Family Feud Delays CIA Flier's Funeral
Oct. 25, 2006
NEW YORK (AP) _ A feud among relatives of the CIA pilot known as ``Earthquake McGoon'' _ one of the first two Americans killed in the Vietnam conflict _ has scuttled plans for burial in his native New Jersey this weekend, a nephew said Tuesday.
James B. McGovern III, of Forked River, N.J., said none of his four sisters would agree to give him legal status as pilot James B. McGovern Jr.'s primary next of kin. That would have allowed the body to be flown from Hawaii for a military-style funeral the nephew had planned for Saturday.
``They wouldn't even take my phone calls,'' he said.
Earthquake McGoon should be laid to rest in a cemetery in Somerset, N.J., where his younger brother, John _ who is also McGovern III's father _ is buried, the nephew said. The pilot's former flying colleagues in Asia during and after World War II are trying to arrange for a grave in Arlington National Cemetery.
McGovern III said it was ``all out of my hands now.''
He said the CIA told him that if the family can't settle the matter, the agency might take the matter to court.
The agency will help transfer the remains when the family's wishes are known, said CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. He believed the agency was not planning legal action.
A sister of McGovern III, Nancy Burlas, of Oxford Township, N.J., refused to discuss the matter. ``I'm not getting involved in this,'' she said by telephone.
The other sisters, who live in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, did not return telephone calls.
McGovern Jr., a 260-pound fighter plane and cargo pilot, was an accomplished World War II aviator who signed on with Civil Air Transport, the forerunner of the CIA's ``Air America'' operation in southeast Asia. An American saloon owner in China dubbed him ``Earthquake McGoon,'' after a hulking hillbilly character in the comic strip ``Li'l Abner.''
McGovern was killed at age 31 when his C-119 Flying Boxcar was shot down on a resupply mission for besieged French troops at Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam, on May 6, 1954. The crippled plane struggled 75 miles into northern Laos before crashing.
McGovern, who had no children, and co-pilot Wallace Buford, 28, were the first of nearly 60,000 Americans killed in combat in Indochina in the two decades before Saigon's fall to communist troops in 1975.
Peter Miller, an anthropologist leading a search team from the Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, discovered an unmarked grave at the village of Ban Sot in 2002. The skeletal remains, positively identified last month by forensic experts, will stay for now in the custody of the unit, which specializes in finding and identifying the remains of missing troops, a spokeswoman said.
Buford's remains have not been found.