Monte Larue Moorberg, the Air Force fighter pilot who was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, was not the first soldier of 26 recently returned from Vietnam to be buried there, as reported in yesterday's editions. Moorberg is the fourth of that group buried there this month with full honors.
Mark Moorberg was just getting to the stage where a child grasps what life is about when his 27-year-old father, an Air Force fighter pilot, was shot down over North Vietnam in 1966.
Yesterday, Mark, now a 23-year-old New York stockbroker, and his sister, Ann, 22, a student at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, brought home the father they never really knew. In a solemn ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, the remains of Monte Larue Moorberg were received with full military honors in preparation for burial today at Arlington National Cemetery.
Moorberg's remains, sealed in a silver-colored casket that was draped with an American flag, were among those of 26 servicemen returned to the U.S. government in August as part of the largest such turnover since American military involvement ended in Vietnam 12 years ago. His are the last of the eight remains that were positively identified to be buried, and the first to be interred at Arlington.
Moorberg's wife Judy Deborde, who has since remarried and lives in Guilford, Conn., attended the ceremony with Moorberg's mother, Edna, his sisters, Durelle and Darla, and a contingent of former classmates from the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
There were no speeches yesterday, although President Reagan and Vice President Bush were invited to attend, but there were a few quietly shed tears and warm hugs among family members who had waited nearly 20 years to say their last goodbyes.
"It's a finalization," said Ann Moorberg shortly after a black hearse that had been waiting near the C141 Starfighter transport plane took her father's remains away. The Moorberg children had flown with the casket from San Francisco.
She said she was happy to see his return "with the respect and dignity he deserved. I hope the other MIAs are returned the same way."
"We're very glad our father has been brought home," Mark Moorberg said. "And we look at it as a homecoming for him."
Mark and Ann said that the issue of missing Vietnam veterans is not a cause in which they have been actively involved, especially because they had "pretty conclusive" evidence that their father was dead.
"But it's something I feel strongly about," Mark said. "I've never been the type of person who goes out and screams in protest. I think positive steps are being taken" to return other MIAs.
Brice Jones, a California farmer who resigned from the Air Force in 1970, was Moorberg's Air Force Academy roommate, served as best man at his 1961 wedding and flew with him in Vietnam. Along with the Moorberg family and other classmates, he had requested yesterday's ceremony and today's Arlington burial.
"I knew the day he went down," he said yesterday. "Until the Air Force had positive evidence , it didn't confirm that he was killed in action. But we knew."
Moorberg was declared missing in action for two years before his status was changed to killed in action. Jones said that Moorberg guided his crippled F105 fighter plane away from a populated area before he jumped from the plane to his death. The Air Force later awarded him its second highest honor, the Air Force Cross.
Jones estimated that 20 to 25 of his 1961 academy graduating class, about 10 percent, died in action in Vietnam. The remains of three of those listed as killed in action have not been recovered, he said.
The release of the 26 servicemen's remains in August was hailed at the time as a sign of new cooperation on the part of Southeast Asian governments to determine the whereabouts of nearly 2,500 servicemen who have been listed as missing in action in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
A joint U.S.-Vietnamese search group is continuing to excavate a site north of Hanoi where a U.S. Air Force B52 bomber crashed in 1972.