Missing Vietnam soldier returned home, honored

Whether Chief Warrant Officer 3rd Class George Andy Howes died somewhere in the skies over Vietnam, or during the crash of the gunship he was co-piloting, we will never know.  What we do know is, his body has finally been found, identified, and returned home.

Howes was 19 years old when he died on Jan. 10, 1970.

High school classmates say he was excited to serve his country, and always put 100 percent into whatever he attempted.

Sam Byer played football with Howes. Byer was a guard, opening holes for the running back, Howes.

Howes may not have been a superstar, but he put everything he had into playing the game, said Byer.

Howes was well liked by nearly everyone he met, and his disappearance left a hole in the center of the close-knit community, said Byer.

"It leaves a void, he's part of our life, you know. We grew up together. We shared the same things in school. We shared the same thoughts, you know. We drank beer together," said Byer.

Howes friendly nature served him well in the Army, where he met Donn "Mixer" Wilimzek at flight school.

Wilimzek was from Hammond but had never met Howes. It quickly became clear they were kindred spirits.

"The more time we spent with each other the more we got to be friends," said Wilimzek.

The last time the two were together was in 1969 at the Pelican Nest, an officer's club, after landing in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.

Wilimzek was assigned to air cavalry, Howes was sent to Chu Lai.

It was March 1970 when he found out Howes last flight went down, said Wilimzek.

When he made it back to the states, Wilimzek sought out a woman who made missing-in-action bracelets.

She happened to be wearing one with Howes name and date he went missing. He asked her, if he could have it.

"She said, well you have to guarantee me that you'll wear it. And I said, that won't be a problem at all," said Wilimzek.

Wilimzek has worn that bracelet for the last 40 years, never giving up hope his friend would return.

This week's ceremonies have been bittersweet for Wilimzek.

"I'm glad to see that he's back. But I think in my heart, I'll always have an opening that says he will come back someday," said Wilimzek.

The homecoming procession Monday night, and the memorial service Tuesday night, has helped some in the community find closure to a painful chapter in the town's history.

Howes was the last missing Vietnam Soldier from Knox.

Friday, he will be laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Wilimzek will be allowed to place the bracelet he still wears into the coffin, before it is buried.

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