Ed. Note: The author dedicates this story Lt. Michael W. Wallace, USN, Operations Officer, VFP-63, 1968. The photoghraphs include the author, Lt. Wallace, and the twin daughters of Lt. Wallace.
From January to August of 1968 I served with the air wing on the USS Ticonderoga, CVA-14, with VFP-63. Our pilots flew the F-8 Crusader, a fighter jet that instead of being armed, had camera bays on each side of the fuselage and the nose cone. Our pilots flew unarmed, always accompanied by two fully armed F-8 Crusader escorts. The squadron pilots flew over enemy sites taking photographs. The film was then brought back to our ship, where our photo interpreters examined them for possible targets or to assess damage done by past raids.
In March of 1968 one of our pilots, Lt. Michael Wallace, was flying near Khe Shan when his aircraft was shot down by ground fire. His escorts and Ltjg. Larry Boline, another of our pilots, watched helplessly as his plane went down in flames, and Lt. Wallace never ejected and was killed. It wasn’t until maybe 20 years later that his aircraft was found in the jungles, and his remains were returned to his family.
While on this WestPac cruise I took many photographs of shipboard life on the Ticonderoga. I took two photographs of Lt. Wallace and other officers playing volleyball on the lowered forward elevator. I posted those pictures on Facebook and Flickr, a photo sharing site.
On Memorial Day of this year, 2013, while browsing through Facebook, I saw a posting by a person trying to locate me, telling his cousin that he stumbled across my pictures on Flilckr. The pictures were of Lt. Wallace playing volleyball. Lt. Wallace was the uncle of this man, Zach Wallace, Lt. Wallace’s brother, and he was sharing this information with his cousin, Kristin Wallace, one of Lt. Wallace’s two twin daughters who were about a year old when he was killed and never knew their father.
I immediately responded to Zach and Kris via Facebook. While Zack lives in Seattle, Kris lives about five miles south of where I live.
Zach, Kris and I corresponded via Facebook and email, exchanging information. They were both excited because, not having known her father and his uncle, they had never seen any photographs like this of Lt. Wallace, especially in the last week or so of his life.
Even more exciting to all of us than finding each other is the fact that Larry Boline, the young Lt. and fellow pilot of Lt. Wallace, who looked up to him as his mentor and who actually saw his plane crash in a ball of flames, was the fact that Lt. Boline, after getting back to the States, visited Mrs. Wallace, helping each other through this ordeal, and wound up getting married. Larry and his wife live in La Jolla, about 12 miles south of me.
Lt. Boline called me shortly after this all happened, and we made arrangements to have lunch together: me, my wife, Lt. Boline and Lt. Wallace’s twin daughters, who were raised by Lt. Boline and his wife, the former Mrs. Wallace.
We had a great reunion. I brought all the photographs I had taken on the cruise, and Lt. Boline brought his cruise book of that cruise, and we spent a couple hours over lunch talking about Lt. Wallace and memories of our WestPac cruise.
This was the most memorable Memorial Day of my life, and one I shall never forget.