El Reno family celebrates return of long-lost husband, father
Lt. Col. Clarence Blanton, killed in Laos during a mountaintop siege in 1968, will be buried with full military honors in El Reno on Saturday. Blanton is only the second of 11 men who died at the battle on Lima Site 85 to be returned for proper burial.
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A Lockheed Martin company official told her that her husband was missing in action; it would be several months before she would realize he was dead.
Even then, without official confirmation, she was tempted to keep hope alive.
Norma Blanton never stopped working alongside other wives of servicemen missing or killed in action, lobbying U.S. Congress and the Department of Defense to acknowledge the truth about their husbands' deaths and to account for them in their memorials for the dead.
She currently volunteers as Arkansas state coordinator for the National League of POW/MIA Families.
Today, 575 American servicemen remain missing in Laos, according to U.S. Department of Defense Prisoner of War, Missing Personnel Office in Washington, D.C. A total of 1,661 remain missing across Southeast Asia, according to the office.
In 2005, a Laotian citizen turned over an identification card bearing Blanton's name along with bones purportedly found at the base of the mountain, the department announced Monday.
Circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools — including mitochondrial DNA which matched that of Blanton's sister — convinced scientists the remains belong to Blanton.
Norma Blanton said when the officer brought the ID to her last December, he told her they could not prove the remains were those of her husband.
She begged him to try again to match the recovered bone fragments to the family DNA. After a second attempt the suspicions were verified.
“I said, ‘Could we maybe try again?' And he went back and he happened to be in a room with a scientist and two other people from the laboratory in Hawaii,” she said. “He said, ‘Can you help her out, can you give this a try?' And it worked. I didn't think it would work, but I needed to rule it out.”
On Thursday, while Blanton drove from Arkansas to El Reno to prepare for the weekend services, Daughety — her stepdaughter, 21 at the time of her father's death — received the urn at the Oklahoma City airport.
Karen Daughety said burying her father's remains will bring closure.
For years the shroud of secrecy over her father's death at Lima Site 85 prevented her from fully accepting his death. Now, she said, she can move on.
“Sit and wait, sit and wait — 44 years, sit and wait,” she said. “The first couple years I had a little hope, mainly because of his rank. But the older I got, the wiser I got. It's been such a long, slow process and we were informed like a month ago and now everything is so fast, it's really hard to tell what your emotions are.”
Her daughter, Lauri Bone, said the event closes a chapter of her life as well. Though she never knew her grandfather, he has maintained a heavy presence in the daily lives of her family.
Lt. Col. Blanton is the second of 11 to be returned home, she said, but hopefully he's not the last.
“We'll continue hoping and praying for all the other families — that they will at some point have the closure that we have, that we're going through right now,” she said.
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