TWIN LAKE (AP) There is hope that a family finally may be able to bury the remains of an Air Force crewman killed in southeast Asia more than three decades ago.
It was on May 27, 1968, that Mildred and Paul Stevens of Twin Lake went to East Dalton Oakhill Cemetery and bought three grave sites. Paul Stevens was buried there in 1980, and his wife joined him in June.
But to this day, the grave they purchased for their son, Philip Stevens, remains empty, 33 years and 10 months after he disappeared.
Philip Stevens” resting place since his Jan. 11, 1968, death has been a mountaintop in Laos, The Muskegon Chronicle reported Sunday.
A specialized search team in March combed the ledges of Phoulouang Mountain, where Stevens and the other eight members on his flight crew crashed. The team retrieved some remains and is to return to the remote site in February when the weather is favorable for further searches, said Lt. Jerry O”Hara of the U.S. Navy”s Killed In Action Body Recovery team in Honolulu.
“My mother kept up with the correspondence that came from the government,” said her older son, Richard, of Oakland County”s Commerce Township. “She knew they were searching. She was happy that they were actually looking for him.
“It”s too bad my mother didn”t live long enough to see them find him.”
The recovery is undertaken by the military”s Joint Task Force-Full Accounting Office, which since its formation in 1992 has embarked on about 600 searches and digs looking for lost soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
The effort in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia includes the expertise of archaeologists, forensic and mortuary specialists and linguists operating on $100 million annual budgets.
So far, the remains of 500 military personnel have been found. Most have been identified, a process that takes up to a year, O”Hara said. It is not yet known if Stevens” remains were among those already taken off the Laotian mountain.
Stevens” sister, Joy Warren of Oakland County”s White Lake Township, said searchers have recovered her brother”s dog tags and sent pictures of the site to family members showing airplane parts and personal effects of the crew on ledges.
She and brother Richard gave blood several years ago in an effort to match DNA with remains and identify them.
Warren said they have heard nothing from the military since. The crash site was identified in 1996 but was determined to be far too dangerous to search.
Some of the remains, however, are on narrow mountain ledges that cannot be reached.
The search has been extremely dangerous, as are many such missions.
Last March, five U.S. servicemen died while on an advance mission to prepare for a search. Their Russian-made helicopter crashed 280 miles south of Hanoi.