ARLINGTON, VA. — The remains of four Navy servicemen killed in Vietnam were laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery on Thursday with full military honors, concluding a long journey home.
Dennis W. Peterson, Donald Frye, William Jackson, and Donald McGrane died on July 19, 1967, after their helicopter came under enemy anti-aircraft fire and crashed. The men had set out from the USS Hornet to rescue a downed pilot in North Vietnam after the first rescue mission the day before had failed.
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"They served with honor and valor," the chaplain said during the service Thursday.
Their story was far from over in 1967, however.
The military recovered some remains of three crewmen 15 years after their death. In subsequent years, the military was able to identify more remains in the Vietnam countryside, including those of the final crewman, allowing for a final burial 46 years after the ill-fated mission.
"It shows the commitment of the military to leave no one behind," Michael McGrane, the younger brother of Donald McGrane, said before the service.
"This is a way for all of the families to meet and bring it to closure," said Karen McGrane, Donald’s youngest sister. The McGrane family had an initial memorial service after Donald’s death and then another burial service in 1982.
"It brings up a lot of memories, but it also is good to close it," she said.
Standing behind the families during the final burial service for the men was a large group of Navy sailors, both active and retired, including an admiral.
"Those guys would have come if I were in their position now," said Eric Oxendorf, who served in Vietnam with the four men.
"Even though we may not have personally known all the guys, we all passed each other in the hallways somewhere," Oxendorf said. He described the helicopter crew as a "very tight family" and noted they still have reunions forty years after the war.
"It’s like a closure for the crew, and they deserve to be really honored in this way by being interred here in Arlington," he said. Oxendorf drove to Arlington Cemetery from Wisconsin, and others came from all over the country, he said.
A single casket for the remains was laid to rest Thursday afternoon under an oak tree in Arlington National Cemetery.
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters," the chaplain read beneath a brilliant spring sky.
The four men served when it was not popular, the chaplain said, although they also served for the ideals of their country: "Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness." He spoke of the men’s service and the life and death of Jesus.
The only interruptions to the tranquility of the ceremony were the three shots of a rifle salute and a four-jet flyover to honor the men.
After the military guard marched out, the servicemen’s families laid flowers on the casket overlooking the field as the onlookers slowly dispersed.