NEWS RELEASES from the United States Department of Defense
No. 1087-06 IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Airman Missing in Action from Vietnam War is Identified
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
He is Major Charles L. Bifolchi, U.S. Air Force, of Quincy, Massachusetts. He will be buried on October 27, 2006, at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
On January 8, 1968, Bifolchi and a fellow crewmember were flying an armed reconnaissance mission against enemy targets in Kon Tum Province, South Vietnam, when their RF-4C aircraft disappeared. A U.S. Army helicopter crew found their aircraft wreckage soon after first light the next day. Search efforts continued for four days; however, enemy activity in the area, combined with the steep terrain and high winds at the crash site, precluded the recovery of the crewmen.
Between 1993 and 2000, U.S. and Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) teams, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), conducted two surveys of an area that was believed to be Bifolchi's crash site. One team interviewed two Vietnamese citizens who turned over human remains they claimed to have recovered at the site. Another team found wreckage consistent with Bifolchi's aircraft.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA from a known maternal relative in the identification of the remains.
Full Name: CHARLES LAWRENCE BIFOLCHI
Date of Birth: 10/27/1943
Date of Casualty: 1/8/1968
Home of Record: QUINCY, MASSACHUSETTS
Branch of Service: AIR FORCE
Casualty Country: SOUTH VIETNAM
Casualty Province: PROV UNKNOWN, MR I
Name: Charles Lawrence Bifolchi
Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force
Unit: 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, Tan Son Nhut Airbase
Date of Birth: 27 October 1943
Home City of Record: Quincy Massachusetts
Date of Loss: 08 January 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 145500N 1075400E (ZB125515)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Other Personnel in Incident: Hallie W. Smith (missing)
Source: Compiled from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK in 1998.
Captain Hallie W. Smith was the pilot and First Lieutenant Charles L. Bifolchi the navigator aboard an RF4C Phantom reconnaissance jet from the 16th Tactical Recon Squadron at Than Son Nhut Airbase, South Vietnam. On January 8, 1968, Smith and Bifolchi were assigned a reconnaissance mission and were en route to the target when radar and radio contact was lost in Kontum Province, South Vietnam, about 15 miles north of the city of Dak To.
Neither the aircraft nor the crew was ever located, despite search efforts. Because of circumstances surrounding the incident, both men were classified Missing in Action, and there is a strong probability that the enemy knows their fates – dead or alive.
His name is already on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., and now the family of an Air Force officer from Quincy, Massachusetts, who disappeared on a mission in 1968 has another small measure of comfort.
Military officials have notified relatives of Major Charles Bifolchi that his remains have been discovered on a remote mountainside in Vietnam.
Bifolchi’s closest survivor on his mother’s side, his aunt Louise Bejma, sent a DNA sample to a government lab attempting to identify the remains of servicemen missing from the Vietnam War.
Bejma, a Whitman native who had moved to Cumberland, Rhode Island, died December 15, 2005, without knowing if the sample was a match. Two weeks ago, word came back that it was.
‘‘It definitely was her last gift,’’ a niece, Christine Bronchuk of Weymouth, said yesterday.
Bifolchi’s mother, Mary, died in 1988. She was active in the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Action in Southeast Asia.
Several of Bifolchi’s cousins gathered yesterday at Merrymount Park in Quincy to see a half-sized replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington that will be on display through Sunday.
They included Bronchuk, her sisters, Jeanette Rose of Weymouth and Patricia O’Grady of Hingham, and their cousins George Fopiano of Hanover and Ed Fopiano of East Bridgewater.
Bifolchi’s older brother, George Bifolchi of Colorado Springs., Colo., a retired Air Force officer and Vietnam veteran, asked his cousins to leave a rose at the memorial wall for him.
Rose said George Bifolchi plans to go to Hawaii to retrieve his brother’s remains, which will be buried in October at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Bifolchis’ cousins said the brothers were very close.
‘‘The two were raised as gentlemen,’’ O’Grady said. ‘‘They were nice kids and honor students.’’
Bifolchi was a 1961 graduate of Quincy High School. He was president of the National Honor Society at Quincy High School and received the Rueben A. and Lizzie Grossman award for leadership, scholastic achievement and service.
He joined the Air Force after graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Rochester, New York.
He was a navigator for a reconnaissance plane that crashed in enemy-held territory on January 8, 1968. He was 24.
Bifolchi’s parents, Alfred and Nora ‘‘Mary’’ Bifolchi, once operated a restaurant in a hotel near Paragon Park along Nantasket Beach in Hull. He died in 1977 and she died in 1988.
Although wer son was declared dead in 1978, his mother held out hope for many years that he was still alive.
The Bifolchis were able to see a ‘‘Freedom Tree’’ in Faxon Park dedicated to their son, who at the time was still listed as missing in action.
In December 1974, Nora ‘‘Mary’’ Bifolchi of Quincy and others sent Christmas cards addressed to the 1,300 Americans listed as missing in action in Southeast Asia.
The name on one of the cards was Bifolchi’s youngest son, Air Force Major Charles Lawrence Bifolchi, a navigator whose Phantom jet had been shot down in Vietnam during a reconnaissance mission on January 8, 1968.
The cards were to be delivered to the North Vietnamese embassy in Paris.
‘‘We don’t really expect the cards will be delivered to the MIAs,’’ Mary Bifolchi said in an interview nearly 32 years ago. ‘‘But at least the North Vietnamese will know we are concerned. I feel my son is still alive and I know many others are alive, too.’’
