Tribute to Major Victor J. Apodaca, Jr. U.S. Air Force
A Dedication
To
Major Victor Joe Apodaca, Jr.
United States Air Force
Air Force Academy 1961 Picture
Cadet First Class Apodaca's Senior Picture

at the US Air Force Academy, 1961


*** Welcome Home Major Apodaca ***

The below information was obtained from the US Air Force Academy Association of Graduates webpage: http://www.aog-usafa.org/

Vietnam War MIA pilot identified

08/03/01 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- The remains of Maj. Victor J. Apodaca, Jr. of Englewood, Colo., an Air Force pilot missing in action from the Vietnam War have been identified and are being returned to his family.

"Achieving the fullest possible accounting of Americans missing in action is of the highest national priority," said Alan Liotta, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs. "The support we received from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam enabled us to identify this serviceman, and we look forward to continued cooperation."

On June 8, 1967, Apodaca and Capt. Jon T. Busch were flying an armed reconnaissance mission over Quang Binh province in North Vietnam when their F-4C Phantom was struck by enemy fire. Other U.S. aircrews in the area reported receiving a radio transmission from Apodaca saying that he had lost use of the hydraulic system on his aircraft. Soon after, a weak emergency beeper signal was heard, but no aircrew saw where Apodaca's plane had crashed. A visual and electronic search of the area continued into the next day without results.

Scientists at the U.S. Army Central Identification Lab in Hawaii completed a forensic analysis of remains that had been turned over by the Vietnamese and confirmed Apodaca's identification through the use of mitochondrial DNA testing.

Apodaca's remains will returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

Editor's note: Major Apodaca graduated from the Academy in the Class of 1961. His remains will be interred at the USAFA Cemetery during his class' 40th reunion this fall.


The below article was obtained from The Gazette, a local newspaper in Colorado Springs, Colorado

August 4, 2001

Son finds ending in pilot's remains
By Bill Hethcock/The Gazette

For most of his life, Victor Apodaca III, a Colorado Springs resident, didn't know whether his father was living in some cruel POW camp in Vietnam or whether he died a valiant death after being shot down over North Vietnam.

For years, he sought solace in the simple metal of his father's dog tag, which was discovered in the late 1980s at the site of the wreckage by a Vietnamese scavenger looking to make some money off the remnants of war.

As for the golf-ball size bits of bone found near the scene, they remained behind. Not in the Quang Binh province, where his father was gunned down on June 8, 1967, but in the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, where the remains of many unidentified soldiers are sent.

But to Apodaca, those fragments of bone from somebody's hip were always the missing link to his father's fate - one Maj. Victor J. Apodaca Jr.

Earlier this week, the government, after two months of DNA testing, delivered the news to the 39-year-old Apodaca: The bones are those of his father - one of the first Native Americans to graduate from the Air Force Academy in 1961.

It was his Native American blood, the fact that he was part Navajo, that made the DNA testing conclusive.

Although deep down Apodaca always had a feeling his father was dead - something his mother came to grips with in the early 1970s, when she held a memorial service and legally declared him deceased - in the recesses of his mind, he always held out hope.

"Now I know for certain that it was him, and maybe, just maybe, this is the end," said Apodaca, a civil engineer who works in Colorado Springs. "For a while the doubt, that possibility that he might be alive, never went away. It was always there. I learned to put it in a box and set it aside, but there's always something that always brought it back."

Now, his father's remains will come back - in a special burial scheduled for Sept. 14 at the Air Force Academy, where he had graduated with a major in engineering before becoming a fighter pilot.

Although he was only 5 when his father left for Vietnam, Apodaca still has vivid memories of him: How he taught him to tie his shoes in the living room and how he would hoist him in the air, balancing him on his feet so it seemed he were flying, his arms spread like wings.

"I can still remember the configuration of the furniture in the den," said a solemn Apodaca, who was born in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where his father moved the family shortly before he left for Vietnam.

