The letter, dated 18 October 1967, began, "I am deeply saddened to write to you and describe the circumstances which led to your son, Captain Richard D. Appelhans, being listed as missing in action."
The parents of Capt Appelhans were already aware their son and his Weapon System Officer (WSO) were missing. That notification had come the day before. But the military always ensures that there is a paper document prepared and signed by a senior officer in the command structure when this type of thing happens. What the Appelhans family probably didn't anticipate was that Richard would remain "Missing" for the next twelve years before being declared Killed In Action.
Hundreds of family endured this period of agony during the war in VietNam. The cruel procedures must be followed. The first reports claimed them missing and further reporst change their status to captured or "missing - presumed dead" or some other euphemism that all equates to the assumption that he is not coming home and will likely never be found.
Appelhans departed Tan San Nhut airfield just after midnight on 16 October in an RF-4C reconaissance jet. His squadron had been the first in VietNam to fly the big, mach 2, aircraft and it had proven to be a capable aircraft - and ultimately earned a superior reputation in every combat role. The recon flights were usually solo and often the mission profile took the aviators beyond some international borders that were not to be crossed officially. But it was on the other side of the border that the good intelligence photos were found, so the crews just pressed forward.
When they went missing there was little notice. No dramatic "Mayday" or Hollywood action scene. The aircraft just flew into a mountain top or took a rocket hit. It's over in seconds and there is no time to share your predicament with others. The lucky flights ejected and sounded an UHF beacon to help search crews locate the airmen. Others just disappeared. Appelhans' aircraft just disappeared. There were reports that his WSO had been captured, but he wasn't returned at the end of the war. Maybe the Laotian government had him, maybe not. The mystery remains.
Lt Mark Middel, US Navy, never returned from World War II. His aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire while attacking a South Pacific island on 29 January 1944. The wreckage dropped into the sea and no attempt to recover his body could be made.
SSgt John F Bolta, USAAF, didn't make it home either. He was a gunner aboard a B-24J of 528th Bombardment Squadron, 380th Bombardment Group. On 17 May 1945 the 27 year old father of two was killed not far from Mindoro Island in the Philippines. None of the crew survived the crash and all are listed on the Tablets of The Missing.
Sixty-nine men are listed on this World War II honor roll. They all took the last train from Havre with some eagerness to complete their missions. Their last memories of home revolved around that depot and their last glimpse of their loved ones. And conversely, their loved onces remembered the sounds of the departing train. It no longer evoked a romantic idea of travel, it was only a mournful cry of those departed.