Paul Everett Getchell – Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force


Remains Returned 12/16/05  ID  11/20/06
Name: Paul Everett Getchell
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Unit: 8th Tactical Bomber Squadron, Phan Rang Airbase
Date of Birth: 12 November 1936
Home City of Record: Portland Maine
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: Norman D. Eaton (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.

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.

29 April 2007:

Ever since Paul Getchell's plane crashed during a 1969 bombing mission in Laos, his wife, Teresa, has waited for him to come home to Portland.

At first she expected him to walk through the door. After the military determined that Getchell was likely dead, she searched for his image in photos carried home by former prisoners of war.

Later, she clung to rumors of missing U.S. soldiers in Soviet work camps.

Now her waiting has come to an end.

Twelve years after the Defense Department began searching for the site where his plane crashed, Paul Getchell is coming home. His remains were positively identified by the military two days before Christmas. Next month, Teresa Getchell, her son, Greg, and daughter, Karen, who were 3 and 4, respectively, when their father disappeared, will fly to Hawaii to pick up his remains and bury him at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

“What a Christmas present,” Teresa Getchell said last week in an exclusive interview after the Pentagon announced the identification of Getchell and the plane's pilot, Lt. Col. Norman Eaton of Weatherford, Okla. “It was a sense of relief.”

That the Getchells' four-decade vigil is over is a rare ending for families of the 1,785 soldiers, airmen and Marines who are still listed as missing from the Vietnam War.

Each year the remains of only 100 of the 88,010 soldiers missing from World War II, the Cold War, Korean and Vietnam Wars are located by the Defense Department's Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, where 600 people are involved in the $105 million-a-year effort to locate and return America's missing.

Not all missing soldiers will be found. Larry Greer, a Defense Department spokesman, said analysts believe only 1,000 of the 1,785 soldiers still missing from Vietnam are recoverable, only 20 of the 125 missing in the Cold War, 5,500 of the 8,100 missing from the Korean War and 30,000 of the 78,000 missing from World War II.

Capt. Paul Getchell, 35, navigated B-57B Canberra warplanes on secret bombing runs in Laos out of Phan Rang Air Base in Vietnam for about six months. The one-year assignment was required before he could take up his new post, teaching philosophy at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo,

His plane went missing at 11:45 p.m. on Jan. 13, 1969, said Teresa Getchell, who recalls each step of her search for her husband down to the hour and the minute.

According to the Air Force's official report, which his widow received in January, Getchell and Eaton, the pilot, were on a napalm strike in a plane named Yellowbird 52 over the northeastern tip of Laos' Salavan Province, about 18 miles from the Vietnam border.

They were working along with a crew in a C-130 airplane, dubbed Blindbat 2, which marked the targets with flares before Eaton and Getchell swooped in with a bomb.

After maintaining a holding pattern for about an hour, Eaton decided to forgo the flares for his next target because he was running low on fuel. Eaton and Getchell went in at a steep dive toward their target just outside the remote mountainside village of Ban La Lao.

“Eaton called out ‘off target.' Blindbat 2 lost radio contact with Yellowbird 52 and seconds later saw an explosion on the ground. Communication with Yellowbird 52 could not be re-established,” the report states.

A search the next day failed to detect any voice or beeper contact or visual signs of wreckage. “Because enemy forces controlled the area, ground searches for the missing men were not conducted,” the report states.

Around 9 a.m. on Jan. 14, two Air Force officers the Getchells knew appeared at the front door of the family's home in Buzzard's Bay, Mass., not far from Getchell's posting as an instructor at Otis Air Force Base.

“I opened the front door and said, ‘I hope this is just a visit' and I knew damn well it wasn't,” Teresa Getchell recalled.
Teresa Getchell started wearing a metal bracelet engraved with her husband's name. Three years after he disappeared, she sold the Buzzard's Bay home and moved the family back to Portland, where she and her husband grew up.

She went to work as a pulmonary nurse specialist at Mercy Hospital. She never remarried and she never stopped pushing to find out the fate of her husband.

She became active in the League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
In 1972, she and her two children went to Laos seeking answers. They traveled with Eaton's wife and son. Getchell said the government officials she met there were polite but not helpful.

Greg Getchell said he grew up imagining his father alive somewhere, possibly tortured, and hoping his father would come home to take him camping and play baseball.