But what type of man was Apodaca Jr., this Vietnam veteran who was born on May 30, 1937, in Englewood and who would have been 64 years old this year?

To his younger brother, Les Apodaca, 60, of Colorado Springs, he was a man who always wanted to fly.

To his former wife who remarried after years of not knowing, he was the type of man who wouldn't think twice about giving up his life for his country and for his fellow man.

"But, oh, how he loved life," said Rosalind Holloman, 62, in a telephone interview from Tuscaloosa. "And he loved to fly. He loved that poem, 'High Flight,' the one that begins with, 'Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings. ...' I forget how the rest goes."

What she'll never forget is the very last thing he told her before he left in April 1967 - this man who, two months later, would be listed as missing in action, his very existence reduced to the numbers on his dog tag: 62506AT58A.

"He said, 'I'll see ya in five months. I'm gonna fly my hundred missions and be through with it,'" she said. "Then, he looked down at Victor, who was just a little thing, and he told him, 'Watch over your mom and your little brother.'"

But on June 8, 1967, Apodaca Jr. was shot down by the Vietnamese while on an armed reconnaissance mission, in which he was told to photograph as much enemy territory as possible.

It was right before dusk. The F-4 Phantom jet came under a barrage of fire. His co-pilot, John Busch, managed to eject, but Busch died a few hours after the crash, his death having been witnessed by several Vietnamese civilians, according to Les Apodaca, who has pieced together all the incidents from that day forward. But his brother's body was never found.

Then came the knock on the door in Alabama the next day, where Rosalind had been fixing supper. It was an ROTC officer, come to tell her about her husband being shot down.

"It was my faith that got me through this all these years," said Holloman, a retired school teacher who grew up in Colorado Springs and married Apodaca in June 1961 - a month after he graduated from the Academy.

"And now, thank God, we're finally going to have some closure."

Copyright © 1999-2001, The Gazette


The below article was obtained from The Gazette, a local newspaper in Colorado Springs, Colorado

August 4, 2001

Girl kept hope alive for MIA/Patricia Abbott wore bracelet for serviceman through uncertainty
By John Diedrich/The Gazette

When she was 10, Patricia Abbott put an MIA bracelet emblazoned with Victor Apodaca Jr.'s name on her wrist.

It was 1972. Abbott, her mom and sister were attending a rally in Tucson, Ariz., organized by one of Apodaca's sisters to raise awareness about Americans missing in action in southeast Asia. Apodaca was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967.

"It just moved me the way she spoke, even as a 10-year-old," said Abbott, 39, of Colorado Springs.

Abbott wore the stainless steel bracelet for eight years - until Apodaca's name wore off. But even after it was gone from her wrist, Abbott said she carried Apodaca in her heart. She searched every news story about MIAs for mention of the 1961 Air Force Academy graduate.

This week, she got the news she was waiting for. Apodaca's remains were coming home to be buried at the academy.

"When I saw the article on the front page of The Gazette, I just cried and cried and cried," Abbott said.

"This has been a moving day for me."

Abbott is one of scores of Americans who wore MIA bracelets in remembrance of service members who have not come home.

Her father was an Air Force jet mechanic and served in Thailand during the war, and Abbott was fascinated by the war as a child. She wrote letters of protest and soaked up every bit of news she could about the war.

She figured wearing the bracelet bearing Apodaca's name would somehow help him return safely. She and her twin sister wore bracelets. They watched coverage of the returning American MIAs coming off the plane after the war. The MIA on her sister's bracelet walked off that plane. Apodaca didn't.

"I always wondered what happened to him," she said.

It took until this week to answer the question.

"I guess this is closure for myself," Abbott said.

"Even though I wasn't related to him, I feel like I was."

