Family welcomesAfter more than three decades, it was from a call from the Pentagon last fall that Dan Evert finally learned where his father's jet had crashed during the Vietnam War.
Lawrence Evert was a U.S.
fighter pilot who had been
missing in action since 1967
By Gregg K. Kakesako
Dan Evert of Chandler, Ariz., was only 8 when his father, Air Force Capt. Lawrence Evert, was shot down.
The Pentagon had called the son to ask permission for then-President Clinton to visit a crash site 50 miles north of Hanoi, where Lawrence Evert's F-105 Thunderchief fighter jet was believed to have been shot down on Nov. 8, 1967.
Dan, 42, and brother David, 40, immediately elected to fly to Vietnam to visit the excavation in the Me Linh district in Vinh Phu province, a 40-minute drive north of Hanoi. They were given a day to privately visit the recovery site before Clinton's party arrived with the news media in tow.
When they left Vietnam, excavation of the crash site had just begun, and they were "very hopeful," said David of Woodland, Calif.
Yesterday, the remains believed to be those of Lawrence Evert were among the 23 sets of remains returned to American soil. Besides Evert's, there were five other sets from the Vietnam War -- four found in Vietnam and one from Laos. They were recovered by teams from the Hawaii-based U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory and Joint Task-Full Accounting.
The other remains were from the Korean War. Recovered by Central Identification Laboratory teams around the Chosin Reservoir and areas in Unsan and Kujang counties near the Chong Chou River in North Korea, they also were honored by a joint service color guard.
All 23 remains were taken to the Central Identification Laboratory at Hickam Air Force Base, where forensic experts will begin the identification process.
Johnie Webb, the lab's deputy director, said because so much is known about Evert's case, "the identification process should be relatively quick," probably two to three months.
Dan Evert made three visits to the Hanoi excavation site: once with his brother in November 2000, and another time with his two sisters -- Tamara Brown, 48, and Elizabeth Dempsey, 33 -- in February. During his third visit in July, his wife and the couple's two boys accompanied them.
He described that visit as probably the most spectacular.
"There were 250 Vietnamese and 18 Americans at work," he said.
They found part of a boot and the sole of another boot.
"My dad was a big man -- 6'5" and 240 pounds, and that boot was a size 13 -- my dad's size," Dan said. "They also found his wallet, dog tags and a religious symbol that belonged to him."
Elizabeth Dempsey, who was born five days after her father was lost on Nov. 8, 1967, said: "It was so important for me to view his remains. That's the closest way that I could ever see my father," Dempsey, of Gilbert, Ariz., added, trying hold back her tears.
When she and her sister, Tamara, visited the crash site in February, workers had found more parts of the plane and some of Evert's clothing.
Dan, also fighting back tears, said: "I got to feel like I was helping to bring him home. I was able to put shovel to the mud ... to sift the soil through the mud screens."
Dan's mother, Wanda Allen, 63, who also lives in Arizona, said that "in the beginning I knew it was going to be a long time. But I knew however long it would take, it was OK. The hardest was watching my children grow up without their father."
Allen, who met Lawrence Evert while attending Brigham Young University, did not remarry until Evert was declared dead in 1982 and posthumously promoted to lieutenant colonel.
"This was a very special day for me today," she said after the 23 flag-draped coffins were carried off a jet transport. "This was an honor not just for him, but for the others who came off with him."
For Dan Evert it was finally closure.
"He's back on American soil."