Dozens of friends, family and community members turned out Saturday morning to pay their respects to Warrant Officer Reginald David Cleve on the 47th anniversary of his helicopter being shot down in Laos.
The ceremony was held on the steps of the St. Francois County Courthouse in downtown Farmington, with the crowd filling the southern courthouse lawn. A photograph of Cleve, a Farmington native, was displayed over a memorial stone placed near the southern courthouse steps in his honor.
Cleve was born Aug. 2, 1947, to parents Carl and Nell Cleve and grew up on a farm near Farmington. He attended school in Farmington and was a member of the Farmington Methodist Church. He was married to Karen Pingel, daughter of Ralph and Hallie Pingel.
While pursuing a degree in engineering at the University of Missouri in Rolla, Cleve volunteered to join the Army. He was a member of the 176th Aviation Company, 14th Battalion, 10th Aviation Group, 23rd Infantry Division.
When Cleve and his crew were shot down, they were on a resupply mission to the Savannakhet province in Laos. Because of the heavy concentration of enemy troops in the area, there was no search and rescue attempt for the crew. Their official status is “killed in action-bodies not recovered, MIA.”
Farmington VFW Post #5896 Commander Dwain Asberry began Saturday’s ceremony by welcoming those in attendance and giving a brief outline of the morning’s events. After an opening prayer, Asberry introduced Sergeant First Class Bud Davis (Ret.), who described the details of Cleve’s last mission.
VFW District POW/MIA Chairman Joe Cerchi next explained the significance of the POW/MIA Missing Man Table, which was on display beside the podium.
With help from a member of the Farmington High School JROTC, Cerchi explained the symbolic meaning of each item on the table, which each serve to remind those who see the table of those who are prisoners of war or missing in action.
A firing squad performed a salute to Cleve and the ceremony was closed with an Air Evac helicopter circling high over the courthouse.
Asberry said while the ceremony itself was important, the previous day held a special opportunity for old friends to see each other once again.
“Yesterday (Friday) was so amazing,” he said. “The Cleve and Pingel families had a small reception down at the VFW. The people that flew with Reginald came from all over—California, Washington, Oregon. They either flew with him or flew beside him. It was just amazing to talk to such a group of people.”
While the ceremony was all in memory of Reginald, Asberry said the occasion presented brothers-in-arms and family members a rare opportunity to hold a reunion of sorts, nearly 50 years after Cleve was declared missing in action.
Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.