SMSgt James Caniford, 16 SOS IO

Burial Service for James Caniford (MIA Recovered from Laos).  Held 1:00 p.m. (E.S.T.) Wednesday, 28 May 2008, Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors and a Spectre flyover.  More Photos/story of the Ceremony Below

Presentation of Jim's Burial Flag
 to his Family

Spectre Flyover

Jim recieving medal as a SSgt
We just wanted to update you on the Memorial service for SMS Jim Caniford
Wednesday, 28 May 2008
at Arlington. The weather was great and the crowd was about 75 people. Attending was Chuck Kaczmarczyk, MarthaAnn Kaczmarczyk, Andy DeMeyer, John Schrawder
 (571 crew chief) and wife, and 3 finger Jack. The fly over took everyone by complete surprise as it was originally announced that the acft had cnx. The service took exactly 30 minutes and Andy and Chuck took a lot of photos to be posted. We were not permitted to display the Spectre flag during the ceremony due to regulations. At the end of the ceremony Chuck presented Mr. & Mrs. Caniford and their daughter each with a Spectre coin. They said it was the only souvenir that they have of Jim's time in the 16'th. They were very moved and the coin was appreciated.
The burial site for Jim is on a "corner lot" with many large trees.
News Story from Air Force Print News

Airman Laid to Rest After 30 Years

Airman Laid to Rest After 30 Years

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. - For 10 years, Capt. Christopher Joyce has carried the memory of Senior Master Sgt. James Caniford around his wrist.

Sergeant Caniford, a former 16th Special Operations Squadron illuminator operator, was recently identified after more than 30 years listed as missing in action from the Vietnam War.

Captain Joyce of the 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, asked his friends to get him a prisoner of war/missing in action bracelet on a long-ago trip to Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Ala. In the years that followed, he memorized the inscription.   "I only take it off to go through the metal detector at the airport," Captain Joyce said. "I don't need to look at it to tell you what it says." Captain Joyce didn't know anything about the bracelet's namesake -- no unit of assignment, no information on how he went missing -- only that he was a fellow Airmen who had served and paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Sergeant Caniford was on an armed reconnaissance mission over southern Laos in March 1972 when his AC-130A Spectre gunship was struck by an enemy surface-to-air missile and crashed in the jungle near the Lao-Vietnamese border.  Search and rescue efforts were initiated immediately, but halted less than two days later because of heavy enemy activity. Sergeant Caniford and the 13 other crewmembers were listed as MIAs.

Excavations starting in the late 1980s uncovered remains, crew equipment and personal effects leading to the positive identification of several crewmembers, but Sergeant Caniford wasn't among them. He was nothing but a memory and a name on a bracelet.   That was until May 27 when officials from the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced the identification of four additional crewmembers. An Arlington National Cemetery memorial service was scheduled, and the request came down for the 16th SOS to conduct a flyover.

The squadron jumped at the chance to get involved.

"We pushed up our desire to honor one of our own," said Capt. Christopher Warner, a 16th SOS pilot. "The (1st Special Operations) Group told us they not only wanted us to support (the service), but that it was a priority."  Eventually, the information filtered to Captain Joyce, who was home on leave when he received an e-mail revealing, for the first time, the source of his bracelet and the plan for the 16th SOS Airmen to participate in Sergeant Caniford's memorial.  "It caught me at first," he said. "I couldn't believe it." Captain Joyce wanted to give the bracelet to one of the crewmembers participating in the flyover, but when officials from the 16th SOS heard his story, they made other plans.  "We were more than happy to accommodate flying Captain Joyce with us over the ceremony," said Captain Warner, noting that the experience recognized the dedication of POW/MIA bracelet wearers as well as honoring the Airmen they represent.

The two captains and the rest of the AC-130A crew made the trip to Arlington to pay their respects.  It wasn't a typical day at work, but Captain Warner said the crew treated it with the same dedication and intensity they would any mission.  "This quickly became a 'no-fail' mission," he said. "It was all about making sure that we were there on time and directly overhead to give our absolute best to honor one of our own." At the same time, they honored the family.  Sergeant Caniford's father, James Caniford, called the experience "totally unbelievable." "I was thinking they'd fly jets over," he said. "When that AC-130 flew over, I just couldn't believe it. It was a very proud moment for me to think they did this for Jimmy." "It was rewarding to know the family was down there and we could do this for them," Captain Joyce said.

Captain Joyce said he plans to send his bracelet to Sergeant Caniford's family. This 10-year chapter of his life has come to an end.

© Copyright 2008 Air Force Print News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Missing soldier's remains identified
After nearly 40 years, Middletown service member's death in plane crash confirmed
Originally published March 20, 2008 (Source, Pensacola News Journal)

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 taken prisoner.  "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 away. 

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 was bittersweet.  "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 best friend.  "You know what I've wanted all along -- to put flowers on his grave," she said. "Now I can finally do that."

AF Honor Guard

AF 2 Star General and Aide

AF Honor Guard

Folding of the burial flag

Folding of the burial flag

Freedom is NOT Free!

Honor Guard Retires

Honor Guard Stands Ready

Jim aboard Spectre!

MIA Flag



Prayers offered by Family Minister

Presentation by AF Honor Guard

Presentation of Burial Flag

Presentation of Spectre Coin to Jim Caniford's Parents

Presentation of Spectre Coin to Jim Caniford's Sister

Removal of casket


Marker for Spectre crew that was shot down in 18 Jun 1972

Marker for Spectre crew that was shot down in 18 Jun 1972
Photos & information for this section courtesy of Various Contributors attending the Burial Services

Copyright 2008. Spectre-Association. All rights reserved.