More than half a century later, a local family is finally getting closure over the death of a beloved Navy pilot who served in the Vietnam war.
They will get to properly bury Lt. Commander Frederick Crosby in San Diego on Sunday. And his daughter Deborah is finally getting a chance to make good on a promise to her grandmother.
“I was sitting on the sofa with my grandmother and she said, ‘They know where your dad's plane went down and I don't know why we don't have his remains. I would like him buried here,’” Deborah Crosby said.
That's what essentially sparked this search. Lt. Commander Frederick Crosby was a Navy pilot during the Vietnam war. In June of 1965, he went on a bomb assessment mission. He was never seen again. Deborah, was only six at the time. She says she never doubted the fact that her father was killed, but she and her brothers always wanted closure and to bring him home.
Crosby called to inquire regularly about the military's progress on her father's case. She attended meetings of the National League, and analyzed where the crash occurred in Thanh Hoa province on Google Earth. She poured over news reels and reports at the Library of Congress and provided a sample of her aunt's blood to the military to have a DNA match on file in case his remains were ever found.
Decades passed and her mother and grandmother both died before investigators got a breakthrough on their third trip to the area when they met Pham Van Truong, a lifelong resident of Nam Ngan ward in Thanh Hoa City.
According to a 50-page report given to Crosby, the 89-year-old man told investigators he couldn't recall the month or year, but he remembered during the war that he was cooking limestone to reinforce his house when he heard gunfire and ran to the nearby levee to investigate.
He saw two planes headed toward his house and one was on fire as it glided toward the levee. He said he could see its wing and tail surfaces were missing. The aircraft rolled as it hit the fish pond in front of his house, splashing Van Truong with water and mud. The other aircraft kept flying toward the sea.
Van Truong told investigators that shortly after it crashed, a Vietnamese salvage team had pulled some parts of the plane, including the engine, from the pond and hauled it away. Van Truong, who had helped the salvage team, kept a piece of the plane to use for making a cooking utensil. He also used a piece of its glass to repair a clock.
Based on the new information, U.S. military investigators decided to comb the bottom of the pond in 2015. When they emptied it bucket by bucket, they found bones, pieces of fabric from Crosby's uniform, his chrome lighter and wedding band.
Friday those remains made it stateside, a caravan of children and grandchildren and loved ones awaiting them. Deborah will get a chance to make good on a promise to her grandmother, just in time for Memorial Day. The Crosby family will spend Friday evening meeting with Navy pilots practicing a flyover for the funeral.
Lt. Commander Crosby will be buried Sunday at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.