Famed CIA flier "Earthquake McGoon's" U.S. funeral canceled after family dispute

A family feud over the remains of the legendary CIA pilot known as Earthquake McGoon has scuttled plans for burial in his native New Jersey this weekend, and the matter could wind up in court, a nephew of the famed flier said Tuesday.

James B. McGovern III, of Forked River, New Jersey, said none of his four sisters, with whom he has long-standing differences, would sign papers granting him legal status as pilot James B. McGovern Jr.'s primary next of kin, allowing the body to be flown from Hawaii in time for a military funeral on Saturday.

"They wouldn't even take my phone calls," he said.

Unless the issue is resolved, he said, a federal judge may have to decide where the body should go. While McGovern III prefers the Somerset, New Jersey cemetery where his father, McGoon's younger brother, John, is buried, former flying colleagues in Asia during and after World War II are trying to arrange for a grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

McGovern III said it was "all out of my hands now."

"We've canceled all the plans for Saturday," said McGovern III, who had planned a military-type funeral.

He said the CIA had told him that if the family can't settle the matter, "it may go through the courts, with a judge making the final decision."

That was disputed by CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano, who said the agency was "prepared to facilitate the transfer of the remains" when family wishes are known. But he said he had "heard nothing to suggest it was planning to take the matter to court."

One sister of McGovern III, Nancy Burlas, of Oxford Township, New Jersey, refused to discuss the matter.

"I'm not getting involved in this," she said by telephone, reports AP.

The other sisters, who live in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, did not return telephone calls.

James McGovern Jr., a 260-pound (117-kilogram) fighter plane and cargo pilot whose nickname came from a huge hillbilly character in the popular comic strip "Li'l Abner," was killed when his C-119 Flying Boxcar was shot down on a resupply mission for besieged French troops at Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam, on May 6, 1954.

He and co-pilot Wallace Buford, civilians flying for the CIA-owned airline Civil Air Transport, or CAT, were the first of nearly 60,000 Americans killed in combat in Indochina in the two decades before Saigon's fall to communist troops in 1975.

The crippled plane struggled 75 miles (120 kilometers) into northern Laos before crashing, but it was not until 2002 that Peter Miller, an anthropologist leading a search team from the Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, discovered an unmarked grave at the village of Ban Sot.

The skeletal remains, positively identified last month by forensic experts of JPAC, which specializes in finding and identifying the remains of missing troops, will continue to be held in that unit's custody, a spokeswoman said. Buford's remains are still sought.