Robert Alan Holt
Captain, United States Marine Corps
The Vietnam War will finally come to an end this summer for a Pueblo family, 31 years after its oldest son was shot down while flying a bombing mission over North Vietnam.
Konstance Lavoo, 82 years old and blind for the past 12 years, was recently notified by the U.S. Marine Corps that the remains of her son, John, have been positively identified. The U.S. government will fly her and several family members to Arlington National Cemetery, where her son will be given a military burial July 19.
Captain John Lavoo was 27, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and a Marine pilot when he was shot down in an F-4 Phantom jet over Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam, on Sept. 19, 1968. His navigator, Marine Capt. Robert A. Holt, of Reading, Massachusetts, also died in the crash. A joint U.S.-Vietnamese team found the crash site in 1994 and located 25 bone fragments. They were positively identified as those of the two airmen through DNA testing.
“It was terrible,” said Konstance Lavoo, whose husband died in February. “I had lost a daughter to multiple sclerosis at 23. And now I couldn't believe this could happen. At first they (the Marines) told us only that he was missing. I thought he might find some shelter and be OK.
“The day I kissed Johnnie goodbye, I asked him, ‘You will come home, won't you?' He said, ‘Mama, if I don't, you'll always know where I am.' He always trusted in God. I didn't think he was a prisoner of war. We were so close that I would have felt it if he was in trouble or a captive.
“After I accepted the fact that he wasn't coming back, I got a letter from his commanding officer that they had held a memorial service for him. I tried not to grieve over it too hard.”
She said the service next month will relieve a lot of the pain.
“I think it's going to be a good closure.”
Captain Lavoo went to Thatcher Elementary School, Freed Junior High School and Centennial High School. Sergreant William McCluskey of the Pueblo Police Department recalled his classmate as an intelligent kid, a member of the school orchestra and ROTC.
Lavoo had a choice of either the Air Force Academy or the Naval Academy; he chose the latter because of its older tradition, McCluskey said.
Lavoo was the oldest of four children. Juliette Lavoo died of multiple sclerosis. Another sister, Jeanette Swearingen, now lives in Denver and Penrose, and a brother, James, lives in Garden City, Kansas.
At the time of his death, Lavoo had been married to his wife, Rosalie, for six and a half years, and had a daughter, Karna, 2. “It was the end of hopes and dreams for a young couple,” recalled his widow. “It's very consoling now, to have this closure. We can finally pay our respects to John.”
Courtesy of The American Forces Press Service
Before he left for Vietnam in 1968, Marine Corps F-4B Phantom fighter-bomber pilot Captain John A. Lavoo told his mother, “If I don't come back, you'll know where I am.”
He didn't come back. And it took more than 31 years locate, repatriate, identify and return his remains and those of his friend and navigator-bombardier, Marine Captain Robert A. Holt, to their families for burial.
“I feel so relieved to know that he definitely has been found,” Konstance Lavoo said after the July 19, 1999 military memorial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. “I'm grateful. I felt in my heart that he was safe with God. I didn't feel he was in any pain or agony. And I always felt like I knew where he was.”
POW/Missing Personnel Office spokesman Larry Greer said Lavoo and Holt crashed on September 19, 1968, after launching rockets against a target in Quang Binh, North Vietnam. A large explosion reportedly erupted when the jet crashed. According to incident reports, the wingman saw no parachutes, heard no beepers and, along with a tactical control aircraft, made low passes over the wreckage and saw no sign of survivors. An electronic sensor search was fruitless; the enemy presence prevented ground search and rescue efforts.
Human remains and crew-related artifacts were uncovered at the suspected crash area after two years of research and nine months of excavation by U.S. and Vietnamese investigators. They were repatriated in September 1994.
The Army Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu in April positively identified some remains as Holt's and others as Lavoo's and returned them to the families for burial. There were remains so badly damaged, however, that lab scientists couldn't assign them to either man.
In an unusual twist, the remains of each men were buried in two places. Lavoo's identifiable remains were buried in one Arlington grave. To his side in another grave, the unidentifiable remains from the crash site were buried under a marker with both men's names.
One of Lavoo's 1962 Naval Academy classmates, Rev. William M. Krulak of St. David's Episcopal Church in Baltimore, delivered the eulogy at the Arlington memorial service. A retired Marine Corps Reserve colonel, the minister is the older brother of former Marine Corps commandant Gen. Charles C. Krulak.
“This was a very bittersweet day,” Krulak said after the ceremony. “The families have gone on with their lives. They had already said their goodbyes, and yet here's a chance to bring John Lavoo and Bob Holt back to their home and the country they fought and died for, and put them to rest here in this very sacred place.”
Clifford Holt, 83, buried his son's identifiable remains in Reading, Massachusetts, about 15 miles north of Boston. “I felt [they] belonged with his mother, who passed away more than 20 years ago,” he said.
The elder Holt, of North Port, Florida, attended the Arlington ceremony. He said he was shocked when he received news that his son's remains had been identified. “It brought a partial closure,” he said, noting that, from the crash reports, he knew his son hadn't survived. “We didn't think it was practical that he survived, so we had to face reality and live with that.”
Lavoo's daughter, Karna, was 2 when he died. She said she was going into labor earlier this year when told her father's remains had been identified.
“It was kind of a shock because analysis of the remains had been going on a few years,” the Marshfield, Wis., resident said. “I felt more sadness, because even though I don't know him, I'd always heard about him being a great man. It's hard to think about the potential he never had a chance to pursue.”
Lavoo, John Allan,
- Born 16 July 1940 Died 19 September 1968
- US Marine Corps, Captain
- Res: Marshfield, Wisconsin
- Section 60, Grave 7829, buried 19 July 1999
Holt, Robert Alan
- Born 13 June 1942, Died 19 September 1968
- US Marine Corps, Captain
- Res: North Port, Flodira
- Section 60, Grave 7830, buried 19 July 1999
Marine Captain John A. Lavoo's 1962 Naval Academy classmate, Rev.William M. Krulak of St. David's Episcopal Church in Baltimore, watches as a Marine casket detail readies the American flag for folding. Krulak delivered the eulogy at the Arlington National Cemetery funeral honoring Lavoo and Marine Captain Robert A. Holt, who died in the crash of their fighter in 1968 in Vietnam. The men's remains were repatriated in 1994 and identified in April. Photo by Rudi Williams
Konstance Lavoo and Clifford Holt hold hands to comfort each other following funeral services for their sons at Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery. MarineCaptains John A. Lavoo and Robert A. Holt died in Vietnam in 1968; their remains were repatriated in 1994 and identified in April. Photo by Rudi Williams.
Marine Corps Major Mark Ward presents an American flag to Rosalie Lavoo Rusovick, widow of Marine Captain John A. Lavoo, following the funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery for the fighter pilot, who died more than 31 years ago in Vietnam. The Lavoos' daughter, Karna, looks on. Photo by Rudi Williams
Marine Corps Major Mark Ward presents Clifford Holt the American flag draped over his son's casket during funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery. Marine Captains Robert A. Holt and John A. Lavoo died in Vietnam 31 years ago, and their remains were identified after five years of study. Richard Holt, left, watches the July 19 presentation. Photo by Rudi Williams.
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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