He was shot down in Vietnam. Now the family of Tri-City Air Force major has new hope

The search for the remains of MIA Air Force Maj. San D. Francisco, a Kennewick High graduate who served in Vietnam, has turned up some items that give his family hope he will be found.
The search for the remains of MIA Air Force Maj. San D. Francisco, a Kennewick High graduate who served in Vietnam, has turned up some items that give his family hope he will be found. Courtesy Terri Francisco-Farrell

A sister of missing Air Force Maj. San D. Francisco has received the most promising news about her brother in almost 50 years.

Francisco, a Burbank native and 1962 graduate of Kennewick High, was a first lieutenant copiloting an F-4 Phantom jet fighter on a reconnaissance mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail on Nov. 25, 1968 when it was shot down. He had volunteered for the flight.

Terri Francisco-Farrell, of Kennewick, one of his younger sisters, is determined that he be found and brought home.

She’s never doubted that it will happen. But a letter sent from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to Washington state Sen. Sharon Brown has raised her hopes that evidence of her brother might have finally been found.

She regularly writes to the Tri-Cities state and federal delegation and has had help from both Democrats and Republicans who have pushed for the search for Francisco to continue.

Terri Francisco-Farrell talks with the Herald in 2017 about her brother.

When she went to a June 21 briefing in Washington, D.C., with analysts of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, she took along copies of letters of support, including the letter from Brown.

There she heard that excavation had resumed in June at a second site in the Quang Binh Province where Vietnamese witnesses had said he was buried. Examination of the second site was expected to continue through early July.

The excavation of a first site identified by witnesses was fruitless.

But last summer in some initial excavation of the second site, bomb fragments, anti-aircraft shell casings and two 37-millimeter projectiles were excavated, which was consistent with the account that the Vietnamese witnesses gave.

Then came new information about the excavation this summer, via Brown’s office.

“The recovery team reported retrieving several pieces of life support and other material evidence,” the letter said. Remains were not found.

But it was enough for digging to continue at the remote site, with Brown notified that it would continue through Sept. 10.

“While this recovery team has been slowed by heavy rains with standing water at the site, they are persevering to finish excavating the second alleged burial site,” the letter said.

The second site to be searched in Vietnam for missing Air Force Maj. San D. Francisco is shown with a trench already dug. There was an urgency to search the site as soon as possible because the landowner had recently constructed a building there. Courtesy Terri Francisco-Farrell

Francisco-Farrell does not know what the “pieces of life support” found might be — maybe something associated with a flight suit, she speculates. The soil removed is carefully sieved to turn up any evidence.

“This is encouraging news, but until the objects are analyzed, we do not have definitive proof,” she said.

“This is what we know and all we know,” she said, pointing to the letter.

Still, its the best news her brother’s extended family has heard in the half century since Francisco went missing, she said.

At this time she does not know if excavation stopped at the second site this week, or if more was found there.

If her brother’s remains are not found at the site, there is a possibility that a third nearby location identified by some witnesses could be excavated.

Terri Francisco-Farrell holds a shadow box with a photo of her brother, San D. Francisco, his medals and U.S. flag. Francisco was in the Air Force and been missing since he was shot down in the former North Vietnam on Nov 25, 1968. Tri-City Herald File

If the items found belonged to her brother, they could have been left where his plane went down.

Both Francisco and the jet’s pilot are believed to have survived the crash, but Francisco had two broken legs, his sister said.

The pilot was killed resisting capture.

There was garbled radio contact for about 30 minutes after the plane went down, but it is not known if it was Francisco or the pilot.

Vietnamese witnesses, who were paid for information, said that as Francisco was being taken into captivity, he was hit by shrapnel from American bombs.

His body was reportedly buried in a bomb crater. Several days later, it was dug up so photographs could be taken for Vietnamese Army propaganda, according to witness reports.

About 35 witnesses came forward in 2013-14, many of them now in their 70s and 80s, to provide information to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

On Sept. 21, Francisco-Farrell will observe another National POW/MIA Recognition Day as she waits for the materials found at the second excavation site to be analyzed.

The work could take a little longer than usual, for a reason she supports.

In July remains of American troops lost during the Korean War were returned to the United States from the North Korean government and are being handled by the same agency, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, that is searching for Francisco.

Francisco, who was promoted to major posthumously, is one of 1,594 American servicemen still missing in Vietnam.

Annette Cary; 509-582-1533