The continuation of the story of James B. McGovern, Jr. better known as Earthquake McGoon. Pilot, war hero and perhaps best remembered as a wonderful contribution to the human race.
Content is from Check-Six.com
Years of Silence…
After a French officer learned from Ban Sot villagers in 1959 about three graves in the area, CIA officials stifled his report. “They indicated in a vague way that they feared a lawsuit if they gave the relatives false information. Therefore, no one notified McGovern’s or Buford’s relatives,” according to Felix Smith, a retired CAT pilot.
Smith recalled McGovern as being “a real big-hearted guy,” but not the “wild man” as the press widely reported. “He was a bon vivant, happy-go-lucky. He loved kids, and he was the guy who in a tense situation would come out with some joke.”
The search for McGovern’s remains came to light again in October of 1997, when a “Joint Task Force-Full Accounting” team investigating an unrelated crash near Ban Sot saw an old C-119 propeller in the village. It was assumed to be French in origin, until William Forsyth, the agency’s top researcher, heard about McGovern from a former pilot, and began to search for old news clippings about the crash.
“Ambassador to the human race” that was the fighter pilot from NJ. He was blind to the barriers that separate us, and I knew that I had been blind to his compassionate heart – a great heart that ached at the sights. Felix Smith
A year later, Forsyth, whose specialty is aerial photo analysis, spotted three “probable graves” in a 1961 photo of the Ban Sot area. But with Vietnam War MIAs taking precedence, officials moved “Case 3036″, as it was called, to the back burner with other “Cold War losses.”
There it stayed until a group of ex-CAT pilots, led by Felix Smith, launched a letter-writing campaign, and lobbied Congress and former intelligence officials, to have the case upgraded for immediate action. Retired spy Dudley Foster, who once served in a liaison role with CAT, persuaded George Tenet, then the director of the CIA, to back the effort.
With “Case 3036″ given new priority, task force investigators revisited Ban Sot, where in July of 2001, they interviewed four witnesses to the 1954 crash and three who pointed out burial sites. Skeletal remains were discovered in an unmarked burial grave in northern Laos in December of 2002.
Phimpha, a 65-year-old Laotian farmer, recalled that he was fishing in a river when the plane came down, and later saw three bodies, among them a “very large Caucasian with a round face, still strapped in the pilot’s seat.”
A few days later, Phimpha noticed fresh grave mounds near a road. His wife, Thok, 67, recalled that as a girl she “always ran past that location because of the ghosts thought to be there.”
On February 24, 2005, James McGovern was posthumously recognized by the French government, along with his co-pilot Wallace Buford, for their sacrifice. Seven of the other surviving pilots of the Civil Air Transport were awarded the Legion of Honour with the rank of Knight by the President of the Republic of France for their actions to supply Dien Bien Phu during the siege.
The skeletal remains found in 2002 were positively identified in September 2006 as McGovern’s by laboratory experts at the U.S. military’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. He was interred in Arlington National Cemetery on May 24, 2007, in Section 8-M4, Row 11, Site 6.
Get to know Earthquake McGoon in China Pilot by Felix Smith.