United States Army Aircrew – 5 January 1968

NEWS RELEASES from the United States Department of Defense
August 6, 2007

Soldiers Mia From Vietnam War Are Accounted For

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that group remains of five U.S. servicemen, missing in action from the Vietnam War, will be returned to their families soon for burial with full military honors.

They are Chief Warrant Officer Dennis C. Hamilton, of Barnes City, Iowa; Chief Warrant Officer Sheldon D. Schultz, of Altoona, Pennsylvania; Sergeant First Class Ernest F. Briggs Jr., of San Antonio, Texas; Sergeant First Class John T. Gallagher, of Hamden, Connecticut; Sergeant First Class James D. Williamson, of Olympia, Washington; all U.S. Army.The group remains of this crew will be buried on Aug. 14 at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.Gallagher's remains were individually identified, and his burial date is being set by his family.

Representatives from the Army met with the next-of-kin of these men to explain the recovery and identification process, and to coordinate interment with military honors on behalf of the Secretary of the Army.

On January 5, 1968, these men crewed a UH-1D helicopter that was inserting a patrol into Savannakhet Province, Laos. As the aircraft approached the landing zone, it was struck by enemy ground fire, causing it to nose over and crash.There were no survivors.All attempts to reach the site over the next several days were repulsed by enemy fire.

Between 1995 and 2006, numerous U.S./Lao People's Democratic Republic /Socialist Republic of Vietnam teams, all led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), conducted more than five investigations, including interviews with Vietnamese citizens who said they witnessed the crash.Between 2002 and 2006, JPAC led three excavations of the site, recovering remains and other material evidence including identification tags for Schultz, Hamilton and Briggs.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC also used dental comparisons in the identification of the remains.

For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO Web site at http:// www.dtic.mil/dpmo or call (703) 699-1169.

  • Date of Birth: 5/4/1946
  • Date of Casualty: 1/5/1968
  • Home of Record: BARNES CITY, IOWA
  • Branch of Service: ARMY
  • Rank: CWO
  • Casualty Country: LAOS
  • Casualty Province: LZ
  • Status: MIA

The remains of Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Hamilton of Barnes City and those of four other Vietnam-era soldiers were buried Tuesday in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

The remains of the five soldiers who died when their helicopter was shot down over Laos in 1968 were recently recovered. Their UH-1D helicopter was patrolling Laos on January 5, 1968, and was hit by enemy fire as it approached a landing zone.

To honor Hamilton, Gov. Chet Culver ordered all flags in the state flown at half staff Tuesday.

Jon Barron, 63, of Cedar Rapids, for nearly 30 years has worn a bracelet bearing Hamilton's name that he got from the American Legion. Their only connection is that Barron and Hamilton come from the same area of Iowa. Hamilton was from Barnes City and Barron from Oskaloosa, about 25 miles from Barnes City.

Barron said he had hoped for years that Hamilton was still alive, but after such a long time and no word of him, he kind of gave up hope.

He said he wore the bracelet “in honor of him, and one reason was he was a southern Iowa boy. It's sad that it had to happen. It's nice that the family can have some closure along with myself,” Barron said.

What happens to the bracelet now?

“I want to keep it. If I get down to Barnes City I would probably offer it to (Hamilton's) family,” Barron said.

The return of Hamilton's remains leaves at least 27 Iowans still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. Seven are from Eastern Iowa.


Charles Hamilton was unconscious and hours from the end of his life.

Still, he knew.

“We've been talking to him about how we were leaving for Washington for the service for Dennis,” said Hazel Hamilton, Charles' wife of 61 years. “I know him so well. I know he understood.”

Charles and Hazel had been without their son, Dennis, since his helicopter was shot down over Laos in January 1968. Rescue squads couldn't get to the scene, and the 21-year-old Barnes City soldier was listed as missing.

His status was changed 11 years later to killed in action. Three years ago – 36 years after the Army helicopter crashed in a fireball – a soldier quietly delivered two bent, charred dog tags in a black velvet bag to the family home.

There was no body and no casket, but a marker was placed with the family headstone at the Barnes City cemetery to assure Dennis would never be forgotten.

Closure seemed complete.

Sunday, the father died of brain cancer at a Grinnell nursing home.

Tuesday, 39 years after the crash, the son's recently discovered remains were buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

“They finally had collected and identified enough evidence at the crash site for us to be able to have a burial,” Hazel said. “We already had dealt with his death. We had a memorial service when the Army said he was presumed dead. We released our emotions then. This is a redo for us.”

Hazel, 82, recalls every detail of the nearly four decades since the crash. She can describe the awful day the Army officer came to the Barnes City post office and told Charles, the postmaster, that Dennis and members of his helicopter crew were missing. She talks about how the soldier and Charles came to the school where she worked and delivered the worst possible news a mother can receive.