“My mother always spoke so highly of him,” he said. “I always hoped he would eventually come home.”

Their hopes were raised again in 1995, when the Department of Defense opened its investigation into the fate of Yellowbird 52 and its crew as part of a push started in the 1980s by President Ronald Reagan to find missing Vietnam War soldiers.

But the pace of the investigation was slow. It was another three years before a team identified the site of the crash with the help of the 70-year-old chief of Ban La Lao, the village where the plane was thought to have gone down.
During the next decade, teams returned seven times to excavate the site. The debris was scattered across the jungle floor. The team found hundreds of items — a sunglasses case, assorted keys and fragments of uniforms.

Greer, the spokesman for the POW/MIA office, said recovering missing troops from the Vietnam War is a race against time because the soil in Southeast Asia is so acidic that bones quickly become corroded.

He said the 13-year effort to recover remains of Getchell and Eaton is typical. He said some recovery cases have taken more than 20 years to complete and will take longer as time passes and memories of crash sites begin to fade.
Thirty-eight years after she last saw him, Teresa Getchell still weeps over her husband, who smiles out from old photos, a handsome, pipe-smoking man with a crewcut.

They met at Camp Gregory in Gray, a summer camp for boys, where she was a nurse and he worked in maintenance during his summer break from studies at St. John's Seminary in Boston.

The oldest of nine children, Getchell was a graduate of Cheverus High School. He made local headlines in the 1950s as a movie usher who was hit on the head with a flashlight and robbed of $3,941 outside a night deposit box by a well-known gang member, Bradley “Hot Rod” Baker.

His trip to Europe as a Civil Air Patrol cadet to present greetings from Maine Gov. Burton M. Cross to the president of Turkey also earned the notice of the press.

Ted Borduas of Portland said he cannot visit Fort Williams at Cape Elizabeth without thinking of Getchell. They joined the Air Force together. The two had gotten to know each other at Camp Gregory — Borduas worked at the sister camp, Camp Peski — and bumped into each other in the recruitment office in 1961.

They took their tests together and were sworn in together at Fort Williams. Borduas said Getchell aced the test, even the section where they were supposed to identify the type of airplane by its silhouette.

“He was the leader type,” Borduas said.

He reconnected with the Getchell family last month. While working out on the treadmill at a local gym, he struck up a conversation with the man next to him about the funeral procession he'd seen that day for a South Portland native killed in Iraq.

“He told me, ‘I just got word they found my father in Vietnam,'” said Borduas, who realized he was chatting with Paul Getchell's son, Greg.

“I told him, ‘Your father and I raised our hands together at Fort Williams,'” he said.

In the nearly four decades since their vigil began, the Getchells' life has gone on. Teresa Getchell continued her work helping families find their missing soldiers. She marched in parades, often accompanied by her two children. She left nursing, got her teacher's certificate and taught grade school for a couple of years before retiring.

Today she divides her time between her home on Little Road and a second home outside Sarasota, Fla., where she plays a lot of golf.

Greg took on the cause of his father as New England regional coordinator of the National League of Families, and as a history major at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., where he studied Vietnam and MIAs.

Now a salesman for Idexx Laboratories Inc. in Westbrook, Greg Getchell lives in Portland and has a 16-year-old daughter, Abigail. His sister, Karen, is a sales consultant for Martin's Point Health Care in Portland.

When the Getchells travel to Hawaii on May 17 they will leave with two bone fragments that were matched by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory to mitochondrial DNA using a blood sample from Getchell's sister, Mary Buttermore. Eaton's remains also were identified, and buried at Arlington National Cemetery last week.
They will also carry home Getchell's dog tags, the only other item retrieved from the crash site that investigators could definitively tie to Paul Getchell.

But it is enough, said Greg Getchell. “It is a relief to know that he died on impact, he wasn't tortured,” he said.
His widow said she plans to bury the fragments and dog tags, along with the bracelet she put on shortly after his death and has only removed when she underwent surgery.

There will be a ceremony back in Portland to remember Paul Getchell, who was posthumously promoted to lieutenant colonel, soon after his burial May 21 at Arlington, where a marker in his memory already stands.

“He was such a military man we feel that is where he would want to be buried,” Greg Getchell said.

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