Thomas Raymond Morgan
Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force
Thomas Raymond Morgan born on September 27,
1933 and joined the Armed
He served in the United States Air Force and attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
On January 26, 1967, at the age of 33, Thomas
Raymond Morgan perished in the
United States Air Force
Morgan was conducting a strike mission over a target in Tuyen Duc Province South Vietnam. As the attack began, pilots in other aircraft on the mission observed smoke trailing from Morgan's F100-D Super Sabre. His plane burst into flames and exploded into three pieces prior to impact.
Investigations of Morgan's crash site were
conducted in 1967 and 1968 by American investigators, but no remains were
located. A joint U.S.-Vietnamese recovery team in 1994 excavated the crash
site and found human remains. In 1996, a local Vietnamese turned over more
bone fragments and personal effects of Morgan's scavenged from the crash
site. Remains were subsequently identified and buried at Arlington National
Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Morgan flew over a Vietnam jungle in 1967 and prepared to mark his target with a smoke bomb.
Pilots in three other F-100 fighter/bombers behind him would key off of the smoke to deliver more destructive payloads on a Viet Cong camp. But Morgan never dropped the marker.
As the 34-year-old, career Air Force officer approached the target, his tail assembly burst into flames. He pulled up, and his wingman lost sight of him as he crested a hill.
As the wingman came over the rise, he saw another hillside burning where Morgan's plane had crashed. It was unlikely that the flight leader had time to eject.
The Ohio pilot disappeared in the Central Highlands of what was South Vietnam, a region of rugged, steep hills shrouded in dense jungle that saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war. It would be a year before the military could even send investigators into the hostile territory to view the crash site.
They verified plane wreckage but found no sign of the pilot.
Nearly three decades later, this was the basic information Bruce A. Jones had when he returned to Vietnam to find Colonel Morgan.
The staff archaeologist with the Midwest Archeological Center in Lincoln joined a team of military and civilian investigators who attempt to find prisoners of war, those missing in action and those listed as killed in action, bodies unaccounted for.
Jones, a Vietnam veteran, hoped that helping with the searches would assuage survivor's guilt.
While many college-graduate draftees served in the infantry, the Army taught Jones to speak Vietnamese and assigned him to a psychological warfare unit. For 101/2 months, he broadcast battlefield messages that tried to persuade North Vietnamese soldiers to surrender.
"I came away from all that without the cold sweats, without the nightmares," he said. "I just felt extremely fortunate."
In 1994, he jumped at the chance to join a recovery mission. The case involved a B-52 bomber shot down in 1972 near Hanoi, in which one of the six crew members remained unaccounted for.
With permission from Vietnamese governmental officials, the team hired local laborers to excavate the crash site. They dug and sifted soil for human remains -- often just bone fragments. They also searched for personal possessions such as wedding bands, ID tags, photos, letters, watches or uniform remnants.
When investigators find material, it is processed at a military laboratory in Hawaii to see whether it can be positively linked to the missing serviceman. If so, relatives are notified, the remains are repatriated and the case is closed.
In the B-52 case, the task force was unable to find remains or personal belongings.
"His status would still be missing in action," Jones said.
Trying to solve battlefield mysteries is the daunting mission of Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Hickam Air Force Base and Camp Smith in Hawaii. The task force investigates MIA cases from all U.S. military actions from World War II to the present.
Since 1975, the military has identified 702 sets of remains linked to the Vietnam War, said Air Force Capt. Gina Jackson with JPAC. About 1,800 Vietnam War cases remain open.
No living prisoners of war have been found.
JPAC sends multiple teams to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia each year, said Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara, public affairs officer for the task force. Full recovery missions, which are less frequent, can cost as much as $400,000 each and are paid for by the Department of Defense.
Investigators are motivated by the families of missing service members, O'Hara said. He acknowledged that some think the government isn't working quickly enough.
"Until we find everybody, of course we're not doing enough," he said. "But we're doing what we can."
Lincoln, through staff of the National Park Service's Midwest Archeological Center, has had connections to six of the missions since 1994. Jones will discuss his work on two of them Sunday afternoon at Homestead National Monument near Beatrice.
When Jones returned to Vietnam in 1996 to investigate Colonel Morgan's disappearance, he knew the mission would be more logistically difficult than in 1994.
Although the fighting ended long ago, the Central Highlands remain just as inaccessible as they were in 1967. Vietnamese officials flew the team into the crash site on helicopters, and they camped for 30 days in the jungle.
Their labor proved fruitful.
They found F-100 wreckage scattered across the hillside. And, more importantly, they found a flight suit zipper.
Then, as they were about the conclude the mission, some local Vietnamese men approached the team with bone fragments they said they found at the crash site. Because the team did not recover the remains, Jones was hesitant to say they were those of Lt. Col. Thomas Morgan without supporting proof.
Back in the United States, Bob Morgan got a call at his home in Uniontown, Ohio. Military investigators needed a DNA sample from a close relative of Thomas Morgan. Bob was his only surviving sibling.
The test proved the remains were those of Colonel Morgan.
Morgan's two sons and his widow, who never remarried, were joined by Bob Morgan for a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. Bob Morgan wished his mother could have attended such a funeral before her death in 1985.
"For 30 years, not knowing anything, you want to think the best," said the 59-year-old engineer for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. "Now there is a closure to the story."
But the story wasn't over for Jones.
A few years ago, he was asked to give a talk about his MIA recovery work, at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. With the help of a newspaper reporter, he got Bob Morgan's phone number.
Jones called Morgan and told him he would be discussing his brother's case at the presentation. He invited Bob Morgan to attend.
After the presentation, Bob Morgan introduced himself. And he thanked Jones for finding his brother.
Jones felt those old feelings of survivor's guilt suddenly replaced with a sense of accomplishment. In a way that he deemed meaningful, he had contributed to those who sacrificed their lives in Vietnam.
"For me, it was sort of the end of a journey
that began in 1969."