Searching for the fallen: Woman seeks soldier's headstone

Associated Press
August 06, 2020 - 9:23 am
Vietnam War

National Archives

By CHARLES BOOTHE, Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEWELL, W.Va. (AP) — On March 9, 1967, Airman First Class Daniel Cortez Reese was a member of a crew on an EC-47 recon aircraft when enemy fire in Vietnam shot the plane out of the sky, killing everyone aboard.

The 22-year-old Bluefield, Va., resident was married and had one young daughter when he became an official MIA (Missing In Action) and was eventually declared dead while missing.

At some point, according to findagrave.com, Reese was buried, or at least a marker was placed, at Oak Grove Cemetery in Bluewell.

However, no one has been able to locate the headstone or marker and the cemetery is too overgrown now to locate one, if it is there.

The mystery surfaced recently when Hawaii resident Janna Hoehn was gathering information, including photos of headstones, on Vietnam veterans killed in action for the online Vietnam Wall of Faces Project.

“Because Vietnam was the war that was going on while I was in high school the first memorial on my list (to visit) was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall (in Washington, D.C.),” she said. “Even though I never knew anyone killed in Vietnam, I wanted a rubbing of one of the names. I approached the Wall and chose a name…”

She decided to share the rubbing of the etching with the family and see if they had a photo, but had no success and later did contact someone who had a photo of that first person.

Two years later she saw a story about the “Faces Never Forgotten” for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund with the goal of putting a face with every name etched on the Wall in Washington.

“I immediately sent in the photo I had of Gregory Crossman,” she said. “Five days later I received an email from Jan Scruggs, the Founder and President of the Vietnam Wall. He thanked me for sending the photo, it was the first for this Hero (Crossman) and asked me if I could help him find the photos for the 42 Maui County Fallen that were killed in Vietnam.”

Hoehn said she had always hoped she could to do something for the Vietnam Veterans “as the way they were treated when they returned, it was disgraceful. Here was my chance.”

She said that is how her involvement started, working state by state to find photos when none had been found and eventually came upon Daniel Cortez Reese.

Hoehn knew he was from this area and had read stories published in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph on Oak Grove Cemetery and the work of James Johnson in cleaning up the abandoned cemetery three years ago.

She called and was given Johnson’s contact number and the quest began, but reached a dead end when no one knew the location of the possible headstone or marker.

Hoehn said she also contacted Reese’s daughter, who lives in Connecticut, and she gave her general directions. However, a search by Telegraph staff of the headstones visible in the area of the directions do not bear Reese’s name.

His daughter could not be contacted directly for this story.

Johnson, of Virginia Beach and a McDowell County native whose parents are buried in Oak Grove, which was in previous years where many area African-Americans are buried, took on the long-neglected cemetery as a personal project and spent his own time and money cleaning it up, with the help of several volunteers.

However, Johnson was not able to find a local organization or group to take over the project and maintain the cemetery after he finished, so it is once again overgrown.

“I tried the best I could to find some local people to take the bull by the horns and run with it,” he said. “But I had no luck.”

Johnson said he does not recall seeing a headstone or marker for Reese, though.

A record of the graves in the cemetery was found at that time, he said, and was eventually given to the Mercer County Commission.

But Commissioner Bill Archer said the records do not give enough details to locate many markers.

Beverly Walls of Logan, who became acquainted with Johnson and had an interest in documenting cemeteries, also helped with the cemetery clean-up and took photos and recorded the gravesites found during that time to post on findagrave.com.

“I don’t recall the name,” she said, and she could not locate a photo of a headstone.

But on findagrave.com there is a photo of Reese with information about him that says he is buried in Oak Grove.

Walls said the initials of the person who submitted the information are RW, but she does not know who that is. Also, the photo was submitted by Jim Reece (different spelling of last name.).

Hoehn, who has over the years collected more than 7,000 photos for the project, said she would appreciate any help in learning the location of a headstone or marker.

“I am hoping an organization or community members could step up to clear the weeds and debris at the cemetery,” she said. “I would be so grateful.”

Reese possibly has relatives in this area who may know more about the grave marker, she added.

According to the HonorStates.org website, Daniel Cortez Reese is honored on the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington DC. Name inscribed at VVM Wall, Panel 16e, Line 48.

A Purple Heart recipient, he also received these commendations:

  • Air Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Vietnam Campaign Medal
  • Vietnam Service Medal
  • Air Force Presidential Unit Citation
  • Vietnam Gallantry Cross
  • Air Force Good Conduct Medal

“Reese was born on July 1, 1944,” the website says. “According to our records Virginia was his home or enlistment state and Tazewell County included within the archival record. We have Bluefield listed as the city.”

He had enlisted in the Air Force. Entered via Regular Military. Served during the Vietnam War. He began his tour on October 20, 1966. He had the rank of Airman First Class. Occupation or specialty was Air Crew. Service number was 13795155. Served with Detachment 1, 6994th Security Squadron.

Reese was reported missing and ultimately declared dead on March 9, 1967. Recorded circumstances attributed to: “Hostile Died While Missing, Air Loss Crash - Land, Fixed Wing - Crew”. Incident location: South Vietnam, Quang Ngai province.

The website said Daniel Cortez Reese was born in Bluefield, Tazewell County, Virginia. He had some family connections to the area of Bluewell, Mercer County, West Virginia. He was married and had a daughter. Daniel enlisted in the Air Force on August 1, 1963.

He was on the crew of the EC-47 #43-49201 when they were shot down by enemy ground fire. They were on an unarmed reconnaissance mission over South Vietnam.

Anyone can submit photos or information to Hoehn at neverforgotten2014@gmail.com.

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