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Body of Vietnam Airman from Celeste Found

Herald-Banner Staff

The remains of a former Celeste resident, who disappeared over Laos more than 36 years ago while serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, are to be returned to Texas.

The Department of Defense reports that the body of Lt. Col. Charles W. Stratton will be returned to Dallas for burial with full military honors. A date for the service had not been announced as of Tuesday.

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced Stratton’s remains and those of crewmate Lt. Col. James H. Ayres, of Pampa, were recently identified.

According to the DPMO, on Jan. 3, 1971, the men crewed an F-4E Phantom II aircraft departing Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base on a nighttime strike mission of enemy targets in Savannakhet Province, Laos. Shortly after Ayres initiated a target run, the crew of other aircraft in the flight observed a large explosion. No one witnessed an ejection or heard beeper signals, and communication was lost with the aircraft. Hostile activity in the area prevented search and rescue attempts.

In 2001, a joint U.S./Lao People's Democratic Republic (L.P.D.R.) team, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), traveled to Savannakhet Province and interviewed Laotian citizens about their knowledge of aircraft crash sites. One of the men led the team to what was believed to be the Ayres and Stratton crash site.

Later that year, another U.S./L.P.D.R team began excavating the site. The team recovered human remains and aircrew-related items. Between 2002 and 2005, joint teams visited the site six more times to complete the excavation, recovering more human remains and crew-related items.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA in the identification of the remains.

Celeste historian Sarah Swindell discovered Stratton was born in Hunt County on Oct. 9, 1940, the son of Eurcil Taylor Stratton and Jessie Jean Hall Stratton. The family lived in the county from 1930 until at least the summer of 1943, when a second child, Wanda Joyce Stratton was born on July 6 of that year.

The Strattons later moved to Dallas, where Charles Stratton graduated from Samuell High School and attended Southern Methodist University before joining the Air Force.

(August 8, 2007, The Greenville Herald Banner)

Submitted by Sarah Swindell

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