Identification of Vietnam War casualty from Walla Walla provides closures

In a photo taken earlier in his U.S. Air Force career, Capt. Larry Hanley poses beside a T-38 aircraft. A Walla Walla resident, Hanley was lost in action while flying over Laos on Nov. 4, 1969. His remains were recently identified and will be given a burial with full military honors in Walla Walla this summer. The photo was donated by Hanley’s mother to VFW Post 3377, located near Austin, Texas, after post members adopted Hanley to represent POWs and MIAs for all wars and all services.

In a photo taken earlier in his U.S. Air Force career, Capt. Larry Hanley poses beside a T-38 aircraft. A Walla Walla resident, Hanley was lost in action while flying over Laos on Nov. 4, 1969. His remains were recently identified and will be given a burial with full military honors in Walla Walla this summer. The photo was donated by Hanley’s mother to VFW Post 3377, located near Austin, Texas, after post members adopted Hanley to represent POWs and MIAs for all wars and all services. Courtesy photo

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WALLA WALLA — More than 43 years ago, then U.S. Air Force Capt. Larry Hanley was shot down over Khammouan Province, Laos.

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In a photo taken earlier in his U.S. Air Force career, Capt. Larry Hanley poses beside a T-38 aircraft. A Walla Walla resident, Hanley was lost in action while flying over Laos on Nov. 4, 1969. His remains were recently identified and will be given a burial with full military honors in Walla Walla this summer. The photo was donated by Hanley’s mother to VFW Post 3377, located near Austin, Texas, after post members adopted Hanley to represent POWs and MIAs for all wars and all services.

Raised in Walla Walla, Hanley’s body was never found, leaving his family and many others touched by his passing without any closure. Until now.

The Department of Defense’s Prisoner of War-Missing Personnel Office announced recently that Hanley’s remains have been positively identified. He will be buried with full military honors this summer in Walla Walla.

The news has brought both grief and gladness to Hanley’s sisters, JoAnn Aliverti of Walla Walla and Darlene Allen of Kirkland, Wash. It was equally bittersweet for at least two others who have worn Hanley’s name on their wrists for the past four decades.

One is Kevin Brown of Lawrenceville, N.J., and the second is Bill Reesman of Austin, Texas. Both have POW/MIA bracelets bearing Hanley’s name and the date he went missing in action.

Brown discovered the news about Hanley, posthumously promoted to major in 1978, being identified on the Defense Department’s POW/MIA website. It prompted him to email the Union-Bulletin last week asking for help in finding any family members in Walla Walla. Brown said his hope is to send the bracelet bearing Hanley’s name to the family.

“My oldest sister, in 1970 or 1971, had given all of us siblings a POW/MIA bracelet that year,” Brown said in a phone interview. His was one of six bracelets worn by his brothers and sisters and “everybody’s POW came home except mine.”

“All I want to do is return it and let the family know someone was thinking about them,” he said.

Brown’s request was taken up by U.S. Navy veteran, AMVET member and Walla Walla City Council member Jerry Cummins, who began hunting for Hanley’s family members soon after being contacted by a reporter. Cummins quickly found success, relaying Aliverti’s name back to a reporter who, in turn, contacted her with the news about Brown’s email.

Aliverti said news that her brother’s remains had been identified after all these years was causing the same mix of emotions. While she and her sister Darlene were “very, very happy this happened,” the news is also tinged with sadness.

“My work for it is bittersweet,” she said.

Aliverti said she has also spoken with Brown and he will be returning the bracelet to the family.

Reesman’s connection with Hanley came by way of his wife, who initially obtained the bracelet with Hanley’s name in 1970 for Reesman’s grandmother. When she died in the later 1970s, the bracelet was kept by his mother, and when his parents died several years later, Reesman began wearing it.

“Actually I have two (bracelets),” he said by phone from his home in Austin. There was the original brass bracelet dating from 1970 and a newer, stainless-steel one that he wears now. “The other one tended to turn my skin green,” he said.

When his wife obtained the original bracelet, Reesman was in the Air Force serving in Vietnam as a jet engine mechanic. When he retired, he became a member of VFW Post 3377 in Manchaca, Texas, near Austin.

In the late 1990s, Reesman made several annual postings to a POW/MIA network website, which led to him being contacted by a nephew of Hanley. This led to him eventually coming into contact with other members of Hanley’s family, including Darlene.

As a result, in 2003 Reesman’s VFW post decided to create a POW/MIA Honor Wall, and the post membership voted to adopt Hanley to represent all POWs/MIAs from all wars. The wall was formally dedicated in September of that year with Darlene and her husband Greer in attendance.

Reesman said another aspect of the dedication was the photo of Hanley donated by his mother. The image showed the young officer posed beside a T-38 jet he trained on while at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas.

“The most significant thing was that I had worn the bracelet for years and had no idea what Larry looked like,” Reesman said. “Now I had a face. Now I had a person I could relate to. It was pretty overwhelming.”

This year will be the 10th anniversary of the post’s POW/MIA wall and Reesman said a rededication is planned. The post has voted to keep Hanley as its personal representative for all POWs/MIAs in all wars in all services.

But one change will be made to the inscription below his picture, which now reads “Major Larry James Hanley is one who has yet to come home.”

The dedication will now reflect “that he did come home, and he is a success story in that we did not give up. He did come home.”

“It’s a two-bladed sword kind of thing,” Reesman said about the identification of Hanley and other missing servicemen. “You have a happy side, the family is having closure. But then again, you look back and say, ‘Oh dear, somebody’s not coming back alive.’”

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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