Norman Dale Eaton – Colonel, United States Air Force

Remains returned 12/16/15  ID 11/20/06
Name: Norman Dale Eaton
Rank/Branch: O5/US Air Force
Unit: 8th Tactical Bomber Squadron, Phan Rang Airbase
Date of Birth: 11 August 1925
Home City of Record: Weatherford Oklahoma
Date of Loss: 13 January 1969
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 161600N 1064800E (XD936005)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Category: 2
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: B57
Refno: 1359
Other Personnel In Incident: Paul E. Getchell (missing)

SYNOPSIS: The B57 Canberra was a light tactical bomber that played a varied role in the Vietnam conflict. A veteran of operations Rolling Thunder and Steel Tiger, B57's from the 8th Tactical Bombing Squadron at Phan Rang, South Vietnam had also been equipped with infared sensors for night strike operations in Tropic Moon II and III in the spring of 1967.

Colonel Dale Eaton was the pilot and Captain Paul E. Getchell the co-pilot of a B57 Canberra light bomber which was lost in Savannakhet Province, Laos on January 13, 1969. The aircraft was apparently struck by hostile fire at about 50 miles southeast of the city of Muong Nong. (NOTE: Although the B57 model on which Eaton and Getchell were flying is not noted in any available records, based on the history of the aircraft and the nature of warfare in Laos, it is likely that the two were aboard either one of the later G models – assigned to night intruder missions – or the RB57E model – assigned to night reconnaissance.)

Although no parachutes were observed by other aircraft in the area, a forward air controller (FAC) reported hearing a faint beeper in the approximate area where the last radio transmission was received. Both men were declared Missing In Action and classified in “Category 2”, which indicates the strong possibility that the enemy knew their fate. There
are nearly 600 lost in Laos. They were not negotiated for in the Paris Peace accords, nor have they been negotiated for since, and as a consequence, not one man held in Laos was ever released.

Norman Dale Eaton is a 1949 graduate of West Point.

In Laos, Sifting the Earth for American Dead
Team Is Part of Search for Vietnam MIAs
By Ellen Nakashima
Courtesy of theWashington Post
Saturday, May 1, 2004

SARAVAN, Laos — On the first day of the dig, Franklin Damann spied what appeared to be a bone fragment resting on the soil surface. But he could not be sure. He put it in a Ziploc bag labeled “Possible Osseous Remains.”

He hoped that the fragment, and several more found over the next few days, would yield DNA to help identify U.S. Air Force Colonel Norman Dale Eaton or his navigator, Lieutenant Colonel Paul E. Getchell. Their B-57 exploded and crashed on a remote hill in southern Laos in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War.

Damann, a forensic anthropologist, and about a dozen U.S. service members shoveled and sifted hundreds of buckets of dirt from that metal-pocked hill in February. In several equally isolated and treacherous sites in Cambodia and Vietnam, other teams were also scanning for every shard of steel, canvas, plastic, bone or, best of all, tooth that might help identify men who died in the Vietnam War, more than 1,800 of whom are still missing.

Since 1992, 10 times a year, the military has sent teams to the old battlegrounds of Southeast Asia to search for Vietnam combatants' remains. Two to six teams go on each trip. So far, they have accounted for 724 Americans, according to the Pentagon.

But time is running out. Witnesses are dying. Investigators are now talking to people who can remember their fathers telling them about a crash site. The most accessible areas already have been excavated, and bone disintegrates more readily in the acidic soil of Southeast Asia.

It is an arduous yet optimistic endeavor, costing $100 million a year spread over five agencies. Though the military has long proclaimed that no man or woman shall be left behind on the battlefield — and made recovery efforts for several years after World War II and the Korean War — it took the emotional upheaval of the Vietnam War to spur the government to undertake a continuous search effort. Scientists and recovery teams have been finding and identifying remains of those killed in World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Pacific.

They have identified remains of about 500 service members from World War II, Korea and the Cold War. The U.S. military estimates that 88,000 service members are still missing from all wars. The effort to find them is destined to continue, officials say, as long as the United States sends its men and women into battle zones.

“I can't think of a more noble mission,” said Marine Captain William P. “Bay” Dobbins, 29, leader of a team searching for the remains of a Navy pilot downed in southern Laos. Dobbins, who served in Iraq last year, said he had been waiting for this job with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. “I love the idea of bringing these guys home,” he said.

So it was that on a chilly morning in February, a dozen soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines and Damann, who works at the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu, piled into an aging Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter at the team's base camp in southern Laos. Twenty minutes later, they landed on a hill in Saravan province that was traversed by the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a network of paths used by the North Vietnamese to ferry supplies along the border with Laos into South Vietnam. The team hiked down a long, steep slope and, putting spade to soil, dug in a space roughly as long and wide as an Olympic swimming pool.

