Fallen Airmen Welcomed Home After 44 Years
Posted By Staff Writer
Early on the morning of 23 Sept, 2013, a group of aviators. led by the Warrior Flight Team, gathered together to accomplish a mission. It was a diverse group of flyers from the warbird and air show communities; many of them veteran Naval Aviators. For them, this day was different. No longer concerned with show lines and smoke oil, these men and women had gathered together to pay a long overdue tribute to two of America’s fallen heroes from the Vietnam War. Together these flyers were about to make history, by flying 8 civilian aircraft as part of a funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC.
Months had gone by, with countless hours of preparation spent, since the pilots first heard of the potential to help with these services.
“Once we learned that due to sequestration, the Air Force wouldn’t be able to support the formation flyover, I put the word out to the civilian community. People jumped at the chance to be a part of something so important” said Pat Marsh, President of Warrior Aviation, a non-profit organization dedicated to job-placement and continuing education for returning veterans.
Soon the calls came in and the lineup of aircraft grew to an impressive level. In the end, the formation of aircraft included a B-25 Mitchell, two P-51 Mustangs, four L-39 Albatrosses, and an A-26 Invader, the same type of aircraft flown by the two aircrew when they were shot down in Vietnam.
The day’s services were to welcome home US Air Force Majors James Sizemore and Howard Andre. The two airmen, who had started as college friends at Georgia Tech University, were shot down over Laos in July, 1969. Due to the circumstances of the crash, the airmen were listed as Killed In Action/Bodies Not Recovered. In 2010, a joint U.S./Laotian team recovered human remains, and military equipment at the crash site. Personnel with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command task force were able to identify the remains as Majors Sizemore and Andre in April of 2013.
“We're here today to honor some fallen veterans,” said retired Lieutenant Commander Mark “Crunchy” Burgess, Warrior Flight Team pilot and mission commander for the formation over Arlington. “We’re giving these fellow aviators the welcome home they deserve.”
With precision brought about through thousands of flight hours, the aviators flew their mission over Arlington Cemetery that afternoon. Through congested airspace, and in coordination with the FAA, Department of Homeland Security, and US Air Force, the unprecedented formation of dissimilar aircraft timed their arrival over the funeral burial site perfectly. And as the last notes of Taps hung in the air, the missing man formation passed over the families and friends of the fallen aviators.
“Most of us here are active or retired military flyers,” said Art Nalls, retired Marine Corp Lieutenant Colonel and pilot of one of the L-39 aircraft that took part in the formation. “To us this is just what you do for fellow aviators. You help them finish their mission of getting home. And today, we brought them home.”