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Another USAF Pilot Coming Home

Vietnam War Flyer ID'd

Veteran's Day 2006 also signals the return of another of our brethren to his home. The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office has announced that the remains of a U.S. Air Force officer missing in action from the Vietnam War have been identified.

The remains of Col. Charles J. Scharf are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors. His funeral is Nov. 30 at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

Colonel Scharf, from San Diego, and a fellow crewmember took off in their F-4C Phantom II from Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand Oct. 1, 1965, to attack an enemy concentration and a major highway in North Vietnam. After the lead aircraft developed problems en route, Colonel Scharf assumed the lead of the two other F-4s in the flight.

After he completed two bombing runs, Colonel Scharf's aircraft was hit by enemy fire. His "mayday" radio transmission of was heard by the other two aircraft. One of those aircraft returned a radio call to the colonel, "Gator 3, you're on fire, you'd better get out! Bail out, Gator 3!" Colonel Scharf's plane began to disintegrate and a parachute was seen leaving the aircraft.

The other two aircraft lost sight of the parachute and circled the area where Colonel Scharf's aircraft had crashed and burned for about 10 minutes, but no radio or visual contact was made then nor in subsequent aerial search and rescue operations.

In January 1990, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam provided information to U.S. officials indicating two men were buried near their crash site, but that one had been washed away during flooding. Within a month, a joint U.S.-S.R.V. team, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, interviewed three witnesses to the crash and located scattered wreckage at the site.

The 1992 excavation of that site yielded human remains, a dental prosthesis, and numerous personal effects including the rank insignia of Colonel Scharf's fellow crewman. A second joint excavation in 1993 recovered additional artifacts, but no remains.

A third excavation in 2004 recovered additional evidence including pilot life-support artifacts, a metal captain's insignia -- Colonel Scharf's rank at the time -- and a plastic denture tooth.

Among dental records and other forensic tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also attempted to use mitochondrial DNA from a known maternal relative to establish the identification. However, tests were inconclusive.

From Colonel Scharf's widow, they obtained a number of envelopes containing letters he had sent to her during the war. AFDIL specialists were able to extract mitochondrial DNA from the gummed adhesive on those envelopes, and JPAC was able to confirm the identification. JPAC's detailed analysis of the debris and other evidence concluded that the parachute sighted was the F-4C's drag parachute.

FMI: www.dtic.mil/dpmo/, www.af.mil

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