VIRGIL CAMERON was born on May 8, 1939. He became a member of the Navy while in McAllen, Texas and attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander (O4).
VIRGIL CAMERON was listed as Missing in Action in 1966 during the Vietnam War. On August 23, 1999, his recovered remains were laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.
You can find VIRGIL CAMERON honored on the Vietnam Memorial Wall on Panel 9E, Row 85.
VIRGIL KING CAMERON
A Hero Returned To Us!
At 1130 hours on August 23, 1999 a service was held at Arlington National Cemetery.
Following the service, Lieutenant Commander Virgil King Cameron, United States Navy, formerly of McAllen, Texas, was laid to rest.
It took 33 years and 24 days from the time of his death, but he had returned home. He had full military honors …. six white horses pulling the caisson, bagpipes playing Amazing Grace and a fly over of F-18s set in the missing man formation.
August 6, 1999
Navy pilot comes home
McALLEN, TEXAS – Thirty-three years after Lieutenant Commander Virgil King Cameron's planewas shot down in North Vietnam, the Navy pilot is coming home.
His parents, Charles and Leona Cameron, of McAllen, received confirmation July 7 that Navy officials had identified their son’s remains following acomplex series of DNA tests.
At their home on Thursday, his parents sat weeping as they looked through yellowed newspaper clippings and brittle photographs, recalling their son’s life and the bitter years of waiting to find out what exactly happened to him in the war-torn jungles of Vietnam.
“After the attack on King, I cried every day for three years,” said his sobbing mother, 84-year-old Leona Cameron. “And even though the news of the government finding his remains opens old wounds, I’m very pleased because the Lord has a purpose in everything, and I know there is a purpose in his remains.”
Cameron's father said he is relieved that the family has found a way to put
their grief to rest.
“We are just thinking about what we are going to see when we go to Washington,” said his father, 93-year-old Charles Cameron, “so we can't wait for it all to be over.”
He said he is happy to have lived long enough to see his son buried properly.
Cameron will be buried with full military honors, 11 a.m. August 23 at Arlington National Cemetery, said Chief Petty Officer Michael Morales, of the U.S. Navy.
Morales said that he admired the Camerons' strength during a long vigil.
“But 33 years is a long time,” Morales said. “I'm just saying God bless Mr. and Mrs. Cameron to be living this long to put him to rest.”
Morales said he was notified of the identification of Cameron's remains on June 28 and has been coordinating the services since then. He will escort the parents to Washington, D.C., for the burial ceremony.
Cameron's former wife, Ellen Fox, will attend the funeral. She had been married to Cameron for just six months when his plane went missing.
She said he was a religious, talented man who loved to laugh and have fun.
High school and college sweethearts, they parted soon after taking their vows, she said. It was difficult, but they relied on their faith.
“It was the confidence that we knew we're both in the Lord's hands that we could bear it – I thank the Lord that he and I were able to share those six months,” said Fox, who remarried in 1977, 11 years after he disappeared. Cameron was listed as missing in action for eight years, and later reclassified as killed in action. His remains were among other remains found in North Vietnam and shipped to Hawaii, where the laboratory that conducted the special DNA tests is located.
His remains will be flown to Washington, D.C., accompanied by his brother, Drake Cameron.
“I thought the world of him,” said Drake Cameron, who now lives in Houston. “When he made it to the (U.S. Naval) Academy – there's nothing much greater than that.”
He said he is glad that the remains finally have been identified and that his brother will be laid to rest, bringing an end to a 33-year heartache.
“I think it is better to have closure and to have a ceremony and bring the remains back,” Drake Cameron said. “I think it's great that the country honors their war heroes.”
In honor of Cameron's sacrifice, a Purple Heart is displayed on a wall of the Cameron home, accompanied by a plaque with a bronze eagle soaring over his medals, a saber and miniature United States flags. Memorabilia and memories are all that remain now of the man who flew his A-4E Skyhawk from the U.S.S. Constellation, an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin, to be shot down by enemy fire over Vinh, North Vietnam.
“We've felt that he died on impact, so we didn't have any hope that he was alive the same day it happened,” Leona Cameron said, as she paged through a collection of black-and-white portraits and newspaper clippings. “King was a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and we know where he is.”
“Of course we grieved having lost him, but we didn't dwell on him being tortured for years like many other families still do today,” she said.
Cameron's best friend at McAllen High School, Vinson McLeod, said he has been haunted for 33 years by the fact that he missed a chance to see his friend alive again by just one day.
“We were both in the service. He was in the Navy and I was in the Air Force,” the 59-year-old McLeod said from his McAllen home.
“We were on a rendezvous in Hong Kong on July 28, 1966, but when I got there I tried looking for King, and his plane had just taken off the Constellation. And the next day he was shot down,” he said, his voice breaking. “I've carried his memory with me all these years and made our relationship special.”
McLeod said Cameron was “a delightful person with a strong personal faith, strong sense of belief in this country and what it represented.”
He said he had a great sense of humor and was a good and loyal friend.
They corresponded through the 1960s, sharing their feelings about the war.
“King was humbled and awed by being a Navy pilot and all that it meant with the responsibility of flying combat missions,” said McLeod who plans to attend his friend's funeral. “His letters were about his thinking about the position he was in and his responsibility under a war condition. And he was concerned that he was dropping bombs on faceless, nameless people.”
He also recalled his friend's skill in the cockpit.
“He was top flight and King was the best this country had to offer,” he said.
