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Sons will finally bury dad killed in Vietnam



Published: Mon, May 27, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Numerous uncles picked up therole of father for the young boys after their father's plane went down.

By WILLIAM K. ALCORN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- "Goodbye, Dad."

The horse-drawn carriage will carry the remains of Air Force Capt. Fred Clay Cutrer Jr. to a place of honor in Arlington National Cemetery on June 6.

A seven-member firing squad will fire three times -- a 21-gun salute -- for Capt. Cutrer, the first Air Force pilot to die in Vietnam.

His B-57B Canberra bomber-reconnaissance plane, on its way to Bien Hoa airfield, crashed or was shot down on Aug. 6, 1964, in the jungle north of Saigon over Communist-controlled territory near the Sang Dong Nai River in Long Khanh Province.

The body bearers will carry the coffin to the grave. An Air Force chaplain will conduct the service. The bugler will play taps. Air Force jets will fly over.

Tears will fall among the many friends and family from Youngstown and Mississippi and elsewhere around the country, including a contingent from the 910th Airlift Wing at Youngstown Air Force Reserve Station, who will make the trip to Arlington for the funeral.

"Goodbye, Dad."

Closure

Cutrer's sons, Fred III and Don, both of Canfield, and the rest of the Cutrer and Mansour families, will finally have healing closure when the remains of their father, and those of his navigator, 1st Lt. Leonard Kaster of Massachusetts, are laid to rest, nearly 38 years after they were killed at the very beginning of their country's involvement in Vietnam.

The Cutrer brothers never really knew their father, nicknamed "Potlick," the man who lived to fly.

Fred III was 21/2 years old when his father's plane went down and he was declared missing in action and presumed dead.

Fred remembers sitting on the seat of a motor scooter with his father in the Philippines, where his father was stationed, but not much else. Don, only 16 months when his father died, has no memory of his father.

Vietnam death

Cutrer, an Air Force Reserve pilot who volunteered for duty in Vietnam, was the first Air Force pilot, and the second pilot overall, to go down in Vietnam.

Attempts were made for three days to recover the remains of Cutrer and Kaster, but the area around their plane was surrounded by Vietcong guerrillas.

Not wanting to sustain more casualties, and seeing no signs of life, the Air Force bombed the site to keep the enemy from recovering the state-of-the-art electronic equipment on the plane. An account of the incident was carried in the Aug. 14, 1964, issue of Time magazine.

Don said he was convinced many years ago that his father died in the crash.

"In 1964, the way things were, Dad would have been used for propaganda by the Communists, if he had been alive," Fred said. Still, "You wondered."

The military listed Cutrer's death as noncombat, but his wing man and others believe the plane went down because of enemy fire, Fred said.

Growing up without Dad

The brothers didn't have their father while growing up on Lauderdale Street on Youngstown's North Side. Thanks to their mother, the former Shirley Ann Mansour of Youngstown, and her family, and their father's family in Mississippi, they knew all about him from an early age.

The brothers spent their summers in Osyka, Miss., where their dad grew up, with all their Cutrer grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.

"We can still go to Osyka and stop at any house or store and they'll know who we are. We're as close to our family in Mississippi as we are to our family in Youngstown," Don said.

How they met

Shirley graduated from Trumbull Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Warren, and became an Air Force nurse, at the urging of a friend, "to see the world."

She was at Officer Candidate School at Greenville AFB, Miss., when she met Cutrer, an instructor pilot, and they eventually married.

Shirley was killed in a traffic crash in September 1998, nine months after learning that her husband's remains had been found.

Sandra Mansour of Boardman, Shirley's sister, said the day Shirley received the phone call about her husband's dog tag being found was "heartbreaking, but at the same time it gave her a sense of peace."

"I can finally give him the burial he deserved," Sandra remembers Shirley saying.

Sandra said it is a sad thing for the family that Shirley can't be at her husband's funeral. "There is a lot of grief in my heart," she said.

Sandra remembers her brother-in-law as carefree, fun-loving, generous and caring -- a wonderful man.

"Fred and Don are a lot like their Dad. We are very proud of the way Shirley raised her sons," she said.

"The whole family stepped in and helped raise us," Fred said.

Numerous uncles on both sides of the family picked up the role of "father" for the young boys.

'Thrilled'

Fred said the family is "very thrilled" that their father will be buried at Arlington, even though it was the captain's wish to be buried in Osyka. "If we had been able to positively establish his identity, we would have buried him in Mississippi," Fred said.

No attempt was made, however, to establish identity through DNA because the testing would have destroyed the sandwich-sized bag of bone fragments that were recovered, Fred said.

In addition to the bone fragments, the government recovered one of Cutrer's rusty dog tags, and enough other bits and pieces of equipment to identify the plane and be certain two men were in the plane when it crashed.

At the government's suggestion, Cutrer and Kaster will be buried as a crew. Also, Shirley's remains will be moved from Calvary Cemetery here to Arlington and interred with her husband.

Discovery of remains

It was in August 1992 when the POW/Missing Personnel Office of the Defense Department began searching the crash site. More information gleaned during 1995 and 1996 visits to the site led to an excavation, similar to an archeological dig, in March and April 1997.

The dig team was down about 10 feet and was about to close the site when it found Cutrer's dog tag. Encouraged, the team continuing searching until they had enough information to conclude that two men had gone down with the plane.

It was Don's wife, Linda, who got the first call from the Defense Department about finding Cutrer's remains.

"My wife called me at work on Jan. 12, 1998," and said somebody from Mortuary Affairs had called, Don said. He immediately called Washington.

"I was shocked ... it was 35 years later ... and I got this call out of the blue," he recalled. "The only reason it came to me was because I was the only Cutrer in the phone book. My mother's number was unlisted, and my brother lived in California at the time."

"I just sat back, probably for an hour, to accept and realize what I had been told. I was wondering how to tell mom."

Career highlight

Don said his father's funeral at Arlington will be the "highlight" of his military career.

"I ordered new ribbons. I'm looking forward to it. It's an honor," he said.

Don, 39, a senior master sergeant with the 910th Airlift Wing, said he is disappointed in the Air Force Reserve command, which denied his request that the C-130 crew that he is a part of be allowed to fly his father's remains from Hawaii to Dover Air Force Base. The Youngstown Air Station commander supported the idea, but command said no, Don said.

"It's closure," said Fred, 40, who spent 20 years in the Air Force Reserve.

"It'll be a lot easier to tell our children about their grandfather, now that we'll have a grave site to go to," Fred said.

"We will tell our children that sometimes people die for their country. My wife and I have said it would be nice to have them to sometime do a research project," Don said.

Today, Memorial Day, is a day to remember and reflect.

Undoubtedly the tradition of Don and his C-130 crew have of doing fly-overs at area Memorial Day parades and services honoring fallen servicemen will have special meaning to the Cutrer brothers.

"Goodbye, Dad."

alcorn@vindy.com




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