Remember Those Who Didn't Come Home (cont'd)
By Thom Wilborn
A disabled veteran who flew 400 forward air control combat missions, Worrell said he used to wonder if his family would ever know what happened to him if he were shot down. “It was very enlightening and comforting to know that they would.”
In Vietnam, Worrell routinely flew to crash sites to help recover downed airmen or their remains. “I would provide information, coordinates of where the plane crashed and the conditions around the crash site,” he said. “I often wondered if the families ever received the information.” In one event, two Special Forces soldiers were killed trying to recover the remains of three airmen from a downed C-7 Caribou. “Some sites were just too hot to go in,” he said. “My plane was shot at a lot, but I wasn’t injured.”
“It’s interesting because I had flown in combat and had friends who had become POWs, and I have friends still missing in action in Vietnam,” Worrell said. “It is reassuring to know that our government will look for us to return home to our families.”
In 1970, Worrell received the Air Force Cross and Silver Star medals in Vietnam. He directed air strikes, artillery and aerial resupply drops in support of the besieged Dak Seang and Dak Pek camps along the Laos-Cambodia border. When it appeared the camp of U.S. Special Forces and South Vietnamese troops would be overrun, Worrell repeatedly flew his unarmed O-2A Cessna Skymaster through heavy ground fire and, in a final heroic effort, fired his marking rockets into the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces, causing them to stop their assault and withdraw.
Worrell’s father, Rowland, flew B-17 bombers during World War II and B-52 bombers over Vietnam. During his military career, the elder Worrell became a wing commander for the Strategic Air Command.
Lunday, Mease and Sims participated in some of the most dangerous missions of World War II flying heavily loaded military transport aircraft over the world’s tallest mountains from India to China to resupply the Chinese and units of the U.S. Army based in China.
The supply effort cost 594 aircraft lost, missing or junked, and 1,659 men killed or missing. The operation began with 27 aircraft and 1,100 men in April 1942, after the enemy blocked the Burma Road, and grew to 640 aircraft and 34,000 military personnel.
Its first mission on April 8, 1942, was to ferry 8,000 gallons of aviation fuel in a pair of borrowed Pan American World Airways DC-3s intended to resupply Doolittle’s Raiders. None of Doolittle’s B-24 Mitchell bombers survived the mission.
Various types of cargo aircraft delivered 650,000 tons of material to China during its 42 months of operation. It was a logistical achievement unparalleled at the time. Those who flew the Hump received the Presidential Unit Citation in 1944, the first such award made to a non-combat organization.
As for the two other service members missing with Lunday, Mease and Sims, the United States is negotiating with the Indian government for permission to excavate the site for their remains. For their families, the mysteries and fog of war continue.
“The return home of our missing in action is a fulfillment of the promise to never leave our service members behind,” said Jesinoski. “The recovery of missing service members brings closure to the families and completes the story of their lives. It is an honorable mission to return these heroes home to rest in the land they defended with the final measure of their lives.”
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