Remains of Phi Kap Fighter Pilot Laid To Rest After Fifty Years
by Gene Ney
Slippery Rock University, ‘90
It was on St. Patrick’s Day of 1969 that David Thomas Dinan, III (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ‘65) lost his life serving our country in the Vietnam war. A native of Nutley, New Jersey, David was born in January of 1944. He was educated and graduated from Seton Hall Prep in 1961. According to his brother Charles, who currently resides in McMurray, Pennsylvania, “he was both athletic and intelligent.” David excelled in science, and, following his graduation from Seton Hall Prep, he applied and was accepted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While at M.I.T., he majored in Physics.
As a young student at M.I.T., David attended a rush event at the Phi Kappa Theta chapter on his campus which was chartered in 1919. According to one of his brothers, Frank Russo ‘64, “Dave was a quiet, thoughtful, solid, sober, devout young Catholic man, perhaps more so than the rest of us.” An outstanding student, and a loyal brother, David graduated from M.I.T. and enlisted in the Air Force in 1966.
Just as he had excelled in school, athletics and the fraternity, David quickly rose within the ranks of the Air Force. He became a First Lieutenant and was awarded two medals. Those medals were the Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart for injuries he suffered serving our country. He was a member of the 34th Tactical Fighting Squadron.
On that very fateful day, March 17, 1969, David and another pilot were on a mission flying over northern Laos. His F-105 had been hit by an enemy attack, and he radioed in a distress message. To avoid a crash, he ejected himself from the plane with his parachute which landed in trees in a remote area. Unfortunately, the parachute tore on tree limbs and David tragically dropped to his death on the jungle floor. His plane subsequently crashed and burned.
A search and rescue team arrived, found the wreckage, the parachute and David’s remains, but had to evacuate given enemy fire. Unfortunately, neither David’s body, or any of the debris from the wreckage were ever recovered. As a man of 25, who was engaged to be married, this was an extremely tragic way to die. According to his brother Charles, “We anticipated his remains to be returned a week or two after he went down,” but that never happened.
Retired Col. Ed Sykes, one of David’s roommates at the Korat Royal Air Force Base in Thailand, and David’s biological brothers began lobbying for his remains to be located and returned for proper burial. Through their efforts and those of Leland Sorenson, who was a member of the original search and rescue mission who had identified the remains back in 1969, the group returned to Laos in March of 2014, 45 years after David’s plane crashed and burned. On the third day of their mission near Ban Khap in the Xiangkoang Province, they discovered David’s plastic identification card. In June of 2016, an excavating crew was sent to the area where they collected his remains which were positively identified on August 7, 2017.
David’s remains were flown from Laos to Hawaii, and then to Washington, D.C., where he was interred in Arlington National Cemetery on April 25th of this year. David was one of 600 Americans who disappeared or were lost during the Vietnam War in Laos. A total of 1,597 Americans are still unaccounted for from that war.
According to Frank Russo ’64, “When I heard that David had been killed over there, my initial reaction was of great sadness, that such a good and gentle soul, with so many gifts, should have been lost in such a place.” David now rests in peace at Arlington National Cemetery with many other Phi Kaps including our late President, John F. Kennedy.
Main Image: Above: The remains of U.S. Air Force pilot David T. Dinan III (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ‘65), of Nutley, killed in the Vietnam War, proceed through Arlington National Cemetery on April 25, 2018.