About 90 Laotian villagers, who live a day's trek away and were hired for a small daily wage, were already there. They formed a bucket brigade down the slope, men and women with high cheekbones and broad faces, wearing old jeans, Nike caps and wool head scarves.

Pairs of villagers rocked trays slung from bamboo poles, massaging red dirt through quarter-inch wire mesh. As a boombox blared a Motown mix, the American team members scanned for pieces of zipper, boot, oxygen hose — what the investigators call life support material.

The hill was not an easy one. At a 35-degree angle, it had a view at 3,700 feet of a valley below filling with deceptively fast-moving clouds. Army Sergeant Robert Bryson, in charge of team safety, warned the crew: “This site is dangerous. When the pilots say go, there's no lollygagging or we'll be here overnight.”

During a mission three years ago, seven military personnel and nine Vietnamese died when their Mi-17 helicopter slammed into a fog-shrouded hill.

The site was surveyed last summer by Joan Baker, an anthropologist who also works at the Honolulu forensics lab. She found no crash crater, leading her to conclude that the plane had exploded before it plunged. Her investigative team found hundreds of pieces of fan blades, wires and bolts strewn over more than 350 square yards. Then she saw a small metal object nestled in the roots of a tree. It was a dog tag, bearing Eaton's name. “It was pretty exciting,” Baker recalled. “I couldn't believe it for a minute. I was like, ‘No!' ” Team members planted a yellow stake wherever they found even a jot of debris, turning the hill into a dandelion field of stakes.

Damann held up a slice of rusted metal to the gray light filtering through the trees. The words “cylinder hydraulic actuating” were still visible. The metal plate was engraved with the manufacturer's name, Glenn L. Martin Ltd., Baltimore, Md., which in the 1960s retooled the British-made B-57s from straight-and-level planes to dive bombers.

“We'll be pulling stuff all day,” said Damann, a lanky Louisianan who analyzes skeletal remains to figure out a person's size, sex, race and other characteristics.

As it turned out, the team would not be pulling stuff all day. After lunch, the clouds rolled in, obscuring the valley below. Bryson gave the word to load up the buckets and gather the tools. “It's time to get off the hill,” he said.

The son of a Vietnam Navy veteran, Bryson is a mortuary affairs specialist, or 92-Mike in Army lingo. He was on his 31st recovery mission to Southeast Asia, has worked directly with MIA families and relishes the satisfaction of delivering a memento to a wife or parent.

“There are cases where a family member said, ‘He always carried a 1945 buffalo nickel,' and then you go to the site and dig and pull it out of the dirt,” he said. “There are the wedding rings, the crucifixes, wallets with pictures.” Working one World War II case, he said, he found letters ready to be mailed home. “You bring them home to a wife or mother, and the gratitude is immense. That's pretty amazing you can do stuff like that.”

Unexploded Ordnance

Elderly locals are another source of information. Khampoy Khun, a grandfatherly man with an impish grin, was trying to clear a rice field about a decade ago when he came upon metal aircraft parts poking up from the soil. He eventually told his story to American investigators and led them to a site where a Navy pilot had plowed into a hill in April 1970.

“I would be very glad if the Americans find what they are looking for and can return the remains to the families,” said Khampoy, 70, cheering on the Americans and Laotians digging, hauling and screening soil. “I think the families back home are hoping the remains will be found.”

He had one request, though: that the United States do more to remove unexploded ordnance left from the war. “I am very poor,” Khampoy said. “And I cannot work my rice fields with the unexploded bombs. It's all over the place.”

In February, the team looking for the Navy pilot's remains unearthed a 500-pound unexploded bomb.

Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. air campaign dropped more than 2 million tons of explosive ordnance on the hills and valleys of Laos, the world's most heavily bombed nation per capita, according to United Nations Development Program statistics. Some of the craters were as large as houses. Up to 30 percent of the ordnance, it is estimated, failed to detonate and continues to kill about 200 people, many of whom are children, each year, according to the program.

In fiscal 2003 the United States spent $1.2 million on clearing the ordnance in Laos, about one-fourth of the total international donor aid to the effort, U.S. officials said.

After 30 days, Damann, Bryson and their team flew back to Honolulu. Another team took their place in March to continue the dig. All the evidence found is bagged and sent to the lab. There, a different set of anthropologists examines the remains and the life support material.

The lab, which is part of the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, identifies on average two Americans a week. The best way to make an identification is to match a tooth, especially one that has had a filling or a drilling, to dental records, Thomas Holland, the lab's scientific director, explained in a telephone interview from Honolulu. “No two fillings are alike,” he said. “That's really how most identifications are made.”

