Nov. 18 in the Houston Chronicle

Cynthia Burke rubs the silver cross on her necklace between two fingers as she tries to identify feelings even she can’t quite grasp.

“According to the government, this case was closed in ’69, so I’m …” Burke pauses and throws her arms in the air. “Nervous? Anxious? I don’t really know.”

The 71-year-old turns to her daughter and asks, “Lauren, what is it I feel?”

“I think it’s overwhelming,” Lauren Branch, 49, answers, holding a length of toilet paper in her lap in case the tears come back.

More than four decades after Air Force Capt. Walter Burke’s spy plane was shot down over Laos and he was declared missing in action, his family has some answers and more questions. Eighteen years after one of his dog tags was recovered from a jungle crash site, it will finally be returned to his wife and children.

Waiting for the small afternoon ceremony, Burke sits in her living room Saturday morning with her daughter from Oklahoma City, who was only 4 when her father died.

“Part of being down here,” Branch pauses for a breath. “I didn’t think it would be this emotional.”

She wipes her eyes and continues, “Part of it is you never get closure.”

Burke looks at her daughter and says quietly, “Even the dog tags won’t bring closure.”

In the past two months, the family has learned more about the crash, and the subsequent bureaucratic missteps, than ever before.

Read the full story at

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