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47 years (and counting) as MIA

Sister leads efforts to bring brother home

Former Air Force Col. David Rickert, a Vietnam veteran, recently addressed the Lakewood Rotary about the attempts to bring home the remains of Maj. San Francisco, a pilot shot down in 1968. Photo courtesy of Col. David Rickert

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On Nov. 25, 1968, 1st Lt. San D. Francisco and Maj. Joseph Morrison flew a reconnaissance-escort mission along the border of North Vietnam's Quang Binh province and Laos.

While he had flown his requisite 100 missions to conclude his tour, Francisco, a native of Washington, volunteered to fly that day.

He flew with the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron - the Triple Nickel - out of Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base.

At approximately 12:45 p.m., North Vietnamese ground fire brought down their F-4D Phantom (#66-7523).  Both aviators ejected, landing near a North Vietnamese encampment.

A search and rescue (SAR) mission began; both pilots had radio contact with the rescue aircraft.

Darkness ended the mission, but resumed the next day.  Radio contact was reestablished and then lost.

Bad weather ended the SAR, and both aviators were listed as Missing in Action, or MIA.

Since then, Terri Francisco-Farrell has worked to have her older brother's remains returned.

"It's been very frustrating, like a roller-coaster ride, to have his remains brought home," she said during a telephone interview.

Recently, members of the Lakewood Rotary listened as retired Col. David Rickert presented "Our Campaign to Return a Vietnam MIA Remains."  

A former F-4D pilot and Vietnam veteran, he spoke about MIAs in general and of Francisco specifically.

For two years, Rickert's Bringing Heroes Home campaign has worked with individuals like Francisco-Farrell to account for all MIAs.

"We want to bring closure to all of the families who have suffered through the pain, frustration and anxiety of not knowing the whereabouts or the disposition of their loved ones for over forty years," he wrote in an email.

A total of 1,627 servicemembers remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, of which 38 are from Washington.

Along the way of trying to bring her brother home, Francisco-Farrell confronted the former Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command's fog of bureaucratic incompetence.

An internal 2013 JPAC report described management as "inept, mismanaged and wasteful, to the extent that it could worsen from dysfunction to total failure."

It also noted that JPAC command was "woefully inept and even corrupt."

Consequently, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel deactivated JPAC in January 2015 and formed a new agency named the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Linnington leads the new agency.

In an August 2015 paper, DPAA released information on Francisco.

The report states that Francisco was killed by fire from U.S. aircraft attempting to silence the enemy anti-aircraft site and that Morrison died resisting capture.

While Morrison's case remains in the investigative state, DPAA investigators think they know where Francisco was buried.

Several former soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army corroborated the site.

Nguyen Huu Ngoi, a combat photographer, photographed the exhumation and reburial of Francisco's body three days after his death. He was interviewed multiple times between 1995 and 2010.

Interviewed between 2012 and 2014, Nguyen Ngoc Dau commanded the 105th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion that shot Francisco's plane down.

"He was a witness to the fate of Francisco, who suffered two broken legs during/following his ejection, and was killed by airstrikes," the DPAA reported.

Also witnessing Francisco's fate was Le Duc qua, a communications soldier with the 280th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment.  He was interviewed in 2014.

All three cited the same place where Francisco's remains might be, and the DPAA has designated it "Site Y" on a jungle hillside on the west side of Route 20 near kilometer marker 54.

"This is the most conclusive reporting to date," said Francisco-Farrell in a recent interview with the Walla Walla Union Bulletin.  

She wants the DPAA to send a recovery team to Vietnam in 2016 to excavate her brother's remains, although the DPAA has said this might not happen until 2017.

Francisco-Farrell continues to work with the offices of senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Representative Dan Newhouse to expedite her brother's return.

"I'm hoping he will be moved to the 2016 retrieval list," she continued.

"It's time to bring him home."

To support Francisco-Farrell's efforts, visit  For more information about Bringing Heroes Home, visit

The Ellensburg Daily Record, the Walla Walla Union Bulletin, and the Tri-City Herald contributed to this article.

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