Utah Marine who went missing in Vietnam War buried on Veterans Day in American Fork
Capt. Ralph Jim Chipman was accounted for earlier this year after the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency found his teeth, bone fragments and dog tag during an excavation
More than 50 years after a U.S. Marine from American Fork went missing during the Vietnam War, he received full military honors during his funeral on Veterans Day.
The American Fork Cemetery was packed with family and community members Saturday afternoon to honor the life of Capt. Ralph Jim Chipman, known as Jim Chipman to friends and family.
"It's good to have a piece of him home," said Chipman's wife, Susan Richards, during the funeral.
Chipman was accounted for earlier this year after the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency found his teeth, bone fragments and dog tag during an excavation in the Quang Binh Province, Vietnam, where Chipman and his copilot went down in Dec. 1972.
Chipman's remains were flown into the Salt Lake City Airport on Thursday. Richards said she had the option to bury her late husband in the Arlington National Cemetary in Arlington, Virginia, but chose to keep him close to home in American Fork instead.
The ceremony included a funeral procession along Center Street to the cemetery with bagpipes, police cars and firetrucks. The military honors included a 21-gun salute, the folding and presenting of an American flag to the Chipman family and musical performances by the quintet of Utah Premiere Brass.
Family members and friends shared stories and tributes during the funeral, talking about Chipman's hard work, integrity and "dedication to what matters most."
"In Jim's own words, his life was filled with hard work, close family ties and wonderful experiences," Richards said during the funeral. "He did, in his short life, have lots of great experiences."
"His legacy lives on," said American Fork Mayor Brad Frost.
In late 1972, Capt. Chipman had been assigned to Marine All-Weather Attack Squadron 533, Marine Attack Group 12, 1st Marine Air Wing, and was stationed at MCAS Royal Thai Air Force Base in Nam Phong, Vietnam, known as the Rose Garden.
Around 8 p.m. on Dec. 27, 1972, Jim Chipman and his co-pilot, Capt. Ronald Wayne Forrester, were flying a Grumman A-6A Intruder during a combat mission over northern Vietnam when the plane stopped radio communications and never returned to base.
Search and rescue teams couldn't find the pilots or the plane. Scot Chipman was just 4 years old and his brother Matthew was around 18 months old.
Years later, in July 1974, Jim Chipman was reported as killed in action — a casualty of war.
Since that time, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has been working to account for Jim Chipman and other soldiers who were prisoners of war or went missing in action. Every year, the organization and its partners work with governments in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to collect evidence and conduct multiple excavations in those countries.
After analyzing flight data four years ago, the agency and its partnering organizations were able to find the right spot in the Quang Binh Province where the A-6A Intruder piloted by Jim Chipman went down. Further excavation at the site is set to begin next June.
Chipman's oldest son, Scot Chipman, said it "eased their minds" for the family to know their dad died in the crash and was never a prisoner of war.
"It hasn't sunk in completely, but it's amazing," Scot Chipman said. In an Aug. 7 Facebook post, he added, "After 50 years the day our family has been waiting for has finally come!"
As of Saturday, there are still 1,578 Americans who are missing or unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, according to the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. So far, the remains of more than 1,000 soldiers killed in Vietnam have been identified and returned to their families since 1973.