BUFORD, Wallace Abbott

My cousin "Wally"

 

The first addition to my book concerns my first cousin Wallace Abbott Buford.  Please go to page 682 in the new Buford Families in America book. For those of you who have read my book you will remember that Wallace "Wally" was the first American to die in the Viet Nam War. He and "Earthquake" "McGoon" McGovern died while delivering supplies to the French at Dien Bien Phu. 

My cousin Roger, who is Wally's younger brother, has recently contacted me regarding the recovery of Mr. McGovern's remains and their return to America to be buried according to family wishes. The sad part of this addition is that Wally's remains are still lost to his family. There are several people, including Roger, who are trying to get some satisfaction from the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command regarding the return of Wally's remains.  A good friend of Wally, Fred C. Meekins, wrote the following letter: 

 ATTN: Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, spokesperson for Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command: 

 My name is Frederick (Fred) C. Meekins, a retired attorney and former USAF C-119 pilot who served in the USAF with Wallace A. Buford (Wally) in the 50th Troop Carrier Squadron, 314th Troop Carrier Group, 483rd Troop Carrier Wing, 315th Air Division, Far East Air Force, during the late stages of the Korean War. I attach to this email a copy of my earlier email of October 22, 2006, to a staff reporter with the Standard-Examiner in the Ogden, Utah, area with whom I have communicated concerning the hopeful location of the remains of Wallace through your JPAC. 

 I first learned of the location by JPAC of the skeletal remains (later identified as those of James McGovern) through an Associated Press release by Richard Pyle in the October 20th, 2006, Edition of The Charlotte Observer. I did an internet search and found the posting dated October 4, 2006, of a release in the Asbury Park Press (N. J.) by Kathleen Hopkins.  During my contacts with Kathleen, I learned of the press release of October 8th, 2006, by Charles (Charlie) F. Trentelman in the Standard-Examiner, a newspaper in the Ogden, Utah, area as I understand it. I have been in communication with Charles, primarily about the missing remains of Wallace Buford and limited information obtained from your office, and he has been in contact with Wallace's brother, ROGER Buford, now living in Kansas City, Kansas. I have spoken with Roger by telephone and through email, and he has given me by email permission to assist him and the Buford family in the continuing efforts to locate the remains of Wallace Buford, in hopes that those remains may be brought home for proper burial in Kansas City. 

 The attachment will explain my personal interest in this. I have often wondered if efforts would finely bring this to a close and give peace to the Buford family and friends, including myself. 

 I read your RELEASE NO. #06-41 dated October 16, 2006, concerning deployment of JPAC teams to the Southeast Asia Areas, including LAOS. It is quite disappointing to the Buford family and myself, among other friends, to learn that the search in LAOS by the 96th Joint Field Activity DOES NOT presently include further search near Muang Het, at the small village of Ban Sot, Laos, where the earlier remains were recovered. Wallace Buford's remains most certainly MUST be there nearby where the others were unearthed. 

 It has now been over 52 years since the C-119 aircraft was crippled over Dien Bien Phu and went down in northern Laos, tragically killing Wally, McGovern and the French airman. There were two survivors who have given verification in 1959 (as I am informed) as to the location of the final crash and burial site of the three that were killed. I understand that three search efforts have been made by your command (in the early 2000's),the last one done in 2002 turning up the skeletal remains of one, and partial remains of another. Certainly the fact that eye witness verification of two surviving witnesses, interview information of local residents at Ban Sot, coupled with the fact that it was only on the last (3rd) effort by JPAC that any remains were found would justify a NEW effort by JPAC to find Wallace Buford's remains. 

 As more time passes, the less likely it will be that local people in the Ban Sat village will have helpful information, and the Buford family still continue the stressful waiting -- hoping, but hopefully not in vain. I recall from reading one of the press releases that it was John McGovern, III (nephew of James McGovern), that said it best: "The military never gives up"! PLEASE do whatever may be necessary to get authority to contact the 96th Joint Field Activity group in Laos, to specifically request another search for the remains of Wallace A. Buford, who served his country well and whose family and friends remain "hopeful". Please notify Roger and myself of your decision and follow-up activities. Thanking you in advance for what you do and will do, I am, yours truly, Frederick (Fred) C. Meekins.

