Obituary: Colonel Patrick M. Fallon / Family dedicates Arlington grave site for missing colonel
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Jean Fallon was once hopeful that her husband, Patrick M. Fallon, would return home from Southeast Asia. She and her family spent much of their lives working to find information that would allow her to find her missing spouse.
But on June 22, almost 43 years after his plane was shot down over Laos on July 4, 1969, Mrs. Fallon honored her husband with a grave site at Arlington National Cemetery. Mr. Fallon is considered "killed in action -- body not recovered."
"I am hopeful that eventually someone might locate his remains," Mrs. Fallon said.
For Mrs. Fallon and her two daughters, the service came after more than 40 years of trying to locate a husband and a father.
Mr. Fallon, a native of Turtle Creek, was a colonel in the Air Force and earned various honors for his service including two Purple Hearts and a Legion of Merit, according to his family.
The "time had come" to hold a memorial, Mrs. Fallon said.
"I just felt that I had done what I was able to do," she said. "And the rest of it has to be up to the Air Force and their program to locate and identify the ones that haven't come home."
Cappie Ortman, Mr. Fallon's daughter, of Alpharetta, Ga., said holding the service involved both wanting closure and keeping hope.
"We want to celebrate his life and that's why we had the ceremony at Arlington," she said. "But at the same time we don't want the government to give up looking for him and all the other men who are still missing."
Mrs. Fallon said she does not think her husband, who would be 90 now, will be found alive, but she still hopes his remains might be found. In that case, the marker for him at Arlington would be removed for a formal grave with a casket, she said.
Mr. Fallon attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but left for active duty in World War II. After that, he returned home to earn a bachelor's degree at the University of Pittsburgh.
He then served in the Korean War where he flew 125 combat missions, according to his family. After the war, he earned a doctorate in international relations from Georgetown University, before moving to the U.S. Air Force base at Wiesbaden, Germany. At a promotion party on the base, after he was promoted to colonel, Mr. Fallon met his future wife, who was an administrative assistant to the chief of staff there.
"I thought I wanted to marry him," said Jean Fallon, now 81, of Atlanta, describing her first meeting with her husband. "I thought he was a wonderful man."
In October 1965, the couple married at Old Post Chapel on Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., the same chapel where the family held Mr. Fallon's memorial service.
In September 1968, days after their second daughter was born, Mr. Fallon left for Southeast Asia, according to a 1985 profile of Mrs. Fallon in The Pittsburgh Press.
"Although I had a very short marriage ... I have two really outstanding young women for my daughters," Mrs. Fallon said. "And they're fine young people and they seem to have grown up normally and adjusted to their situation."
Mr. Fallon's A-1 Skyraider was shot down while flying in northern Laos over an area known as the Plain of Jars.
He parachuted from the plane into an area heavily occupied by communist Pathet Lao troops.
For about 30 minutes, Mr. Fallon spoke by radio with another pilot on his mission as planes moved in to try to rescue him, but the planes could not locate him before losing contact.
His last words over his radio were, "Put it all around me. I'm hit," as he called for the planes to bomb his location, where enemy troops were quickly moving in, according to the 1985 Pittsburgh Press article.
But that wasn't the last heard of the pilot, Mrs. Fallon said. His wife said that he was reported to have been a prisoner in Laos as late as 1989. U.S. intelligence officers said they doubted that report, according to a 1992 Post-Gazette article on Mr. Fallon, but the family continued to hope that either Mr. Fallon or his body would be located.
That hope kept Mrs. Fallon active in the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
"If you couldn't find anything about your husband, you wanted to help somebody to see if you could find anything about their loved one," she said of her work with the League.
In 1970, Mrs. Fallon visited Paris to speak with a North Vietnamese delegation about missing Americans in the region. The delegation said they would provide her with information, she said. They never did.
In 1983, she met with President Ronald Reagan, who told her and other League members that locating information about Vietnam prisoners of war was "the highest national priority," according to a 1983 Pittsburgh Press article.
But today, despite 40 years of searching, Mrs. Fallon and her two daughters lack complete closure.
"I guess there's no finality unless you have remains," Mrs. Ortman said. "There's always that lingering question of what happened to him. Was he taken prisoner? I think that's the hardest thing: not knowing. I think with any family you would rather know than have all these unknowns."
Mr. Fallon is also survived by his daughter Jean Johnson of Alpharetta, Ga.; and his brother and sister, Dick Fallon of Green Tree, and Eileen Coulter of McLean, Va.
First Published July 7, 2012 12:00 am