Veterans Day 2022 marks the 19,708th day the family of a Kennewick High School graduate waited to bring the airman missing in Vietnam home.
Major San D. Francisco, who was a US Air Force pilot, is one of 37 servicemen from Washington state still missing from the Vietnam War.
His younger sister Terri Francisco-Farrell of Kennewick still hopes her brother’s body can be found. But it may take pressure from the Tri-Cities community to continue the research, she said.
On Nov. 25, 1968, Francisco was a first mate co-piloting an F-4 Phantom jet fighter, after volunteering for a mission when one of the original crew fell ill, his younger sister said. Terri Francisco-Farrell of Kennewick.
His F-4 was shot down during the reconnaissance mission on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The pilot survived, only to be killed resisting capture.
Francisco had two broken legs and was being taken captive when he was hit by shrapnel from American bombs, according to Vietnamese accounts.
Francisco-Farrell suspects he was dragged into an open area by his captors in their attempt to ambush the Americans who were looking for him. She believes he died during the ambush after he failed to raise his hands to the ladder of a rescue helicopter and put his crew in danger.
In 2014, a place where he could have been buried was identified.
This location and another where witnesses said they believed he was buried were searched but his body was not found.
Then the digging stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic, as mandatory quarantines limited the time available to dig.
However, the family received hope just before the pandemic that the area where Francisco was buried had been reduced.
In 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense’s POW/MIA accounting agency, or DPAA, contacted two witnesses to Francisco’s final hours or burial, who had been interviewed years earlier.
One of them was guarding a tunnel and said he saw Francisco’s parachute land. The other helped bury him and later exhumed his body for Vietnamese military propaganda claiming it was the 2,000th plane shot down during the war.
It is believed that he was buried in the same area.
During the second round of interviews, the two witnesses were taken to the two sites that had been excavated. Both believed that the burial took place at the first excavated site, but that the excavation needed to be expanded to find Francisco’s body.
DPAA officials proposed to expand excavations in 2020, but before work could begin, the pandemic put the plan on hold.
Today, Francisco’s family want the search to resume, but have not received a response from the DPAA on when the final excavations will be carried out or why they obviously have not been postponed.
“They were on the right track in 2020, so how did that go off the rails?” asks Francisco-Farrell.
Francisco-Farrell is asking people in the Tri-Cities — including Burbank, where Francisco grew up — to contact US Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell from Washington to request that the excavations be carried out.
Email Murray through his website at murray.senate.gov/write-to-patty. Email Cantwell through their website at cantwell.senate.gov/contact/email/form.
This story was originally published November 10, 2022 12:43 p.m.