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POSTED ON 8.7.2021

Welcome Home

MAJ Aado Kommendant is buried in Section 60, site 10119 of the Arlington National Cemetery.

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POSTED ON 1.14.2020
POSTED BY: Lucy Micik

Thank You

Dear Major Aado Kommendant, Thank you for your service as a Tactical Fighter Pilot. I am glad you were identified in 2012, welcome home. Saying thank you isn't enough, but it is from the heart. Happy New Year in heaven. The time passes quickly. Please watch over America, it stills needs your strength, courage, guidance and faithfulness. Rest in peace with the angels.
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POSTED ON 5.13.2018
POSTED BY: Julia Morrow

An Immigrant Hero

        U.S. Air Force Major Aado Kommendant was not always an American, and his unusual name might even indicate that, but many Americans, including me, have been burdened to live with unique monikers, so names can’t always give away a man’s nationality.  Aado was actually born in Paide, an ancient but small town in Estonia, a little Germanic country in northern Europe that lies just across the Baltic Sea from Sweden.  At the time of his birth in 1941, WWII was raging, and the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler controlled his country, as well as much of that area of the world.   He and his family were involuntarily moved by the Nazis from Estonia and placed in a concentration camp in another country, where his parents were forced to serve the Nazis in quite unspeakable ways.  When the war was over, Estonia again became part of the Soviet Union, as it had been before the war, so Aado’s family fled Communism and its totalitarian Iron Curtain, eventually immigrating to the United States in 1950.  It was here in America that the Kommendant family finally found the exceptional freedom that they had never known before.  After settling in Lakewood, Ocean County, New Jersey, Aado and his family applied for and secured American citizenship, all the while enjoying their wonderfully new, adopted country.  Aado’s father, Verner Kommendant, was able to buy a dump truck and expanded that truck into a successful sand and gravel trucking company, which inpired Aado to be a businessman like his father.
       With his family, Aado became a member of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church.  He was a good student in school, where math seemed very easy for him.  He enjoyed playing on the tennis team and was voted “best looking” by his 1960 graduating class at Lakewood High.  This blond youngster was considered an authority on cars and was said to have driven “a cool Ford convertible” around town.  He had learned Yiddish at some point in his life in either Europe or in New Jersey, and that allowed Aado to easily obtain work from Jewish businessmen in Florida, in order to pay his own way through the University of Miami. It was there that he earned a business degree and furthered his ambitions to be a successful entrepreneur.  However, while in college, Aado was enrolled in the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program, was designated a Distinguished Military Student, and when he graduated, his focus became more patriotic when he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the United States Air Force.   It was 1964, and Communism, that terrible, freedom-robbing system, was still alive and well and seemed bent on taking over the entire world.   To help prevent that, the United States was increasing its military presence in the little country of South Vietnam, and Aado was anxious to be take part in America’s military action there.
        The Air Force sent Aado to Craig Air Force Base near Selma, in south-central Alabama, where he began his arduous, training to be a jet fighter pilot.  He was learning to fly the McDonnell F-4 Phantom, which was not only being extensively utilized by the Air Force, but also by Marine and Navy units as well, in a multitude of functions.  The Phantom was very fast, with a top speed of Mach 2, extremely maneuverable, easily to handle at all altitudes and capable of flying up to 2,300 miles without refueling, depending on its mission.  Most pilots, including young Aado, considered the F-4 to be one of the “hottest” planes in the air.  He turned out to be a good student, he was well liked and respected by his flight instructors, and so his training went very well until he was almost killed in a traffic accident.  While leaving the base on his motorcycle one afternoon near the main gate, he was suddenly struck by a car.  With a multitude of broken bones and other serious injuries, Aado remained in the Air Force hospital at Maxwell Air Base near Montgomery for at least two months.  That horrible accident and the long hospitalization that resulted could easily have ended his pilot training, but because the entire training staff held him in high regard, Aado was allowed to start over with a new training class at Craig when he had sufficiently recovered from his injuries.  However, because of the motorcycle accident, he wisely chose a different, personal mode of transportation and decided to purchase a new car.  It was a black, 2-door, 1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk, which he proudly drove everywhere and affectionately called “The Bear.”

