I know, I know...just a little silliness. They are all young, or, young at heart. I came away without taking as many photos as I had planned but you know how that is...you talk, take a picture, eat, take a picture, eat AND talk AND take pictures...okay. That is just plain messy but still.... The festivities began at a local church, a lovely church where one of the cousins serves as administrator. This church is huge with a capital H. I think we may just have lost a cousin or two...we are checking on that. One of the things I love the most about this family is just how diverse it is, how welcoming, how really wonderful they all are. This is a family of many differences yet so much alike in what really matters. There are farmers and there are college professors. There are family members of all colors, races, religions and sexual orientations and yet no one cares a whit about any of that...family is family. Love is love. Kinda the way all families should be huh? Some of the younger crowd...with one kid named Grace who decided to *fool* Mommy and *hide* behind her cousin. Ahem... Some of the young at heart... It's showtime in Owensboro ...and then Susie Q said...Now Lucas, that is the sweetest smile... The newest member of the family, AJ! Smile for Susie Q! This was during the girl's rendition of "The Parent Trap" as acted out by some very UN-Lookalike cousins....they *don't* walk alike, laugh alike, in fact they *don't* even talk alike, you could lose your mind...when cousins, are *not* two of a kind.. (Do NOT ask what the Patty Duke Show was or I will have to come out there and...and...)..but they sure did have a blast! They ran, they sang, they danced, they somersaulted, they thought the baptismal pool was a hot tub (PLEASE do not ask!) and got in a lot of trouble but hey... Our nephew Chris (Bill's brother's oldest son) with Bill's Aunt. Ellen is Bill's late Mother's twin sister and a wonderful lady. These two good lookin' guys kept pestering me...I have that trouble all the time...really. I DO! Okay, so I don't but I can dream can't I? Sharon and smiley Lucas. I swear, this little guy never stopped smiling, never fussed and loved everyone! Mary Barr and Mary Claire! In the late afternoon we headed out to Aunt Ellen's family farm. Her youngest son lives there with his family now...pretty place isn't it? This is cousin Matilda...she has always a stubborn as...as..well, as stubborn as all get out. Auntie Sadie Sweet little Angelina (I am 2 you know!) with cousin Misty Bill and his cousin Henry have always been dead ringers. Don'tcha think the family resemblance is amazing? Hay...uh huh. hay. Hey, remember, I am the lady who took pictures of tree stumps and tree bark and you are surprised that I took a picture of hay? A few of the cousins swapping stories... Auntie Sadie seems so happy we are all here together... Parker wanted to make sure all the cousins had enough to eat...
The hay ride is about to commence! Let's go.... Yeah, so I took another picture of hay...you need hay for a hay ride right? Fire it up Keav....
This guy looks excited...especially after Keav ran the tractor into his own pick up truck...don't ask... Okay, let's hope that is the last mishap we have...hold on now...we hope we see you all again...aw gee... Mary Elizabeth is a wonderful musician...we had Celtic music, a beautiful sunset and the sounds of crickets to enjoy. The next morning, pandemonium set in and Grace and Bill decided to endulge in a little pillow war fare. Grace may well be on the road to rock stardom. She already has the rowdy behavior in hotel rooms down pat! ...and last but not least, the Un-official, Official Cheryl Wray Endorsed, Jumping On The Hotel Bed game from Parker Brothers. The Owensboro Riverfront These two people kept lurking around and trying to get in my photos. There they are again...some Hollywood type and her burly body guard I would imagine. After all, Johnny Depp was born here in Owensboro so it is not odd at all to find a bit of Hollywood in this part of the world.
I want to preface this next segment by saying that this was not my first visit to the Shelton Memorial. I knew the Shelton family years ago. I worked with Joanie, the youngest daughter, in San Diego, and was at her first wedding. I knew her Mother and thought of her as one of the strongest women I had ever known. A wonderful family...
The following is from the Arlington Cemetery website....
CHARLES ERVIN SHELTON was born on April 29, 1932 and joined the Armed Forces while in Owensboro, Kentucky. He served in the Air Force where he attained the rank of COL/O6. CHARLES ERVIN SHELTON is listed as Missing in Action. You can find CHARLES ERVIN SHELTON honored on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Panel 1E, Row 111.
Another "Empty Casket Burial" U.S. Veteran Dispatch Staff ReportSeptember/October, 1994 Issue
The United States' last official "live" prisoner of war is now presumed killed in action. His children said a formal goodbye, October 4, 1994, to a man whose disappearance nearly 30 years ago virtually consumed their lives. His name, date of birth and date of death were chiseled on his wife's Arlington Cemetery headstone.
Although there was no evidence of his death and his body was never found, a military panel acting, upon his family's request, declared him dead and arranged for memorial services to be held for Air Force Colonel Charles E. Shelton.
San Diego attorney Tom Reeve Jr. said Shelton's grown children requested the missing pilot's status be changed. He said the emotional drain brought about by the family's 29-year long hunt for their father's fate had become too much and they wanted to put a close to their involvement.
"The family is not making a political statement," Reeve said, "It's a personal act."
