After 47 years, West Sac pilot to be buried with full military honors

05/08/2013 12:00 AM

05/08/2013 8:22 AM

The remains of West Sacramento's Richard L. Laws, who died April 3, 1966, when the naval fighter pilot's aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed in North Vietnam, will be buried Friday.

Laws will be buried with full military honors in Annapolis, Md.

Laws, 26, was strafing enemy targets in Thanh Hoa province when his aircraft was hit by ground fire. His mission commander witnessed Laws' aircraft crashing into a nearby hillside and exploding.

Laws was declared killed in action and a memorial service a few days after the crash was held at Miramar Naval Air Station Chapel near San Diego.

From 1994 to 2003, different joint teams of Vietnamese and Americans conducted interviews and excavations at the crash site. The teams recovered human remains, aircraft wreckage and personal effects.

However, the remains could not be tied to Laws, given the technology of the time.

In 2006, another joint team returned to the site and recovered additional human remains, wreckage and personal effects.

This time, the remains were identified as those belonging to Laws, thanks to a DNA match with his mother.

His widow, Karen Laws Engelke, who once made a pilgrimage to her first husband's crash site, spoke about the importance of the upcoming services and recalled her late husband in a story in The Bee in February.

She described him as a serious man with a dry sense of humor. Thin, athletic and bright, he ran cross country in high school.

He always wanted to fly and could fix any car. Laws graduated high in his academy class.

When he died, Laws was on his second tour of duty, with Attack Squadron 24 on board the USS Hancock. Engelke remembered her husband had grown weary of war.

"Dick was a very tired young man," she said. "He had to buck up every single day to get into that plane to take off."

He wanted to be home, she said. His plane had never been hit before the fatal event, but several in his squadron had sustained damage.

"I was worried every day," she said.

Call The Bee's Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079. Follow him on Twitter @Lindelofnews.

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