The burial site of Maj. San D. Francisco, a Kennewick High School graduate shot down in 1968 over North Vietnam, has been found.
A government agency pinpointed the location in June 2014, but it isn’t certain that Francisco’s remains will be retrieved this year.
“As of two weeks ago, he is not on the retrieval list,” said his sister, Terri Francisco-Farrell of Kennewick. “Even with all this information, this is what’s really frustrating.”
The team that went to Vietnam painted a large tree trunk at the center of Francisco’s burial site to mark it, according to a report Francisco-Farrell received in February. But another trip will be required to excavate his remains and return them to the United States.
“Should JPAC approve this site for excavation a block excavation should be considered and heavy equipment should be used cautiously,” said an excerpt from the report, provided by Francisco-Farrell. “The presence or absence of human remains can only be done by an excavation.”
JPAC refers to the scandal-plagued Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, a division of the Defense Department that was recently merged with other agencies at the beginning of 2015 to form the new Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Francisco-Farrell also received a map showing the location of her brother’s burial, but was advised not to share it by former Rep. Doc Hastings, she said.
“We have enough information that, if we wanted to, we could go get him,” she said.
Francisco-Farrell wants to send a message to the new agency about how crucial it is to have a mission this year. Contact links have been placed on the website of the San D. Francisco Awareness Campaign, formed last year, for the new agency and for Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
A mission to retrieve Francisco’s remains is crucial while witnesses to his burial are still living and before the monsoon season in Vietnam, Francisco-Farrell said. The awareness campaign is also looking for donations so it can put pressure on officials to include Francisco in a retrieval mission.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, remains in contact with the defense secretary’s office, and Francisco-Farrell in trying to resolve the issue, spokesman Eli Zupnick said.
“It’s something our office is engaged with and will continue to be engaged with,” he said.
Francisco, a Burbank native, was the copilot of an F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber that was shot down over the Quang Binh province on Nov. 25, 1968.
A commander of Vietnamese ground forces told a Vietnamese team that two U.S. air crew members parachuted after Francisco’s plane was shot down. Francisco broke both his legs while landing hard.
Francisco was captured, then left in the open after his captors came under attack from U.S. warplanes in a rescue effort. He was killed by cluster bombs.
The Vietnamese buried Francisco nearby, but exhumed his body three days later to be photographed for propaganda purposes, claiming his was the 2,000th plane shot down during the war. He then was reburied in the same area.
The family struggled for decades to find out what really happened before an investigative team in 2013 went to Vietnam and interviewed two men who saw the events after Francisco was shot down, Francisco-Farrell said.
They heard a false report that he might be alive in 1988, and, in 1992, photographs were released showing the plane’s other pilot, Maj. Joseph Morrison, with a bullet in his head. But no pictures of Francisco were released.
Francisco was promoted posthumously to major from first lieutenant.