GRACE, JAMES WILLIAM
Name: James William Grace
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 20 December 1939
Home City of Record: New Iberia LA
Date of Loss: 14 June 1969
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 164300N 1060000E (XD105644)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Other Personnel In Incident: First Lieutenant Wayne J. Karas,
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1990 from one or more of
the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence
with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews.
Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2020.
SYNOPSIS: Air Force Capt. James W. Grace was the pilot of an F4D Phantom
fighter/bomber. The aircraft was one of the most advanced of its kind for
the time. Its computers controlled navigation and enabled precise television
and laser-guided bombing. Its speed topped Mach 2. Many pilots envied
Jim Grace once told a friend that if he were ever shot down, captured and
held for several years, he would start a new life rather than disrupt his
family if he learned his wife had remarried.
Shortly afterward, on June 14, 1969, Grace was flying a mission over Laos
when his plane went down about 10 miles west of Muang Xepone (Sepone), Laos.
His backseater, who would have been the first to eject, is not missing, so
it is assumed he was rescued safely.
Government documents show Grace's "last known location" in Laos 40 miles
away from the spot where he was shot down and where colleagues tried to
rescue him, an attempt the government says killed Capt. Grace when he fell
from the helicopter hoist lifting him out of the jungle. When pressed, the
Pentagon reinterpreted its geographical data to bring Capt. Grace back to a
latitude and longitude closer to the crash site.
Throughout the early years Jim was missing, his wife, Lillian, sifted
through government statements about her husband, attempting to sort out what
happened and what the chances were that he survived. One document says "the
possibility definitely exists that he could be alive," an assessment made
after witnesses claimed to have seen Capt. Grace fall 300 feet to 500 feet
from the helicopter hoist.
Someone must have agreed with that assessment, because Capt. Grace, who had
been classified Missing in Action (rather than Killed/Body Not Recovered),
wasn't declared dead for seven years.
Three years after he was shot down, Mrs. Bickel discovered "Photograph No.
77" in a government "mug book" of unidentified Americans held captive in
North Vietnam or Laos. She thought the man in the photograph was her
husband. The photo had been taken in North Vietnam by a Soviet film crew.
The US government gently replied that three other families claimed the man
in the photograph was their relative and that no positive identification
could be made. Mrs. Bickel didn't agree and found two witnesses who also
said the man in the photo was James Grace. She believed the photographs
proved that her husband had been taken prsoner. The Pentagon denied her
But the paper trail doesn't end there. An Air Force form dated November 1,
1972, shows that Capt. Grace's medical and personnel records were ordered
transmitted to Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi in anticipation of his
eventual return. This document lists him as a "repatriated MIA." Air Force
officials claim to have prepared more than 1,000 such documents for
returning MIAs and POWs. If so, the preparation of those forms may indicate,
as Mrs. Bickel says, that the government fully expected those men, including
Capt. Grace, to return. Jim Grace did not return in the general prisoner
release in 1973. In fact, even though the Pathet Lao stated publicly that
they held "tens of tens" of American prisoners, not one of these men were
released -- or negotiated for.
Lillian Grace, after many years of hard work and disappointment in trying to
solve the mystery of her husband's disappearance, remarried and started a
Then on June 14, 1982, Lillian Grace Bickel received a postcard from Hawaii.
It was blank except for the postmark, the typewritten address and the
inscription referring to the photograph on the front: "After years of
dormancy, the volcano Mauna Loa comes to life."
When Mrs. Bickel turned the card over, she "started shaking and went into
shock. In the blue sky over the volcano, someone had printed the tiny
initials "JMJ." Lillian and Jim, who were childhood sweethearts, used to
write the letters "JMJ" on test papers for good luck. JMJ stood for Jesus,
Mary and Joseph. Lillian stopped the practice after the eighth grade, but
not Jim. The three letters "were of such a personalized nature that only I
would have recognized the significance," Lillian said. She believes Grace,
either himself or through an intermediary, was telling her he was alive. The
card postmarked on the 13th anniversary of Jim Grace's shootdown.
Lillian Bickel, although remarried, never gave up the search for her first
husband. She says, "If he's alive, I want to make contact with him. He has
two very fine children" and "it would make their lives complete" if they
could meet their father.
In early 1990, Lillian Bickel sought action through a new congressional
inquiry initiated by North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms. The old photos she
believed were Jim Grace were given to a noted Colorado forensic
anthropologist, Dr. Michael Charney, for comparison with other photographs
Dr. Charney not only said the man in photo No. 77 is James Grace, but also
states that the man could not have been any of the men the other three
families claimed he was. Charney pointed to Capt. Grace's receding hairline,
a characteristic of male-pattern baldness. Other witnesses recognized Capt.
Grace's hairline, posture, the shape of his nose and his flight-suit sleeves
-- pushed up on his forearms, a Jim Grace trademark.
Confronted with these witnesses, the Defense Intelligence Agency changed the
date on which the photograph was said to have been taken. DIA's story is
that the man in the photograph couldn't be Capt. Grace because the photo was
lifted from a communist propaganda film made before he was shot down, then
given to the Defense Intelligence Agency six weeks later, after Capt. Grace
went down. If so, why didn't the government officials know this when they
obtained the film nearly 20 years ago? Why was the film dated incorrectly
in the DIA's "mug book"?
Today, contrary to witness reports that state Grace could have survived,
Government officials insist that Capt. Grace was killed in the rescue
attempt. "I can get you up in a helicopter to 300 feet and let you step
out," one Defense Department official confidently says. Mrs. Bickel
concludes that the man on the hoist may not have been her husband.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Bickel's frustrating case is not isolated or unusual.
Many other POW/MIA cases have much in common: documents and eyewitness
accounts that reveal information about missing servicemen the government has
been keeping from family members. Although a government commission chaired
by former DIA chief Lt.Gen. Eugene Tighe reported in 1986 that a large
volume of evidence points to the likelihood that Americans are being held
against their will in Vietnam, the Pentagon so far seems to have been
mightily unimpressed by such people as Mrs. Bickel.
The fate of Capt. James Grace may never be known, but the nagging question
remains: What happened? And if Lillian Bickel's questions are hopelessly
naive or out of line, why can't she get straight answers to them? And if men
are alive, why are we not bringing them home?
BY MARY CATHARINE MARTIN
Forty years after New Iberia native and Air Force pilot James W. Grace was shot down over a jungle in Laos, the mystery surrounding his disappearance remains.....
Date: Mon, 25 Jan 2010 20:52:56 EST
Subject: My response to DPMO.
I decided that I needed to respond to DPMO's analysis of the two documents I sent them as evidence for a status change from MIA to POW before Jim's KIA/BNR date. It's obvious to me that they either employ imbeciles, want to hide something, or just don't give a rat's ass -- or possibly all three! What a tragedy that this country would ask it's soldiers to put their life on the line knowing that it can chose to leave them behind and then lie about it.