Charles Lawrence Bifolchi
Remains Identified - 2006
|SYNOPSIS: Capt. Hallie W. Smith was the pilot and 1Lt. Charles L. Bifolchi the navigator aboard an RF4C
Phantom reconnaissance jet from the 16th Tactical Recon Squadron at Than Son Nhut Airbase, South
Vietnam. On January 8, 1968, Smith and Bifolchi were assigned a reconnaissance mission and were en route
to the target when radar and radio contact was lost in Kontum Province, South Vietnam, about 15 miles
north of the city of Dak To.
Neither the aircraft nor the crew was ever located, despite search efforts. Because of circumstances surrounding the incident, both men were classified Missing in Action, and there is a strong probability that the enemy knows their fates - dead or alive.
When the last American troops left Southeast Asia in 1975, some 2500 Americans were unaccounted for. Reports received by the U.S. Government since that time build a strong case for belief that hundreds of these "unaccounted for"Americans are still alive and in captivity.
Henry Kissinger said that the problem of unrecoverable Prisoners is an "unfortunate" byproduct of limited political engagements. This does not seem to be consistent with the high value we, as a nation, place on individual human lives. Men like Smith and Bifolchi, who went to Vietnam because their country asked it of them are too precious to the future of this nation to write them off as expendable.
Whether Smith and Bifolchi survived the downing of their aircraft to be captured is unknown. Whether they are among those said to be alive is uncertain. What seems clear, however, is that as long as even one man remains alive, held against his will, we owe him our very best efforts to bring him home.
Boston Globe (MA)
October 20, 2006
After 38 years, fate of missing Quincy pilot is learned Brian MacQuarrie
Air Force navigator Charles Bifolchi of Quincy lifted off from Than Son Nhut air base, South Vietnam , on Jan. 8, 1968, on a reconnaissance mission. But his RF4C Phantom jet crashed into a remote mountaintop near the Laotian border, presumably after being hit by enemy fire, and Bifolchi and his pilot were classified as missing in action.
For nearly four decades, there was no word on Bifolchi's fate, no word about whether he died in the fiery crash of a jet that was never found, no word about whether he was held as a prisoner of war.
But in June, a DNA sample provided by Bifolchi's now-deceased aunt, Louise Bejma, proved to be a match for a left thigh bone that had been retrieved from a Vietnamese village in 1983. And now, Bifolchi's thigh bone, all that was found, will be buried with full military honors Oct. 27 at Arlington National Cemetery on what would have been his 63d birthday.
"It's a feeling of relief that it's over now; it's a feeling of closure," said George Bifolchi, 66, the brother of the downed navigator. "This is a shock. I didn't think they were going to find anything."
George Bifolchi, a Vietnam veteran who retired as an Air Force lieutenant colonel following a 20-year career, said he often thinks of his brother.
"He was a very bright, honorable person," said Bifolchi, who lives in Colorado Springs and plans to attend the burial service.
Christine Bronchuk of Weymouth, a cousin of the Bifolchis, said identification of the remains is a blessing for a family that has wondered if an answer about the missing man would ever arrive. Major Charles Bifolchi's parents are long dead, but their years of worry are still fresh in Bronchuk's memory.
Bifolchi's mother, Nora, "held out hope that he would be alive," Bronchuk said. "She held out hope forever. But with that hope came the awful fear that he was being tortured. She couldn't sleep. And if she did finally get some sleep, it would be nightmares."
In 1978, a decade after the Phantom jet disappeared from radar contact, US military officials declared Bifolchi dead. For George Bifolchi, that presumption came in 1972, when he traveled to a repatriation camp in South Vietnam for American POWs and did not find his younger brother.
Now, disappointment has been tempered by a long-held pride in his brother's service.
"It's kind of like a piece of your heart is not with you," Bronchuk said. "But it's happy to think about him because he was such a kind person. He was just a sweetheart."
NEWS RELEASES from the United States Department of Defense
No. 1087-06 IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 26, 2006
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 Maj. Charles L. Bifolchi, U.S. Air Force, of Quincy, Mass. He will be buried on Oct. 27 at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
On Jan. 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.