HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - On March 16, 1962, three years before the US entered the Vietnam War, a transport airliner from the Flying Tiger Line was bound for Saigon.
Between Guam and the Philippines, it suddenly disappeared.
Jennifer Kirk’s uncle, Army soldier Donald Sargent, was on board.
“I think for the families it’s the unknown, not knowing what happened to that plane. What was there mission? Where were they going?” she said.
An ocean tanker reported a mid-air explosion, but a search turned up no wreckage or remains.
Notifications from the military said Sargent and 92 other U.S. soldiers aboard died in the Pacific Ocean. Their families continue to ask for information.
“A lot of what we get is redacted. And the Freedom of Information Act requests always send you in these loops,” said Donna Ellis Cornell.
Her father, Sgt. Melvin Lewis Hatt, was among the lost. So were two Hawaii soldiers ― James Wong from Maui and Guy Wicks Kinnison from Oahu.
Kinnison’s memorial marker rests in a section of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl where there are markers but no remains.
Hatt’s stone marker stands in Arlington National Cemetery.
“We found eight other passengers that were on that flight in the same section of Arlington,” Ellis Cornell said.
Relatives of the troops who were on Flight 739 want the soldiers’ names added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC. But the Defense Department maintains they died outside of a combat zone.
An effort to get Congress to act failed.
“We’re not going to stop fighting to get them on the wall,” Kirk said. “We’ll fight until our last breath.”
Later this month, the organization Wreaths Across America will unveil a monument in Maine that will have the names of everyone who was on the airplane, including the names of three South Vietnamese soldiers and the flight crew.
“To see them memorialized in this way, I think, will be very important for all of these families,” said Amber Caron, Wreaths Across America’s communications director.
“They haven’t asked us for a nickel. It’s all done by them, by corporate sponsors,” Ellis Cornell said.
“In the next generation, if they don’t know about them, if they don’t honor them, they are forgotten. And this way they’re not going to be,” Kirk said.
It’s been 59 years. What happened to Flight 739 remains a mystery, while the families of the fallen continue to live with that great unknown