- John Diedrich covers military affairs and may be reached at 636-0110 or diedrich@gazette.com


Page Directory

The following verbiage accompanied Cadet Apodaca's picture in the yearbook:
"After dragging himself out of his Indian teepee, and away from the tribal council, Vic did not forget the Navajo spirit and led the Wing in many a rally. An avid jazz and bongo enthusiast--sometimes a disruptive type in the dormitory (but then, who studied during CQ anyway?). Vic was one of the fortunate few to get his share of "living" (parties, girls, indoor sports, etc.) at CU prior to the Academy life. Always a rock, but slowly becoming domesticated.

Dance Committee 4,3,2,1; Entertainment Committee, 4,3,2; Football Team 4,3,2,1; Lacrosse Team 4,3,2,1; Mountaineering Club 4,3,2,1; Rally Committee 4,3,2,1; Ski Club 4,3."


NameVictor Joe Apodaca, Jr.
Rank (at time of incident)/Branch Captain (O-3)/US Air Force
Unit389th Tactical Fighter Squadron (366th Tactical Fighter Wing), Da Nang, South Vietnam 
Date of Birth31 May 1937
Home City of RecordEnglewood CO
Date of Loss8 June 1967
Country of LossNorth Vietnam
Loss Coordinates173900N 1061600E (XE343517)
Status (in 1973)Missing In Action; Promoted to rank of Major (O-4)
Category2
AircraftF-4C Phantom II
Other Personnel in IncidentCaptain Jon T. Busch (remains returned)
RemarksPOSS DEAD FIR 3170909973

     
366th Tactical Fighter Wing   F-4C Phantom II Driver Patch

 



SYNOPSIS: On the evening of June 8, 1967, two F-4C Phantom planes departed Da Nang Airbase on an armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. Hambone 1 took the lead, followed about a mile behind by Hambone 2, commanded by Capt. Victor Apodaca, Jr. and flown by Capt. Jon T. Busch. The two aircraft were flying at an altitude of about 4500 feet over a river valley with rolling to mountainous terrain about 22 miles northeast of Dong Hoi, North Vietnam.

Hambone 1 radioed Hambone 2 that he was encountering heavy and accurate ground fire. Fifteen seconds later, Apodaca acknowledged the warning and reported that his aircraft had been hit. Hambone 1 advised Apodaca to exit the area and head for the coast (where a safer at-sea rescue could occur). Moments later, Hambone 2 reported that it was experiencing control and hydraulics problems. The last message from Hambone 2 gave the direction of the aircraft and its altitude, which was 16,000 feet.

Seconds later, emergency signals were received for about 25 seconds, but it was not possible to determine whether one or two radio signals were broadcasting, nor could the precise point of origination be determined. Hambone 1, critically low on fuel, was forced to return to base.

An electronic search was conducted, but suspended due to darkness, bad weather and heavy anti-aircraft fire. During the search, no electronic or visual contact was made and no evidence of the aircraft was found.

The Air Force told the families they could not determine whether or not the men survived. Neither man was among the prisoners released in 1973 from Vietnam, and the Hanoi government denies any knowledge of them for 20 years.

On November 12, 1973, a refugee reported the death of an American airman which occurred in Bo Trach District, Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam at about 1500 hours one day in June 1967. According to the report, a U.S. F4 jet flying with about five other jets bombing a bridge on Route 1A was hit by 37mm anti-aircraft fire, crashed into Doi Troc Hill in Chanh Hoa II village. The source further stated that an airman bailed out and landed in a forest near the same village. At about 1530 hours, the refugee went to where the airman landed and saw his body lying in the grass. He was told by villagers that approximately 10 minutes after the airman had landed, militiamen from the village found him hiding in a bamboo thicket and captured him. The villagers then watched as the militiamen beat the American to death with hoes and bamboo sticks.

The refugee said he observed the dead American for about 10 minutes from a distance of about 5 meters. He described the airman as a caucasian, about 45 years old, 5' 11" tall, weighing about 220 pounds with fair complexion, short blonde hair, a mustache about one centimeter long and a heavy beard. He was unable to identify the airman from photos of the missing. JCRC correlated the report to the Busch/Apodaca incident.

