Air Force Maj. Louis Guillermin comes home from Vietnam

This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website, The Times Herald‘s website, the The Kennett Paper‘s website and the Avon Grove Sun‘s website.
A photograph of Air Force Maj. Louis Guillermin is beside his casket at the Edward Collins Funeral Home in Oxford Friday afternoon. (Candice Monhollan)

A photograph of Air Force Maj. Louis Guillermin is beside his casket at the Edward Collins Funeral Home in Oxford Friday afternoon. (Candice Monhollan)

OXFORD — Standing just outside the Edward Collins Funeral Home, Donna Stoyko can still recall the first time she met Louis Guillermin 47 years ago.

“He had walked my roommate home from a party that was held in one of his friends’ apartment,” Stoyko said. I walked in our front door and saw this man standing in our living room. My roommate was in the bathroom throwing up.”

She smiled as the memories all came flooding back to her about her late husband on this emotional day Friday afternoon. That morning, Guillermin’s remains were flown to Philadelphia then carried in a motorcade to Oxford. It was 45 years after he was killed in Vietnam.

… [Please continue the story on the Daily Local News website by clicking here.]

Major Guillermin, a native of West Chester, was a member of the 609th Air Tactical Control Squadron of the U.S. Air Force. He was serving his second tour when his plane was shot down on April 28, 1968, just a few weeks shy of his first wedding anniversary.

“He was on the Ho Chi Minh Trail,” said Bud McCullough, a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America who helped organize the return. “He was in a two-engine aircraft and he would fly at night — 10:30 or 2:30 at night, different times. He was only 25.”

Guillermin was a navigator on an A-26, a converted World War II bomber. The others flying in formation saw his plane take a hit. He was immediately listed as missing in action by the Air Force.

“It is like getting hit in the stomach with a very strong blow,” Stoyko said. “You’re speechless, you hurt and your heart feels like an eggshell that wants to crack. Then you’re numb. There’s a big, huge wave of denial that surrounds you.”

Though he was listed as missing in action, Stoyko said she didn’t anticipate the return of her husband because of the news she received from his comrades.

“We knew there were no parachutes sighted (and) the fire was horrendous,” she said. “His group that he flew with were really good about sending people back home to talk to me. I was able to meet with three different people who basically said (he’s) not coming back.”

Despite this, Guillermin’s whereabouts and whether he was alive or not was never confirmed. It was roughly 20 years ago when his plane was found, but even then, no one was positive that he had been killed.

Within 15 kilometers of where his plane went down, there were 20 other crashes as well. No evidence was found other than some bone fragments which were too charred to retrieve any DNA from, said Stoyko.

On top of that, there were still unexploded ordnance which had to be taken care of before any search for other remains could begin.

“At that time, the man at the Air Force told me that probably within six months, there would be a funeral,” said Chester Hawkins, Guillermin’s second cousin. “Well, here we are 20 years later.”

Once they could begin excavation, larger bones were found along with Guillermin’s dog tags. Nothing was ever found of the pilot, Robert Pietsch.

The remains were taken to a lab in Hawaii where a test was performed using mitochondrial DNA from the bones and samples from Hawkins and his sister, Cora Sparling.

Now, after all these years, can finally be laid to rest in his home soil.

When the news first broke to Hawkins, he contacted the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter in Chester County – appropriately named the Major Louis Guillermin Memorial Chapter.

“(The chapter) wanted a namesake of somebody who was missing in action and he was the only person in Chester County who was MIA at the time,” McCullough said. “He was the first MIA that I even know of for this county.”

In all the years since, Stoyko found ways to cope with her grief and eventually moved on with her life. She remarried and now lives in Washington. When she heard the news, arrangements were made for her to be in attendance for the funeral.

Guillermin will be interred Saturday at the Glenwood Memorial Cemetery in Broomall, next to his parents.

“He’ll always be there,” Stoyko said. “You don’t have a hole in your heart. You just have a space that’s empty. It’s like a puzzle piece missing. It will always be there. For me, it’s like closing a chapter that’s been ongoing for 45 years. Now it can be closed. The rest of my life goes on.”


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Categories: Community, Military

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