- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

Thirty-six years after Army Capt. Larry Lucas' plane was downed by enemy fire on a reconnaissance mission over Laos, the Vietnam War pilot finally received the burial he deserved.
The ceremony yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery also marked the end of nearly four decades of uncertainty for his family, as Capt. Lucas was laid to rest with full military honors, his coffin draped with an American flag.
A horse-drawn caisson, members of the Army Band and a gun salute met the mournful, yet content family.
Capt. Lucas, then 26, was declared dead about six weeks after he was shot down in 1966. But that didn't stop Martha Lucas-Ryan, his widow, from believing her "survivalist" husband would return alive to her, their two daughters and son.
"Logic would tell you that he couldn't survive that," Mrs. Lucas-Ryan said. "But there was always that little, gnawing doubt that he was lost over there somewhere."
The final letter she received, which he wrote when facing an earlier danger, told her not to grieve for too long if he died and to find a husband and a father for their children.
When evidence finally surfaced in 1990, ultimately leading the U.S. government to conclude Capt. Lucas' remains had been discovered, Mrs. Lucas-Ryan and her children had mixed emotions. The waiting was over but the memories came rushing back.
"It's like switching from one life to another," said one of the couple's daughters, Melissa Lucas-Condit.
When her father crashed, Mrs. Lucas-Condit was 4, brother Mark was 5, and sister Andrea was 2. They all arrived from California for the burial yesterday.
At the chapel service, Mark Lucas said his father was a physically small man with a heart large enough to make him an accomplished paratrooper, an expert marksman and an Army Ranger.
"My father loved his country and his family," he said. "And he gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect them both."
The last mission for Capt. Lucas was Dec. 20, 1966. He was flying an OV-1 Mohawk reconnaissance plane over Laos when hit by enemy ground fire.
The plane then plummeted into a remote jungle, said Col. Joseph Kulmayer, the co-pilot who was rescued after ejecting.
The men knew armed reconnaissance missions were dangerous. Their squadron lost 11 planes in 18 months.
In 1990, a military doctor in Laos stumbled across a villager wearing Capt. Lucas' dog tags. The doctor convinced the man to take him to where he found the identification. There, the doctor found parts of the wrecked plane.
Over the next 10 years, a team from the Army Central Identification Laboratory excavated the crash site two times, eventually finding Capt. Lucas' bone fragments, his watch, and the camera and serial number from his plane.
Because Capt. Lucas' body is back in the United States and is placed in a cemetery reserved for heroes, his children and grandchildren have had an opportunity to "get to know him again," Mrs. Lucas-Condit said.
Those who attended yesterday's services included Capt. Lucas' family; Col. Kulmayer; other Army colleagues; a busload of residents from his hometown of Marmet, W.Va., and members of the Virginia chapter of Rolling Thunder, an activist group concerned with prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.
"I feel better about standing here next to him instead of looking at his name on a wall," Col. Kulmayer said.
Michael Holmes, Capt. Lucas' nephew and another Vietnam veteran, escorted the remains of his uncle from San Diego to Arlington National Cemetery.
Capt. Lucas is one of 738 Americans whose remains have been identified and recovered in recent years, according to Central Identification Laboratory. About 1,900 Americans involved in the Vietnam War remain missing or unaccounted for, according to the Defense Prisoner of War-Missing Personnel Office.

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