PORTLAND — The governor of Maine has declared a state of emergency. Hundreds of Secret Operation soldiers gathered nearly 60 years ago for a top-secret trip to Vietnam, three years before President Lyndon B. Johnson sent U.S. combat forces to the region.
They didn’t make it. Their plane vanished somewhere between Guam and the Philippines, leaving no trace behind.
It has been heartbreaking for the families that the soldiers were not adequately memorialised like other soldiers who died in the battle.
“It’s true that I’m irritated. It’s almost as if they were never warriors at all. Dianna Taylor Crumpler of Olive Branch, Mississippi, whose brother, James Henry Taylor, an Army chaplain, died on the flight, said, “It’s almost like they don’t matter like their deaths don’t matter.”
Families of more than 20 of the fallen soldiers attended the dedication of a monument in Columbia Falls, Maine, on Saturday to commemorate those who died when the plane went missing over the Pacific Ocean. Columbia Falls is about 190 miles east of Portland, Maine (305 kilometres).
The mission, which took place during the early stages of the Vietnam War, is veiled in mystery.
Soldiers from all over the world gathered at Travis Air Force Base in California before boarding a Lockheed Super Constellation with propellers run by the Flying Tiger Line, which specialised in chartered flights for the US military.
Flight 739, which carried 93 American soldiers, three South Vietnamese, and 11 crew members, never arrived in Saigon. It took off from California and stopped in Hawaii, Wake Island, and Guam for refuelling before continuing on to the Philippines on March 16, 1962.
The families have been searching for answers for years with little success. Ellis and others used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain redacted documents containing no valuable information about the covert mission.
Their names were not allowed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington because they died outside of the war zone.
“It is past time for us to pay proper tribute to those who have died. That is why I will continue to work with my colleagues and the families of those who have died to find ways to remember those who have died,” Peters added.
The founder of Wreaths Around America, an organisation that places wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery and at soldier gravesites across the country, was inspired by the storey and wanted to build a memorial in Maine. A marble plaque with the names is affixed to the granite stone.
Families were able to come together and share their stories at the festival.
“This would bring peace to a lot of families,” said Susie Linale of Omaha, Nebraska, who was part of a group of six relatives that included her sister and brother. They wore buttons depicting their father, Albert Francis Williams Jr., who was killed in the crash.