The wait may be over for the family of Air Force Maj. San D. Francisco, shot down 47 years ago over North Vietnam.
Government investigators plan to excavate two sites in Quang Binh province identified by Vietnamese witnesses as possible burial locations this year.
That could happen anytime between now and September, the beginning of the annual monsoon season.
Terri Francisco-Farrell, his sister, learned of the decision to authorize the retrieval mission last weekend.
“That’s the most progress we’ve had,” she said. “It’s here. It’s now.”
She received the news at a regional conference in Seattle of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, a new, streamlined Department of Defense organization tasked with recovering missing Americans from the nation’s wars. She was greeted personally by the agency’s director, Michael Linnington.
We’ve waited so long that you’d think you’d be used to that. This wait is longer.
Francisco-Farrell had nothing but good things to say about the new agency, which was formed from an ineffective and scandal-plagued predecessor.
“The communication with families is real,” she said. “It happens.”
The Department of Defense has conducted more than 35 field investigations in Vietnam since 1995 to account for Francisco and his crewmate, according to a letter from the agency to Rep. Dan Newhouse.
More than a dozen Vietnamese witnesses have provided accounts of the Nov. 25, 1968, incident, in which both airmen survived the crash of their F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber but were later killed — the pilot by enemy fire, Francisco by a U.S. airstrike.
In 2014, two of those witnesses provided two general locations of burial sites, about 700 to 800 meters apart. The area has become heavily overgrown with tropical vegetation since the war.
Investigators re-interviewed several witnesses in March and May 2015, and surveyed a possible burial site.
Though the witnesses’ memories differ, the two areas they identified are consistent enough with the losses of the two men that the agency is making plans to excavate as soon as possible, the letter said.
Maj. Francisco, a Burbank native, was a 1962 graduate of Kennewick High School who attended Central Washington University. He was a first lieutenant at the time of his death and was promoted posthumously to major.
His is one of more than 400 cases of missing servicemen from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War that are pending excavation around the world, the letter said.
Francisco-Farrell is ecstatic about the mission, but all she can do now is wait some more, she said.
“We’ve waited so long that you’d think you’d be used to that,” she said. “This wait is longer.”