On Panel 59E, Row 9 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is inscribed the name of Air Force Maj. John Lee McElroy of Schenectady, one of 58,261 casualties from the war in Southeast Asia.
Since 1982, when the wall went up in Washington and McElroy’s name was carved into its jet-black granite, a little cross denoted him as missing in action.
The cross remained next to his name until Tuesday, when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund changed it to a diamond. The memorial fund built the wall and is its caretaker.
The diamond means the federal government found and conclusively identified McElroy’s remains, changing his status to killed in action.
The symbol carries deep meaning, said Bob Allyn, director of the New York State Vietnam Memorial in Albany. “The good thing is a Gold Star mom and the family of an MIA or POW has closure. They had no closure until a day like yesterday occurred,” he said.
Little is known of Major McElroy’s personal life. He was born May 29, 1932, and was reported missing on May 12, 1968, in Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam. He weighed 165 pounds, stood 5 feet, 6 inches tall and had a ruddy complexion. He was a navigator and of the Protestant faith. His service record states he enlisted in Schenectady but was born in Eminence, Ky.
Attempts by The Gazette to locate McElroy’s immediate family were unsuccessful.
Allyn said McElroy’s name is listed on the Albany memorial as an MIA from Schenectady. He will remain listed as MIA on the memorial although state records will indicate his KIA status, Allyn said.
McElroy’s remains were found June 9, 1993, and returned to the United States on May 14, 2008. Allyn said DNA testing takes time to complete and sometimes the family does not want to do the research. “There is a fee to have the test done,” he said.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund does not update the memorial until notified by the Department of Defense, said memorial fund spokeswoman Lisa Gough. “When the remains are recovered and positively identified, we change the designation,” she said.
According to the Department of Defense, McElroy and five other Air Force personnel died while evacuating Vietnamese citizens from the Kham Duc Special Forces Camp near Da Nang, South Vietnam.
They were aboard a C-130 Hercules when the plane took heavy enemy ground fire.
A forward air controller flying in the area reported seeing the plane explode in midair soon after leaving the runway. McElroy and the other personnel were listed as KIA but their remains were not recovered at the time. No recovery effort was attempted because of enemy presence in the area, according to a military report.
At the time, Air Force Col. Marion F. Caruthers wrote the family, “On this particular day, John was flying a most important mission of aerial evacuation for American and allied personnel. His example of Christian living significantly influenced all persons with whom he associated.”
In 1993, a search team consisting of Americans and Vietnamese went to the crash site and recovered human remains and aircraft wreckage, according to a news release from the Defense Department. A year later, another team visited the crash site and recovered additional items.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command used forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence to identify the remains, the release said.
McElroy left a wife and three children. He was buried with full military honors, according to the federal government. A total of 1,742 service personnel remain unaccounted for as POWs and MIAs from the Vietnam War, Allyn said.
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Categories: Schenectady County