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Phoenix airman buried at Arlington, 46 years after going MIA over Vietnam

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WASHINGTON – Air Force Lt. Col. Charles M. Walling was flying his F-4C over Vietnam 46 years ago when the Phoenix resident disappeared over Song Be Province, leaving behind a pregnant wife and a 22-month-old son.

Jeff Walling said it was hard for him and his younger brother, Mike, to grow up in a state of “limbo,” not knowing what had happened to their father.

The Scottsdale residents got some closure when their father’s remains were found in 2010 and later identified, and he was buried in June.

On Wednesday – the 46th anniversary of the day Walling and a fellow airman disappeared – the two were honored in a group burial ceremony with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Walling and Maj. Aado Kommendant, of Lakewood, N.J., were on a close-air-support mission over Vietnam when their plane crashed on Aug. 8, 1966.

Other Americans in the area said they saw the plane crash but did not see any parachutes deploy, the Pentagon said. Search-and-rescue efforts in the days following the crash were unsuccessful.

“It was very tough, not growing up with our father,” Jeff Walling said Wednesday. “Father’s Day was always a day I didn’t look forward to.”

Walling said his father was born and raised in Phoenix. He went to Camelback High School, where he was a member of its second graduating class, and went on to attend Arizona State University.

He joined the Air Force after graduating from ASU, and was stationed in Tucson and Florida before volunteering to be a replacement pilot in Vietnam.

He was deployed to Vietnam in June 1966, Jeff Walling said, and was on his 40th mission when he died.

In 1992, a joint U.S.-Socialist Republic of Vietnam team investigated the area near the crash, the Pentagon said, and interviewed a local citizen who had recovered aircraft pieces from the site.

The Pentagon said the team went back in 1994 and excavated the site, recovering military equipment and a metal ID tag with Walling’s name on it.

In 2010, the site was excavated once again and additional evidence was found, including human remains. Scientists later used circumstantial and material evidence to identify some of the remains as Walling’s.

When Jeff Walling received the news that his father’s remains had been found, he said it felt like the “end of a journey.”

“It was great,” he said. “Mike and I say it’s like winning the lottery.”

Jeff Walling said the identification came too late for his mother, Julie, who died in 2005. Walling, who attended Wednesday’s group burial in Arlington, and said it was “very meaningful.”

“We can look forward to Father’s Day now,” he said, “and speaking of my father and the legacy he left us.”