DETROIT (AP) — It took Air Force Col. James E. Dennany’s family years to finally accept he would not be coming home alive from the Vietnam War, his 49-year-old son says.
Now, 41 years after Dennany’s plane was shot down over Laos, his remains have been identified and he will finally be buried, along with those of the other Michigan airman who disappeared with him.
The Defense Department’s POW/Missing Personnel Office announced Wednesday that it had identified Dennany’s remains and those of fellow Michigan resident Maj. Robert L. Tucci.
A funeral with full military honors is scheduled Friday for both airmen at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.
“It will be sharing my pride with my grandsons,” James E. Dennany Jr. of Humble, Texas, said in a telephone interview Wednesday night.
His 34-year-old father and Tucci, a 27-year-old from Detroit, disappeared on Nov. 12, 1969, after their F-4D Phantom took off from Udorn air base in Thailand to escort an AC-130 ground attack aircraft on a mission along the Ho Chi Minh trail in Khammouan Province, Laos.
The Pentagon said anti-aircraft fire struck the plane. Tucci was the pilot and Dennany the weapons system officer.
“His last words were, ‘There’s fire,'” Dennany’s son said.
The younger Dennany, one of seven siblings, said his father’s military duties kept him away from home much of the time, even before his final stint in Southeast Asia.
“I have very few memories,” the son said.
After his father disappeared, the family clung to the possibility that the airman had survived and been taken prisoner, the son said.
The elder Dennany’s wife, Emily Dennany, would address care packages to him with such items as bouillon cubes, the son recalled. They would be returned unopened.
James Dennany Jr. said he suspected the truth, despite the fervent prayers that his father would return safe.
“I would cry myself to sleep,” he said. “You don’t know what you have till you lose it.”
Efforts to find the remains of Dennany and Tucci picked up in 1994, when a joint U.S.-Laotian government team followed leads and interviewed villagers in the area, the Pentagon said.
That effort failed, but another search team in 1999 discovered wreckage and some human remains in the area. Further interviews and more digging over the next decade yielded more material.
Based on “forensic tools and circumstantial evidence,” the Pentagon’s missing personnel office determined it had found the remains of Dennany and Tucci. The identification was made Sept. 8.
Dennany was born in the Kalamazoo-area community of Mattawan, Mich. He married Emily Hon in 1956 in Brownsville, Texas. She died in Brownsville in 2002.
Tucci was on his second tour of duty in Southeast Asia after flying 181 missions on his first tour, according to the website virtualwall.org that catalogues those whose names are enshrined on the Vietnam War memorial in Washington.