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News Release

Press Release | Nov. 9, 2006

Air Force Pilot MIA From Vietnam War Is Identified (Scharf)

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. Air Force officer missing in action from the Vietnam War have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

He is Col. Charles J. Scharf of San Diego. His funeral is scheduled for Nov. 30 at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington D.C.

Col. Scharf and a fellow crew member took off in their F-4C Phantom IIs from Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand on October 1, 1965. Their mission was to attack an enemy concentration and a major highway in North Vietnam. After the lead aircraft developed problems en route, Scharf assumed the lead of the two other F-4s in the flight. After he completed two bombing runs, Scharf’s aircraft was hit by enemy fire. His radio transmission of “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” was heard by the other two aircraft. One radioed “Gator 3 (Scharf’s call sign), you’re on fire, you’d better get out! Bail out, Gator 3!” Scharf’s plane began to disintegrate and a parachute was seen leaving the aircraft.

The other two aircraft lost sight of the parachute, and circled the area for about 10 minutes where Scharf’s aircraft had crashed and burned but no radio or visual contact was made then nor in subsequent aerial search and rescue operations.

In January 1990, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) provided information to U.S. officials indicating two men were buried near their crash site, but that one had been washed away during flooding. Within a month, a joint U.S.-S.R.V. team, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), interviewed three witnesses to the crash and located scattered wreckage at the site. The 1992 excavation of that site yielded human remains, a dental prosthesis, numerous personal effects including the rank insignia of Scharf’s fellow crewman. A second joint excavation in 1993 recovered additional artifacts, but no remains.

A third excavation in 2004 recovered additional evidence including pilot-related lifesupport artifacts, a metal captain’s insignia (Scharf’s rank at the time) and a plastic denture tooth.

Among dental records and other forensic tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) also attempted to use mitochondrial DNA from a known maternal relative to establish the identification. However, the tests were inconclusive. From Scharf’s widow, they obtained a number of envelopes containing letters he had sent to her during the war. AFDIL specialists were able to extract mitochondrial DNA from the gummed adhesive on those envelopes, and JPAC was able to confirm the identification. JPAC’s detailed analysis of the debris and other evidence concluded that the parachute sighted was the F-4C’s drag parachute.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO web site at or call (703) 699-1169.