The memorial date requested by Shelton's children marked the fourth anniversary of their mother's suicide by gunshot in her San Diego garden. Marian Shelton has become a standard bearer among families fighting to determine the whereabouts of servicemen missing from the Vietnam War. Her death came days after the Sheltons' 38th wedding anniversary.
Shelton's son, the Rev. Charles E. Shelton Jr., told the Press Enterprise, "The kids came together within a year after Mother's death" to ask that their father's case again be reviewed.
"We no longer had the emotional resources to pursue the POW-MIA issue because of the stress," he said. "This issue kills people. That has been our experience. Our family has sacrificed enough. And not everybody is playing fair."
Dolores Alfond, national chairperson of the Seattle, WA based National Alliance of Families for the return of America's missing servicemen, said, "The decision of the Shelton Family will upset some. We offer our support and understanding, without judgement, of the Shelton Family. The Shelton's have served their Country and POW movement above and beyond the call of duty. They led the fight for our POW/MIAs for almost thirty years and they have paid a very high price."
Alfond expressed fear that U.S. government officials will use Shelton's memorial service as further reason to declare the POW/MIA issue closed. She pointed to prior "empty casket" burials where U.S. government officials declared other MIA's dead based only on circumstantial evidence.
There are over 2,200 still missing from the Vietnam War, many of whom, like Shelton, were known to be alive in the hands of the communists but were not released at the end of the war nor have their remains been returned.
For nearly a decade, Col. Shelton's case has held singular status among the U.S. servicemen and civilians still listed as missing in action from the Vietnam War. The Reagan administration announced 10 years ago, on Sept. 18, that the pilot would remain the nation's official representative of its missing servicemen in Southeast Asia as long as their fates remained unresolved.
Stories surrounding Shelton's exploits as a prisoner are epic. Scores of CIA and State Department records chronicle his early years in captivity.
At 11 a.m. on April 29, 1965, Capt. Charles E. Shelton began his 33rd birthday by lifting off from Udorn Air Base in Thailand in an RF101C photo-reconnaissance plane en route to a mission over northern Laos.
Capt. Richard Bilheimer, flying an F-105, was Shelton's wing man and armed escort.
Shelton, a tough, square-jawed native of Owensboro, Ky., and father of five, was on his second tour of duty in Southeast Asia. Based in Okinawa, he was rotating in and out of Udorn every 30 days.
After Shelton and his wing man were prevented from photographing their primary target because of bad weather, they went to their secondary target, the Pathet Lao headquarters in the village of Sam Neua in far northeastern Laos. As Shelton was lining up for his photo run he descended to 3,000 feet, where his aircraft was hit by ground fire. Shelton asked his wing man if he had been hit.
"Roger. You are on fire," came the reply.
Shelton quickly jettisoned the canopy of his plane and ejected. Bilheimer watched the ejection and deployment of the chute. The chute was good and Shelton reached the ground uninjured.
Several hours later two rescue aircraft arrived overhead, spotted Shelton on the ground and conversed with him by radio. Shelton indicated he was in good condition and would use his radio to direct a rescue helicopter due in about 30 minutes.
On Okinawa, Shelton's wing commander visited Shelton's wife, Marian, and told her that her husband had been shot down but was not injured. He reported that
Shelton was evading capture and should be rescued by midnight. Weather conditions began to deteriorate as darkness approached and the rescue effort had to be called off. Shelton pulled his parachute out of a tree, buried it and made contact with rescue crews, telling them he was in good shape and continuing to avoid Pathet Lao forces searching for him.
Bad weather continued to hinder rescue efforts for the next two days. When the weather finally broke on May 2, a large-scale effort was launched in an effort to rescue Shelton. U.S. military aircraft flew 360 hours on 148 missions in the search. Air America, the CIA's proprietary airline in Laos, also joined in the search, but the missions they flew are not recorded because of the secrecy in which the war in Laos was shrouded.
The searchers failed to make radio contact with Shelton or find any trace of him.
There also are indications that a ground search team, led by Bilheimer, was inserted near the spot where Shelton went down. There are no official records of the mission, and Bilheimer's participation in such a ground rescue would have been unprecedented. But there was still no sign of Shelton.
On May 5, 1965, the search for Shelton was called off and he was declared "Missing in Action."
Although Shelton was not the first American to go missing in Southeast Asia (that had happened in 1961), his case became a symbol for all that was wrong with the way the U.S. government handled the issue of its missing men.
At home, the government refused to be truthful with the American people or members of the families of the missing men, citing "national security." Abroad, the missing men became pawns in the lengthy government-to-government negotiations to end the war.
Shelton's case also became a symbol to veterans of the war in Southeast Asia, for it demonstrated the courage of one man fighting against hopeless odds. It was the same sort of courage demonstrated by his wife, Marian, who would fight for decades against the government her country had served, seeking only the truth, before she, too, became a casualty of the war.
In the weeks following Shelton's shoot down, information began filtering out of the Sam Neua area that he had been captured by the Pathet Lao after three days on the run and was being held in caves in an area east of Sam Neua in the vicinity of Ban Nakay Teu and Ban Nakay Neua. His status was changed to prisoner of war.
