ST. LOUIS — Family and friends have gathered at a long overdue memorial service in St. Louis for a U.S. Army pilot who was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War.

About 80 people showed up Thursday at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery to give Reginald D. Cleve a memorial service with military honors. More are expected for another ceremony Saturday at the St. Francois County Courthouse, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .

“You are a special group,” his brother, Richard Cleve, told the 17 members of his brother’s unit who traveled for the service. “People who could come to honor 47 years to the day.”

Reginald Cleve, of Farmington, served in the 176th Assault Helicopter Company. He was initially listed as missing in action after his helicopter disappeared March 22, 1971, leaving false hope that he and three crew members survived. The government eventually ruled that everybody on board was killed.

The flight was part of a mission to support South Vietnamese soldiers being overrun on the ground in Laos, said Robert Fureigh, who was in a helicopter near Cleve’s at the time it disappeared.

The memorial service was organized by Chuck Pingel, the brother of Cleve’s widow Karen. Pingel has a framed stenciling of Cleve’s name from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington that he sees every day.

“I decided we need to do something more,” he said. “It was devastating to all of us.”

Three volleys of shots rang out Thursday from the honor guard, followed by taps. Then two Army Black Hawk helicopters flew by overhead.

“Everybody’s best friend was Reg,” Fureigh said. “That’s one of the reasons why you have so many people here today.”


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com