NEWS RELEASE: 23 MAY 2001
After more than 33 years the remains of an Army helicopter crew missing since the Vietnam War will finally come home. The crewmembers, part of the 243rd Assault Support Helicopter Company, will be buried in a joint grave at Arlington National Cemetery on May 25, 2001 at 11:00 a.m.
The five crewmembers were last seen near the Ninh Hoa Valley in the Central Highlands in South Vietnam on October 20, 1968.
The Chinook Helicopter crew departed Dong Ba Tin Airfield, South Vietnam, on an emergency re-supply mission to Ban Me Thout in the Central Highlands. They were the lead aircraft of a three-helicopter mission. The helicopter and crew, call sign Freight Train 053, left their location before the other two aircraft, but typhoon type weather conditions forced the other two aircraft to return to the airfield.
Chief Warrant Officer Deitsch, the aircraft commander, radioed that they were in the Ninh Hoa valley and would proceed on to Ban Me Thout. The helicopter never made it to Ban Me Thout. The unit conducted an intensive search for the next eight days, but no wreckage of the aircraft was ever found
In 1994, two Vietnamese farmers discovered the wreckage of a helicopter that was ultimately identified as the missing Chinook from the 243rd. Several more years would pass before the remains of the five American crewmembers were excavated and removed to the lab in Hawaii operated by the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting unit.
Only recently were the crew positively identified using modern DNA technology.
The Aviation unit returned to the United States from Vietnam in 1972, but the men from the 243rd never forgot about their comrades and this Friday, the unit's final mission will be completed when the remains of their crew members are buried at Arlington Cemetery. Sixty-five former members of the 243rd "Freight Trains" as well as family members and friends of the deceased crewmembers will be in attendance to pay their honors. Aircraft from the Army National Guard and Army Reserve will perform a flyby and missing man maneuver.
The five crew members, CWO3 Charles "Pappy" Deitsch, Aircraft Commander; WO1 Hank Knight, pilot; Specialist 5 Charles Meldahl, crew chief; Specialist 5 Jerry Bridges, flight engineer; and Specialist 4 Ronald Stanton, door gunner, will receive full military honors.
Funeral services for the crew of Freight Train 053 will take place at Arlington National Cemetery on May 24th and 25th, 2001. Visitation will be on May 24th from 1800 hours to 2100 hours. The funeral service will be at the Fort Meyer Chapel at 1100 hours on May 25th.
Graveside services will include a "missing man" formation fly-over by five CH-47D Chinook helicopters. Three of the aircraft will be from Ft. Eustis, Virginia and two will be from the Pennsylvania National Guard.
Arlington National Cemetery