39 Years Later, Army Officer Donald Wann's Remains Return To Oklahoma

Wednesday, August 18th 2010, 11:06 am
By: News On 6

By Craig Day and NewsOn6.com

TULSA, OKLAHOMA -- The remains of an Oklahoma soldier declared missing in action during the Vietnam War arrived at Tulsa International Airport Wednesday afternoon, where he was met by family members and a military Honor Guard.

The Department of Defense says Army Chief Warrant Officer Donald L. Wann and 1st Lieutenant Paul G. Magers of Sidney, Nebraska were flying an AH-1 Cobra helicopter gunship on June 1, 1971 when the aircraft was hit by ground fire about five miles from the Laos-South Vietnam border. It crashed and burned.

For nearly 40 years, the they had been listed as missing in action until their remains were found in Vietnam. All those years, their families had hoped they would someday return. 

That happened Wednesday for Wann's family.

Those who knew him, and many more who didn't, gathered at an area just outside Tulsa International Airport.

"He's been on my mind for 39 years," said Wayne Twiehaus, a fellow soldier.

"He could have been one of the guys that saved my life," said Bob Kiefer, a Westville resident.

"He served his country. He's a hero," said Kay Guynes, who is a family friend.

"Thirty-nine years and get to come home, fantastic," said Kiefer.

Some soldier homecomings are joyous. Some are sad. Wednesday's was a little bit of both.

"He's going to be honored as the hero he is. The hero that we remember, and the man that we remember," said Twiehaus.

It was June 1971. Chief Warrant Officer Donald Wann was on a rescue mission in South Vietnam. Their Cobra Gunship was shot down. Wann and a fellow soldier were classified as missing in action. 

That is until an American search team found their remains and sent them home.

"It's amazing. After all these years being lost," said Steve Smith, who is a fellow unit member.

"We knew where he was, but that wasn't good enough. We want him home and that's what happened," said Twiehaus.

That's why so many people gathered, including Twiehaus who served alongside Wann in Vietnam.

"He was a guy that all of us sort of looked up to and looked to for leadership," said Twiehaus.

He remembers how Wann loved his family, including his two little girls back home.

"The crayon pictures that the little girls sent: ‘Daddy, we love you. We miss you. Come home daddy.' That's what his room was decorated with," said Twiehaus.

Those daughters never gave up hope that their daddy would someday be brought home. It finally happened.

The plane carrying Wann's remains landed to a water cannon salute. An honor guard offered full military honors. 

From the airport, a motorcycle escort began the 60 mile route to Muskogee where a memorial service will be held.

One more hero is honored, and a family is at peace. And there is hope for families of those still missing.

"All of those people who are still lost, we haven't got home yet, I hope we get them all home someday," said Smith. 

A repatriation ceremony was held last week in Hawaii for the Wann family.

The family will hold a "homecoming party" Saturday, August 21st at 10 a.m. at the S.E. Baptist Church at 2511 East Hancock in Muskogee.

Interment will be at the Fort Gibson National Cemetery at noon, immediately following the church service.

8/11/2010 Related story: Missing Oklahoma Soldier's Remains To Return From Vietnam