Darel Dean Leetun – Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force

Date of Birth: 12/24/1932
Date of Casualty: 9/17/1966
Branch of Service: AIR FORCE
Rank: LTC
Casualty Country: NORTH VIETNAM
Casualty Province: NZ
Status: MIA

Captain, U.S. Air Force
13th Tactical Fighter Squadron
Date of Action: September 17, 1966


The Air Force Cross is presented to Darel Dean Leetun, Captain, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force over North Vietnam on 17 September 1966.

On that date, Captain Leetun led a flight of F-105 Thunderchiefs against a heavily defended high priority target near Hanoi. Undaunted by intense and accurate flak, deadly surface-to-air missiles, and hostile MiGs, Captain Leetun led his flight through this fierce environment to the crucial target.

On the bomb run, Captain Leetun's Thunderchief was hit by hostile fire, becoming a flaming torch and nearly uncontrollable; however, Captain Leetun remained in formation and delivered his high-explosive ordnance directly on target.

After bomb release, Captain Leetun's plane went out of control and was seen to crash approximately 10 miles from the target area.

Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Captain Leetun reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

The remains of a U.S. Air Force pilot shot down and killed 39 years ago on a bombing raid in the Vietnam War have been identified and are being returned to the United States for burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
Lt. Col. Darel Leetun of Hettinger, North Dakota, will be buried with full military honors on July 8 at the cemetery in rolling hills near the Pentagon.

On Sept. 17, 1966, Leetun led a bombing raid over Lang Son Province, North Vietnam, where his F-105D ‘Thunderchief' aircraft was hit by ground fire. Other pilots in the flight saw the jet crash, but did not receive emergency beeper signals or see a parachute.

Leetun's remains were later found on a hillside by a joint U.S.-Vietnamese search team with the help of local villagers. They were positively identified by American forensic experts in Hawaii.


1 Vietnam War have been identified and are being returned to the United States
for burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, the Pentagon said on
June 29. Lieutenant Colonel Darel Leetun of Hettinger, North Dakota, will be buried
with full military honors on July 8 at the cemetery in rolling hills near the Pentagon

Darel Leetun: Missing no longer, honored always

Wars do not go away quietly. It always has been so. And it was certainly the case for the family of Lieutenant Colonel Darel D. Leetun.

The remains of Colonel Leetun will be buried with honors Friday in Arlington National Cemetery. With that, perhaps his family can find peace. They deserve more, so much more.

Thirty-nine years ago, the U.S. Air Force combat pilot was flying an F-105 Thunderchief on a bombing run near Hanoi in Vietnam, when he was shot down with a Russian surface to air missile.

Colonel Leetun was declared missing in action on September 17, 1966.

He was one of ours. Born in Hettinger, he graduated from Steele High School and North Dakota State University. He had family — children.

For a very long time, his family did not know what had happened to him. Was he killed in the crash after he released his payload on target after his crew bailed out? Was he a POW?

The Air Force declared Colonel Leetun dead in 1975.

In recent years, the remains of a number of servicemen have been recovered from the hills of Vietnam. In this case, DNA testing identified one set of remains as Darel Leetun. His family was notified, and now comes that final resting place — Arlington.

All of us should take a moment Friday and think about Darel Leetun's sacrifice, about what that means in terms of our nation, and about his family. And then look up at that blue sky and imagine an F-105 Thunderchief flying high.

Published July 8, 2005

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Darel Leetun was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, 39 years after his F-105 fighter-bomber was shot down near the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.

During a 45-minute service, Keith Leetun of Weyers Cave spoke of his father's effect on others, from fellow pilots who saw the 33-year-old pilot die to a Minnesota woman who never knew him. He also said his father's loyalty to his country offered “a flicker of hope” to future generations of patriotic Americans.

“What was meant for evil, God turned into good,” said Leetun, 45. “Dad has come home.”

The children of Keith and Rene Leetun–Jack, 13; Joni, 11; and Jane, 10–sang “America the Beautiful” as a tribute to the grandfather they never met.

Keith Leetun's remarks included a reference to Jana Isle of Brainerd, Minnesota, who in 1975 bought a Missing In Action bracelet inscribed with Darel Leetun's name and date of disappearance. Upon learning of the recovery of Darel Leetun's remains, Isle sent the bracelet to Keith Leetun who, joined by sister Kerri Cain, placed the memento on his dad's coffin.

After the chapel rite, eight chestnut horses drew Darel Leetun's charcoal caisson two miles down a twisting asphalt road to the grave site, where Major General Charles Baldwin presented Keith Leetun with the American flag that covered the casket.

The service ended with a 21-gun salute, followed by the playing of “Taps.”

The gathering of about 130 at the service included Darel Leetun's widow, Janet Chamberlen, and Darel Leetun's nephew, Robert Leetun of Longmont, Colorado. Chamberlen and Cain both live in Charlottesville. Senator Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, where Darel Leetun grew up, also attended.

A program for the service said Darel Leetun received the Air Force Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Air Medal and Purple Heart.

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