F-4C Phantom

1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk
        Though Aado seemed to love his new car more than anything else on earth, it was during his second training session at Craig in January 1965 that he accidentally met the real love of his life.  He was conducting some routine business at a dry cleaning establishment in downtown Selma one day where he met a friendly, auburn-haired southern belle, who was not only beautiful, with a vivacious personality, but she was also quite intelligent and had her own set of personal life ambitions.  .  “He certainly had a funny first name, but what I noticed immediately about him was his wonderfully bright smile, with those straight, white teeth, none of which showed in his official Air Force photos,” this lady remembered many years later.  “Aado was certainly handsome, witty, charming, and fun to be with, but she was particularly impressed with how uncompromising he was when it came to his principles.  He loved America and capitalism and believed that anyone could become whatever they wished, if they were willing to work for it.”  During their very first meeting, she discovered his interest in the business world and from that time forward, she made sure that a copy of Business Weekly was available to him when he dropped by her store.   Aado was living the American dream, and that dream included future projections of raising his own family and becoming a commercial cargo pilot as part of a business plan that he had been theorizing for himself after he completed his military commitment.   He was first proudly heading off to war to gloriously serve his new country as one of its fighter pilots but was surely thinking that his life would only get better when he returned from that war.
       Arriving in South Vietnam as a 1st lieutenant in the summer of 1966, he joined the 557th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing at Cam Ranh Bay Airbase.   He quickly oriented himself to his new surroundings and duties and quickly completed 16 combat air missions in the first 2 months of his tour.  Though already an experienced combat pilot, he was not yet a “short-timer,” and most of his overseas tour was still ahead of him.
       Then, on August 8, 1966, two F-4C aircraft scrambled from Cam Ranh Bay on a sortie to provide close air support to American ground forces, who were in trouble and needed help battling a large Viet Cong force.  Aado and Captain Charles Walling, of Phoenix, Arizona, were in one of those planes, flying in the wing position, with the radio call-sign “Boxer-06.”  The planes flew to the designated battle area, which was approximately 19 miles northwest of Bien Hoa Airbase in Binh Duong Province.  This mission was similar to all the other missions Aado had previously been assigned and from which he had returned, but in a warzone, anything is libel to happen and it often does, and the weather conditions were far from perfect.   Because there was a broken ceiling at about 1,800 to 2,000 feet above the ground, the command aircraft on the scene decided that the attack planes should come in level at 1,500 feet across the target area to deliver their ordinance, because friendly forces were close to the target, and extreme care needed to be taken to avoid any collateral damage against our troops.  Of course, flying at that low altitude would make both aircraft quite vulnerable to enemy small-arms fire, but these airmen, including Aado, knew the risk, but also knew that such danger was just part of their job.
        Aado was strapped into the rear seat of his F-4 as the navigator, while Captain Walling was serving as the pilot up front.   “Boxer-06” made three passes over the target, without dropping their ordinance, because Aado couldn’t clearly distinguish the exact location of the enemy.  He knew the close proximity of our troops to the target and wanted be sure he didn’t make a costly mistake.  Nevertheless, on the fourth and final pass over the target, Aado accurately released his plane’s ordinance on the enemy.  Captain Walling pulled up and away from the ground and leveled off into the overcast sky.  Their mission was now complete, and unless they received further orders for another one, perhaps they could head for home.
