At rest after half a century
June 18 – After decades of searches and years of delays, a man who has spent nearly twice his lifetime missing in action in Southeast Asia was returned to his final resting place in southern Asia on Friday. Oregon with full military honors.
Edward James Weissenback, who was among four souls shot in Laos on December 27, 1971, was buried at Eagle Point National Cemetery on Friday in a ceremony that brought people from across the country to the Rogue Valley. These included Weissenback’s family, as well as friends made over decades of searching and finding answers to unanswered questions.
Weissenback, who served in the Vietnam War with the U.S. military from 1964 to 1966 and had attended Southern Oregon University, worked as a civilian air cargo specialist with Air America Inc.
A supply and transport mission en route from Thailand went awry on that fateful day in 1971 when the plane came under enemy fire and was shot down near Sayaboury, Laos, a village in the province of ‘Oudomxai in Laos, according to statements from friends and family of Weissenback and a 2019 press release from the US Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Weissenback, along with the plane’s captain, George L. Ritter, and crew members Roy F. Townley and Kamphanhn Saysongkham perished in the accident.
Weissenback’s wife, Karen Weissenback Moen, remembered her husband as an outgoing, enthusiastic man who could be very quiet and modest. The combination “made him very easy to be around”.
Lee and Mary Gossett, now of Central Point, lived next door to the Weissenbacks in the Vientiane area of Laos at the time. Lee Gossett remembered Weissenback as an outgoing man built like a linebacker. Weissenback Moen recalled how her husband introduced her to Mary, saying, “I found you a best friend.”
However, after Weissenback Moen lost her husband, the Gossetts became dear friends.
“We were a big part of her life, and she was a big part of ours,” Mary Gossett said of Weissenback Moen.
Before his wife joined him in Laos, Weissenback was a smoker at Cave Junction and worked at caves in Oregon. Weissenback Moen said she remembers how he arranged everything for her to come — except for one major detail: a proposal.
“He had just neglected to ask me to marry him,” Weissenback Moen said.
The omission did not stop her, however. Although a short honeymoon in Hong Kong after her probation at work ended seemed like an abrupt proposition, it also felt like an adventure for a girl from Grants Pass.
“He had a vitality that I don’t think I’ve seen since,” Weissenback Moen said. “He lived life happily.”
His niece Laura Kaspar Wardwell, who was 12 when her uncle Eddie died, presided over the ceremony and remembered Weissenback’s passion for the outdoors and living creatures. She described him as “just a larger than life person”.
“My uncle was an enigma,” Wardwell said. “It was always very exciting when he came to visit us.”
Wardwell said she had long hoped he would have managed to get off the plane over the years.
Decades passed before the answers began to appear. Witnesses helped lead American and Laotian searchers to part of the plane’s wreckage in October 1997.
Other witnesses were found between 2014 and 2017, and dig teams recovered human remains in fall 2017 and summer 2018, according to the US Department of Defense.
Before her husband’s burial, Weissenback Moen scattered collected soil in all the places he loved in life. There was dirt from Queens, New York, where he was born, dirt from the Catskills where he summered, dirt from his Cave Junction smokejumper base, dirt from smokejumper base of Redmond and the land of Ashland.
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