News: Missing airman laid to rest with full honors
Story by Paul Bello
ARLINGTON, Va. – Air Force Col. Francis J. McGouldrick Jr. was laid to rest with full military honors Dec. 13 during a repatriation ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Family and close friends of the former Vietnam War pilot, including his four daughters, attended services which began with a celebration of life at the nearby Air Force Memorial.
McGouldrick went missing exactly 45 years to the day after the pilot’s B-57E Canberra bomber collided with another aircraft during a night mission over Laos. A military review board would later amend his official status from missing in action to presumed killed in action in 1978, according to the Department of Defense (DoD) Prisoner of War (POW) Missing Personnel Office.
DoD records indicate that several attempts were made at trying to locate the crash site between 1993 and 2004. Though, those attempts were proven unsuccessful. A joint U.S./Laos team finally located the possible crash site in April 2007. It would be another four years before team members would recover human remains and aircraft wreckage consistent with that of a B-57E bomber. Through DNA testing, the remains were identified as that of McGouldrick.
“In his short life, he showed his strength, courage and love of life for family and country” Chaplain (Col.) David M. Fitzpatrick, of Air Force District Washington, said to McGouldrick’s daughters and family members during the graveside service. “But he has also shown each of you, whose lives he touched either directly or indirectly, your own possibilities. He has shown you how to find your strength.”
With McGouldrick finally being laid to rest, his family now has the closure it deserves – albeit bittersweet. His wife, Jacqueline, died of cancer in 1980. Two of McGouldrick’s siblings have also died since he went missing.
Though, on this warm day in early December and with a light snow blanketing the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, his children and grandchildren got an early Christmas gift. They were able to see him return home and receive the burial he was due – next to his wife and among a sea of American heroes.
Full military honors included a caisson, casket team, colors unit, firing party, and bugler from the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB). Members of the U.S. Air Force Band also performed during the tribute.
McGouldrick’s ceremony was the first of its kind at the Air Force Memorial. Unveiled in 2006, the memorial is a lasting memorial to all service personnel of the U.S. Air Force, as well as its predecessors.
Despite an emotional roller coaster for the past year, McGouldrick’s daughter, Michele (Mitch) Guess, said the family is elated to finally have this time to grieve.
“We know now that they’re together in heaven," she said. 'We just didn’t realize how long they’d been together.”
To date, there remains more than 1,600 American service members still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, according to the DoD.