Remains identification announced by family 04/26/2008
Group burial scheduled 06/17/2010  Arlington, 3 pm

Name: James Kenneth Caniford
Rank/Branch: E5/US Air Force
Unit: 16th Special Operations Squadron, Ubon Airfield, Thailand
Date of Birth: 26 August 1948
Home City of Record: Frederick MD
Date of Loss: 29 March 1972
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 163900N 1060600E (XD165414)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Category: 2
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: AC130A
Refno: 1807

Other Personnel In Incident: Barclay Young; Howard Stephenson; Henry Brauner;
Curtis D. Miller; Robert Simmons; Edwin Pearce (all missing); Edward Smith;
Richard Halpin; Irving Ramsower; Richard Castillo; Charles Wanzel; Merlyn
Paulson; William Todd; (remains returned)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 1991 from one or more of
the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence
with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W.


SYNOPSIS: On the night of March 29, 1972, an AC130A Hercules "Spectre"
gunship departed Ubon Airfield, Thailand on a night reconnaissance mission
over supply routes used by North Vietnamese forces in Laos. The crew of the
aircraft consisted of pilots Maj. Irving B. Ramsower II and 1Lt. Charles J.
Wanzel III, the navigator, Maj. Henry P. Brauner, and crew members Maj.
Howard D. Stephenson, Capt. Curtis D. Miller, Capt. Barclay B. Young, Capt.
Richard Castillo, Capt. Richard C. Halpin, SSgt. Merlyn L. Paulson, SSgt.
Edwin J. Pearce, SSgt. Edward D. Smith Jr., SSgt. James K. Caniford; and
Airmen First Class William A. Todd and Robert E. Simmons.

As the aircraft was in the jungle foothills 56 miles east of Savannakhet in
southern Laos, it was shot down by a Russian Surface to Air Missile (SAM).
U.S. government sources stated in February 1986 that a fighter escort plane
reported that the aircraft crashed in a fireball, no parachutes were seen,
nor was radio contact made with the AC130 or any of its crew. In 1972,
however, the Pearce family was told that an F4 support plane traveling with
the AC130 heard "so many beepers they couldn't count them" and that the
emergency beeper type carried by the crew could only be activated manually.
The Pearce family took this as strong proof that a number of the crew
survived. The support aircraft plane left the area to refuel. When it
returned, there were no signs of life.

The inscribed wedding band of Curtis Miller was recovered by a reporter and
returned to Miller's family. The existence of the ring suggests to Miller's
mother that the plane did not burn, and gives her hope that he survived.

A May 1985 article appearing in a Thai newspaper stated that the bodies of
Simmons and Wanzel were among 5 bodies brought to the base camp of Lao
Liberation forces. The same article reported a group of 21 Americans still
alive, held prisoner at a camp in Khammouane Province, Laos. At about this
same time, Simmons' dog tag was mailed anonymously to the U.S. Embassy in
Laos. FBI tests failed to show fire residue on the tag, proving to the
Simmons family that Skeeter did not die in the explosion and go down in the
fiery crash.

The U.S. and Laos excavated this aircraft's crash site in February 1986. The
teams recovered a limited number of human bone fragments, personal effects
and large pieces of plane wreckage. It was later announced by the U.S.
Government that the remains of Castillo, Halpin, Ramsower, Simmons, Todd,
Paulson, Pearce, Wanzel and Smith had been positively identified from these
bone fragments.

In a previous excavation at Pakse, Laos in 1985, remains recovered were
positively identified as the 13 crew members, although independent examiners
later proved that only 2 of those identifications were scientifically
possible. The U.S. Government has acknowledged the errors made in
identification on two of the men, but these two individuals are still
considered "accounted for".

Because of the identification problems of the first excavation, the families
of the Savannakhet AC130 have carefully considered the information given
them about their loved ones. The families of Robert Simmons and Edwin Pearce
have actively resisted the U.S. Government's identification, which is in
both cases based on a single tooth. These families do not know if their men
are alive or dead, but will insist that the books are kept open until proof
dictates that there is no longer any hope for their survival.

In January 1991, a federal judge ruled that when the Simmons family
collected death benefits for Skeeter, they lost the right to question
whether he was dead. They have continued to fight a positive identification
based on a single tooth. The Assistant U.S. Attorney, William H. Pease,
added that the court has no jurisdiction over military identification of

Vietnam soldier ID'd 36 years later

Reported by Mike Baldyga
Posted on: Thursday, April 24, 2008

LEE COUNTY: A couple waited for nearly 36 years for an answer and now they
finally have it. Their son's plane was shot down in Vietnam and they never
knew what happened to him.....



