San D. Francisco

San D. Francisco was shot down while flying a reconnaissance-escort mission along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in North Vietnam on Nov. 25, 1968. His family is trying to retrieve his remains. 

San DeWayne Francisco, a Central Washington University graduate and former football player, was asked to take a reconnaissance-escort mission six days before he was scheduled to return from Vietnam in 1968.

The U.S. Air Force First lieutenant, who was assigned to the elite 555th Fighter Squadron in Thailand, didn’t hesitate even though he had already completed his required 100 missions. He was due to return to his then young wife, Kay, and 4-year-old son, Tod, on Dec. 1, 1968.

He was shot down while flying the mission along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in North Vietnam on Nov. 25, 1968.

Francisco was forced to eject his Phantom F-4D fighter jet, but his parachute did not deploy fully. Witnesses say he broke both of his legs when he landed.

As he was being taken into captivity by enemy forces, he was hit by a mortar from an American search and rescue mission.

Francisco was killed by friendly fire and was posthumously promoted to the rank of major. His plane was allegedly the 2,000th plane to have been shot down by the North Vietnamese during the war.

Francisco’s body was allegedly exhumed after burial for propaganda pictures for the Vietnamese press and then reburied. His remains still haven’t been recovered and his family is working against time to bring him home before it’s too late.

Bringing San home

Terri Francisco-Farrell, who is eight years younger than her brother San, has been searching for his remains since 1989, when her mother passed away and she took over the task. Her mother had been working on it since San went missing in 1968, and the family has file boxes of research on it.

“I was at a county fair in New York and was going through a veterans thing and came across a little booth,” Francisco-Farrell said. “I said the name and they said there were sightings of him. I said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. That’s my brother and he’s not alive.’ That was in 1987.”

Francisco is one of 40 unaccounted Washingtonians who have been reported missing from the Vietnam War, according to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office.

“We want to make it 39,” said Ellensburg resident Roger Gray, who is helping with Operation: Bring San Home, an effort to bring home the remains of Francisco.

Francisco grew up in Kennewick, graduated from Kennewick High School in 1962, and attended college at Central Washington State College from 1962 to 1966.

Gray went to Central Washington University in the 1960s with Francisco who wrestled and played football there. Francisco would be 70 years old this year.

A need for action

The Vietnamese government opened up the Quan Binh province for investigation and exploration of missing servicemen in June 2012, and eyewitnesses have said they know where Francisco’s alleged burial site is located. One Vietnamese witness drew a detailed map showing the location of the grave site. That witness is 82 years old, which should be a reason to take immediate action, Gray said.

“There’s not a lot of time,” Gray said. “If you lose those two guys, it’s not going to happen.”

A changing environment could also make retrieval difficult.

Gray said it will likely take at least a year before San is home. There has been a delay because retrieving remains is costly and time consuming. The hope is that it will happen through the U.S. Department of Defense, Gray said.

The government prioritizes retrievals based on a point system that shifts with time and politics. Francisco’s remains are not on the fiscal year 2014 retrieval schedule, but are likely to make it on the 2015 list, Gray said.

The local effort to bring Francisco home is gaining traction. A Bring a Hero Home rally and fundraiser is planned in Ellensburg on Oct. 18 at Kelleher Motor Co.

“There’s going to be a kickoff fundraising campaign that’s been set up for research on this issue,” Francisco-Farrell said.

Donations can be made at the event, at any Banner Bank location under the San D. Francisco Awareness Campaign fund or online at


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