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Ceremony to honor airmen killed in Vietnam plane crash

May. 24, 2013 - 08:55AM   |  
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OLIVE BRANCH, MISS. — Olive Branch resident Paul Clever was 6 when his father went down in a spy plane over Laos during the Vietnam War.

After years untangling red tape, investigating the crash and traveling to Laos himself to recover remains from the jungle, Clever will officially welcome his father home.

A repatriation ceremony — the act of returning to the country of citizenship — will begin Saturday with a procession from the Olive Branch soccer fields.

With the help of a police escort, a horse-drawn casket carriage with the remains will arrive at Olive Branch High School stadium for the ceremony.

“We’re honoring the entire crew,” said Clever, whose father, Louis John Clever, went down in an EC-47Q with nine other men on Feb. 5, 1969.

The military recovered some remains within a few months of the crash, and they were buried in November 1969 “but we really don’t know who we buried,” Clever said. The skeletal mass did not account for all the crew.

Another set of remains was discovered in 1995, and then Clever and his wife, Nita, personally went to Laos in December 2012. With the support of Maximum Recovery in Southeast Asia, they combed the jungle mountainside where the plane crashed. Based on where his father would have been sitting, Clever believes now he does have some of his father’s remains. Others’ remains are likely included.

After the ceremony, where an American flag will be draped on the casket, the remains will be taken to an Air Force base in Nebraska for DNA analysis.

Clever, 50, who moved to Olive Branch a few years ago for work, has spent a lot of his life trying to piece together what happened to his father.

His most vivid memory of him is after Clever was accidentally knocked out with a baseball bat by his sister.

“I remember opening my eyes and seeing my dad struck with fear,” said Clever, who is married now and has three children. “He picked me up and held me like only a father can.”

Clever’s father, from Tarentum, Penn., was Air Force radio operator on the plane during the height of the Vietnam War. The base lost contact with the plane about 21 miles from Chavane, Laos. That’s where it was found about three months later.

The families of the crew were told that there had been an engine fire, but Clever believes that was disinformation because of the classified nature of the aircraft. His investigation has led him to believe that anti-aircraft took the right wing out — which held the radio gear, disabling the crew’s ability to issue a distress call.

Military personnel determined no one could have survived the crash.

Clever’s mother never remarried, fearing her husband was somehow alive and she would be ashamed if he walked in the door and found her with another man.

She died about six years ago, a few years after Clever started his investigation of the crash in earnest. But he always has been looking for closure.

“You’re a small boy watching Vietnam footage and you’re watching for your father,” Clever said. “I’ve been investigating this at different levels all my life.”

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