Written by Jill Nossa Friday, 20 July 2012 00:00
The burial of six recently discovered U.S. Air Force crew members who had been declared Missing In Action since 1965 took place at Arlington National Cemetery on July 9, bringing closure to the families after more than 46 years of unanswered questions.
Chief Master Sergeant William Kevin Colwell of Glen Cove was among those whose remains were laid to rest with full military honors.
Sgt. Colwell was nearing retirement from the Air Force when he accepted the assignment in Vietnam. He had been in the military since 1942 and served in WWII, and accepted the combat strike mission in Laos in 1965. Unfortunately, the plane was shot down on Dec. 24 and all six crewmembers were declared Missing In Action. The search and rescue operation for the missing crewmen was terminated two days later, and military personnel determined the plane had been shot down by enemy forces.
For more than 46 years, the family of Sgt. Colwell – who is survived by his sister-in-law, six nieces, and their children – has been in contact with the U.S. Air Force, and never gave up hope that his remains would be found. A mass was held last month at St. Patrick’s Church in Glen Cove, and the family has finally laid their beloved uncle to rest.
Between 25-30 relatives of Colwell traveled to Arlington for the burial, from Glen Cove, Sea Cliff, Connecticut and Virginia, and one cousin traveling all the way from Ireland.
Ann Famigliette, one of Colwell’s nieces, said the burial was “heart-wrenching,” with more than 300 people in attendance. She said she and her relatives also had the opportunity to meet the families of the five other crewmembers for the first time, holding impromptu receptions at the hotel both the night before the burial as well as afterwards.
“It was an overwhelming experience. I can’t even express how beautiful it was. Being buried at Arlington is such a great honor, and one that my uncle deserved,” Famigliette said.
Rose Colwell Gagnon accepted the flag on behalf of her mother and Sgt. Colwell’s sister-in-law, Dorothy Denzler Colwell, who was not able to attend. Both are formerly from Sea Cliff and now living in Virginia Beach. Other relatives in attendance at the burial included Susan Famigliette Schilling and her son, William (P.J.) Schilling.
Famigliette said that she received two of her uncle’s MIA bracelets from strangers who had been wearing them as a way to keep him in their hearts and minds, and was able to bury them with her uncle.
“It was a fitting and perfect burial for all those heroes,” she said.