Sister wants Vietnam pilot’s remains returned

KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) — A Kennewick woman who finally learned the circumstances of her brother’s death in the Vietnam War last year is now running into obstacles bringing him home.

Terri Francisco-Farrell, 62, has known for decades that Air Force 1st Lt. San D. Francisco, the copilot of an F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber, was shot down Nov. 25, 1968.

Late last summer, investigators went to the site in Quanf Binh province where the plane went down but were unable to locate Francisco’s gravesite. A return trip was scheduled to start May 20, but Francisco-Farrell has reason to believe no one actually went.

She fears a return mission could be delayed because the two Defense Department agencies responsible for recovering and identifying remains are merging. Some missions have also been canceled or delayed because of federal budget cuts.

Time is of the essence if Francisco-Farrell is ever to get the satisfaction of seeing her brother, a 1962 Kennewick High School graduate, brought home, she said. The witnesses to the crash are aging.

She’s traveling to Arlington, Va., for Air Force family briefings from June 11-14 to try to get answers. The Columbia Basin Veterans Coalition is providing $1,000 to help offset the cost of the trip.

“I’m hoping that my presence there will let them know that we’re pushing for accountability,” she said.

A commander of North Vietnamese ground forces during the war told investigators that the F-4’s pilot, who was later promoted to major, broke his legs landing hard and was captured. The enemy troops came under attack from U.S. warplanes and jumped into a trench, leaving Francisco to be struck by a bomb and killed.

The Vietnamese buried Francisco nearby, but exhumed his body to photograph for propaganda purposes three days later. They reburied him in the same grave.

Francisco-Farrell recently mailed letters to Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, as well as Arizona Sen. John McCain, with her concerns about the search missions, but has yet to hear back, she said.

“We’ve waited and pushed and pushed and pushed,” she said. “I’m hoping that nothing has interfered.”

She would like for the senators to send letters on her family’s behalf to those in charge of the searches.

“I want to let them know that we are so close that we can’t stop,” she said. “I want to let them know this is the closest we’ve gotten in 46 years.”

Even if Francisco’s remains are found, it could take a year or more to identify and bury him, his sister said. DNA is available to compare for identification purposes.

She would like to see her brother’s remains shared between the Tri-Cities and Arlington National Cemetery — where an unoccupied marker already sits — but the final decision will be with his widow.

Skip Novakovich, president of the veterans coalition, said the board wanted to help Francisco-Farrell with her trip because of the creed of “No man left behind.”

“We felt this was a tremendous opportunity to help someone with something that should have been done a long time ago,” he said. “We just felt a real compassion for this lady.”

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