Decades After Vietnam War, IB Sailors to Be Laid to Rest at Arlington

Published May 1, 2013 by Imperial Beach Patch.

Almost 46 years after dying together in a Vietnam helicopter crash, four sailors based in Imperial Beach will be laid to rest together Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery.

The family of one victim—William Jackson—was notified six weeks ago that there would be no more efforts to separate the remains.

“And that’s kind of nice,” said Jackson’s son, Glenn. “They did a mission together, basically their last mission, and so part of all of them will be buried together.”

Despite the death of a fellow crewman on a search and rescue mission a day earlier—July 18, 1967—the crew went to retrieve a downed pilot. In that mission, their own chopper, a Sea King, was hit by anti­aircraft gunfire and crashed in the Ha Nam Province of North Vietnam.

The four sailors were assigned to Helicopter Squadron 2 (HS­2) which was established at Naval Auxiliary Air Station Imperial Beach, now Naval Outlying Landing Field Imperial Beach.

HS­2, the Golden Falcons, is now Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12 (HSC­12) and is stationed at NAS North Island in Coronado.
The whereabouts of the remains were unknown until 1982, when five boxes of remains were handed to the American government by the

Socialist Republic of Vietnam, according to the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office

“One local claimed to have buried two of the crewmen near the wreckage, but indicated that both graves had subsequently been exhumed,” said a Department of Defense statement.

From 1994 to 2000, teams from America and Vietnam excavated the crash site.

DNA, forensic and circumstantial evidence were used by a military laboratory based in Hawaii to positively identify the remains.

Four F­18 jets will fly over the interment ceremony Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery, said Cmdr. Jeannie Groeneveld.

Vice Adm. Kendall Card and officers from HSC­2 will attend the ceremony, Groeneveld said, but there isn’t enough money to fly HSC­12 officers to the East Coast due to budget sequestration.

Tony Roach, HS­2’s former commanding officer, also will attend, presenting folded flags to the families. About 20 members of the crew’s family will be at the internment ceremony Thursday.

Glenn Jackson lived on 14th Street with his mother and two siblings and was 9 when he heard that his father was killed in action.

The Jacksons lived blocks from Naval Auxiliary Air Station Imperial Beach, which at that time was known as the “Helicopter Capital of the World.” 

The sight and thumping sound of helicopter blades in the sky was always present, but after the crash, Jackson said helicopters reminded him of his father.

“They were both a reminder and comfort that life continues,” Jackson said.

“My dad’s always going to be my own hero,” he said. “I do always have that dog in the fight, but these guys volunteered for that duty, and it’s dangerous to go behind enemy lines to pick them up.”

His family originally was told no remains would be recovered. Fifteen years later, that changed.

“In 1982, it was like they knocked on the door and said hey this is what the North Vietnamese gave us,” Jackson said. “And then in late 2000 they contacted my mom and told them about excavating the crash site.”

His father’s dog tags were recovered, now in Glenn Jackson’s possession, as were more human remains.

Jackson recalls his dad as a good poker player and a man fond of practical jokes.

In one memory from childhood, Jackson says his mom asked his father to give spankings for getting into trouble.

“He belted the bed, and it looked or sounded like we were getting in trouble, but it didn’t work out good when my brother started laughing,” he said.

Lt. Dennis Peterson, Ensign Donald Frye, AX2 Jackson and AX2 Donald McGrane were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart, said Lt. Cmdr. Loren Jacobi.

Peterson also was awarded the Silver Star. 

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