Nearly 45 years after her brother’s warplane was shot down over North Vietnam, Terri Francisco-Farrell has finally learned the details of his death and has hopes of one day seeing him buried with military honors.
“We are so pleased that after all these years we have resolution,” Francisco-Ferrell said Saturday in Spokane, where about 200 people from throughout the Inland Northwest were told the latest details of the U.S. government’s efforts to find their loved ones who were lost in wars abroad.
The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office held meetings at the Red Lion Inn at the Park with the family members of U.S. service members lost in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Cold War and World War II.
During an opening ceremony on Saturday, which happened to be Armed Forces Day, representatives of each family stood and told the gathering who they lost and what they knew of the circumstances.
One told of a father shot down over Korea in 1950. Another’s relative was shot down near China during “a routine spy mission” in the Cold War.
Michael Adolfae, formerly the city of Spokane’s director of Community Development, told of his father, 1st Lt. Herman Joseph Adolfae, a pilot of a C-47 transport plane shot down over Dunkirk, France, on Oct. 24, 1944, by German anti-aircraft positions.
The plane wreckage landed in the harbor, and the remains of three of the four-man crew were recovered, but not Adolfae’s.
After U.S. divers failed to discover the remains in 1950, Adolfae was declared missing in action. His son said his DNA was taken in the event his father is ever found.
“We are coming up on 70 years, so what are the chances?” Michael Adolfae said.
According to Sgt. 1st Class Shelia Sledge, a Defense Department spokeswoman, more than 83,000 American service personnel are missing in action. Most of these were lost in World War II.
“We are trying to keep the promise to bring every service member home,” Sledge said.
Her office has conducted monthly meetings like Saturday’s since 1995 in cities across the nation, reaching 14,000 family members.
Francisco-Farrell’s brother, 1st Lt. San D. Francisco, was lost on Nov. 25, 1968, when the F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber he was co-piloting was shot down by North Vietnamese forces. However, it wasn’t until last month that the Kennewick woman learned the details of her brother’s demise, after the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s Quang Binh province was finally opened to investigators.
A Vietnamese team recently spoke with witnesses, including a commander of ground forces during the war who recalled the day Francisco’s plane was shot down. He said both U.S. Air Force crew members parachuted. The pilot, a lieutenant colonel, was killed resisting capture. Francisco, who has since been promoted to major, landed hard, breaking both legs, and he was captured.
His captors immediately came under attack by U.S. warplanes during rescue efforts. The North Vietnamese troops jumped into a protective trench, leaving the disabled Francisco fatally exposed as the U.S. planes dropped cluster bombs on the area.
The Vietnamese buried Francisco’s body nearby, but because U.S. pilots were valued by the enemy for propaganda purposes, his body was exhumed and photographed three days later, then reburied in the same grave.
The witness who recounted these events told the Vietnamese investigators they would be able to lead them to the gravesite.
Francisco-Farrell, who was 16 at the time of her brother’s death, said he would be 69 years old now. She said this new information offers hope that her brother’s remains will soon be laid to rest, hopefully at Arlington National Cemetery.
“I wish my parents were here to know this,” she said.