Remains of Vietnam War Veteran to Return To Middle Tennessee After 50 Years | Nashville Public Radio

Remains of Vietnam War Veteran to Return To Middle Tennessee After 50 Years

Jun 14, 2017

Bill O'Kieff's body was not identified initially and was buried in a mass grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
Credit courtesy Tennessee Department of Veterans

A former Murfreesboro soldier is coming home. Technical Sergeant William O’Kieff died in a plane crash during the Vietnam War. It would take nearly 50 years for his remains to be identified.

Bill O’Kieff, as friends and family knew him, was 38 and serving as a cargo pilot in November of 1970, when his plane went down on the last flight of his tour of duty.

Tom Snodgrass learned how to fly under O’Kieff and considered him a friend and mentor. He remembers the last time they saw each other in Vietnam, just days before the crash.                     

“We shook hands and wished each other well, and that was the last I heard from him," Snodgrass says. "It was just before Christmas, a few days maybe before Christmas that I found out that his aircraft had gone down. Pretty sad. Pretty sad Christmas.”

O’Kieff’s remains couldn’t be identified and in 1971, he was buried with military honors in a mass grave in Arlington National Cemetery. 

After the war, Vietnamese refugees returned human remains and personal effects to the U.S.  But it wasn’t until last month, 47 years after his death, that DNA testing finally helped the O’Kieff family get the phone call they’d been waiting for since 1970. Bill had been identified and was coming home.

“Our family is just overwhelmed with all that has happened in the short weeks of receiving this information,” daughter Dawn O’Kieff said in a statement.  “We never thought that we would have our father back home to us.  To have him laid to rest beside our mum, and his parents and grandparents is just absolutely amazing.”

Bill O'Kieff will be laid to rest beside his wife, parents, and grandparents.

A funeral with full military honors will be held in Murfreesboro on Saturday. Governor Bill Haslam has declared a day of mourning and ordered flags at half-staff. Snodgrass says he’s traveling from Kansas with his wife to pay his final respects.