POW & MIA Vietnam Pilot With Valley Ties Is Honored
By Erik Rosales
MADERA RANCHOS, CA — For more than 47 years, a Madera Rancho brother and sister have waited for their father to come home. On May 15, 1966, Capt. Ralph Balcom's plane took off and was about 10 miles southwest of Dong Hoi, Vietnam. Then a few minutes later, radio contact was lost. The family says records show he was shot down about 20 miles north over enemy territory. Although the valley siblings have long since accepted that their father is likely, no longer alive. They want to bring him home. During the time Balcom was missing in action, the Captain was promoted to the rank of Colonel. Chris Balcom is the Colonel's son. Chris says not a day goes by he doesn't think about his dad. Chris has tattooed a 'POW' bracelet to remember and honor his father on his wrist. On the other side of his wrist is his dad's 'Purple Heart'. Chris says, "He left the day after my 3rd birthday. I have no memories of him at all, unfortunately." But the squadron his father faithfully served in never forgets the sacrifices made by its members. So, when the current 421st Fighter Squadron Commander Lt. Col. David Shoemaker heard the fallen hero's grand-son would be stationed in Korea with them, they got together. During the visit, 21-Year-Old Marine Corp Corporal Jake Balcom got a comprehensive tour of the 421st operations. Jake was shown several aircraft including the U2, A-10 and F-16. Chris says, "He had a really nice two dinners with the squadron. Then they all toasted my dad. Jake couldn't believe it was all happening to him. It was really special to Jake and us." The Balcom's say they are grateful. However, the Balcom's next mission to get the wheels moving on retrieving the remains of their father. Tracy Kline is Col. Ralph Balcom's daughter. Kline says, "To have leads and then more leads and then we know where he is. We need to go and get him. But then it doesn't happen. That is almost as hard as not knowing at all." Chris says, "We remember him. We just need some action. We've been waiting a long time." The family says advancements in technology has allowed the U.S. government to know an exact location of where his father's plane went down. The family wants the governments of Laos and Vietnam to allow access to recovery teams inside the country, so they can finally bring him home. The Balcoms say when they hear of a casualty lost or missing in action, in the War on Terrorism such as in Iraq or Afghanistan, it's not just another number. They say for each one, there is a family that is suffering. It's not just the solider who is affected.
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