 The reply to Fred's request is as follows:

 "Mr. Meekins: Thank you for your inquiry concerning our efforts to account for Wallace Buford. As you can understand, this is a very difficult case; however, we will continue our work to recover the remains of Wallace. Our plan is to send an investigation Team with the local witnesses back to the loss location to try and locate the other burial locations. We plan to conduct this investigation in the March/April time frame.  Respectfully," (then follows the digitally signature of Johnie E. Webb, Jr., Deputy Commander for Support & External Relations;

 This certainly is a long way from finding Wally but it gives us hope. Fred is a tenacious fellow and I don't think he will give up. I suppose the delay in going back to the Ben Sot Village is due to inclement weather at this time of year.  I would like to include a letter written by Fred C. Meekins to the reporter in Ogden, Utah in which he talks about Wally.

 Charles: In the Friday, October 20, 2006 edition of The Charlotte Observer (page 9A), an Associated Press release by Richard Pyle was reported concerning the return to the relatives of James McGovern ("Earthquake McGoon") his bodily remains for military funeral in New Jersey on October28th, 2006. This peaked my remembrance of Wally Buford, who was flyingC-119s in my same squadron (50th TCS, Ashiya, Japan) in the last stages of the Korean War (Conflict). I went to the internet and found the release by Kathleen Hopkins , telephoned her office, and subsequently had a lengthy conversation with her, and learned of your earlier contact and the informative email that you forwarded to her about Wally's family efforts to locate and bring home his remains. I fully support that effort and want to help where I can to get this done. In my opinion, it will take concerted efforts of the Buford family and others like you, Kathleen and myself to get this accomplished.  I personally knew Wally, flew with him in Japan and Korea on many missions, and after he left the USAF, saw him several times in Indochina, primarily at Tourane, where a number of C-119s were stationed for service and use by CAT.  I did not learn of the CIA involvement until I read your email. It was "Secret" information in 1953 and 1954 during my logistical flights from Clark Field (HQ. of the 5th Air Force) into Indochina. I last saw Wally at Tourane on either the day before he was killed or two days before that. At that meeting, Wally had requested me to find a pair of large shoes or boots since the Chinese did not make large and wide size (EE or EEE) at that time and he was forced to wear modified shoes or sandals. He also wanted a box of Philippine cigars, We were flying every third day into Indochina, and I had a flight scheduled there on that rotation. I had gotten the cigars and was to pick up the shoes (size 12 EE, if my memory serves me correctly) for delivery later that day. I learned of Wally's death that same morning of my flight to Tourane. If my memory serves me correctly, I brought the cigars aboard and had a burial at sea of those somewhere over the South China Sea.  On the day that I last saw Wally, we had a long conversation on the flight line at Tourane, and he introduced me to "Earthquake Mcgoon", a burly, bearded man who was about 5' 8 or 9" tall, and almost as large around the middle as he was tall. I vividly remember that it seemed difficult for him to climb the boarding steps of the ladder into the C-119 shortly before he and Wally departed that day in a C-119. Wally on the other hand was about6' or 6' 1" tall, and looked very fit (like a professional football player).  In addition to flying B-24s in the USAF in WW II, he reportedly served two combat tours flying T-6's in a Mosquito squadron very near the front line in Korea, then one full Combat tour flying C-119s out of Ashyia, and was on his2nd such tour when the hostilities ended, and he was released from the Air Force. I have a lot of memories about Wally, liked him as a friend and a good pilot, and want to help his family, if I can, to see that he (his remains) are brought home for a decent burial like McGovern.  I would appreciate your contacting Wally's brother (I assume he would be the closest surviving relative) and letting him know of my interest. I will be happy to talk with him and to provide more information. The Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command probably is not the only source for help here, but it would be essential that Wally's surviving family be the front runners. A list with names and addresses, telephone numbers, etc. . . . of  family survivors might be of help, and some verification that they want to pursue this quest. Where there is a will, "there is a way."

Many thanks should be given to Fred for his loyalty to Wally and for hanging in there, trying to buck the system. Wally has many family members and friends who still, after so many years, want him home and resting beside his Mom and Dad.

The picture you see below is Wally standing by his plane
after a very close call.  The picture shows
the hole in the aircraft that the shell made when it hit. 
Wally brought the plane home safely this time.  He is holding his hands behind his back so his Mom would not see
the bandages on both arms.  Wounds caused by the anti aircraft shelling of his plane.
This picture was taken just ten days before Wally was killed.

 

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~~~Clouds by Torie~~~