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Vietnam veteran finds fallen comrade’s family

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NORTHVILLE – After a two-year search, a north country man has found the family of a fallen comrade.

Roy F. Edwardsen has been searching for the family of Air Force Pilot Captain Kenneth F. Backus of Pyrites for two years.

He connected with Mr. Backus’s widow last week.

“I can’t believe it,” Mr. Edwardsen said. “It was a great Christmas present.”

Mr. Edwardsen, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, found Mr. Backus after applying for a bracelet of a lost or missing in action soldier throughout the POW/MIA network.

He first received a bracelet honoring U.S. Air Force Col. Elton L. Perrine. An F-4C Phantom piloted by Mr. Perrine and Mr. Backus was shot down over Nam Dinh in North Vietnam on May 22, 1967.

Mr. Edwardsen wore the bracelet of Mr. Perrine for 38 years, until his remains were found in Vietnam by a search team headed by U.S.-Socialist Republic of Vietnam teams and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. Mr. Edwardsen attended the funeral alongside Mr. Perrine’s family in Arlington National Cemetery in 2010.

Shortly after the funeral, Mr. Edwardsen decided to wear the bracelet for Mr. Backus, and to search for his family.

“I wanted to get in touch with them. I wanted to tell them it would be alright, and that someone was thinking of him,” he said.

But Mr. Edwardsen knew very little information on Mr. Backus, except that he was survived by a wife and son. He sent letters to every Backus in the phone book before he contacted The Journal for help.

An article led him to Mr. Backus’s family in the north country, who put Mr. Edwardsen in touch with Mr. Backus’s widow, Diane M. Backus, 73, of Manlius.

“I really appreciated the call,” Mrs. Backus said. “I could tell he was a very nice gentleman who just wanted to remember Ken. There are a lot of people who wore Ken’s bracelet. Every once in a while I get a letter from someone who wore his bracelet, and they want to know if they can send it to me because they didn’t want to discard it.”

Mr. Backus was the son of Howard and Irene Stewart, Mrs. Backus said. Mr. Stewart was his stepfather.

Mrs. Backus said that after graduating from Canton schools and New York Agricultural and Technical College at SUNY Canton, he got his bachelor’s degree in economics at SUNY Potsdam. He attended Officer Training School in Lackland, Texas.

“I thought it was all very boring,” she said. “But he was always interested in everything, and always willing to learn. I loved that about him.”

Mr. and Mrs. Backus met at college in Canton, and were married Jan. 5 1962. Mr. Backus joined the Navy in November 1964.

“He always wanted to be a pilot,” Mrs. Backus said. “I guess the one consolation was that he did everything he wanted, and he died doing what he loved. That was the key thing for me. He had a lot of friends. I never met anyone who didn’t like him. My son is the same way. He looks just his dad. His sense of humor and his laugh are just like his father’s. I just love to hear my son laugh.”

Mr. and Mrs. Backus’s son, Christopher, 45, of Syracuse, was born on May 11, 1967, just days before Mr. Backus’s jet was shot down.

“As much as I am sad I never got to meet him, I am very proud of his service and the sacrifices that he made for this country,” Mr. Backus said. “From what I hear from my family, they can see part of his personality and his attributes in me. I am proud to able to hear I was able to obtain some of his good traits.”

A plaque was dedicated to Mr. Backus in Hermon shortly after April 1975, when prisoners of war were declared dead.

“I guess they did it for insurance purposes,” Mrs. Backus said. “But they haven’t given up. Some people are still looking for closure, I guess. But there never really is.”

Mrs. Backus said she does not have high hopes for finding Mr. Backus’s remains.

“I think it’s a good thing that they keep going back for them,” Mrs. Backus said. “They have to negotiate with the Vietnamese to take them over and, but we’ve been told the soil over there does not preserve the bodies well, and decomposes them very fast. Then they have to match whatever fragments they find with remaining family members.”

But Mr. Edwardsen said he will continue to wear his bracelet until Mr. Backus is found.

“We should never stop looking for our veterans,” he said. “He was an American serviceman, and we don’t leave anybody behind.”

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