National POW/MIA Recognition Day

SAF/PA 2008 Air Force Public Affairs

POW/MIA Day, 2008

Thank you for gathering here today in recognition of National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
The greatest honor America can give to its service members who are missing in action or may remain prisoners of war is to keep looking for them. And we do, through the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory and others who haven't given up the search.
Today I want to tell you about two missing Vietnam War veterans whose remains were recently returned to the United States after 40 years and also about a World War II era pilot whose remains were buried at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., a year ago.
On May 3, 1968, Army Chief Warrant Officer 2nd Class Bobby L. McKain of Garden City, Kansas, and Warrant Officer Arthur F. Chaney of Vienna, Virginia, flew an AH-1G Cobra gunship on an armed escort mission to support a reconnaissance team operating west of Khe Sanh in Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.
Their helicopter was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire, exploded in mid-air and crashed near the Laos-Vietnam border. The crews of other U.S. aircraft flying over the area immediately after the crash reported no survivors. Heavy enemy activity prevented attempts to recover the bodies of Chief Warrant Officer McKain and Warrant Officer Chaney.
Forty years later, these men have returned home. They never saw men walk on the moon. They went missing over 20 years before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany. They didn't know that their government ended the draft in 1973, resulting in an-volunteer service that remains second to none.
What they did know was that they loved their families and that their families loved them.
Their remains were turned over to U.S. officials by an American citizen with ties to Southeast Asian refugees, who said they had been recovered from an AC-130 aircraft crash in Laos. Subsequent laboratory analysis disproved that, but showed that some of the remains were those of Chief Warrant Officer McKain and Warrant Officer Chaney.
Between 1989 and 2003, investigative teams with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii made five attempts to locate the crew's crash site, but could not confirm the location. Scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used forensic identification tools, circumstantial evidence and mitochondrial DNA and dental comparisons to identify the remains.
Chief Warrant Officer McCain was buried last month in Arlington National Cemetery. He was joined there just three days ago by his crewmate, Warrant Officer Chaney, whose hometown is only 20 miles from the cemetery.
Nothing is worse than not knowing. Now their survivors know for sure and can put aside the "What if?" that has dogged them for four decades.
This is the story of just two men. We continue to locate the remains of veterans and improved technology has allowed us to identify them 40, 50 and even over 60 years since their deaths.
A year ago, right about this time, another remarkable ceremony took place at Arlington National Cemetery in which the remains of a young World War II-era bomber pilot killed in an Alaskan plane crash were buried 54 years after he perished.
Second Lt. Harold E. Hoskin of Houlton, Maine, was 22 when he died in December 1943 with other members of a B-24 Liberator crew testing a procedure that allowed the pilot to bleed aviation gas into the hydraulic system to feather the propellers.
Douglas Beckstead, an Air Force historian with dogged determination, convinced the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command to conduct an investigation of the crash site 120 miles east of Fairbanks.
Prior to his 2006 assignment as historian at the 3rd Wing at Elemendorf Air Force Base in Anchorgage, Mr. Beckstead was a park historian for Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve on the Canadian border in central Alaska. The B-24 crash site is within its boundaries. 

Mr. Beckstead first visited the site by chance in June 1994 when he flew over it in a helicopter and the pilot offered to stop. The condition of the site intrigued him because of its pristine nature. He said it looked almost exactly as it had in 1943. 
Mr. Beckstead discovered statements by the only survivor, 2nd Lt. Leon Crane, that the aircraft went into two spins, both of which were controlled somewhat by the pilots. When it started a third spin, Lieutenant Hoskin, the aircraft commander, hit the crash alarm signal and yelled for the crew to bail out.
Lieutenant Crane and a sergeant were the only two who made it outside. He said he saw the sergeant's parachute drift over a ridge, but he never saw him again.
Mr. Beckstead, the historian, researched the incident and spoke by phone in July 1994 to Lieutenant Crane, the crash's only survivor. Lieutenant Crane, who has since died, declined to discuss the event or his struggle in the Alaskan wilderness.
He survived for 86 days in the wilderness after he stumbled upon trappers' cabins where he found food and refuge from the elements. He led military authorities to the crash site in March 1944.
Two bodies were found inside the aircraft. There was no sign of Lieutenant Hoskin.
Mr. Beckstead, the historian, made a second trip to the crash site in 2004 and spotted three metallic items in the front of the aircraft, which was destroyed by fire. The metal pieces were later confirmed to be parts of parachute harness buckles. He believed they belonged to Lieutenant Hoskin.

Mr. Beckstead sent soil samples and photos of the devices to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. 

In 2006, the historian spent nine days helping JPAC investigators excavate the site. The team found human remains in an area that corresponded to the radio operator's position, where Lieutenant Crane said he last saw Lieutenant Hoskin alive. 

Lab officials requested a DNA sample from Lieutenant Hoskin's brother, which confirmed a match. 
The saddest thing about people dying while serving their country isn't death itself, since that's coming for all of us, but the promise of what these people might have accomplished after returning to civilian life or perhaps during a professional military career of 20 or 30 years.

Lieutenant Hoskin left his pre-medical studies at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, during his sophomore year to join the military after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

He finished undergraduate pilot training in early January 1943. Later that month, he married Mary McIntosh, his childhood sweetheart. She was pregnant with their only child when he was killed 11 months later. 

His daughter, born five months after his death, attended her father's funeral at Arlington in September 2007. She said her mother never got over losing her father.
Lieutenant Hoskin's contributions to the war effort were small, but the fact that he died while serving his country deserves remembrance from more than the brother who attended his funeral and the daughter who was born five months after her father's disappearance.
We will never recover all of our missing, but we can continue trying. Our nation owes these heroes nothing less than that.