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American Fork Marine captain shot down in combat finally laid to rest after 51 years

Posted at 10:34 PM, Nov 11, 2023

AMERICAN FORK, Utah — It took 51 years after he was shot down over Vietnam, but Marine Captain Jim Chipman of American Fork was finally laid to rest on Saturday.

Wreckage of his airplane was found in recent years, but it wasn't until August of this year that his remains were positively identified.

For his family, it's been an emotional time.

"We're just so happy and so much celebrating the fact that we do have part of him that we can have here in a cemetery and, and honor him. But the end result is he's still not here," said his widow, Susan Richards.

Captain Chipman had been on a night combat mission over North Vietnam, two days after Christmas, when he entered a target area and was never heard from again.

It would take several days before word got back to his young wife and two sons.

Richards recalls that, "I opened the door and there was a Marine and uniform and my bishop."

"And so I first said, it's so great to see a Marine in uniform, and then it hit me what I was seeing. I was always the kind that just thought, nothing like this would ever happen. You know, everything's gonna be all right. And, and he's going to come home. But that isn't the way it turned out."

His son Scot recalls shoveling snow the day the terrible news arrived, but at just four years old, he didn't really comprehend what was happening.

For decades, the search for their husband and father languished, but at the prodding of the daughter of Captain Chipman's navigator, Ron Forrester, search teams returned to Vietnam to excavate for his remains.

It's a task they consider to be humbling.

Most people in American Fork never knew Captain Chipman, and the Vietnam War is a distant memory, but his return home on Saturday was not lost to them.

"We're here to celebrate Jim because he fought for us. He did lots of things for us. And he died for us," said family member Michael Gutierrez.

It's a sentiment many shared.

"I'm grateful for the unity that I feel. It's a great gathering of coming together as a community to honor somebody who gave everything for our country for us," said Kim Gerke, another family member of Captain Chipman.

U.S. Representative John Curtis called the ceremony at the American Fork cemetery "a very sacred and special experience for not just the family but the entire community."

It was an emotional and poignant gathering on Veterans Day, and the closing of a painful chapter for the family of Captain Chipman.

But thousands of people who lost family members in Vietnam are still waiting for their loved ones to be returned home.