Air Force denies MIA status for airman in Vietnam-era Baron 52 case
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 9, 2016
WASHINGTON — The Air Force will not reconsider whether a Vietnam-era airman might have survived or been taken prisoner when his U.S. surveillance aircraft was shot down over Laos in 1973, the airman’s family said Wednesday.
The family of Sgt. Joseph Matejov presented four decades of evidence to the Air Force earlier this year in the controversial Baron 52 case – a reference to his plane’s call sign – and had hoped to finally convince the service to list him as missing in action instead of killed, a change that could have led to a new accounting of his remains.
The Air Force and Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency weighed the possibility of a review for eight months but notified the family Tuesday that the evidence did not merit another look at whether Matejov was killed in a fiery crash in the Laotian jungle just days before U.S. combat operations ended in Vietnam.
Since 1973, the service had maintained Matejov and seven fellow crewmembers were killed at the crash site, though some comingled remains were not recovered until the 1990s.
“The present members of the accounting agency and those staff at the Secretary of the Air Force who have, as of yesterday, decided not to re-open the Baron 52 case should be ashamed of themselves in rendering this decision,” John Matejov, the airman’s brother and a retired Marine Corps officer, wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes. “It is a sad day all around for all who wear the uniform, past, present and future.”
Matejov said he will now write to President Barack Obama and request the president make an executive action to change his brother’s status to missing in action.
The case has become somewhat famous among families still searching for answers after their loved ones were lost in Vietnam. Many of them remain skeptical that the government has been fully forthcoming with information.
The Matejov family have been deeply skeptical of the official determination that the airman was killed since a media report in the 1970s about a radio intercept picked up by U.S. intelligence agencies that some people believed indicated Americans were taken captive at the time of the crash.
Some initial Air Force disagreement and conjecture over the crash circumstances also stoked questions about the Baron 52 case, which became a subject of a Senate inquiry in 1993 into Vietnam prisoners of war.
At the time, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst testified the radio intercept was not related to Matejov or the Baron 52 case, and the Senate ultimately determined no POWs had been left behind.
However, the Matejov family has never given up its quest to change the record to show the airman might have survived the crash, which occurred in a remote stretch of hostile jungle.
All nine of Matejov’s siblings and other relatives gathered in an Arlington, Virginia conference room in February and made their case to the top officials at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which had been newly reorganized to handle the recovery of servicemembers killed and lost around the world.
The agency later turned the case over to the Air Force to consider whether to launch a review.
“In my view, this is nothing more than a silly chess game between [the Defense Department] and POW/MIA families,” Matejov wrote Wednesday. “Through much dogged pursuit, our family at least got a chance to present but to no avail.”