I took a picture and finished my run, but I could not forget the chance encounter. First of all, because I am a historian who has written books about World War Two airmen, and second, because this man was from my town, and he had been missing since Christmas Eve, 1965. He was 34 years old and married with three sons at the time of his disappearance.
Research on the internet revealed that he had a website devoted to him as part of Operation Just Cause, a group dedicated to bringing all MIAs--living and dead--home to their families.
Here is a passage from the official loss report. Read the entire report HERE. "On December 24, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson announced a weeklong bombing halt in North Vietnam. That same day, an AC 47D 'Spooky' gunship was shot down during an armed reconnaisance flight just south of the city of Ban Bac in Saravane Province, Laos (see Google Map of Ban Bac here). Planes in the area of the loss of the plane heard Mayday signals, but were unable to establish contact with the crew. The plane was piloted by Colonel Derrel B. Jeffords and Captain Dennis L. Eilers. The rest of the crew aboard consisted of Major Joseph Christiano, MSgt. Larry C. Thornton, TSgt. W. Kevin Colwell, and Staff Sgt. Arden K. Messenger."
Pages devoted to other members of the crew can be found as well. Here is Lt. Eilers' link.
Chief Master Sgt. Arden Keith Hassenger
A longer version of the Loss Report can be read here.
On September 13, 1968, according to another report, a statement was intercepted in Puerto Rico that mentioned that Thornton's crewmates, Smith, Christiano, Jeffords and Mauterer, were part of a group of "several dozen captured airmen" whom the Pathet Lao were "treating correctly and who were still in Laos." (Read full report here)
In June 1989 Hassinger's wife received information that her husband had been sited alive in Laos, but the report was never confirmed or denied, and to this day none of the crew has been found or recovered.
None of the crew has as yet been found. It is the purpose of this new blogsite/website to raise awareness for POW/MIA issues and to help bring Larry and his crewmates home, if at all possible. It is also my goal to try to trace down Larry's family here in the area and find out more to pay tribute to this fallen hero.