After nearly 36 years, James Caniford and his family
can stop wondering.
Wednesday morning, the Fort Myers, Fla., resident
received a call from the Air Force. An official told
him that a recent dig in Laos had unearthed enough
material to confirm that his son,
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Kenneth Caniford,
was killed in a plane crash during the Vietnam War.
Known as Jimmy, he was the only Vietnam War service
member to be classified as a Prisoner of War or
Missing in Action from Frederick County. Nationwide,
there are roughly 1,800 unaccounted-for service
members from the Vietnam War.
The confirmation is unofficial at this point,
Caniford said, and the family plans to meet with Air
Force officials next week to discuss details about
bringing his son's remains back to the United
States. It's possible he could be buried with full
military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Jimmy's younger sister, Shelly Caniford, said
hearing the news was terrible, but good -- in part
because the family feared Jimmy might have been
"I thought I'd have to die to see my brother again,"
she said. "We know he died in the plane crash -- Dad
can bring him home and that's a good thing."
The Canifords, originally from Middletown, spent
more than 30 years piecing together much of what
happened to Jimmy on March 29, 1972.
Early that morning, Jimmy joined 13 other airmen on
board an AC-130 gunship on a mission in the heavily
defended province of Savannakhet in southern Laos.
As an illuminator operator, Jimmy's job was to spot
targets on the battlefield.
Before takeoff, Jimmy shared a hot dog and a soda
with Ken Felty, a crew member from another plane.
During that mission, three AC-130s flew together,
escorted by an F-4E Phantom II. Something went wrong
with Felty's plane, which was supposed to fly first
in the formation.
Jimmy's crew took the lead instead.
About 3 a.m., the escort spotted three
surface-to-air missiles. The first one grazed the
gunship, but the second one struck Jimmy's plane,
which exploded in flight, sending the pieces
tumbling to the ground.
The escort didn't see any parachutes open.
Wreckage burned on the ground, and search and rescue
efforts continued for the next two days but no signs
of survivors were found. While the wreckage was
visible from the air, enemy forces kept ground crews
For Jimmy's family, that's when the wait started.
It ended Wednesday the same way it began -- with
contact from the Air Force.
"I had mixed emotions when I answered the phone,"
said Caniford, 83. "I had been looking for this. ...
You always hang on to hope."
Diana DiLoreto, Jimmy's older sister, said the news
"I'm relieved that there's closure -- more for my
parents than for myself," she said. "I always prayed
that they would have an answer before they died."
Less than a year apart in age, DiLoreto was Jimmy's
"You know what I've wanted all along -- to put
flowers on his grave," she said. "Now I can finally