With a helicopter flyby, the sounds of an Air Force band and Arlington National Cemetery as a backdrop, six airmen whose remains were missing in Vietnam until recently were buried Wednesday.
More than 100 people turned out for the funeral of the six, missing in action for 25 years. They were part of a rescue attempt that was recounted in the 1988 movie “Bat 21,” starring Gene Hackman and Danny Glover.
Lt. John Call, Potomac, Md.; Capt. Peter Chapman, Centerburg, Ohio; Sgt. James Alley, Plantation, Fla.; Sgt. Allen Avery, Auburn, Mass.; Sgt. Roy Prater, Tiffin, Ohio; and Sgt. William Pearson, Webster, N.H., were on a search-and-rescue operation aboard a Sikorsky HH-53 helicopter, named the “Jolly Green 67,” near Dong Ha, South Vietnam on April 6, 1972. The crew was trying to rescue two downed airmen when the helicopter was shot down.
The airmen the crew was trying to rescue were later found alive.
One of the men saved in the operation, retired Lt. Col. Iceal “Gene” Hambleton, sent a letter to be read at the service.
“It was the most terrible day I had ever lived,” Hambleton wrote. “I had to stand by and watch six young men die trying to save my life. Heroes, you bet they were.”
The other downed airman, retired Col. Mark Clark, who attended the service, echoed Hambleton’s sentiments about those who died.
“Have no doubt,” Clark said. “Those men were heroes.”