This area of northeastern Laos is rugged and isolated. Huge sentinels of limestone rock, pocked with caves, rise out of the fertile ground throughout the region. The Pathet Lao leadership eventually was chased out of Sam Neua by the bombing of American aircraft and into the caves that surround a village now known as Vieng Xai. Classrooms, kitchens, homes and air defense sites were hacked out of the rock around Vieng Xai.
For more than three years Shelton was believed held in these caves, often with Capt. David Hrdlicka, shot down May 18, 1965.
But Shelton was anything but a model prisoner, according to intelligence that continued to come out of the region. He developed a reputation as an incorrigible prisoner, a man who could not be broken, a man who would not submit to his captors, no matter what the tortures.
Villagers, informants, defecting Pathet Lao soldiers and refugees told the story of the tough American who twice escaped from Sam Neua city jail, only to be recaptured.
They told of his occasional passive resistance, refusing to walk from place to place, forcing the Pathet Lao guards to carry him.
They told of how he refused to give in even under the most relentless questioning, at one point beating three interrogators to death with a metal chair.
And they told how, finally, when his captors had had enough of him, they moved him to a new cave complex along a river and put him in a tiger pit with bars on top and a guard on top of it.
In captivity, Shelton became the quintessential military man, defying his captors at every turn. But none of this information was passed on to Marian Shelton or given to the American public. Laos was still denied territory and to admit Shelton was a prisoner there would be to admit U.S. involvement in the war.
Only years after the war, when Marian Shelton used the Freedom of Information Act, was she able to pry information out of reluctant government agencies about how heroic her husband had been in captivity.
State Department and CIA records show that at least four teams were inserted into the Sam Neua area to try to rescue Shelton. All failed. Another, authorized by Richard Secord, the retired Air Force general disgraced during the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages investigation, was vetoed by the CIA.
Ernie Meis, a retired photo reconnaissance pilot, said he took aerial photos of a prison cave in August 1968 for a mission to rescue Shelton. He said he was told Shelton was being held in a shallow pit with bars on top in the cave. He took the photos, but never learned whether the rescue was attempted.
Another effort, code-named "Duck Soup," apparently was more successful. According to a variety of sources, including former CIA operatives, Laotian refugees and American military personnel, "Duck Soup" was a mission to rescue Shelton and Hrdlicka involving native Hmong tribesmen, CIA agents and Army Special Forces personnel.
There is confusion as to the time frame of the mission, but indications are it was successful in rescuing Shelton and Hrdlicka. They reportedly were held for about 10 days before being returned to their Pathet Lao/Vietnamese captors.
Four possible reasons for this rescue and return have been suggested:
(1) To gather more intelligence about the Pathet Lao headquarters near the end of the war.
(2) To protect the cover of the rescuers.
(3) The rescue team was attacked and Shelton and Hrdlicka recaptured.
(4) The rescuers, posing as communists, showed off their prisoners as they were leading them to safety until they ran into a North Vietnamese Army unit and were forced to relinquish control of the captives.
One of the last documents released by the CIA about Shelton was a two-page report indicating he and Hrdlicka had been sent to Hanoi because they were considered "incorrigible." This report seems to confirm reports that Shelton had beaten three NVA to death with a chair.
The official record on Shelton ends with his transfer to Hanoi. But for Marian Shelton, the search for the truth about what happened to her husband and the father of her five children continued.
The Pathet Lao claimed Shelton and Hrdlicka had died in captivity in 1968 and had been buried in a grave that was later obliterated by U.S. air strikes. One Laotian official later told her her husband had been "eaten by a tiger."
But, through the years, reports that Charles Shelton was still alive and fighting continued to be received. One report had him in a prison camp near Tchepone, Laos. Another had him on an island in he middle of a man-made reservoir near Hanoi. Yet another had him teaching at a high-security military prison near Haiphong.
Shelton was never declared dead despite repeated efforts by the Air Force to dispose of his case as it was doing to all other cases of missing men by arbitrarily declaring them dead.
But the U.S. government decided to continue to carry one man out of the thousands of missing as a "prisoner of war." Charles Shelton, promoted to colonel during his captivity and resistance, is that man. Today he remains America's lone POW from Southeast Asia, a symbol of the courage and commitment of the American military man.
Reports about Shelton continued through 1985 and then ceased. A 1980 status review board had voted 2-1 to recommend that he be declared dead.
This spring, Laos agreed to let American searchers look for Shelton's aircraft or remains, Shelton Jr. said. They found nothing. Reeve, the family's attorney, said the Air Force convened another status review board in June. Three generals agreed Shelton should be presumed killed in action.
We ended our visit with a stop at the Moonlight Bar B Que restaurant in Owensboro. Some of the family joined us and they all pigged out on, well, pig. Okay, *I* had the salad bar but it IS a Bar B Que place you know. But that corn and mashed potatoes and soup and brocolli casserole and sweet potatoes were mighty good... We had a great long weekend...we hope yours was a happy and safe one as well. I will begin playing the ever popular game of "Catching Up With My Blogging Friends" tomorrow afternoon...until then, do take care and know I think the world of each and every one of you. Hugs, Susie Q