Marengo Airman Returns Home Again after 44 years

VIETNAM-This story begins in Vietnam in 1966. First Lieutenant James H. Graff was a co-pilot on a U.S. Air Force C-130 with four other crew members when their plane crashed into a mountain side in Khanh Hoa Province, South Vietnam. The date was October 3, 1966. The crash was listed as, “caused by ground fire or sabotage.” First Lieutenant Graff had been in Vietnam just four months. Jim, and his wife Charlene, had two daughters-- Lora Beth, who was 3 years-old, and Janette Carol, who was only one years-old at the time of her father’s death. He also left behind: his mother, Geraldine; his father, Howard; his older brother, David; and his younger sister, Carol. Captain James H. Graff was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia on October 26, 1966. Jim was posthumously given a Captain’s Commission and also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Metal, and the Purple Heart. At the time, their remains were recovered by the military eight days after the crash. DNA research was in its infancy; therefore, Captain Graff and his C-130s navigator’s remains could not be distinguished and were buried together as they could not be separated. Jim’s last mission they flew was into the northern part of South Vietnam. The group of refugees had been delivered; and Jim’s plane was on a return trip to pick up more people for relocation when the C-130 exploded. Later, evidence proved that there had been a bomb planted. It was an act of sabotage that took the lives of Jim and the crew members.

Jim’s Younger Years

James Graff was a Marengo boy. Mr. and Mrs. Howard Graff moved to Marengo in 1945. Mr. Graff worked at the Arnold Engineering Company as a metallurgist. The family resided at 631 West Washington Street in Marengo. Jim attended Washington Grade School and Marengo Community High School. While in high school, he participated in gym show, pep club, and student council all four years. His junior year, he was a class president, homecoming king and a member of the Librarian Club. Jim’s senior year, he was class editor of the Marengo High School yearbook and vice president of the class. He also belonged to the M and Key Clubs. Jim had a car while in high school named, “Little Nell”. He loved to hunt and fish. Jim graduated from MCHS in 1957.

College Marriage, and the United States Air Force

Jim proceeded on to college and graduated in 1962. The new Mrs. Graff was from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Jim and Charlene moved back to Marengo, Illinois; and Jim worked for a short time at the Arnold Engineering Company along with his father, Howard. Later that year, on December 31, 1962, Jim entered the United States Air Force Officer Training Program in San Antonio, Texas. After graduation, Second Lieutenant Graff then took pilot training in Arizona. Jim stayed busy in the Air Force, serving tours in the Philippines; Belgian Congo; England; and finally, at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Jim’s next assignment was in Taiwan; and then on to Vietnam, arriving in the country early July 1966. Charlene said of Jim, “He loved what he was doing and he loved flying.” As mentioned above, Jim was killed four months after arriving in Vietnam, on October 3, 1966.

The Rest of Captain Jim Graff’s story

Jim’s wife was remarried to a career Air Force pilot, Robert Wenger. He adopted Lora Beth and Janette Carol. Lora said Robert is, “a wonderful man and father.” Since her mother had married Robert Wenger, the oldest of Jim’s daughters, Lora, is now considered by the U.S. Air Force “the next of kin.” Unknown to Lora and the rest of Jim’s family, the military at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command-Central Identification Lab in Hawaii continued working on more of her father’s remains. In 2001, DNA samples had been taken from Jim’s mother, Geraldine. Mr. Graff passed away in 2002; and Mrs. Graff in 2003. They were living in New Philadelphia, Ohio.

The Phone Call–On February 22, 2011,

Lora Booher received a phone call from Danielle VanOrden, who is a United States Air Force Mortuary Affairs Specialist from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. It seems that in 1984, a Vietnamese citizen had turned over more co-mingled remains from the crash site of Captain Graff’s C-130. The Vietnamese Government in turn handed over these remains to the U.S. Government. Also turned in was an ID card with Jim’s thumb print. DNA testing was done; and the JPAC-CIL had confirmed that two leg bones, a humerus, and a tooth belonging to Captain Graff, had been positively identified thanks to the DNA sample taken from Jim’s mother in 2001. Now, Lora has to make a decision where to bury her father again.

The Reburial

On Memorial Day Weekend 2011, Lora, and her sister Janette, will fly to Hawaii. Along on the flight will be Janette’s husband, Brad. Also accompanying them will be Danielle VanOrden, the U. S. Air Force Mortuary Affairs Specialist from Dover Air Base, Delaware. Captain Jim Graff’s daughters will bring back their father’s remains to South Carolina. His service and reburial, with full military honors, will take place on Saturday, June 4, 2011 at 11:00a.m. at the South Carolina Veteran’s Cemeter, (named the M.J. “Dolly” Cooper Veteran’s Cemetery in Anderson, South Carolina). Both Danielle VanOrden, and the Graceland Mortuary in Greenville South Carolina are taking care of the funeral arrangements. Jim’s family will attend, and will lovingly bury Captain James H. Graff again after 44 years. The memories, loss, and mourning for Jim will begin once again. Jim Graff will once again be repatriated back to the United States 44 years after his death in Vietnam. A Marengo boy, son, brother, husband, father, and true American Patriot we shall never forget you. Rest in Peace Captain Graff.

Memorial Day May 30, 2011: Captain Graff Comes Home Again

“Death from war is often more difficult to accept than ordinary death. Young men whoare killed in the fullness of youth with the promise of life still before them. They die alone and violently far away from home and far from the comfort of family and friends. No one could reach out and hold them as they died. And when the dead come back, their families are never certain that the man in the casket was their husband, father, son, or brother. The pain does not go away. It is always there. Every time Taps is played, the haunting memory comes back and we weep,” (“Safely Rest,” by David Colley).