James Sizemore and Howard Andre were either busting trucks or supporting a SOG recon team along the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos on 8 July 1969 — the records aren’t clear — when their B-26 was hit by ground fire and went straight in. Over four decades later, their remains came home. Then came the snub: the Air Force, playing along with DC political budget games, helped the President make a few points against Congress (or is it the other way round?) by denying the two fallen heroes a fly-over at their funeral.
So, eight civilian pilots stepped up, putting up $24,000 of their own money, not to mention their own aircraft and time. And the two recovered men, once carried as MIAs, got something even the Air Force couldn’t give them now: a flyover by the same type they flew in combat, died in, and were interred in for 44 years: a B-26. Fox’s Jennifer Griffin explains:
[O]nce the burial was scheduled at Arlington, the Air Force told their families the U.S. government could not afford to honor the men with a traditional flyover due to budget cuts.
“Following numerous requests to volunteer units, the Air Force is unable to support the flyover request for Major Sizemore due to limited flying hours and budget constraints,” Air Force spokesman Captain Rose Richeson wrote in a statement.
Is it actually the same Air Force that produced a James Sizemore (who has several relatives who became distinguished combat aviators) and Howard Andre, that now coughs up a hairball named Rose Richeson? But some guys didn’t just bitch about it like we do around here: they did something.
That’s when a group of volunteer pilots from the non-profit Warrior Flight Team (http://www.warrioraviation.org/) stepped in and agreed to fly in formation above the Arlington ceremony in their own planes, on their own dime.
Eight civilian pilots honored the veterans, arranging permission from the Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, and FAA with an aerial tribute above Washington.
They even flew a Douglas A26 Invader – the same plane that the two friends from Georgia were flying when they were shot down 44 years ago. It was flanked by 2 P51 Mustangs.
The estimated fuel cost: of fuel alone for the ceremonial flyover is more than $24,000.
“We’re here today to honor some fallen veterans,” said retired Air Force Brigadier General Jeff Johnson, who flew over Arlington as part of the ceremony. “Do I feel like those two heroes deserved a flyover? Yes, I do, and that’s why we did what did today.”
“I would hope somebody would come after me,” said [Retired Marine Lt. Col. art] Nalls [who flew an L-39 in the tribute]. That means a lot to the individual service member to know that you’re not going to be left behind.”
The pilots were all veterans themselves.
Sizemore and Andre’s wreck site was excavated, and their remains recovered, last year. A previous analysis of MIA and KIA/BNR cases prepared by the Joint Personnel Recovery Center and widely reproduced on the net tells the tale of their loss:
On 8 July 1969, Major James E. Sizemore, pilot; and Major Howard V. Andre, Jr., navigator; comprised the crew of an B26A that departed Nakhon Phanom Airfield in a flight on an evening armed reconnaissance mission. After spotting enemy personnel on the ground deep in enemy held territory, the Invader made a strafing pass on a communist target entrenched in the rugged jungle covered mountains on the north side of a mountain range. The aircraft was struck by ground fire, continued downward and exploded immediately upon impact with the ground. This region was a hotbed of communist activity with rich rice fields to the north of the enemy target. The area of loss was also surrounded by various sized villages nestled in the mountains in Xiangkhouang Province, Laos.
The crash site was located approximately 2 kilometers southeast of Ban Chaho, 3 kilometers south of Phou Khe, and 13 kilometers southwest of Ban Thuang. It was also 20 miles northeast of the major CIA facility at Long Tieng Airfield, 45 miles west of the closest point on the Lao/North Vietnamese border and 99 miles north-northeast of the Lao capital of Vientiane.
Because of the location of loss in an area under total enemy control, no ground search was possible. An electronic search, however, commenced immediately. At the time the B26A was downed, no parachutes were seen. Likewise, no emergency beepers were heard. When the formal search was terminated, both Howard Andre and James Sizemore were listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
That’s our military these days — bottomless funds for in-Beltway SES drones, for Assistant Diversity Coordinators and PR flacks, and not a dime to pay respects to the combat dead. But it’s not the first time vets have had to step up and do it ourselves.
A note on terminology: during World War II, the Army Air Corps (later Army Air Forces) distinguished between medium bombers and lighter “attack” aircraft used in such tactical roles as close air support and lines-of-communications interdiction. In the last years of the war, the Douglas A-26 Invader replaced the same company’s lighter, slower A-20 Havoc as the Army’s main twin-engine attack plane. Another airplane made by the Glenn Martin company on the other side of the country was called the B-26 Marauder. After the war, the Army (later Air Force) simplified and rationalized its fleet even as it downsized. All the Marauders, a powerful but hard-to-fly airplane, were scrapped, and the A-designation was dropped for a while. The A-26 was renumbered B-26 and served under that name in Korea and Vietnam. (It was actually brought back from the boneyard for Vietnam). As a result, even official documents are often wobbly on the nomenclature of the Douglas Invader. – Eds.