Mary Bifolchi and her husband, Alfred, died without knowing their son’s fate.
Although military officials declared him dead in 1978, it wasn’t until a few months ago that relatives of Charles Bifolchi learned that his remains had been discovered on a remote mountainside in Vietman.
Bifolchi’s aunt, Whitman native Louise Bejma, had sent a DNA sample to a government lab trying to identify the remains of missing servicemen from the Vietnam War. Another aunt, Josephine Beary, now 85, who lives at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C., had also volunteered to give a sample for testing. Both women were World War II veterans.
Bejma, 86, of Cumberland, R.I., died last December before learning that her nephew’s remains were identified from her DNA.
Family members, including Bifolchi’s older brother, George Bifolchi of Colorado, Springs, Colo., a retired Air Force officer and Vietnam veteran, will now finally get to say good-bye to Charles when he is buried with full military honors Oct. 27 at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on what would have been his 63th birthday.
Locally, a memorial service will be held at the same time at St. Mary’s Church on Crescent Street.
‘‘Thank you to all the folks who wore Charlie’s MIA (missing in action) bracelet and to all of you who supported our prisoners of war and missing in action,’’ Jeanette Rose of Weymouth, Bifolchi’s cousin, told a gathering last night at the Morrisette American Legion Post.
Lawrence Norton, a spokesman for the Quincy Chapter of the Vietnam Combat Veterans Combined Armed Forces, said it was only fitting to honor Bifolchi in recognition for making the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
Among those planning to be at Arlington National Cemetery next week are Mayor William Phelan, City Council President Douglas Gutro, Quincy school committee member David McCarthy and retired Quincy police Lt. Thomas Bolinder.
Bolinder, a Marine Corps veteran who was serving in Vietnam when the 24-year-old Bifolchi’s aircraft went down, has a special reason for attending the ceremony.
Bolinder’s daughter, Katie Sandford of Chicago, has been wearing Bifolchi’s MIA bracelet since she was 8 years old. Sandford, 28, who will also attend the service, will remove the bracelet so it can be buried with Bifolchi in Arlington.
Young Katie would often be at her father’s side when he passed out fliers for the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, an organization to which Bifolchi’s mother also belonged.
‘‘She asked me one day to get her the bracelet,’’ Bolinder said. ‘‘I felt like Charles Bifolchi was part of my family.’’
Anne Marie McDonald, a veteran who also served 22 years in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, flew to Hawaii with her cousin George to retrieve his brother’s remains.
‘‘My children have heard about Charlie all of their lives,’’ she said. ‘‘There is some closure now.’’
A 10-foot multi-colored cloth body-wrap, which was among belongings the military shipped to Bifolchi’s family when he was missing, will be placed on the altar at St. Mary’s Church for the memorial service.
The cloth has been on display in McDonald’s home ever since her aunt, Mary Bifolchi, gave it to her about 30 years ago.
Bifolchi was a 1961 graduate of Quincy High School. After graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Rochester, N.Y, the former Willard Street resident joined the Air Force.
The remains of Bifolchi’s pilot, Portland, Ore., native Hallie ‘‘Bud’’ Smith, have never been recovered.
CLASSMATES REMEMBER MAJOR BIFOLCHI
QUINCY, MASSACHUSETTS – Two weeks after his remains were laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, Air Force Major Charles Bifolchi will get a special Veterans Day remembrance from his high school classmates.
At tomorrow night’s reunion at the Elks Lodge, the Quincy High Class of 1961 will offer extra tributes to Bifolchi, who was identified by DNA testing earlier this year, 38 years after his plane was shot down over Vietnam in 1968.
“Everything with his burial and Veterans Day is so coincidental, we wanted to acknowledge it,” said Judi McAuliffe of Pembroke, one of the reunion organizers.
Bifolchi was declared dead in 1978, but his remains were finally identified earlier this year. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on October 27, 2006, the day he would have turned 63.
McAuliffe and other class members have recognized Bifolchi at past reunions, and given memorial scholarships to Quincy High graduates since 1979. Several attended an October 27 memorial service for him at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Quincy.
At Saturday’s reunion, one of Bifolchi’s relatives and class member Susan Conway of Virginia will describe the Arlington ceremony. The reunion will also feature a “veterans corner” of photographs and small flags in honor of both Bifolchi and Army medic George Underwood, a Class of 1961 graduate, who was killed in an ambush in Vietnam in 1964.
McAuliffe, Donna Anderson of Braintree and others still have the MIA bracelets they wore for Bifolchi in the 1970s. They may wear them to the reunion, as Conway did for the Arlington ceremony.
“He was a very nice, clean-cut guy,” Anderson said. “He was studious, but he had a good sense of humor.”
“And good at math,” McAuliffe recalled. “He got me through trigonometry and physics.”
A caisson carrying the remains of U.S. Air Force navigator Major Charles Bifolchi of Quincy, Massachusetts,
who was missing in action from the Vietnam War, is seen during funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery.
Members of the U.S. Air Force honor guard carry the remains of Major Charles Bifolchi of Quincy,
Massachusetts, who was missing in action from the Vietnam War, during funeral services in Arlington National Cemetery
Father Martin McGuill, left, meets with Thomas Beary after he was presented with the flag from the casket
of his nephew, U.S. Air Force navigator Major Charles Bifolchi, who was missing in action from the Vietnam War,
during funeral services in Arlington National Cemetery, October 27, 2006
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard