Legendary pilot 'Earthquake McGoon' heads home
October 19, 2006
NEW YORK (AP) -- More than a half century after he died in the flaming crash of a CIA-owned cargo plane and became one of the first two Americans to die in combat in Vietnam, a legendary soldier of fortune known as "Earthquake McGoon" is coming home.
The skeletal remains of James B. McGovern Jr., discovered in an unmarked grave in remote northern Laos in 2002, were positively identified on September 11 by laboratory experts at the U.S. military's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii.
They will be flown back to the mainland next week for a military funeral in New Jersey on October 28, said McGovern's nephew, James McGovern III, of Forked River, New Jersey.
"Bottom line, it's closure for my family and a great feeling," McGovern said.
Six feet and 260 pounds -- huge for a fighter pilot -- McGovern carved out a flying career during and after World War II that made him a legend in Asia.
An American saloon owner in China dubbed him "Earthquake McGoon," after a hulking hillbilly character in the comic strip "Li'l Abner."
He died May 6, 1954, when his C-119 Flying Boxcar cargo plane was hit by ground fire while parachuting a howitzer to the besieged French garrison at Dien Bien Phu.
"Looks like this is it, son," McGovern radioed another pilot as his crippled plane staggered 75 miles into Laos, where it cartwheeled into a hillside.
Killed along with "McGoon," 31, were his co-pilot, Wallace Buford, 28, and a French crew chief. Two cargo handlers, a Frenchman and a Thai, were thrown clear and survived.
Ho Chi Minh's communist forces captured Dien Bien Phu the next day, ending a 57-day siege that had captured the world's attention.
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