Rick Baty, assigned to the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band, plays Taps honoring fallen sailors of the USS Oklahoma during the National Park Service annual USS Oklahoma Memorial ceremony. This...
 

 

VA extends program for veterans with traumatic brain injury

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced April 13 the award of 20 contracts for the Assisted Living Pilot Program for Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury. Originally slated to end in 2014, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 extended this program through October 2017. We are pleased to extend this valuable program and...
 
 
Air Force photograph

Doolittle Tokyo Raiders to receive Congressional Gold Medal

Air Force photograph The USS Hornet had 16 U.S. Army Air Forces North American B-25B Mitchells on deck, ready for the Tokyo Raid on April 18, 1942. Seventy-three years ago, 80 men achieved the unimaginable when they took off fr...
 
 
Army photograph by Patrick Bloodgood

Over 27,000 burial sites to open at Arlington next year

Army photograph by Patrick Bloodgood Construction crews move dirt and prepare the ground at the Arlington National Cemetery Millennium Expansion Project, Feb. 19, 2014. The project also involves restoring an impaired stream tha...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>