Vietnam veteran, missing for decades, comes home to Knox
By Terry Turner Post-Tribune correspondent August 2, 2011 10:16PM
A sign in front of the American Legion shows their support for Andy Howes whose homecoming memorial service was Tuesday August 2, 2011 in Knox, Ind. Forty one years after being listed Missing in Action in Vietnam Howes returned home. | Photo for Sun Times Media/Joe Raymond
Updated: May 9, 2012 9:40AM
KNOX — Andy Howes, missing in action since 1970 and Starke County’s final casualty of the Vietnam War, came home Monday evening to a tremendous turnout of veterans, classmates and the Knox and Starke County community.
The emotional goodbye for the 1968 graduate of Knox High School, who was just 19 when the Huey he was co-piloting was lost as he and his fellow crew members were returning from a mission, continued Tuesday evening, in what family members termed “a homecoming.”
Howes’ casket was carried a block-and-a-half by fellow Vietnam veterans from the M.C. Smith Funeral Home to the Knox Community Center. A long line of flag-carrying Indiana Patriot Guards on both sides of the street stood at attention as the casket went by.
Howes will be buried in his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery on Aug 5.
“Andy Howes, who gave, gave and gave, and paid the price of our freedom, was a patriot,” said the Rev. Ray Squibb of the Knox United Methodist Church, emphasizing that first and foremost, Howes was an American, who was proud of his country.
Two of Howes’ fellow servicemen participated in the ceremony.
Donn Wilimizik of Crown Point who was one of the pallbearers, trained with Howes for the first year in flight school in Texas and Georgia. The last time Wilimizak saw Howes was at Cham Ranh Bay in Vetnam, when they received their duty assignments.
“I’m glad he’s finally back in the states after so many years; it brings closure for him and his family,” Wilimizik said. “I’ve worn his bracelet all these 41 years. The family has allowed me to place the bracelet in his casket.”
In fact, a good number of bracelets from those who have worn them for so many years will be joining Wilimizik’s bracelet in the casket.
The last time Wilimizak saw Howes was at Cham RanhBay, where they were assigned to different units.
Vic Bandini, who was a fellow pilot for several months in Howes’ unit in Vietnam, spent time training him after he arrived there. He spoke about Howes during the ceremony.
“Andy flew 75 missions that were always involved a high degree of danger,” said Bandini, noting that Howes was a medivac pilot, and the youngest member of the unit. “He didn’t need to be on the mission that he was lost,” he said, adding that the Firebird pilots were only flown by the “best” and that he volunteered to fly extra missions beyond the medivac flights.
“He was very committed.”
The Howes family was just overwhelmed by the response from the Knox community and the veterans.
Cousin Holly Hall Beaver said of the community’s response, “It took my breath away; I don’t think words can describe how I felt as we came into Knox last night.”
And it was not only Knox; all along the route from Indianapolis to Knox, people lined the highway and parked along rural roads waiting to greet the procession.
Andy’s sister-in-law, Ann Howes, who was in the forefront of the POW-MIA movement early, was deeply moved by the response of everyone.
“Places like Knox, Indiana, are the heart and soul of America. We are so grateful for the outpouring of affection, it has touched us deeply. We sat there last night and tried to describe ... there just are no words for the love and support our family has experienced. The Patriot Guards have been so wonderful.”
Her husband, Rob, who works as an aerospace engineer in India, said, “There is just so much to say, we’re very appreciative. This is a defining moment for our family, to feel and experience the warmth and oupouring of support. It is not only for my brother, it is for all the veterans who served, and all that died or who continue to be missing in Vietnam.”
Rob Howes said he insisted the Army be certain the remains were Andy’s, and that DNA techology allowed that certainty.
“This has been a long time coming,” he said. “I didn’t want there to be any doubt that this was truly Andy.”
Ann Howes said 2.6 million U.S. soldiers served in Vietnam, and of the 58,000 who died or are still missing, more than 60 percent were, like Andy, under 21.