In November 1952, Staff Sergeant Robert Dale Van Fossen of the Army National Guard and 51 others from all four military branches boarded a Douglas C-124A-DL Globemaster II aircraft and took off from McChord Air Base in Tacoma, Washington to Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage, Alaska. In the midst of the flight, the plane disappeared in bad weather near Middleton Island, in the Gulf of Alaska.
Eight days after the plane's disappearance, part of the wreckage was located 50 miles east of Anchorage on the southern end of Mount Gannett in the Chugach Mountains. Unfortunately, a week into the search, the recovery team was called off due to the difficult weather conditions. The families of the victims were notified they would not have any remains to bury by The Department of Defense.
Staff Sergeant Van Fossen and his two sisters, Wilma Jean and Linda Lee, grew up in the Greenbrier area. After he graduated from Greenbrier High School, he joined the Arkansas National Guard Company G, 153rd Infantry unit in Conway in 1947.
Van Fossen’s parents, Linza and Ruby, held a memorial service for their son in Greenbrier at the Macedonia Baptist Church. Though it seemed all hope was lost, this didn’t stop the Van Fossen family from attempting to find out what happened to their beloved Robert.
For many years, family members made efforts to learn more about the crash that occurred in 1952 in hopes to one day find something that once belonged to Van Fossen. His sister, Wilma Jean, was very close to her brother and loved to share stories about him with her son, Kevin Caid, a Heber Springs native. As Caid got older, these stories would inspire him to continue the search for his long lost uncle.
“Ironically, my first time I ever used the google search engine I searched his name” said Sergeant Van Fossen’s nephew, Kevin Caid.
After some time, Caid was able to retrieve a copy of the accident report from the plane crash in 1952. As a surprise for his mother, Caid gave a copy of the report for Christmas one year.
“I was in awe of her response to the report because they were so close,” Caid continued.
From there, he began reaching out to as many people as possible to gather as much information as he could regarding his late uncle.
In June 2012, while on a training mission, a Black Hawk Army National Guard unit discovered wreckage only 12 miles away from the original crash site of the C-124. After closer inspection of the spot, it was determined it was indeed the missing plane from 1952.
Though, Van Fossen’s parents had passed away years prior, his siblings, Wilma Jean and Linda Lee, were ecstatic to hear the news. Unfortunately, in September 2012, Wilma Jean Caid passed away.
In 2013, Caid chartered a helicopter and flew over the debris field and crash site in Alaska. While there, he had the opportunity to visit with the base historian and look over the debris that had been collected from the sites.
2014 was a big year for the surviving members Van Fossen’s family because research teams discovered 17 service members had been recovered and identified. Caid and other family members were asked to give the United States Air Force DNA samples to compare with the remains they had recently recovered. This was one major step in finding Van Fossen. In that same year, Van Fossen’s dog tags were discovered. They were sent to both Caid and his aunt, Van Fossen’s sister, Linda Lee.
Finally, in March 2016, Staff Sergeant Robert Dale Van Fossen’s remains were confirmed found in Alaska. Along with the news of his remains being found, the family was informed that he would be returning home.
After years of researching, Caid’s journey to discover more about his uncle led him to build a solid relationship with the United States Air Force, even meeting an individual who was involved with the original search and rescue team in 1952. Caid said he was grateful to be able to lay his uncle to rest.
“I’m the receipt of a lot of other people’s hard work” said Kevin Caid.
Staff Sergeant Robert Dale Van Fossen will be returning home to be placed next to his sister, Wilma Jean Caid, at the Cleburne County Memorial Gardens on May 27 at 10:30 a.m.
“I’m happy to see my uncle get the recognition he deserves” said Caid.