Even as the difficulty of the missions has increased, the technology has improved, Holland said. These days, up to 70 percent of cases are identified by matching mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down through the maternal line, from remains to a relative from the same maternal line, he said. About five grams of dense bone, the type found in the arm or leg, is needed to gather enough DNA for an identification.

In the mid-1990s, the military began taking a DNA sample from all service members in case it is needed for identification.

‘Off Target'

On the night of Jan. 13, 1969, Eaton and Getchell took off from Phan Rang Air Base in South Vietnam. They flew west toward Laos, to drop bombs and napalm on a target along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in an effort to disrupt the enemy's supply line.

Eaton's last recorded words before the plane crashed were “Off target,” according to a wartime Air Force report. A C-130 pilot who was flying nearby, directing Eaton's strike, said that his cockpit was lit up by the flash from the bomb Eaton dropped, and lit up again five seconds later by the B-57's crash, according to the report. No parachutes were seen. A two-second emergency beeper signal was heard by another aircraft in the area, but it was unclear if that was from Eaton or Getchell.

Eaton, then 43, had always said that when he went, he wanted to “go down in a ball of fire,” his wife, Jeanne Eaton, now 75, recalled in a telephone interview from Alexandria. He loved to fly, loved “that wonderful, celestial feeling,” she said, though he had his concerns about the war.

Eaton's oldest son, Paul Eaton, 53, is now a Major General in the Army, stationed in Baghdad, the commander in charge of training the nascent postwar Iraqi army.

Getchell was 32, slender, dark-haired and a carpenter with a philosophy degree. “He was always learning and reading,” and looked forward to teaching, recalled his widow, Teresa Getchell, 67.

As the years passed, the two women, who have never remarried, gradually came to terms with their husbands' deaths. For Getchell, it has been so long since her husband died, she said, that finding any remains now will not mean much. “It will just verify what I feel is already the case, that he's gone,” she said from her winter home in Bradenton, Fla.

For Eaton, the search holds out hope for some peace of heart.

“The very fact that they found my husband's dog tags, at least there's a substance there, there's a reality,” she said. “Hopefully, they will find some tangible evidence of him.”

In March, the team that took over from Damann found more possible remains at the site. The evidence will be sent to the lab. A new team returns in June to continue the hunt.

NEWS RELEASES from the United States Department of Defense

April 24, 2007

Airmen Missing In Action From Vietnam War Are Identified

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

They are Colonel Norman D. Eaton, of Weatherford, Oklahoma, and Lieutenant Colonel Paul E. Getchell, of Portland, Maine, both U.S. Air Force. Eaton will be buried April 25, 2007, at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., and Getchell will be buried later this spring at Arlington.

On January 13, 1969, Eaton and Getchell crewed a B-57B Canberra bomber participating in a nighttime attack on targets in Salavan Province, Laos.The target area was illuminated by flares from a C-130 aircraft; however, the flares dimmed as the B-57 began its third bombing run on the target.The crew was low on fuel, but decided to continue the attack run without illumination.The C-130 crew received a radio transmission indicating that the B-57 was off target and seconds later, the plane crashed.Eaton and Getchell could not be recovered at the time of the incident.

In 1995, a joint U.S.-Lao People's Democratic Republic (L.P.D.R.) team, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), investigated the incident and interviewed a Laotian citizen who recalled the crash.Another joint U.S.-L.P.D.R. team surveyed the site and found wreckage and crew-related materials consistent with the citizen's report.

In 2003, a joint U.S.-L.P.D.R. team excavated the crash site and recovered Eaton's identification tag.The team was unable to complete the recovery and subsequent teams re-visited the site five more times between 2004 and 2005 before the recovery was complete.As a result, the teams found Getchell's identification tag, human remains and additional crew-related items.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA in the identification of the remains.

24 April 2007:

The remains of an Oklahoma airman killed when his bomber crashed in Laos in 1969 will be buried Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the Department of Defense announced Tuesday.

U.S. Air Force Colonel Norman D. Eaton of Weatherford and Lieutenant Colonel Paul E. Getchell, of Portland, Maine, were flying a B-57B Canberra bomber in Salavan Province, Laos, on January 13, 1969, when the plane crashed, defense officials said.

A joint United States-Lao People's Democratic Republic team surveyed the site in 1995 and discovered wreckage and materials from the crew. In 2003, the team recovered Eaton's identification and two years later found Getchell's identification tag, human remains and other items.

Scientists used mitochondrial DNA to identify the remains, defense officials said.

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