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Frank Gray

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GI finally honored; other families wait

Coon
Valentine

On Friday, in a small ceremony in a Florida nursing home, representatives of the Army presented the Purple Heart medal to the mother of Capt. Herbert Crosby, a Fort Wayne native who earned the medal in January 1970 when the helicopter he was piloting went down in Vietnam, killing everyone on board.

Exactly why Crosby’s helicopter crashed wasn’t clear. A search couldn’t locate the wreckage. Crosby’s remains weren’t even located until 1989 and weren’t identified until 2006. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in 2007.

For family members, the Good Friday event was the end of a 43-year effort to get the honor they firmly believed their brother deserved.

For every belated honor bestowed, though, there seems to be another family struggling to win what they feel is long overdue recognition for one of their own.

In Van Wert, not that far, really, from Crosby’s boyhood home, Jan Valentine continues with a struggle that has lasted 42 years now to have the name of her brother, James M. Coon, placed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

Like Crosby’s, the death of Valentine’s twin brother, which we wrote about last year, is full of mystery.

What is known about the last mission of Coon is that in December 1971 he was actually on a ship that was carrying him home.

Coon, who was in the Navy, was also a cryptologist who worked for the National Security Agency. His job, his sister says, was to listen in on the enemy.

Coon was hand-picked to go on the mission, Valentine says. He was flown from the ship to the Philippines, where he caught another plane for Vietnam.

What the mission was is a mystery. Valentine says she has variously been told that her brother was just a passenger on a plane, but she has also been told he was on a classified mission.

All that is known is that after going into Vietnam and then leaving, the plane exploded, killing all 10 men on board. None of the occupants of the plane were ever recovered.

Curiously, Valentine learned only relatively recently that her brother’s name was on a special memorial to people who died in the line of duty “serving in silence” for the secretive NSA, whose initials some used to joke stood for “No Such Agency.”

But his name isn’t on the Vietnam Memorial.

For years now, Valentine has been writing various Navy officials, as well as representatives in Congress and U.S. Senators, trying to have the name of her brother and the others on the plane put on the memorial. Her efforts have accomplished nothing. She’s usually told that her brother didn’t die in a combat zone so his death doesn’t count.

Valentine says that the Navy told her after extensive research “those 10 men should be on the wall because they were in flight to a mission,” but the names still aren’t on the wall.

“Who do I go to to move up the ladder,” Valentine asks? “I don’t know where to go from here. He was on a mission to see what the enemy was saying.”

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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