Ray Vance, a high school friend and pallbearer at Cameron's funeral in 1974 – after Cameron was taken off the missing in action roster and declared killed in action – said he was relieved to hear the family finally will have some closure.
“I'm sure that's a relief to the family,” he said. “It was a pretty bad shock. I think he was probably the only one in our class that was killed in Vietnam.”
He said Cameron started to fly when he was in high school, during Civil Air Patrol classes.
“Flying is what he loved,” Cameron's mother said, tears brimming.
After the war ended, four people were listed as missing in action from McAllen. In addition to Cameron, James “Nick” Rowe, escaped from a prisoner of war camp after five years. Rowe later was assassinated in the Philippines.
Sergeant First Class Samuel Almendariz was presumed killed in 1973 in a ground attack in Laos on July 12, 1967. He is still missing.
Lieutenant William Edward Campbell was shot down in Laos on Jan. 29,1969. His official status is missing in action.
Mary Schantag, of the POW Network, said families of MIAs often just want to know what happened, even if they are not able to recover the bodies of the missing soldiers.
“A lot of the families realize they may never see their loved one walk out of the jungle,” Schantag said. “But what they want is the whole truth. They just want the truth. They want to know everything that happened.”
She said some families have been forced to accept identifications that are questionable, but the Cameron family has a clear DNA identification.
“At least that's one answer,” Schantag said.
The Camerons are simply thankful that after 33 years, they are closer to
seeing their son.
“When you're a believer you know you are going to see them again, so now we can have this service and rejoice,” Leona Cameron said. “I have no doubt it's my son.”
MEMORANDUM FOR CORRESPONDENTS August 27, 1999
The remains of three American servicemen previously unaccounted-for from Southeast Asia have been identified and are being returned to their families for burial in the United States.
They are identified as Army Captain Clyde D. Wilkinson of Mineral Wells, Texas, Army Warrant Officer Arthur E. McLeod of Bay Shore, New York, and Navy Lieutenant Commander V. King Cameron of McAllen, Texas.
On February 12, 1971, Wilkinson and McLeod were flying an armed reconnaissance mission approximately 37 miles west of Quang Tri, South Vietnam, when their AH-1G Cobra gunship was struck by enemy ground fire. The crew attempted to fly the helicopter back to the home base at Khe Sanh when the aircraft began to smoke and burn, forcing an emergency landing. Shortly before touchdown the helicopter exploded and crashed. An intense fire, fed by exploding ordnance, engulfed the aircraft. Other aircraft crew members involved in the mission flew over the crash site, but saw no evidence of survivors. The presence of enemy forces in the area precluded a ground search.
In July 1993, a joint U.S./Socialist Republic of Vietnam team, led by the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting, traveled to Quang Tri Province and interviewed a villager claiming to have knowledge of a U.S. helicopter crash. However, the team found no evidence of a crash at that time. In May 1995, another team interviewed two local villagers claiming to have information about two U.S. crash sites in the same province. One of the sites was scheduled for excavation.
During May and June of 1997, a third team excavated the crash site. They recovered human remains as well as personal effects and pilot-related items.
On July 29, 1966, Cameron took off from the USS Constellation on an armed reconnaissance mission over the coastal waterway of North Vietnam. As he attacked a barge near Nghe Tinh Province, his A-4E Skyhawk was hit by enemy fire. The mission flight leader observed fuel streaming from Cameron's right wing shortly before his plane crashed. There was no sign of an ejection and when the flight leader flew over the crash site, he concluded that no one could have survived the impact.
In 1990, Vietnam repatriated to the United States 20 boxes containing remains believed to be those of U.S. servicemen. Documents supplied at the time suggested that the remains in one of the boxes were those of an American pilot who died in a crash in Nghe Tinh Province. Analysis of these remains failed to associate them with any known U.S. loss.
In June 1993, a joint U.S./Vietnam team traveled to Nghe An Province (formerly Nghe Tinh) and interviewed several villagers who reportedly had information about the crash of a U.S. aircraft which might correlate with Cameron's loss. The team found no wreckage during their investigation, but one of the villagers turned over a fragment of aircraft wreckage taken from the crash site. However, after analysis it was found that fragment was from an F-105 Thunderchief and thus not associated with his crash.
Two other teams investigated alleged crash sites in 1994 and 1998 with negative results.
In February 1998, Vietnam issued a report stating that the remains repatriated in April 1990 may be those of Commander Cameron. The date of loss supplied by the Vietnamese in 1990 actually related to an individual whose remains had been repatriated in 1989 and subsequently identified. The correction of this information ultimately led to the identification of the 1990 remains as those of Commander Cameron.
Anthropological analysis of the remains and other evidence by the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii confirmed the identification of Wilkinson, McLeod and Cameron. With the accounting of these three servicemen, 529 Americans have been identified from the war in Vietnam and returned to their families. There are currently 2,054 Americans unaccounted-for from that war.
Cameron, Virgil King
Born 8 May 1939
Died 29 July 1966
U.S. Navy, Lieutenant Commander
Residence of record: Mcallen, Texas
Section 48, Grave 1977
Buried 23 August 1999
CAMERON, VIRGIL KING
LCDR US NAVY
- VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 07/09/1960 – 07/29/1966
- DATE OF BIRTH: 05/08/1939
- DATE OF DEATH: 07/29/1966
- DATE OF INTERMENT: 08/23/1999
- BURIED AT: SECTION 48 SITE 1977
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
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