Inside the Beltway
By John McCaslin
Veterans in need
Veterans Day is tomorrow — no better time to call attention to the remains of up to five U.S. Navy airmen still sitting above ground in Greenland, where they perished in 1962.
"They are not under ice, but visible every summer when the snow melts," reveals retired naval officer George G. Fabik of Allentown, Pa., who says that, despite letters to Congress from surviving family members over the years, "nothing has ever been done to bring them home."
"They were last seen in 2001," Mr. Fabik says of the bodies. "This has to be considered a national disgrace. They did die in the service of their country."
Yesterday, Inside the Beltway spoke with Bob Pettway, a retired Secret Service agent, who from his Tennessee home has taken up the cause to bring the remains home for a proper burial.
Here's what Mr. Pettway knows:
On Jan. 12, 1962, a dozen naval crewmen departed Keflavik, Iceland, aboard a P-2V-5 Neptune aircraft designated LA-9 of Patrol Squadron 5. The crewmen were flying a routine 8½-hour ice patrol when the plane suddenly vanished. A search and rescue was launched in a blizzard, but after seven days, the plane was presumed lost at sea and the men were declared dead by the Navy.
On Aug. 8, 1966, four British geologists from Oxford University were traversing the Kronborg Glacier on Greenland's east coast and happened upon the crash site — the plane's fuselage still intact. They took identification from several of the bodies and promptly reported the crash site to U.S. officials.
A Navy recovery team arrived at the site Sept. 20, just after a snowfall measuring between 3 and 4 feet. They spent 24 hours digging through the deep snow to recover what remains they could, then detonated explosives to destroy the aircraft and any classified materials and equipment.
The team recovered seven identifiable bodies and partial remains of possibly three more crewmen, which could not be identified. Remains of two crewmen were not recovered. The seven were buried either at Arlington National Cemetery or in family plots, while a separate Arlington ceremony was held in October 1966 for the unidentified remains — buried in a common grave bearing the names of the remaining five.
In August 1995, exploring geologists again came upon the LA-9 crash site, where they photographed the remains of at least two crewmen. But the Navy took the position that because the plane crashed during peacetime, it did not fall within the scope of "full recovery" rules approved by Congress during wartime.
"Hence, there is no funding for recovery of remains lost during peacetime in a mishap," Mr. Pettway says.
Finally, this past February, the Naval Casualty Division of the Bureau of Navy Personnel recommended to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) that funding be allocated for a "complete recovery" of the LA-9 crew. The families still await the CNO's decision.
"If it's about the lives of my men and their safety, I'd go through hell with a gasoline can," Colonel Allen B. West