A Note from The Virtual Wall
On the night of 07/08 January 1968 an RF-4C (tail number 65-0913) from the 16th Tac Recon Sqdn departed Tan Son Nhut Air Base for a night photographic mission in the Dak To area of Kontum Province. Radar and radio contact was maintained with the aircraft until it reached the Dak To area - and then was lost. The two crewmen, then-Capt Hallie W. Smith of Portland, Oregon, and then-1stLt Charles L. Bifolchi were classed as missing in action and remained in that status until the Secretary of the Air Force approved Presumptive Findings of Death for the two men.
Most sources, such as Hobson's Vietnam Air Losses, say "No trace of the aircraft or its crew was ever found ... " but the DoD press release issued when the identification of Major Bifolchi's remains was announced has a somewhat different story:
from the United States Department of Defense
No. 1087-06 IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 26, 2006
Media Contact: (703) 697-5131/697-5132
Airman Missing in Action from Vietnam War is Identified
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
He is Major Charles L. Bifolchi, U.S. Air Force, of Quincy, Massachusetts. He will be buried on October 27, 2006, at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
On January 8, 1968, Bifolchi and a fellow crewmember were flying an armed reconnaissance mission against enemy targets in Kon Tum Province, South Vietnam, when their RF-4C aircraft disappeared. A U.S. Army helicopter crew found their aircraft wreckage soon after first light the next day. Search efforts continued for four days; however, enemy activity in the area, combined with the steep terrain and high winds at the crash site, precluded the recovery of the crewmen.
Between 1993 and 2000, U.S. and Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) teams, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), conducted two surveys of an area that was believed to be Bifolchi's crash site. One team interviewed two Vietnamese citizens who turned over human remains they claimed to have recovered at the site. Another team found wreckage consistent with Bifolchi's aircraft.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA from a known maternal relative in the identification of the remains.
CLASSMATES REMEMBER MAJOR BIFOLCHI
QUINCY, MASSACHUSETTS - Two weeks after his remains were laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, Air Force Major Charles Bifolchi will get a special Veterans Day remembrance from his high school classmates.
By LANE LAMBERT
Courtesy of The Patriot Ledger
At tomorrow night’s reunion at the Elks Lodge, the Quincy High Class of 1961 will offer extra tributes to Bifolchi, who was identified by DNA testing earlier this year, 38 years after his plane was shot down over Vietnam in 1968.
"Everything with his burial and Veterans Day is so coincidental, we wanted to acknowledge it," said Judi McAuliffe of Pembroke, one of the reunion organizers.
Bifolchi was declared dead in 1978, but his remains were finally identified earlier this year. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on October 27, 2006, the day he would have turned 63.
McAuliffe and other class members have recognized Bifolchi at past reunions, and given memorial scholarships to Quincy High graduates since 1979. Several attended an October 27 memorial service for him at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Quincy.
At Saturday’s reunion, one of Bifolchi’s relatives and class member Susan Conway of Virginia will describe the Arlington ceremony. The reunion will also feature a "veterans corner" of photographs and small flags in honor of both Bifolchi and Army medic George Underwood, a Class of 1961 graduate, who was killed in an ambush in Vietnam in 1964.
McAuliffe, Donna Anderson of Braintree and others still have the MIA bracelets they wore for Bifolchi in the 1970s. They may wear them to the reunion, as Conway did for the Arlington ceremony.
"He was a very nice, clean-cut guy," Anderson said. "He was studious, but he had a good sense of humor."
"And good at math," McAuliffe recalled. "He got me through trigonometry and physics."
Identification of Major Smith's remains has not been announced.