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Sun May 26, 2013, 06:04 AM

A long-ago war, a missing plane and an enduring mystery


Sherrie Hassenger poses with a picture of her husband, Arden Hassenger, who was killed when his aircraft crashed in Laos while conducting operations in support of the Vietnam War.

A long-ago war, a missing plane and an enduring mystery
By Matthew Schofield | McClatchy Washington Bureau
Posted on Saturday, May 25, 2013

TA-OY, Laos Maj. Derrell Jeffords bounced his roaring Spooky 21 down and off the runway at Da Nang Air Base in Vietnam. It was just before 7:30 a.m., on Christmas Eve 1965. The big camouflaged belly of his twin-prop AC-47 was easily visible against a blue sky as he banked west.

The cargo plane-turned-gunship was on its way to Laos; its mission was top secret.

Jeffords put the South China Sea at his back and the plane lumbered over a landscape mimicking the twists and folds of an unmade bed. The flight plan showed that he and his five-member crew would be returning to base in under six hours. Back in time for a late lunch.


This is a story of that flight, and the nearly half-century it took to find and bring home its six crew members. Guiding that effort through all those years was the pledge that those who go into battle make to each other: No matter what, we will come back for you. You will not be forgotten.

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