To MIA families, Helicopter Veterans, the 48 AHC:

On Friday January 14th my brother, David May, and his friend Jon Reid were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Their helicopter gunship was shot down in Laos February 20, 1971 and they have been classified as MIA for nearly 30 years. All we knew about what happened was contained in a few paragraphs on a page or two with a great deal of "Army Speak".  The army people with whom I spoke told me that my brother's unit had been disbanded for the Laotian invasion and that he may not have even known the men with whom he flew his last mission.

David and Jon's remains were recovered from the crash site in much the same way an anthropological dig is conducted at ancient historic sites. The dig occurred as a result of efforts and negotiations of which I know little and by people whom I do not know at all. The remains were identified by pathologists using dental records and DNA testing techniques. To all of these unseen, unknown people, be assured you are in my prayers and have all my thanks and very best wishes. What follows is meant to be a letter of thanks to everyone who made the funeral possible and some who made it very special. The letter is not intended to offer hope or encouragement to MIA families those things cannot be given and I dare not offer false hope because that would be just sinful. The letter is offered to MIA families partly for their information but mostly because they are the only people who can understand what the recovery of my brother's remains means to our family.

When my brother's wife and I spoke prior to the funeral we decided that very few people would attend; just a few old friends, our respective families.  At the memorial service on the 13th we met the Reid family and while we were exchanging pleasantries, five or six men appeared whom neither of our families knew. We thought they had come to the wrong room at the funeral parlor.  These turned out to be men who knew my brother and Jon Reid well.

They were members of the 48th AHC with which David and Jon served.  They related stories about the living conditions, good times and things about the details of the lives of our loved ones prior to their deaths. One man signed the guest book and hugged me saying, "you must be Dave's brother you two look so much alike." There were other men who were at the hotel that had not come to the memorial because they were afraid of overwhelming us.  We collected the entire group and went to a restaurant and ate and drank and shared.  These men had books of photographs and many more stories.  The pilot of the other helicopter on my brother's last mission told us exactly what happened, how he was about to call off the engagement with an anti-aircraft battery because he was completely out of ammunition at the moment when my brother's helicopter was hit. He watched it catch fire, fly to a clearing and crash.  He tried to land but was forced to evacuate due to heavy fire, one man aboard his aircraft was badly wounded. The look on his face told me that everything possible was done to rescue my brother and that he did not die among strangers. We learned that a group of machine gunners from other gunships stole a helicopter in order to rescue the men aboard my brother's ship, but crashed.

The funeral was attended by men from the 48th who knew my brother and Jon Reid, men from the 48th who served before or after my brother's time (one from Anchorage, Alaska), a large group of Vietnam helicopter veterans from all over the country came to pay their respects.  It seems that all of these men knew people who were left behind, MIAs like my brother. Perhaps they came to my brother and Jon Reid's funeral for the love of others, for themselves somehow or out of respect for the deeds of many seemingly forgotten men. The Old Post Chapel at Arlington Cemetery was filled to capacity and many dozens followed the caisson on foot to the grave in freezing temperatures and brisk wind. These men had to come to Jon Reid and David May's funeral because of things that are beyond my understanding but not beyond my appreciation. I must thank all of these men, but apologize because I lack the elegance to do so properly. At the funeral service four helicopters of the Vietnam era performed a fly by. The feeling that stirred among those attending the funeral at the sight of this tribute from now antique machines cannot be accurately conveyed.

My brother's wake was attended by a few old friends and family members, but it turned out to be a rather large affair. It was not the May family, not the Reid family, it was David and Jon's family. I can tell MIA families our sons, brothers, husbands and fathers are not forgotten they are remembered by and are important to large contingents of folks we do not know. I only hope that all MIA families could meet the men who served with their loved ones because it is a very good feeling.

Kindest best regards and many thanks to all who came to the funeral I will remain forever in your debt.

Sincerely,

Shaderick May

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