       However, shortly after Aado’s plane rose into the cloud cover, a forward air controller (FAC) saw a large explosion about 1.5 miles southeast of the target area and suspected that something had gone wrong.  When “Boxer 06” failed to respond to any of the radio calls, it was suspected that Aado’s plane been hit, so the other F-4 and the FAC flew toward the explosion area to check it out.  No parachutes were seen in the air by anyone, and no emergency beepers were heard transmitting any signals.  Within minutes of the explosion, four rescue helicopters and several non-jet, A-1E Skyraiders arrived on the scene, slowly and thoroughly searching the area for signs of the missing and believed to be crashed plane.  The exact crash site was not easily identified at first but was eventually found on a relatively flat piece of ground that was densely covered by jungle growth about 40 miles northeast of Saigon.  One helicopter was able to get in close and hovered over the site in an effort make a visual examination of the plane’s wreckage from the air, but the crew saw no signs of the two pilots (dead or alive) in or around the wreckage.  Unfortunately, ground troops were unable to approach the site during the search because that area was controlled by the enemy.  Search and rescue (SAR) operations relating to the crashed F-4 continued for two more days until they were finally discontinued, and the two officers, who appeared to have simply vanished into thin air, were officially listed by our government as Missing in Action.
        When Aado’s plane was shot down during his 17th and final combat mission, it happened to be just one day before his 25th birthday.  On that day, his young wife was back home in the United States, continuing her college education and totally unaware of what had just happened.  She was fully expecting him to return to her after his 13-month tour in Vietnam, but she soon learned the heart-breaking, life-altering news that Aado was considered Missing in Action and might never return to her at all.
        In 1973, Aado’s family learned that later on the day of the crash in 1966, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service in Okinawa had monitored two radio releases from the enemy’s Radio Hanoi regarding the “shoot-down of an F-4” aircraft and the “killing of two Yankees on board.”  Since Aado’s plane was the only F-4 that was unaccounted for in Vietnam that day, it was assumed by our government that the enemy was talking about Aado and his brother pilot, though there was no additional, official information to confirm that the flyers had either been killed or perhaps had been captured by the enemy.  Because any military analysis of that radio data at the time was most likely classified, and there may have still been hope that the officers were still alive, the radio data and its analysis was not previously disclosed to the family.  Nevertheless, by 1975, when the Vietnam War ended, Aado and Walling were still missing.
        It was in 1978 and in 1979, twelve to thirteen years after the crash, when the two pilots’ status was officially changed by the Air Force from Missing in Action to a Presumptive Finding of Death.  Then in 1992, twenty-six years after the crash, during a joint investigation at the crash site by both Vietnamese and American representatives, the metal identification tag (dog-tag) of pilot Charles Walling was discovered.  It was not until 2010 when further excavation of the crash site was made that human remains were also found, and the DNA of the family members of the two pilots was then compared with those remains.  The lab tests proved that Aado and Walling had not been captured, but that they had died in the crash of their plane in 1966.                    
        Finally, on August 8, 2012, exactly 46 years to the day from the time of the crash, Aado Kommendant and his friend were each buried with full military honors in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, complete with the patriotic music of an Air Force band and the firing of a 21-gun salute.  Aado’s elder brother, Viido, and younger sister, Maie, were there, along with his widow, who was so very young when he was taken from her so many years before. Also present was the 2009 Newark Star–Ledger Softball Coach of the Year for the State of New Jersey, the nephew who was named for his uncle.  He was born 9 months after Aado’s plane was shot down, so he never had the opportunity to meet and know his namesake.  “Until today,” he said at the funeral, “my only reflections of my uncle were pictures, but nothing tangible…He was a mythical figure that you heard stories about, always wonderful stories…he was just a wonderful story…”  And the nephew found the funeral to be quite an emotional experience.  “The entire ceremony was handled with so much dignity…the coffin was placed on a horse-drawn caisson…we followed the caisson for maybe a tenth of a mile…we were all taken aback with the entire ceremony, in that it was more beautiful then we could ever imagine…I never expected to be that moved…I’m just glad I had dark sunglasses on…the playing of taps at the end was tremendous.”