There were five American soldiers on the Huey helicopter – four crewmen, including Hamilton, who was a chief warrant officer, and a staff sergeant who was leading three South Vietnamese soldiers on a mission into Laos. Reports showed that the helicopter was downed by anti-aircraft fire and exploded in flames as it hit the ground.

One rescue chopper got within 100 feet of the site, but heavy enemy fire forced the pilot to leave. He reported seeing no signs of life and no bodies, just burned wreckage. A squad of soldiers who reached the crash site a few days later reported the same thing. No bodies. Just what was left after a horrific fire.

The Hamiltons waited months, then years. They heard rumors of American soldiers being held prisoner in Laos and wondered whether Dennis might be alive. Not that they really believed it.

“Deep down, we knew he was gone,” said Hazel. “We had a memorial service. Then we were told his dog tags were found. It was something for us to have. I'm going to make two shadow boxes for them and give one to his brother and one to his sister.”

They also were told some other things had been found at the crash site, possibly human remains. DNA samples were gathered from the missing soldiers' families. Investigators hoped the samples would help with the identifications.

Again, this deeply religious family waited and went on with their lives.

Charles retired from his job as postmaster and the couple moved to Texas, where they set up a facility to host missionaries traveling in and out of Mexico. It was fulfilling, and they were making a difference.

Then Charles' cancer was discovered and they moved back to Iowa, this time to Lynnville, where their daughter, Joyce, lives. Charles and Hazel were told this spring about the identification of the remains.

Charles went into a Grinnell nursing home when his condition deteriorated. Word arrived that the remains of the soldiers on the helicopter would be interred together this week.

“They found pieces of a couple of IDs and some bone splinters and slivers,” Hazel said.

“I was told it was a little over 30 pieces of remains of eight or nine people. There was a tooth. That was positively identified. It wasn't Dennis' tooth. People are telling me I'm going to get my son home finally, but it's maybe only two or three pieces of bone. We didn't really need to do this in Washington, but the Army wanted to do it and that's fine with me.”

It's just that it was the worst imaginable timing. First, a service Tuesday at the Old Chapel at Fort Myer, Virginia, then burial of the soldiers' remains at neighboring Arlington National Cemetery. Hazel, her son Rodney and Joyce made plans to leave Sunday, a day before a formal “viewing” of the casket on Monday.

“We knew (Charles) would be gone by the time we got back,” Hazel said. “We felt we needed to do this for Dennis.

“Charles would understand. He was a medic in the Army. He was in Normandy on D-Day and went through some terrible things. He was covered in blood three days and three nights taking care of those boys. He was so proud of Dennis. He would want us to go.”

Hazel said a pastor visited Charles at St. Francis Manor in the days before his death. They talked about the illness and all that Charles had been through.

“He told the pastor he was ready to die,” Hazel said. “He said he was ready to ‘go home.' And he was certain of one thing. He said he knew that when that time came, he and Dennis would be together again.”

Charles' funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the Lynnville Friends Church.

  • Date of Birth: 4/19/1948
  • Date of Casualty: 1/5/1968
  • Branch of Service: ARMY
  • Rank: CWO
  • Casualty Country: LAOS
  • Casualty Province: LZ
  • Status: MIA

Chief Warrant Officer Sheldon Duane Schultz of Altoona was laid to rest this afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery. About 200 people attended the graveside services for Schultz and four other soldiers who were shot down in 1968 during a helicopter mission over Laos during the Vietnam War.

“For our comrades in arms … they honored the flag; so it is that the flag honors them,” Chaplain Major Will H. Horton said.

Twenty-one gun salutes and the sounding of “Taps” were held in honor of each soldier.

Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division provided the honor guard, band and pall bearers for today's ceremony.

The graveside services followed a private funeral service at Old Post Chapel, Fort Myer, Virginia.

  • Date of Birth: 12/12/1944
  • Date of Casualty: 1/5/1968
  • Date of Death: 1/5/1968
  • Home of Record: DEVINE, TEXAS
  • Branch of Service: ARMY
  • Rank: SFC
  • Casualty Country: LAOS
  • Casualty Province: LZ
    Status: MIA

  • Date of Birth: 6/17/1943
  • Date of Casualty: 1/5/1968
  • Home of Record: HAMDEN, CONNECTICUT
  • Branch of Service: ARMY
  • Rank: SFC
  • Casualty Country: LAOS
  • Casualty Province: LZ
    Status: MIA

A Vietnam War soldier listed as missing in action for nearly 40 years has been found after military excavations unearthed a single tooth used to identify the man, military officials said Monday.

Sergeant John Gallagher, 24, is among five soldiers who went missing during the Vietnam War and whose remains were recently found and identified by forensic scientists after multiple excavations at the crash of their military helicopter. Gallagher was identified from a single molar found at the site, officials said.