In the spring of 1988, remains identified as Jon Busch, a burned map, three pieces of bone (which were identified as non-human by a Vietnamese anthropologist) and a charred and battered nameplate bearing Apodaca's name were returned to Presidential Envoy General John Vessey.

Busch's remains were positively identified by the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, based largely on the correlation of the refugee report, which evidently matched information given over by the Vietnamese with the remains. The status of "Box 19", which purportedly hold the effects of Victor Apodaca Jr., are still unknown to his family.

There are serious discrepancies in the refugee report as it relates to Busch and Apodaca. Jon Busch has red hair, not blonde. Vic Apodaca has black hair. Both men were clean shaven, and were forbidden by the Air Force to grow a beard. The Hambone flight departed at 5 p.m. in the evening, while the CIA report claimed the airman was killed at 3:30 p.m. just following his landing. The Hambone flight, while armed, was not involved in a bombing mission at all. Jon Busch was declared dead in 1967. Victor Apodaca was declared dead three days after the CIA received the refugee report.

The Apodaca family was never given the report by the U.S. Government. They discovered the report through a Freedom of Information Act request they filed in 1985. To many observers, there is a serious problem with the identification of these remains. Many will retain Jon Busch on the lists of missing because the discrepancies are too outrageous to make the correlation possible.

Jon Busch and Vic Apodaca are two of nearly 2500 Americans who were declared missing in Southeast Asia. Thousands of reports add to the evidence that perhaps hundreds of them are still held prisoner of war. Perhaps Jon and Vic died on the day of the crash of their aircraft. But, perhaps they did not. If the remains returned are not Jon Busch's, who will be looking for him? Not the U.S. Government. His case is officially closed. Vic Apodaca's family wants the truth. His sister Dolores says, "I won't just let them bury his memory based on some report with that many discrepancies. It's been 22 years, but none of us are so tired that we'll drop this without a fight."

Victor Joe Apodaca, Jr. was appointed to the Air Force Academy in 1957. He was the first Spanish/American/Navajo Indian to attend the Academy. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to keep pushing this issue inside the Beltway...The need to get specific answers is more important now than ever before. If still alive, some MIAs are now in their 70s...They don't have much time left. We have to demand the answers from the bureaucrats and keep standing on their necks (figuratively speaking) until they get the message that THEY work for US and that we are serious about getting these long overdue responses. Diplomatic considerations aside...We can no longer allow questionable protocols established by pseudo-aristocratic armchair strategists, to determine or influence the fate of the men who were in the trenches while the diplomats were sharing sherry and canapés and talking about "Their Plans" for the future of SE Asia.


Lacrosse is now a varsity sport at the USAF Academy
Here's Cadet Apodaca with the Academy LaCrosse team.

USAF Academy Class of 1961

This is Vic Apodaca's US Air Force Academy Class of '61 Ring design.

Visit the International Hall of Honor
Information About the
366th Tactical Fighter Wing
At the Time of Major Apodaca’s Crash
Motto
- “Audentes Fortuna Juvat” – “Fortune Favors the Bold”
  -- Approved 8 August 1965

Base/Date Assigned
- Da Nang Airbase, October 1966 through October 1972

Higher Headquarters
- 7th Air Force from 1 April 1966 through 27 June 1972

Commander, 366th Tactical Fighter Wing
- Colonel Robert W. Maloy from May 1967 through December 1967

Commander, 7th Air Force
- General William W. Momyer from 1 July 1966 through 31 July 1968

Commander, Pacific Air Forces
- General John D. Ryan from 1 February 1967 through 31 July 1968

Chief of Staff, Air Force
- General John P. McConnell from 1 February 1965 through 31 July 1969

Secretary of the Air Force
- Honorable Harold Brown from 1 October 1965 through 14 February 1969

 

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All Biographical and loss information on POWs provided by Operation Just Cause
have been supplied by Chuck and Mary Schantag of POWNET.
Please check with POWNET regularly for updates.

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