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November 3, 2013

KIA 1968: Siow’s sacrifice

Vietnam War casualties include families; Duncan woman finds closure after 45 years

DUNCAN — It’s been 45 years since Erma Hynson saw her brother, Gale Robert Siow, an aviation electronics technician with the U.S. Navy. But, in September, she was briefly reunited with him.

At his gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

He had been missing for 33 years after being killed in action in 1968, in Vietnam during the war.

Siow, a Hopi-Laguna Native American from Arizona, was an enlisted Petty Officer 3rd Class. When he was 27 years old, he kissed his wife, Rebecca, and their three children, ages 1 1/2, 3 and 4, goodbye. They were at the Alameda Naval Air Station in California.

Erma thought she would see her older brother alive again. But Siow had told his wife he wasn’t sure he’d return from the mission. Just one of those “feelings.” Rebecca had shared that moment with The Mercury News in 2003.

Siow was killed during a secret military mission in Vietnam. The remains of Siow and eight crew mates were found 33 years later and returned home for proper burial in Arlington.

Erma, 67, and now a Duncan resident, visited his gravesite for the first time, thanks to a traveling tour bus through the Chickasaw Nation. Just getting there was an experience in itself. She and Karen Simmons, with the Stephens County Genealogical Society, were on the tour together. They had to run 7/8 of a mile from the tour bus to the gravesite. There, she spent a few moments and told her brother that she knew he was resting finally. Simmons took some photos of Hynson by the gravesite. It was the last stop on the 7 day tour. Two days going there, three visiting numerous historical sites, and two more coming home. She’s grateful for the Chickasaw Nation tours and that she was able to just sit quietly in reflection on the trip home.

Up until then, all she had were a few photos - one of herself with him on their last Christmas, one of the final images of him before his tour of duty, and a photo of the funeral, which she was not able to attend. She now finds closure, but still aches that her mother did not live to see Gale’s remains recovered and returned home to the United States. She died in 1999, about three and a half years before he was found and returned home to the United States.

The family never felt like they were able to grieve.

“It’s maybe OK now. My mom knew where he was. She was really broken over that. He was the youngest of her boys.”

As Erma remembers the day the Naval chaplains visited her mother, she becomes emotional. The pain is still there.

“We were very close,” she said. It wasn’t just the two of them, there were three older brothers who also were in the Navy.

Because Siow was Native American, his burial included a proper Hopi ceremony, Hynson said.

“I waited 10 years and finally was able to say goodbye. I can’t believe the number of headstones,” Hynson said. She said it really is an emotional moment to see so many gravesites of soldiers. She was glad for the experience, but realizes now just how stressed she was in getting to that conclusion.

“I told him, brother Gale, you can rest now.”

Siow was on his second tour of duty when he was killed. The nine members of a secret squadron, the VO-67 were on a mission to drop sensors. Hynson said the sensors were used for surveillance. The Mercury News article outlined the mission. The plane, a Lockheed OP2E, had departed from an air base in Thailand. They were on their way to drop electronic sensors along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The plane crashed though, at Phou Louang Mountain. While the exact demise of the Neptune and its passengers is not known, some believe they went down because of enemy fire.

Even though the wreckage was found two weeks after, it was in such a remote region and the war and enemy fire prevented U.S. forces from reaching it for recovery of the crew.

For years, Siow and his fellow mates lay rest in enemy territory. Then, in 1993, to 2002, the Navy took on the mission of recovering its lost men. Parade magazine even sent a reporter on one of the missions. Earl Swift’s story was published July 22, 2001, in the Parade publication. It detailed so much that Erma keeps a copy and gladly shares it with others. The dig and recovery of Siow and the other Neptune mates were one of 590 being overseen by a Joint Taks Force -Full Accounting. Swift’s article told just how difficult recovery was - the archaeology team battled leeches, foot long centipedes and venomous bamboo vipers.

The remote region still claims lives. Only months prior to the team’s efforts, a helicopter carrying search officials crashed not far from that area and all 16 on the chopper died, Swift said in his article.

It was seven days though into the dig before any remains were discovered. For Erma, and the other families, words don’t begin to convey thanks, she said.

Erma, who was raised in a Christian home environment, said since moving to Oklahoma, she’s learned a great deal about her heritage. She married recently, David Hynson, a Choctaw Indian.

“It makes me proud to be Indian,” she said. Also knowing the sacrifice her brother made for the country, has increased her grateful spirit.

“The Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, they are so neat. I’m finding out a lot of interesting stuff. My oldest sister, who is 86, speaks the Hopi language. I’m also touched by the veterans who have given so much. Especially those in World War II,” she said. She said she was proud to see that people insisted on visiting the national memorials during the government shutdown. She believes it is important that what her brother and thousands of others have died for, not be forgotten.

“I’m so proud of him,” she said.

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