According to military reports, the five men were patrolling an area in Savannakhet Province, Laos, on January 5, 1968, when the helicopter they were flying in was shot down by enemy ground fire. Officials said there were no survivors in the crash, and all attempts to reach the site over the next several days were repulsed by enemy fire.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Defense, research teams found the wreckage of the downed chopper and led three excavations at the site between 2002 and 2006, recovering remains and other material evidence.

A group funeral for the men is scheduled for August 14, 2007, at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Most of Gallagher's family now resides in South Florida. His brother, Gordon Gallagher, of Port St. Lucie, said he was glad that the wait was finally over.

“I think we all kind of expected the results, but there's always something in the back of your mind, maybe somehow, someway, he would be returned alive; but, unfortunately, it is not going to happen,” Gallagher told WPBF News 25.

The slain soldier's family said they will place their brother's remains in the Centerville Cemetery in Hamden, Conn., after the memorial service at the national cemetery.

Gallagher's sister, Nancy Yunek, told WPBF that she was proud of how the military handled the search for her brother.

“I think America is the only country in the world that keeps on looking for their military people and tries to bring them home. I'm proud to live in a country that does that,” Yunek said.

  • Date of Birth: 9/24/1942
  • Date of Casualty: 1/5/1968
  • Home of Record: TUMWATER, WASHINGTON
  • Branch of Service: ARMY
  • Rank: SFC
  • Casualty Country: LAOS
  • Casualty Province: LZ
  • Status: MIA

Nearly 40 years after his helicopter went down in Vietnam, an Olympia man was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

The family of Sergeant James Williamson gathered at the cemetery Tuesday to say goodbye to a man they'd been missing for decades.


“I was deeply moved,” said Williamson's daughter, Nicole Ross.

“I think that the honor that they gave my dad and the rest of the crew members on the helicopter was beyond compare.”

Ross said watching the military honor guard bring her father to the burial site and listening to the sound of Taps was like saying goodbye for the first time. “This was a ceremony that was very fitting for a hero.”

“This really brings it to a final end,” she said after the service while clutching the flag from the casket.

Williamson was a helicopter gunner on a mission to drop U.S. soldiers in Laos when his aircraft went down somewhere in the jungle in 1968.

No evidence of remains were found at the time, and his family never knew what happened.

But earlier this year, Nicole received a phone call from Department of Defense informing her that the wreckage of her father's helicopter had been found.

Investigators found Williamson's faded ID card at the site of the crash.

“This really brings it to a final end,” Ross said on Tuesday. “I'll always miss my dad.”

Nicole Ross of Olympia used to daydream in class that her father had come home.

Army Sgt. 1st Class James D. Williamson and four other soldiers went missing in action in 1968 when their helicopter was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War. Ross was 5 when it happened.

On Aug. 14, the remains of her father and three of the four other soldiers will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. The remains of the fifth service member will be buried later.

For years after he went missing, Ross held a glimmer of hope that her father might be alive.

“That gets really draining at times, so it’s a relief in a lot of ways,” she said of the return of her father’s remains. “I’m just happy that he’s going to be home. He might not necessarily be in Washington state, but I think it’s really important.”

On Monday, the Department of Defense announced that the remains of the soldiers would be returned to their families.

Ross, her husband, Joseph, and their children, Jim, 14, and Shelby, 11, will attend the burial with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. Their son is named after Ross’ father.

Williamson graduated from Olympia High School in 1960. He served a brief stint in the National Guard before enlisting in the Army in 1964. He was 25 when he went missing.

Ross said she was raised by her grandparents and has few memories of her father. What she learned about him was from the photos and letters that her father sent from overseas that her grandparents kept.

Williamson was a gunner aboard the Huey helicopter that was shot down January 5, 1968.

Between 2002 and 2006, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command led three excavations of the crash site after locating it, recovering remains and other evidence including dog tags for three of the soldiers, Defense Department officials said.

The command also used dental records, forensic identification and circumstantial evidence to identify the remains, department officials said.

Ross, 45, was notified in May that her father’s remains had been identified.

Her grandparents became founding members of the National League of Families after their son went missing in action. The league works to ensure the remains of service members killed in Southwest Asia during the Vietnam War are returned home.

“They were active and involved, and that’s how I got active and involved,” she said.

Ross is the league’s former state coordinator and spoke during the 1987 dedication of the Vietnam Veterans memorial at the Capitol Campus, which bears her father’s name. She is the assistant director of the state Department of Revenue’s compliance division.

Her grandfather, John Williamson, died in 1999. Her grandmother, Bernice Williamson, died last month. She was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, and Ross was never able to get her to understand her son finally was coming home.

“I was very lucky to have that relationship,” she said. “I got to know him through.

dennis-hamilton-funeral-services-photo-02 dennis-hamilton-funeral-services-photo-01 james-williamson-funeral-services-photo-01

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