U.S. Commander's Remains Return from Vietnam
ALEX COHEN, host:
Back now with DAY TO DAY. Navy Commander Peter Mongliardi was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery. The fighter pilot was killed when his plane came under attack in 1965 in Vietnam, but his family had to wait more than 40 years before the Pentagon was able to identify his remains. NPR's Jack Zahora attended the pilot's funeral and filed this report.
JACK ZAHORA: As the funeral started, a formation of jets (unintelligible).
(Soundbite of fighter jets)
ZAHORA: It was a fitting tribute to a man who was described by his family as an action hero. After the funeral, Peter Mongliardi's family and members of his former squadron reminisced. Listening to Julie Renee Simms(ph), you'd think her family acted in movies instead of flying in planes.
Ms. JULIE RENEE SIMMS (Daughter): Oh gosh, he was really handsome. Women were just crazy about him.
ZAHORA: Remembering him from when she was 12, she says Mongliardi drove fancy sports cars and of course flew planes, but Simms says her father was also a family man.
Ms. SIMMS: He would tuck us in. He would read us stories. You know, he made such an effort to be such a good dad because he was gone so much of the time.
ZAHORA: Mongliardi's family says as a child he was obsessed with flying, and by the time he was 39 years old, he'd become one of the most senior airmen in the navy. In 1965, he was told the government needed him to do reconnaissance missions in Vietnam, but Chuck McNeil(ph), a pilot in Mongliardi's squadron, said he knew it was more than that.
Mr. CHUCK McNEIL (Former Fighter Pilot): He knew what was going to happen before we got over there, sure. We got on the line one day. The war had literally started the next.
ZAHORA: In June of that year, Mongliardi and members of his squadron bombed a bridge near the Ho Chi Min Trail, but later they ran into bad weather and then enemy fire. Lieutenant Paul Reyes(ph) was Mongliardi's wing man.
Lieutenant PAUL REYES (Wing Man): I saw his plane straight and level on a slight descent fly in a cloud about a half mile ahead of me, and I went in after him, and when I popped out on the other side, he was gone.
ZAHORA: Another pilot who flew on that mission was Captain David Luwain(ph). He says he tried everything to find Mongliardi's plane.
Captain DAVID LUWAIN (Former Fighter Pilot): Paul and I searched for him until we almost ran out of fuel, came back. The air wing looked for him for several days, could never find anything.
ZAHORA: Years went by, and while Mongliardi's family worried that he was dead, they feared even more that he might be alive in a Vietnamese prison. They had to wait 41 years for his remains to be identified. Captain Luwain.
Capt. LUWAIN: It's a small miracle that we're here today and that, you know, modern nuclear DNA has identified him, and we really appreciate that.
ZAHORA: Mongliardi's remains were actually found in 1994 near a spot where his plane was thought to have crashed, but the family had to wait until 2006 for the remains to be identified. By that time, DNA technology had advanced enough for researchers to match samples of the remains with the DNA of Mongliardi's children. Jack Zahora, NPR News, Washington.
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