Pilot downed in Vietnam in '66 is returning home

Lt. Col. Walling learned to fly F-4s while at D-M
2012-02-11T00:00:00Z Pilot downed in Vietnam in '66 is returning homeVeronica M. Cruz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 11, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Before Carolyn Poston's younger brother left for Vietnam in 1966, she made one request.

"Chuck, make sure you come back."

More than 40 years after his plane was downed, and he was declared missing in action, the remains of Phoenix Air Force fighter pilot Lt. Col. Charles Walling will return to the states for a proper military burial.

After Walling was declared missing in action, Poston, who now lives in Tucson, remembers going to Luke Air Force Base several times with her family hoping to find her brother's face among the photos of prisoners of war.

Now she has answers for people who ask what became of her brother.

Charles Walling was an ambitious and athletic young man with a passion for planes.

"It's no small task to become a fighter pilot and that was really his dream," said his brother John Walling, who now lives in California. "He really went after that and that was his joy."

Charles Walling joined the ROTC program at Arizona State University and learned to fly before joining the Air Force in 1961, Poston said. He learned to pilot an F-102 fighter plane at Williams Air Force Base in Mesa and was stationed in Okinawa in the early 60s.

At the end of 1964 Walling's squadron was transferred to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to learn to fly a new plane, the F-4 Phantom. From there he went to train at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

In June of 1966, then-Capt. Charles Walling went to Vietnam as a volunteer replacement pilot when his wife, Julie, was six months pregnant with their second son, Mike.

"I was already born and my mom was pregnant with my brother and so they decided that he'd go ahead and volunteer so he could be home when my brother was born," said Jeff Walling, who was just over a year and half old when his father left.

To finish his tour in time to be home for his son's birth, 27-year-old Charles Walling was required to complete 100 missions, said Jeff Walling, owner of Tucson Re-Bath. He was stationed at the Cam Ranh Air Base in South Vietnam.

It was during his 45th assignment, a close air support mission to provide backup for Marines on the ground by swooping down and bombing the enemy, that his F-4, was shot down in the Dong Nai province northeast of Saigon on Aug. 8, 1966, Jeff Walling said.

Both Charles Walling and his co-pilot 1st Lt. Aado Kommendant were declared missing in action.

In 1994, investigators found pilot survival gear and Charles Walling's dog tags.

At a 2006 meeting of the National League of POW/ MIA Families in Washington, D.C., the family's caseworker said a new excavation of the crash site was planned.

The search was completed in 2010 and a few bone fragments belonging to Walling were recovered from the site.

"I guess you could say it's the end of a 45-year mystery," Jeff Walling said. "I think it also shows the dedication of the military, of them never leaving a man behind and to what lengths they'll go."

A full military service for Charles Walling is planned for mid-June at Arlington National Cemetery.

"I think all of us are so thankful that the government is continuing to pursue these unanswered questions for so many families," John Walling said.

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or 573-4224

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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