AF maintains contact with missing servicemembers’ families

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. James Brabenec
  • Air Force Personnel Center Public Affairs
Wearing a nametag with the name of his brother, Raymond Kelly, a 74-year-old veteran, personifies the families of missing servicemembers and their continued efforts to find closure for the loss of their loved ones.

In 1951, Airman 1st Class James Kelly’s aircraft crashed in North Korea during the Korean War, and ever since, Mr. Kelly has searched for answers about his brother's disappearance.

Defense Department officials provided some of those answers during a regional family member update in San Antonio near here Feb. 26. The families received the latest information on their nearly 100 cases of missing servicemembers from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Included in that number were about 30 family members of missing Airmen, who met with Air Force Personnel Center missing persons branch Airmen from here.

Two of the attendees, Jennifer Romero and Deanna Lisle, said this was their first family member update. The daughters expressed their appreciation for efforts to find their father, 1st Lt. Clyde Campbell. The A-1J Skyraider pilot crashed while on a close-air support mission in Laos on March 1, 1969.

"Having come to this update, it's incredible to see what people are doing to ... bring home people like our father," Ms. Romero said.

She said that during her one-on-one session, she learned that Army Maj. Gen. Montague Winfield, commander of the Joint Prisoners of War and Missing in Action Accounting Command, is in Laos asking about her case and two others.

The one-on-one sessions give AFPC Airmen a chance to meet with family members, answer questions and take down requests for more information that requires additional research, officials said.

"Accounting for our missing servicemembers is truly a mission of heart," said Jim Russell, missing persons branch chief. “For AFPC's missing persons team members, the opportunity to meet with families for the individual sessions just reinforces that viewpoint.

“All you have to do is look at a family member's facial expression (and) you immediately know what this means to them,” he said. "Our main purpose is to be there as a liaison between the families and the Air Force and U.S. government. Through this work, we answer questions and (pass) information to and from the families to keep everyone up to date on efforts to account for their loved ones."

Throughout the day, DOD experts provided information on specific activities to locate those missing from the Korean and Vietnam wars. Detailed maps showed POW camps, battle locations and any other possible sites of Americans.

Family members also received briefings on the latest artifact analysis and DNA testing capabilities to help experts in the identification process. Other experts spoke about ongoing talks with North Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese officials to open up access to recovery locations within the former war zones.

Sometimes those talks produce rapid results, such as discussions between U.S. and Chinese officials in 2003 that allowed a DOD team to locate and investigate the crash site of Capt. Troy Cope's F-86 Sabre that was shot down Sept. 16, 1952.

"The DOD team found the crash site through the assistance of a person who witnessed my uncle's crash 52 years ago. It's hard to believe a witness would turn up after all this time," said Chris Cope, nephew of Captain Cope.

A DOD recovery team returned in May 2004 and began the detailed process to unearth and document each item of the crash site. Rather than wait at home for news of the recovery, Mr. Cope flew to China and then drove to the site to witness firsthand the recovery team's progress.

Having realized the closure all these families seek, Mr. Cope, along with other family members and friends, is planning a ceremony to welcome home his uncle and a funeral before Captain Cope's burial at the Dallas-Ft. Worth National Cemetery over the Memorial Day weekend.

"When Captain Cope is finally laid to rest, his burial will be the most stirring reminder to all American families that the Air Force and their Defense Department brethren will continue their efforts to bring all servicemembers home," said Maj. Gen. Tony Przybyslawski, AFPC commander.