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ALL THAT REMAINS

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Family continues to honor Logan County’s first recognized Vietnam casualty

When family members of the late U.S. Army Sgt. John A. Karibo want to honor their loved one, they have no grave to visit or battlefield to walk, just a high school photograph and a name on the local Vietnam memorial at Mary Rutan Park.

At age 26, Sgt. Karibo, a 1955 Bellefontaine High School graduate, disappeared along with 106 others aboard a military transport plane above the Pacific Ocean on March 16, 1962.

Flying Tigers Line Flight 739, a Lockheed Super Constellation that had 93 American troops, three enlisted South Vietnamese nationals and 11 crew members, was en route to Saigon to train Vietnamese troops in their fight against communist rebels, according to news reports that appeared in the Bellefontaine Examiner at the time of the crash.

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Flying Tigers Line Flight 739, a Lockheed L-1049H, was chartered by the United States military. Originating at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., on March 16, 1962, the military transport disappeared over the Pacific Ocean en route to Saigon, Vietnam, and the 11 crew members and 96 military personnel, including Bellefontaine native John Karibo, and John A. Thomas, whose wife was from northern Logan County, were never heard from again. (PHOTO | LOCOPHOTOGBLOG.COM)

Originating from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., the flight arrived to refuel in Guam as scheduled at 11:14 Greenwich Mean Time and had minor maintenance work done on two engines before departing again at 12:57 GMT, according to a weblog located at www.locophotogblog.com.

An hour-and-a-half later, the crew aboard Standard Oil supertanker S/S T.L. Lenzen reported seeing a vapor trail and explosion near where the plane would have been not far north of the Mariana Trench.

Despite what was considered “the largest air/sea search” of that time, which involved “as many as 100 planes augmented by ships” and covering some 200,000 square miles of ocean, neither the remnants of the Flight 739 nor signs of its passengers were ever located and the Civil Aeronautics Board was “unable to state with any degree of certainty the exact fate of N6921C.”

“It was a very mysterious occurrence and we were never able to get any information from the government regarding the purpose of the flight,” Sgt. Karibo’s brother David Karibo said. “There was a lot of talk about sabotage having taken place, but it was so secretive the families do not know what occurred or why they were going.”

But with no body to bury or death certificate to view, the family kept waiting, hoping one day John would return.

“Our family kept hoping one day he would surface as a POW survivor, but he never did,” David Karibo said. “The hardest thing is the lack of closure; you don’t have anything to remember him by.”

Sgt. Karibo’s wife, Tonya Karibo Wagner and daughter Kimberly Steinman-Elmquist, who now live in Sacramento, Calif., and family members of others aboard the plane tried unsuccessfully to have the passengers listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Department of Defense said because they died three years before the government acknowledged having troops on the ground in Vietnam, the crew and passengers of Flight 739 did not qualify for the honor.

“There has never been a memorial service or anything for my dad,” Ms. Steinman-Elmquist said, noting that attempts to get records on her father’s service hit a wall when he became involved with the Military Assistance Advisory Group, which was a precursor to modern day black ops groups.

“I get so far getting information and all of a sudden a wall will go up and I get no information,” she said. “The flight is still an open investigation that way we are not entitled to the Freedom of Information Act to get more information, but we all know they are not searching anymore.”

“I don’t really care what my dad was doing or what his job was; I would just like him memorialized. He is a big part of my life even though I was only 20 months old when he went missing.”

Sgt. Karibo, however, was honored with inclusion on the local memorial and is at the top of the list, as the first Logan County soldier to die as a result of the Vietnam War.

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Bellefontaine resident David Karibo places flowers Friday at the Logan County Vietnam Veterans Memorial in honor of his brother Sgt. John A. Karibo, who is listed among the missing after the flight he was on disappeared over the Pacific Ocean en route to Vietnam on March 16, 1962. (EXAMINER PHOTO | JOEL E. MAST)

This year, the family got a cold reminder when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over the Pacific Ocean along with all 239 people aboard.

“There are so many similarities,” David Karibo said. “It just disappeared like my brother’s plight and there were so many people aboard. And then the search that took place, which was the largest military search to take place to try to find wreckage, and the fact that there were no answers. It certainly brought back memories.”

“When the Malaysia plane went down it brought everything back to the surface,” Ms. Steinman-Elmquist said.

But over time, the loss settles in, family members said.

“It’s gone on so many years without any answers as to what happened,” David Karibo said. “As the years pass, you learn to accept it, but it’s especially hard for families without any closure.

“People use that word a lot, but closure is important to people who have lost family members. We’re still unable to have that.”

Another soldier with ties to Logan County was also among the passengers on Flight 739, according to historical records.

Master Sgt. John A. Thomas, who was a native of Morgan County, Ala., was married to the former Dorothy Eileen Fay, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Kirby Fay of the Ridgeway area, according to 1962 Examiner reports.

Age 36 at the time of the flight’s disappearance, Master Sgt. Thomas enlisted in the military in 1943, serving in a tank division during World War II and in Korea during the Korean War.

He, his wife and two young sons, Jerry Allen and Gary Duane, had lived in Washington, D.C., and Georgia prior to Mrs. Thomas and the boys returning to the Ridgeway area prior to her husband’s overseas assignment.

No surviving local relatives could be located for this story.

Ms. Steinman-Elmquist said she hopes one day all 107 people aboard the plane will be recognized for their contributions.

“It’s not just for us but the other people who have family and friends who don’t have closure either,” the daughter said. “We just don’t want them to be forgotten.”

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