Vietnam veterans who made it back alive were more often blamed than thanked. The families of the missing in action bore an additional burden and counted heavily on one another, mourning but never fully moving on. The Sizemores and Andres lived with a particular emptiness: Their men gave their lives in a secret war, without any official acknowledgment. Military and CIA operations to cut off North Vietnamese supply routes and rescue pilots who were shot down were covert in Laos, a neutral country enmeshed in its own civil war.
A-26 wreckage first was spotted in 1993, and the families waited an additional 17 years for the site to be excavated. Just five months ago, the remains were identified. Even that news was not what you’d call unalloyed, of course. And as the families planned Monday’s send-off, the Air Force informed them that budget cuts caused by the sequester had left it too cash-strapped to provide the traditional fly-over with its “missing man” aerial salute at their joint grave site.
Eight volunteer airmen in borrowed planes filled in — one in an A-26 just like the attack bomber Sizemore and his navigator, Andre, flew.
At the Arlington funeral home where survivors gathered Sunday night, James Sizemore’s daughter, Rebecca Sizemore, remembered seeing her father for the last time the week before she turned 13. Later that year, on July 8, 1969, he and Andre crashed after taking hostile fire.
“My memory is stuck in that time,” she said, “and I still ask myself today would he be proud of me. It’s weird to be this age and all your memories [of your father] are of childhood.”
Her father did have a chance to show her his alma mater, Georgia Tech, where he first met Andre, his co-pilot during night missions dropping bombs on truck convoys on the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Georgia Tech “was the only place I applied” to college, she said. Like her father, she studied engineering. She wonders now what her late mother must have thought of the teenager who comforted herself by wearing her father’s khaki pants and plaid shirt. Her brother, James Jeff Sizemore, used to go by his middle name but prefers James now, in tribute.
For them, the conflict of a lifetime ago isn’t over, even now: “Our hopes have been answered,” in the form of Sizemore’s DNA found at a crash site 12 miles south of Ban Na Mai in Xiangkhoang province, Rebecca Sizemore said. “But I’ll never have closure on losing my father.”