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Missing But Not Forgotten

Mass held for former MIAs at St. Patrick’s Church

A memorial Mass was held at St. Patrick’s Church in Glen Cove on Saturday, May 26 to honor Sgt. William Kevin Colwell and five other Vietnam War servicemen who had been MIA since 1965. The remains were recently discovered, and the men will receive a military burial at Arlington National Cemetery by the Air Force on July 9.

Ann Famigliette, the oldest daughter of Colwell’s sister, Ellen, gave the eulogy.

“I want to thank you for attending today’s mass and for all the support you have given our family throughout this journey of 46 and a half years, since he was shot down and declared Missing in Action,” she said.

She explained that her uncle was a flight engineer on a combat strike mission in Laos. Colwell joined the Army in 1942 and served in WWII, then joined the Air Force, where he met his wife, Ingrid, while serving in Germany.

“My uncle loved serving his country. The Air Force was his world,” she said.

She said since her uncle was nearing retirement, he didn’t have to go to Vietnam, but accepted the assignment because he knew it was the “right thing.”

In Vietnam he flew an AC-47 plane, better known by its call sign “Spooky” for its ability to sneak in on its target without being seen. On December 24, 1965 President Johnson announced a weeklong bombing halt over North Vietnam for the holidays. Famigliette said that same day - actually the last flight out before the truce took effect- an AC-47D gunship with the call sign “Spooky 21” departed Da Nang Airfield on an armed reconnaissance/strike mission over the panhandle of Laos.

“There were six crewman aboard the plane, my uncle being one of them. Spooky 21 was directed to its target. Shortly before arriving at their target they were directed to another location, which ended up being their downfall.”

She said they followed orders to the new target and eventually the plane was shot down. Then, at 1050 hours, one of the crew members broadcasted “Mayday Mayday Spooky 21.” The crews of two separate planes operating in the same sector heard the gunship’s last transmission. A search and rescue operation was initiated. The search was terminated two days later, on December 26, when no aircraft or crewmembers were found. Military personnel determined that the aircraft was downed by enemy action and weather conditions played no part.

The six crewmen were declared Missing In Action.

“I remember the day like it was just yesterday, December 24, 1965, Christmas Eve, when the Air Force drove up to our home to inform us of what had happened. When I saw the Air Force car my heart sank because I knew why they had come and from that day on the Air Force has been with us at our side, holding our hands, never once leaving our sides, answering questions over and over again.”

She continued, “Years passed and hope was never lost by the Air Force or our family. How we all wished that some word had come when his siblings were alive. It is very reassuring to know my uncle will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on July 9. Finally at rest on American soil with so many other brave souls. It has been a long 46 and half years since this journey began.”

Colwell is a recipient of the Purple Heart, Flying Medal of Honor, Air Medal and numerous other medals and would have been 91 this June.

Famigliette concluded, “All I can say now is, ‘welcome home,’ you have returned from your mission. Now, my dear uncle, you can rest in peace. Job well done.”