Tevlin: 60 years later, flyover fills void for family of lost Korean War pilot

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 28, 2012 - 11:22 PM

It has been 60 years since his plane went down over North Korea, diving steeply toward land about 30 miles from the demilitarized zone.

Mary Jo Loftus was only 5 years old at the time, but she can vividly recall a strange man coming to the door and talking to her mother, and soon after, her mother sobbing. Loftus' father, Maj. George Major, was missing in action and almost certainly dead.

On Tuesday, "Maj. Major" finally got his flyover at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

A couple of dozen family members, some who never knew Major, stood under slate-gray skies as the aircraft rumbled overhead. Though he had been gone for six decades, many of the family members had tears in their eyes.

Major was born in St. Paul in 1921 and entered the service in September 1942. He participated in World War II stateside by training pilots and was decorated in that war.

While serving in Korea in 1952, Major was in the third of a four-aircraft reconnaissance mission to North Korea on Jan. 3. Major's F9F-2 Panther was struck by aircraft fire, so he turned back. The other pilots followed and saw his fighter lose altitude, then hit the ground. They did not see him eject from the aircraft before it exploded.

The Marine Corps issued a presumptive finding of death on Dec. 18, 1953. The official record was changed to "killed in action/body not recovered." He was 30.

Major left his widow, Lucille Schilling, to care for five young children.

"It was very difficult," said Suzanne Schilling, a daughter. But they got by with help from her mother's family, and her mother eventually remarried.

Michael Major is the officer's oldest child and only remaining son. Even though he could have been exempted from service because of his status, he volunteered many years later to serve in Vietnam.

"I only vaguely remember him," said Michael. "I think I was 6. What I know about him comes mostly from family movies." Because Major was never buried, there was a void, said Loftus.

"When someone is missing in action, you don't do anything. We didn't know we could have this service," she said. "We didn't know we could have a [grave] marker so that we would have a place to [honor him]."

More than 83,000 Americans are missing in action since World War II. The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) actively seeks information about those lost during duty. They have the Major family's DNA on file, and in the unlikely event North Korea ever allows access, the DPMO has the coordinates of where Major's plane went down.

The family doesn't see that happening, but it was clear the service at Fort Snelling made an impact on the four Major children still alive: Mary Jo, Suzanne, Michael and Judy. The fifth child, Jeanne Garman, has died.

An honor guard from the U.S. Marine Corps gave a 21-gun salute, and two stolid Marines folded a flag and handed it to Loftus.

"This has been a long time coming," said Loftus. "We never forgot him, and never forgot he gave his life for his country. It does help, it brings a little closure."

Closure for the family, and honor for an American hero 60 years later.

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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