May 27, 2008

Airmen MIA From Vietnam War are Identified

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of four U.S. servicemen, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to their families for burial with full military honors.

They are Maj. Barclay B. Young, of Hartford, Conn.; and Senior Master Sgt. James K. Caniford, of Brunswick, Md. The names of the two others are being withheld at the request of their families. All men were U.S. Air Force. Caniford will be buried May 28 in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., and Young's burial date is being set by his family.

Remains that could not be individually identified are included in a group which will be buried together in Arlington. Among the group remains is Air Force Lt. Col. Henry P. Brauner of Franklin Park, N.J., whose identification tag was recovered at the crash site.

On March 29, 1972, 14 men were aboard an AC-130A Spectre gunship that took off from Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, on an armed reconnaissance mission over southern Laos. The aircraft was struck by an enemy surface-to-air missile and crashed. Search and rescue efforts were stopped after a few days due to heavy enemy activity in the area.

In 1986, joint U.S.- Lao People's Democratic Republic teams, lead by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), surveyed and excavated the crash site in Savannakhet Province, Laos. The team recovered human remains and other evidence including two identification tags, life support items and aircraft wreckage. From 1986 to 1988, the remains were identified as those of nine men from this crew.

Between 2005 and 2006, joint teams resurveyed the crash site and excavated it twice. The teams found more human remains, personal effects and crew-related equipment. As a result, JPAC identified Young, Caniford and the other crewmen using forensic identification tools, circumstantial evidence, mitochondrial DNA and dental comparisons.


Airman laid to rest after 30 years

by 2nd Lt. Lauren Johnson
1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

7/2/2008 - HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFPN) -- For 10 years, Capt. Christopher Joyce has carried the memory of Senior Master Sgt. James Caniford around his wrist. 

Sergeant Caniford, a former 16th Special Operations Squadron illuminator operator, was recently identified after more than 30 years listed as missing in action from the Vietnam War.

Captain Joyce of the 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, asked his friends to get him a prisoner of war/missing in action bracelet on a long-ago trip to Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Ala. In the years that followed, he memorized the inscription.

"I only take it off to go through the metal detector at the airport," Captain Joyce said. "I don't need to look at it to tell you what it says."

Captain Joyce didn't know anything about the bracelet's namesake -- no unit of assignment, no information on how he went missing -- only that he was a fellow Airmen who had served and paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Sergeant Caniford was on an armed reconnaissance mission over southern Laos in March 1972 when his AC-130A Spectre gunship was struck by an enemy surface-to-air missile and crashed in the jungle near the Lao-Vietnamese border.

Search and rescue efforts were initiated immediately, but halted less than two days later because of heavy enemy activity. Sergeant Caniford and the 13 other crewmembers were listed as MIAs.

Excavations starting in the late 1980s uncovered remains, crew equipment and personal effects leading to the positive identification of several crewmembers, but Sergeant Caniford wasn't among them. He was nothing but a memory and a name on a bracelet.

That was until May 27 when officials from the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced the identification of four additional crewmembers. An Arlington National Cemetery memorial service was scheduled, and the request came down for the 16th SOS to conduct a flyover.

The squadron jumped at the chance to get involved.

"We pushed up our desire to honor one of our own," said Capt. Christopher Warner, a 16th SOS pilot. "The (1st Special Operations) Group told us they not only wanted us to support (the service), but that it was a priority."

Eventually, the information filtered to Captain Joyce, who was home on leave when he received an e-mail revealing, for the first time, the source of his bracelet and the plan for the 16th SOS Airmen to participate in Sergeant Caniford's memorial.

"It caught me at first," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

Captain Joyce wanted to give the bracelet to one of the crewmembers participating in the flyover, but when officials from the 16th SOS heard his story, they made other plans.

"We were more than happy to accommodate flying Captain Joyce with us over the ceremony," said Captain Warner, noting that the experience recognized the dedication of POW/MIA bracelet wearers as well as honoring the Airmen they represent.

The two captains and the rest of the AC-130A crew made the trip to Arlington to pay their respects.

It wasn't a typical day at work, but Captain Warner said the crew treated it with the same dedication and intensity they would any mission.

"This quickly became a 'no-fail' mission," he said. "It was all about making sure that we were there on time and directly overhead to give our absolute best to honor one of our own."

At the same time, they honored the family.

Sergeant Caniford's father, James Caniford, called the experience "totally unbelievable."

"I was thinking they'd fly jets over," he said. "When that AC-130 flew over, I just couldn't believe it. It was a very proud moment for me to think they did this for Jimmy."

"It was rewarding to know the family was down there and we could do this for them," Captain Joyce said.

Captain Joyce said he plans to send his bracelet to Sergeant Caniford's family. This 10-year chapter of his life has come to an end.

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