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Homestate: Connecticut

Role at OSU: AFROTC Cadre/Professor

Survived By: Wife and 4 Daughters

 

Date of Loss: 13 Dec 1968

Accident Type: B-57B Aircraft Collision with C-123

Country of Loss: Laos

Career
Colonel McGouldrick’s military career began with the Air Force’s Officer Training School - an endeavor he took after graduating from Fairfield University in Connecticut. After earning his commission, he was selected to receive extensive training as a pilot, navigator, and bombardier. These skills combined with an affinity to teach made him a valuable asset to the Air Force. As a result, he was given several assignments to influence airmen around the world. First he was assigned to James Connally Air Force base in Waco Texas and then Tachikawa Airfield, Japan.  After fullfilling an instructing role at the prestigious U.S. Air Force Academy, he was again moved to Lockbourne AFB in Columbus, Ohio in 1964. At what was to be his last assignment, Col. McGouldrick served as an Air Force ROTC instructor at Detachment 645, The Ohio State University.

 

The Ohio State University

During his time here at OSU, Col. McGouldrick, was very involved within the wing. Most notable was his position as the advisor for Angel Flight.  Angel Flight was a special drill team for women in the Air Force ROTC program that practiced drill maneuvers and served as flight attendants on university flights for sports teams and administrators.  Col. McGouldrick’s ability to teach and be trusted made him more than just an advisor to the girls in Angel Flight. They would come to him for tips on adjusting to college, help with school work, and career advice. Their student-instructor bond became so close that they were even occasionally known to babysit his daughters. After four years at Ohio State, he was given orders to Vietnam in June of 1968.

 

Vietnam

In Vietnam, then Lt. Col. McGouldrick resumed his pilot, navigator, and bombardier duties. During his off time he avidly wrote letters to his wife and children back home. “Do good in school,” “Be a good girl,” and “Be sure to help your mother,” were his common wishes, the girls remember. Occasionally he even sent gifts from Taiwan!

 

On December 13, 1968, the McGouldrick family would change forever. 

 

Lt. Col. McGouldrick was flying in a B-57B bomber on a nighttime mission over Laos along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  During a raid, his plane collided with a C-123K out on night patrol over the trail spotting and illuminating targets.  The collision caused both planes to go down; a few chutes were spotted following the crash, but only the pilot of the C-123 was recovered.  After tireless search and rescue efforts, none of the other crew members were found.  Intelligence reports do note that others did make it to the ground alive and were spotted at various prison camps over the next few years. However, there have been no confirmed reports of Col. McGouldrick following the crash. 

 

Aftermath

After the incident there was a predictably sad atmosphere. Mrs. McGouldrick chose to keep the news out of the public’s eye but close family and friends made sure to show their support. The Air Force even assigned several airmen to help the family out during the sensitive time. At face value the family seemed to have great care and support during their grieving – that holiday season and henceforth they would receive three to four hundred Christmas cards. Yet, the most unexpected emotion arisen was awkwardness. While family and friends came by they still had to maintain composure. They felt strangely expected to play the role of a mourning family accepting condolences and until the attention disappeared, they could not truly begin the grieving process.

Even as the support from those closest to the family faded, the unsettling feeling did not; it had found a new source: the unknown fate of the McGouldrick family’s beloved father and husband. Throughout the remainder of the war the military did try to locate the downed crew but comprehensive search and rescue efforts were not practical. At the war’s end, the evening news routinely showed U.S. soldiers getting off the cargo planes and stepping back onto American soil. The daughters made sure to watch every night, glued to the TV screen, studying each face, waiting to see their father. But, they never saw him.

 

Following American withdrawal and conclusion of the war the long awaited search and excavation of the crash site began. Parts of the aircraft were located, villagers were questioned, enemy records were viewed, and photos were sifted through but there was no evidence of the crew. The family still had no closure, should the girls keep watching the evening news every night or accept an unconfirmed death and move on?

 

As the years went by the question went unanswered and the family remained in the in-between phase. In 1978, under the policy of Jimmy Carter, all those still missing in action were declared “killed in action.” As the impersonal move “closed” the cases without any factual proof, the decision was met with widespread anger. And, as a result, Col. McGouldrick was given a funeral with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery even though his casket was left unfilled.

 

Since the culmination of the Vietnam War, accident and combat sites are re-excavated on a rotational basis. Search crews are typically allowed 1 month to be on location, excavate, and sift through the memories of any locals in an attempt to gain any new information before moving onto the next site.  The crash involving posthumously promoted Col. McGouldrick was no different. The family occasionally received a phone call notifying them that the crews were going in and then another if new details were found. Small discoveries and developments were made but Col. McGouldrick’s fate continued to remain a mystery.

 

An availability at the time, Mrs. McGouldrick soon bought a headstone in Arlington National Cemetery right near her husband’s. Even though she didn’t know what had become of him, she was confident she may one day find out, and could rest in peace by his side forever. Tragically, before a conclusion could be made, she passed in 1980.

 

Excavation of Col. McGouldrick’s accident site continues today still following the rotational schedule. And, although his physical death is highly likely, his essence continues to be carried on by those who make a strong effort not to forget. In 1970, the popular P.O.W./M.I.A. bracelets were introduced - a thin silver or black bracelet with the name of a service member held prisoner of war or missing in action inscribed on it. As the daughters of Col. McGouldrick explained, “you did not take it off until your man came home.” And, accountable to that agreement, they still had their bracelets on at an interview in July 2013. Hopefully one day, closure is finally brought to this tragic 44-year mystery. The daughters will finally be able to take the bracelet off while watching their daddy step off the plane or Mrs. McGouldrick can finally rest with her husband back at her side.

Col. McGouldrick and his family’s sacrifice is incredible, honorable, and humbling. And although it is very important to recognize it, we must also remember that there are thousands of families continuing to grieve today. The least we can do is keep alive the memory, influence, and essence of the fallen and missing.

 

- Duck Yim, 2013

 

Update

On September 3rd, 2013 the McGouldrick family was notified that Col. Francis J. McGouldrick's body was positively identified. An extensive dig in the previous year had produced DNA-testable material. The Columbus Dispatch article can be found here.