Vietnam casualty. Victor Joe Apodaca, Jr. was appointed to the Air Force Academy in 1957. He was the first Spanish/American/Navajo Indian to attend the Academy. While assigned to the 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 366 Tactical Fighter Wing, Danang, South Vietnam, his F4 Phantom fighter jet was shot down over North Vietnam and he was missing in action for years. His remains were finally repatriated in 2001.
From the Denver Post.
Sunday, September 16, 2001 - AIR FORCE ACADEMY - As thousands waited for their missing loved ones in New York City to come home, the wait ended for two sons whose father disappeared in Vietnam.
It took 34 years, but Maj. Victor Apodaca Jr., a 1961 graduate of the Air Force Academy, was finally laid to rest Saturday in Air Force Academy Cemetery.
Apodaca was shot down June 8, 1967, while on a reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam.
On Saturday, friends and families and those who didn't even know Apodaca stood in a flag-speckled cemetery to pay tribute. An honor guard gave a 21-gun salute. A bugler played taps. The cadet 10th Squadron - the one Apodaca was in when he graduated - came in dress blues and white gloves.
Apodaca's remains had been kept at the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii since 1988, until they were identified in the spring through DNA.
The family planned for the memorial this weekend - the 40th reunion of the Class of 1961.
But getting the remains from Hawaii to Colorado took the brotherhood of the military. On Monday, one of Maj. Apodaca's sons, Robert Apodaca, 36, of Orlando, Fla.,
boarded a commercial flight and began escorting his father's remains back to the Air Force Academy. At 6 a.m. Tuesday, the plane landed in Minneapolis. A couple of hours later,
all flights were grounded because of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. "We made it as far as Minneapolis, and all of the flights were shut down,"
said Robert Apodaca, who was stranded with thousands of other American travelers. Robert noticed a Minneapolis Air National Guard Unit nearby so he called the academy for help. He waited for more than a day without any word. Then his phone rang at 3 a.m. Thursday. "They said 'Be on the flight line at 7 a.m. Your dad is going home,'" Apodaca said. "And then, I'm flying up in the air in a C-130 and I'm listening to the pilots," he said. ". . . And as soon as everyone heard on the radio that they were bringing him home, the fighter jets all wanted to stop by and escort. They wanted to honor him." The plane landed Thursday at Peterson Air Force Base with a welcome from an honor guard.
At Saturday's service, a man wearing a Navy uniform came to pay his respects. Dave Niegocki, a Colorado Springs firefighter, never met Apodaca, who was from Sheridan, but he had worn a POW-MIA bracelet engraved with Apodaca's name for 25 years. "Until they got home, I never took it off," said Dave Niegocki of Colorado Springs. Niegocki then gave the bracelet to Victor Apodaca III, one of the major's sons.
"It's just kind of touching. I feel like I gave part of myself because I had it so long," Niegocki said. Victor Apodaca placed the bracelet given to him on the wrist of his
daughter, Julia Apodaca, 16. After the service ended, the youngest Victor Apodaca, 11, stood next to the cherrywood casket and lined up seven POW-MIA bracelets in a row that had been given to him that day. "We're going to bury the bracelets with dad," said Robert Apodaca. "I always had one on, and it is in the casket with my father. I feel naked
The Sorrow Lingers
Monday, August 06, 2001 - More than three decades after his reconnaissance jet was shot down over what was then North Vietnam, the remains of Maj. Victor J. Apodaca Jr. will be returned to Colorado for honored burial at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Apodaca's remains, which had been turned over to American authorities by the Hanoi government 13 years ago, finally were identified through DNA testing by the scientists at the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.
The F-4C Phantom Apodaca was flying was shot down June 8, 1967, over Quang Binh Province.
The Sheridan native's bones and those of his co-pilot Capt. Jon T. Busch were among 25 boxes of remains repatriated in July 1988. Still, more than 1,900 American MIAs remain unaccounted for.
Twenty-six years after communist forces overran Saigon, the POW/MIA issue like the divisive Vietnam War itself continues to haunt the nation and the families of the men who never came home.
For Maj. Apodaca's two sons, Victor III and Robert, and his brother, Les, the recovery and identification of the remains has brought a sense of closure and final acceptance of the aviator's death. But Apodaca's four sisters have strong doubts about the identification of the remains and believe the Pentagon is wrong.
As late as the mid-1980s, intelligence reports indicated that Apodaca might still be alive.
The remains are to buried with full military honors at the 40th reunion of Apodaca's Air Force Academy class in September.
That is fitting, for Apodaca's legacy to his family was a fierce patriotism instilled in his sons. Victor III served as a captain in the Army and Robert as a captain in the Air Force.
Apodaca grew up in a very poor family on a small farm in Sheridan. His father stressed the value of education to his children, and Victor Jr. was an outstanding scholar, as well as an athlete, in high school, winning an appointment to the academy.
Apodaca bequeathed an enduring example for all young Americans: While others shirked duty in an unpopular war and cravenly hid out in foreign sanctuaries, he answered the call to the colors and paid with his life.
Maj. Apodaca gave his family, his state and the Air Force just cause to be proud of him and to honor his memory. We add our voice to those saluting him.
Major, U.S. Air Force, Class of 1961, Vietnam
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