Air Force Lt. Col. Vincent Chiarello, listed as missing in action since his jet was shot down over North Vietnam in 1966, was returned to Pennsylvania Tuesday for burial near his 82-year-old mother's home.
Chiarello's flag-draped casket was met by an emotional group of family members, military officials and Vietnam War veterans who gathered at International Airport in temperatures reaching the high 90s.The Brooklyn, N.Y., native was 26 when he volunteered for air duty in North Vietnam and he was shot down on a reconnaissance mission July 29, 1966.
He was one of 17 MIAs returned by North Vietnam earlier this year. Defense Department records show 2,441 Americans involved in the Indochina War were still missing in action as of Jan. 14, 1986.
Since he was declared MIA, Chiarello's mother, Anne, has worn a red, metallic bracelet bearing Vincent's name and the date he disappeared. After 20 years of uncertainty, she said she planned to remove the band.
"It's a tremendous relief to have him back. It has been pure agony for the past 22 years," she said. "I didn't think we would ever see him alive again after a few years had passed. But I did hope we would have an accounting and that he would come home. This was not the way I wanted him to come home, but it's much much better than not knowing."
Mrs. Chiarello was flanked by her daughter, Joanne Cornell, and other family members and supporters Tuesday as the casket was removed from a commercial jet by an Air Force honor guard and loaded into a hearse.
She said her son would receive a military funeral Saturday in suburban Holland, where the family resides.
"I couldn't help but remember the way he was the day we said goodbye to him," Cornell said. "He was so lighthearted and so positive he would return. This was something he wanted to do; he wanted to do for his country."
Mrs. Chiarello said she was relieved to finally know for sure that her son died in action and not in a North Vietnamese prison camp.