        During the time that he was considered Missing in Action, Aado had been promoted twice to the ranks of captain and later major, his rank on the day of his burial.  Though he may have worn the National Defense Service Medal and the Air Medal on his uniform while he was alive, he would never have had the opportunity to display his other awards, which were all given to him posthumously: the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.  But Aado didn’t fly to receive awards.  He flew for his country and his comrades-in-arms, and he died, defending freedom in a very dangerous world.
        I know that during the two centuries and more of our nation’s history, countless immigrants have fought for our freedom, and many of them died for us in all of America’s wars, but until now, I don’t recall ever having been personally acquainted with any of them.  I did not know Aado Kommendant at that time and certainly didn’t know about his death some 1500 miles south of my location.  However, over the past few months, I was personally introduced to this fine young American and began to learn much about his life and what he had done for us so long ago.  One of Aado’s flight instructors and his good friend, who was later also shot down while on a mission in Vietnam, had bragged to others about Aado’s exceptional leadership qualities and his potential for a long and successful Air Force career had he not been killed.   His friend had said that it was “sad that Aado would be permanently 25 years old.”  As I learned more about him, I also became acutely aware of the human suffering that his death caused for all those people who knew him best and who have continued to both love him and remember him after he was gone.  Aado was certainly not alone when he died in that plane crash, for he was a dedicated Christian, and he gave his life in defense of his comrades, so I know that God immediately welcomed him into His kingdom.  Aado enjoyed flying high above the clouds, and surely his spirit will do so forever, if that is God’s will.  
        Aado Kommendant was a legal immigrant and a naturalized citizen of our country.  He consciously chose to be an American, and he not only took what America had to offer him during peacetime, but he also willingly gave to America all that he had, including his precious life, during wartime, and in my opinion, that makes him a special American hero.  He never was able to fulfill his earthly dreams and by giving his life he may have allowed other warriors to fulfill theirs.  Just a few years before Aado became an Air Force pilot, JFK so eloquently suggested to all Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” and it’s quite possible that Aado heard those important words in 1961 and decided to follow the President’s suggestion.  I am so very glad that I had the opportunity to learn about Aado Kommendant, and I am even more honored to have been able write about his promising life and his premature death.  We must all remember this young American, for we are forever indebted to him for his supreme sacrifice on our behalf.  
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POSTED ON 5.30.2017


You are still in my heart .
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POSTED ON 5.9.2014

Final Mission of 1LT Aado Kommendant

1LT Aado Kommendant was the backseater to flight commander CAPT Charles M. Walling on an F-4C Phantom jet called to provide close air support of friendly forces who were in contact with the enemy northeast of Bien Hoa airbase near Saigon. The two departed Cam Ranh Bay Airbase in South Vietnam and arrived in the target area without incident. They prepared to make bombing runs on a suspected enemy troop concentration, and shortly after the second run, the Forward Air Controller noticed an explosion about two miles southeast of the target. Both he and the flight leader proceeded to the scene as no radio replies were received from Walling's F-4C. Rescue helicopters were alerted and arrived within minutes. No parachutes were seen, nor were there any emergency radio transmissions. The area of the wreckage could not be seen by air because of dense foliage, nor could ground troops gain access to the area because it was defended by enemy troops. The last known location of the aircraft was near the juncture of Binh Duong, Bien Hoa, Long Khan and Binh Long Provinces in South Vietnam, about 40 miles northeast of Saigon. Later that day, Foreign Broadcast Information Service in Okinawa monitored two radio releases from Radio Hanoi regarding the shoot-down of an F4 and the killing of two "yankees on board". Because Walling and Kommendant were aboard the only F4 lost that day in that area, it was felt that if the releases were true, they related to Walling and Kommendant. This report was discovered by the family in 1973 and had not been given to them by the Air Force or Defense Department prior to 1973. Aado Kommendant and Charles M. Walling were both promoted to the rank of Major during the period they were maintained Missing in Action. In 2012 both airmen’s remains were positively identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors. [Taken from pownetwork.org]
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