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Nov 4, 2013 10:52 AM by Danielle Lerner

Remembering our Lost Heroes: Cmdr. Robert Saavedra

TUCSON - They were sons, fathers, brothers and friends who went missing in action fighting in Vietnam.

Every Monday in November News 4 Tucson is remembering and honoring Southern Arizona's lost heroes, and the families left to cope with the unknown for all of these years. This is Cmdr. Robert Saavedra's story.

If every picture tells a story, then a select few capture the life of Cmdr. Robert Saavedra.

"That's all I've got left," said 100-year-old Margaret Saavedra. Pictures are her only way to connect with her eldest son.

"He always liked flying, he always had planes, wooden planes that he'd make," she said. "He was always making planes."

Eventually her laughter and infectious smile transform into tears. A heart still aching for answers 45 years later.

"He just disappeared, he blew away," Margaret said. "It's harder I think not knowing, not knowing, he's just gone."

Robert put his love of flying to work as a career Navy pilot. The Nogales native left for Vietnam in October 1967, leaving behind a wife and four young children. Just six months later 33-year-old Robert was missing in action. His plane was shot down in North Vietnam during a night-armed reconnaisance mission.

"It was so quick, it was so soon, he was so young," said Margaret.

"I remember we all got together and we prayed as a family group and prayed for my uncle, and it was a very emotional time all the way around," said Joseph Saavedra. Joseph was only 12 years old when his uncle disappeared.

"Our uncle was a hero and still is a hero," Joseph said.

Robert was presumed dead in 1974. His military status went from "Missing," to "Died while Missing." Still the family's quest for closure continued.

"There is no closure because until the remains are brought back, then you have closure," said Joseph.

Now more than four decades later there is new hope. For the first time the Saavedras are getting word from the government that Robert's crash site is scheduled for excavation at the end of this year, or early 2014. A chance to finally bring their hero back home.

"He was such a wonderful boy," said Margaret.

Commander Saavedra's story is just one of many. News 4 Tucson focused specifically on the Vietnam War for this series, but also researched servicemen listed as missing, or whose remains were never recovered from the Korean and Cold Wars. Click on the names below for more information. In cases where a link is unavailable, a small summary has been provided.

Cold War

Capt. Rodger A Fees of Ajo, AZ served in the Air Force. The Department of Defense's Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Office says his RB50 aircraft went down on 9/10/1956, during a possible reconnaissance mission. He is still listed as "MM," or "Unaccounted for."

Korean War

Capt. Donald Gaile Bigham
Pfc. Alfonso Edwards Lopez
Capt. Alexander Beck Padilla
Pfc. Joe Mascareno

Vietnam War

1st Lt. Ronald Lester Babcock
Cmdr. Max Duane Lukenbach
Lance Cpl. James C. Thomas

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