By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Associated Press
SHERMAN, Texas (AP) — After 38 years, Chief Master Sgt. Luther L. Rose’s long road home from the Vietnam War — and his family’s excruciating wait to say goodbye — finally ended Friday.
A special operations C-130 Hercules roared overhead in a flying tribute as an Air Force honor guard placed Rose’s flag-draped coffin at the feet of his elderly mother, Thelma Rose, and daughter, Janise Langford, who was 9 when his AC-47 gunship crashed.
A 21-gun salute rang out and a trumpeter played “Taps” as Rose received a full military burial at Akers Cemetery in Sherman, about 60 miles north of Dallas.
“My grandmother has always held out a certain shred of hope that he would come back,” Langford said afterward. “And I think, with this closure today, we all know that’s not possible.
“I appreciate what we’ve done today,” she added. “We were able to bring him home.”
On June 23, 1966, the 30-year-old Rose was on an AC-47 gunship on a nighttime armed reconnaissance mission over southern Laos when a crew member radioed that the craft was on fire. Witnesses reported it crashed into a wooded area 30 miles northeast of Tchepone, a Laotian town near the Marine fire base at Khe Sanh, Vietnam, the Defense Department said Friday. No parachutes were seen from the plane, which carried a six-member crew, the statement said.
A joint team of U.S. and Lao specialists traveled to a suspected crash site in October 1994, and a villager took them to an area where aircraft wreckage and materials related to crew members, including a crewman’s identification tag, were found.
The remains of Rose and other crew members were recovered in 1995 by a joint U.S.-Lao excavation team and underwent a wide array of forensic testing at the military laboratory in Hawaii.
The Pentagon still lists more than 88,000 American service members as missing in action, including 1,855 from the Vietnam War, said the statement from the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.
Several dozen times a year, missing soldiers are identified and their families allowed to bury them, said Jo Anne Shirley, a Dalton, Ga., woman who is board chairman of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
“That’s celebration time for us and it’s also a motivation that what we’ve been doing is paying off,” said Shirley, whose brother, U.S. Air Force Maj. Bobby M. Jones, has been listed as missing in action since November 1972.
Langford flew to the Central Identification Laboratory at Hickman Air Force Base in Hawaii last week to receive her father’s remains.
Capt. Sung-Joo Park, a chaplain from Sheppard Air Force Base near Wichita Falls, delivered the eulogy and told Thelma Rose that her suffering was finally over. Langford gently rubbed her grandmother’s back as both wept softly.
“All of us owe our great thanks to you and your granddaughter,” Park said.
Brig. Gen. Jim Whitmore, wing commander at Sheppard, presented them with the flag that covered the casket. He asked them to accept it “in honor of their loved one who made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us, to keep us free.”
About 50 Air Force recruits and their instructors attended the service in their dress blues, joined by about 100 friends, relatives and others.
“I just wanted to honor Mr. Rose and his family and the sacrifice that they’ve all made,” said Tim Baca, a Sherman pastor whose son, Marine Cpl. Brandon Baca, 23, spent his first day in Iraq on Friday.
Thelma Rose said her son always loved airplanes and was a prankster.
“I’m a monkey like that son of mine was,” she joked. “He was always cutting up.”
All the years of waiting were difficult for Langford, who was almost 7 when her dad left for Vietnam. Despite the wait, she praised the military for working to bring its soldiers home.
“It’s a labor of love that they do in identifying our soldiers, our loved ones,” she said. “I’m just proud that I live in a country where we do that for our servicemen and we do that for our families.”
On the net:
POW/MIA office: http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/