Going forward in time doesn’t always obscure the past or ultimately doesn’t do the right thing. They are often intertwined. It was long overdue. The family of the late John C. “Cork” Jennings would certainly agree.
It was March 16, 1962, and Jennings was part of a secret military mission that went missing. Flying Tiger Line Flight 739 crashed somewhere between Agara Naval Base in Guam and Clark Air Base in the Philippines. There was no debris. Very little is known about what happened to the plane and its passengers. It was only recently – nearly six decades after the death of this soldier plane – that a commemorative honor was bestowed, yes, a long time ago to come.
The flight departed from Travis Air Force Base in California. To Saigon, the plane was carrying 96 soldiers, all but three of whom were military electronics and communications specialists. The other three were Vietnamese nationals. There were 11 civilian crew members.
The Lockheed Super Constellation had flown from California to Honolulu to Wake Island and then to Guam. According to a report, some minor engine maintenance had been performed in Hawaii and Wake Island. But nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary.
Then came that fateful moment. Although the sailors of a super tanker, the S / S / TL Lenzen saw an explosion in the air and saw two flaming objects fall into the sea, not a single piece of Flight 739 was even recovered. Even after an extensive naval search of some 144,000 square miles.
So the mystery remains to this day. What exactly happened? And, by extension, why were those lost never formally honored by our government? The plane disappeared from the sky and disappeared into history. But not from the minds and hearts of family members.
This would include local residents Donald Jennings. her daughter Mary Jennings Thorn and her husband, Ken. Mary and Ken were among those gathered on May 15 in Columbia Falls, Maine. It is the headquarters of Wreaths Across America (WAA). This wonderful non-profit organization is dedicated to service and sacrifice. A monument was unveiled for family and friends containing the names of those on board Tiger Line flight 739. It was the first time many of these families had come together to share stories and experiences arising from that fateful day.
The new monument – made entirely of granite, measuring 8 feet wide, 9.5 feet high, and 4 feet deep at its base – displays the engraving of each of the 93 Army soldiers on board, along with the names of the 11 crew members. members, many of whom were veterans themselves. The inscription on the stone says:
“The land where this monument was erected was donated by WAA founder Morrill Worcester and is located on Balsam Point where brush is harvested annually to make veterans wreaths to place on gravestones. of our nation’s heroes on National Crowns Across America Day. “
“When I heard the story of this mission for the first time, I was shocked to learn that nothing had been done for these families”, Worcester said in a press release. “I said that day that we would do something to make sure these people are honored and these people are remembered, and hopefully put an end to these families.”
The mission of Wreaths Across America is to remember the dead, honor those who served and their families, and teach the next generation the value of freedom. The ceremony touched on all aspects of this, as the names of each person aboard Flying Tiger Line flight 739 were spoken aloud. Their names and history have been set in stone so that future generations can learn more about their service and sacrifice.
But due to the circumstances surrounding this mission, the names of those lost have not yet been added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC.
Also, according to a niece of “Corky”, Mary Jennings Thorn, in the late 1990s her name was added to the WV Memorial Wall in Charleston, but was later removed by Department of Defense leadership who still refuse to give a reason why her name was took of.
The ceremony in Maine was greeted and enjoyed by family and friends of the missing. But as Mary – a veteran herself – revealed, there is still a long way to go.
“It was very informative” she said. “We discovered more things that we didn’t know. It was a great experience. But a lot of people thought that when they went to the ceremony there would be a fence. There were none. It’s the start of a campaign to bring them to the Vietnam Memorial Wall. “
Her first birthday came a few days later “Cork” faded away. Although she never knew her uncle, the pursuit of preserving her memory and recognizing her service has become a generational quest.
“My parents, my grandmother never had any explanations (about the disappearance of flight 739)”, said Marie. “Many people have made Freedom of Information. But everything is redacted.
Those of us of a certain age should be able to remember seeing those black and white news clips of released prisoners of war returning home to families shown in the Vietnam era. Mary said her grandmother would sit and watch the TV news, hoping she “Cork” would somehow seem safe and sound. She passed away about eight years ago with a hollow in her heart, never knowing what happened to her son. His father had died young at the age of 57. By the way, “Cork” was a carrier of The Review throughout high school until he left to serve.
So, just as there is a lot of unknowns about Flight 739, another mystery is exactly why the lost have yet to be honored with the placement of names on this iconic memorial wall in Washington, DC.
“After their fall, there was no more debris” said Marie. “After ten days, they were pronounced dead. Don’t miss it in action. They were just dead.
Mary pointed out that at one point the criteria for the names placed on the wall were those of those who were fighting directly in Vietnam. But this was later changed to include those related to the Vietnam cause. An example would be the ex-servicemen who served in Vietnam years later because of the lingering effects of Agent Orange.
This therefore intensifies the mystery surrounding the names of Flight 739 which are not inscribed on the memorial. Or even an explanation offered to family members to date.
“In Maine, we met family members and learned from some of those families that they (on board) were all Army Rangers and this was a special mission,” Marie bound.
She learned that there were two thefts. Flight 739 went south and the other north to Alaska. He also went down. There were apparently two survivors but no knowledge is available. As with flight 739, there is no explanation for the other plane that crashed.
Hope is the display of the Wreaths Across America ceremony through various media, including CNN who provided, will help an unshakeable movement to get the names of Flight 739 on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington DC
Mary graduated from Oak Glen High School before serving in the US Navy from 1984 to 1989. She graduated from West Liberty University and is now retired after serving in the Social Security Administration. Her husband, Ken, is a retired Chester Police Chief.
Brothers and sisters of “Cork”include Marilyn Adams of Newell, David Jennings of Maryland and Donald Jennings of Chester – Mary’s father. Another sister, Janice Harris, who lived in Flatwoods, WV has passed away.
“Cork” was nicknamed by his late uncle and namesake Charles Jennings.
Video of the May 15 ceremony is available on the official Wreaths Across America Facebook page.