Sometime this fall, Vance Air Force Base will bid farewell to the venerable T-37 Tweet, which has been on the ramp here since 1960.

The pilot who delivered the first T-37 to Vance, then-Capt. Joy L. Owens, was shot down seven years later in an RF-4C Phantom over North Vietnam. He was never heard from again and was declared missing in action and presumed dead.

Owens is one of thousands of troops from America’s wars whose fate remains unknown, troops honored Wednesday during Vance AFB’s 27th annual POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony.

Owens and his bombardier/navigator 1st Lt. Harold R. Sale Jr., are two of more than 1,800 American MIAs from the Vietnam War. There are more than 78,000 still missing from World War II, more than 8,000 from the Korean War, more than 120 from the Cold War, three from the first Persian Gulf War and one, Sgt. Keith M. “Matt” Maupin, from the Iraq war. Maupin has been missing since April 2004.

“These Americans, who dedicated their lives to preserving and protecting our freedoms, will never be forgotten,” said Col. Richard Klumpp Jr., new commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing.

Klumpp honored the families of those still missing, and those whose loved ones were recovered “thanks to the efforts of kind and caring fellow Americans who spent long hours in the jungles and rice paddies of Southeast Asia to bring them home,” said Klumpp.

One of those Americans, Vance Command Chief Master Sgt. James Suttles, spent time in Laos as part of Joint Task Force Full Accounting. There, he helped excavate a crash site and return home the remains of eight servicemen.

“The men and women of the Air Force and the Department of Defense will continue to strive towards our goal of achieving the fullest possible accounting of those who are still missing,” said Klumpp. “We believe our comrades and their families, along with the American people, deserve no less.”

Once again this year, Enid’s Francis Hoad was the only former prisoner of war in attendance. Hoad, now 84, spent 13 months in a German prison camp after being shot down over Belgium April 10, 1944.

Hoad was 20 when his B-17 was shot down while on a mission to Brussels. Hoad, as co-pilot, helped the pilot ditch the crippled airplane in the North Sea, then spent more than eight hours in a life raft before being captured.

“We salute you and thank you as our nation’s finest,” Klumpp said to Hoad.

POW/MIA Recognition Day was established in 1979 to honor prisoners of war who returned home, as well as those still missing in action. POW/MIA Day was celebrated nationally last Friday, but the Vance commemoration was postponed because of the change of command ceremony that day.

“Our lasting tribute to these Americans is that we will never forget,” said Klumpp.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Klumpp and Hoad laid a wreath at the base of the flagpole in front of the Vance headquarters building.

A group of T-38s from the 25th Flying Training Squad-ron flew over the gathering in a “missing man” formation to symbolize fallen comrades.

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