Six many years after their family members vanished into skinny air, kin of the victims of Flying Tiger Line Flight 739 — 93 troopers aboard a secret-mission flight chartered by the US Army within the buildup to the Vietnam War — need solutions.
They gathered collectively Saturday for a ceremony in Columbia Falls, Maine, organized by the non-profit Wreaths Across America at a memorial to honor the fallen.
“The memorial ceremony offers some closure,” Marie Mull, 82, instructed The Post of her brother, Sgt. Clarence Ganance of Rensselaer, NY. “We’ve always wondered what happened . . . probably always will.”
Nobody is aware of precisely what occurred on the morning of March 16, 1962, as a result of no our bodies nor particles — not even a single piece — have ever been recovered.
All that’s clear in regards to the mission is that the servicemen — together with three members of the Armed Forces of Vietnam and 11 crew members — had been transported on Flying Tiger Line’s Flight 739, chartered from Travis Air Force Base in Northern California to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. After refueling, the aircraft launched into what was to be a 2,600-mile journey to its last vacation spot in Saigon, South Vietnam. It was piloted by Capt. Gregory Thomas, a World War II veteran from New Jersey with almost 20,000 flying hours beneath his belt.
Based on the observations of civilians on a close-by tanker, the aircraft was between Guam and the Philippines when there was a flash and a vapor path, indicating a midair explosion.
The ensuing eight-day search and rescue operation throughout 200,000 sq. miles was the most important to ever happen in The Pacific.
Adding to the thriller: The identical day that Flight 739 disappeared, one other chartered Flying Tiger Line flight, carrying army cargo however no passengers, left Travis AFB and crashed in a fireball brief of a runway on the Aleuthian Islands in Alaska. The incident left the pilot useless and injured six crew who will not be identified to have spoken publicly in regards to the incident.
Some sources declare the elite staff of Rangers aboard Flight 793, largely communications specialists, had been hand-picked by President John F. Kennedy as half of a covert operation involving the CIA. It has since emerged that in early 1962 — three years earlier than American floor troops “officially” entered the Vietnam battle — the US had advisors coaching indigenous tribes in Laos and Cambodia. As the company was attempting to find out if America ought to be a part of the continued conflict in Southeast Asia, the scenario was politically delicate.
But relations have by no means obtained actual solutions aside from the Army saying the troopers had been “lost at sea.”
Donna Ellis, now 64, remembers army officers arriving at her household’s door to ship the information that her father, Staff Sgt. Melvin Lewis Hatt, had probably perished.
“I heard what was said and thought, ‘That’s my Daddy!’ recalled Ellis, who was five at the time. Not long after, she and her younger sister were adopted by an aunt and uncle when their widowed mother suffered a catastrophic nervous breakdown. “Ever since that day, I’ve wanted to know what happened,” mentioned Ellis, who lives in Haslett, Michigan.
Similarly, Maria McCawley typically wonders about her father, Sgt. First Class Albert F Williams Jr., who was 32 when his aircraft crashed.
“We asked ourselves whether it was sabotage or the flight was hijacked and the men were taken as prisoners of war,” mentioned McCawley, 59, of Branson, Missouri.
Others consider it was “black ops” — ordered by the CIA, however not formally sanctioned by the army. A quantity of the boys had instructed their households it was unlikely they’d make it out alive, in order that they knew it was going to be a harmful deployment.
“It was secret and unauthorized,” mentioned 77-year-old Mississippi resident Dianna Crumpler, whose 23-year-old brother, James H Taylor, Specialist, First Class, failed to return dwelling.
Theories in regards to the males’s disappearance vary from mechanical failure and sabotage (the aircraft was left unattended throughout its 90-minute cease in Guam) to being shot down by a surface-to-air missile. It has even been proposed that the troopers had been kidnapped en masse or began new lives elsewhere after finishing their mission within the Vietnamese jungle.
Repeat calls for from legislators, together with Maine Senator Susan Collins, led to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests and the discharge of closely redacted army paperwork — however that has solely precipitated dissatisfaction amongst bereaved relations pissed off by the absence of readability.
“It’s called the runaround,” concluded Crumpler. “Nobody [in the political system] has an answer so they just keep sending us elsewhere.”
Neither the federal government nor army has taken an official stance on the mission or what might need occurred to the flight. A report by the Civil Aeronautic Board launched after the crash merely said that “the board is unable to determine the probable cause.”
The solely identified particular person alive at this time with attainable perception into the mission is a veteran who was bumped from the doomed flight a couple of minutes earlier than take-off. US Air Force Airman Anthony L. Wahl, now 83, of Shell Rock, Iowa, declined to be interviewed by The Post. But, in a narrative published on the Wreaths Across America website, he described being “excited and apprehensive” as he waited in line at Travis to enter the “sleek and shining Constellation.”
Then aged 19, he was ordered to journey as a substitute on a Philippines-bound Boeing 707 to help a army spouse with three kids.
“I have always believed that God intervened that day and saved me from death,” he wrote. “I also have the question: ‘Why me?’ There is the haunting question of who took my place?”
Meanwhile the kin of Specialist Donald A. Sargent in Portland, Maine, say the 19-year-old Army man’s habits earlier than the flight was odd. Jennifer Kirk recalled how her mom, Sargent’s sister instructed it: “She was the last member of the family to see Donald alive and he kept bounding up asking for ‘one more hug,’” mentioned Kirk. “It was almost as if he knew he was never coming back.”
Her stricken grandmother, Ethel Sargent, was satisfied he’d return at some point. She refused to permit anybody to the touch her son’s trunk, dispatched after his disappearance.
“My dad opened it four years ago on the fifty-fifth anniversary of the incident and found Donald’s full uniform and a 1950s tuxedo inside,” mentioned Kirk. “They were in mint condition.”
The uniform was donated to the Wreaths Across America museum close to Acadia National Park, the place the brand new memorial stands in a clearing amid a balsam fir forest owned by the group’s founder, Merrill Worcester.
During the Sat., May 15, ceremony, the names of the service members and crew earlier than greater than 200 kin and pals. Some additionally hung particular canine tags printed with their family members’ names on the pine bushes close by.
“These dog tags chink together in the breeze, making a beautiful sound which reminds us of the lives lost,” Sean Sullivan, of Wreaths Across America, instructed The Post, explaining that tens of 1000’s of canine tags adorn the branches in reminiscence of different deceased veterans.
Crumpler is one of the campaigners who need the victims’ names engraved on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington D.C.
Right now, she mentioned, “It’s as if James and the other men never existed.”
The appeals have to date been thwarted by the Department of Defense which claims these aboard Flight 739 weren’t collaborating in an “official” fight mission.
She, together with the opposite grieving households, believes the revealing of the Maine memorial is a step in the precise course.
“The Rangers’ creed says ‘Leave no comrade behind,’ but these men were left behind,” identified Monica Young, whose father, John C Wendell, Sergeant First Class, disappeared the day earlier than her 15th birthday. “Thanks to this [Saturday’s] remembrance, they’ve no longer been left behind.”