The remains of an Aggie veteran who disappeared in the jungles of Laos during the Vietnam War will soon be returned to his family.

Funeral services for U.S. Air Force pilot Maj. Neal “Clint” Clinton Ward Jr. are planned for Nov. 2 in Reno, Nevada, with military honors.

Ward, a member of the Texas A&M Class of 1967, was a pilot for the Air Force’s 602nd Special Operations Squadron, Special Operations Wing, which was based near the Phathang village in Laos during the Vietnam War. His plane went down in 1969, and the military declared him killed in action in the 1970s.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense collaborated with the Laotian government and conducted three excavations of the area between 1993 and 2018, according to Ward’s sister, Cassie Ferrell, who lives in Reno.

A skull fragment found in December 2017 was matched to Ward through DNA analysis, said Ferrell, who learned of the discovery through a July phone call from a Department of Defense official.

“I was in shock,” Ferrell said.

Ward’s skull fragment is in Hawaii and will be delivered to Ferrell in an urn in November.

Ward was born in Texas and raised in Pasadena with his two younger sisters. Ward’s nephew, Clinton “Matt” Matthew Behrens, of Albany, Georgia, said Ward’s biological father had not been a part of Ward’s life, and as young child, Ward was adopted and renamed by his mother Mary’s husband, Neal Ward Sr.

The elder Ward was a member of Texas A&M’s Class of 1937, according to Ferrell, and survived being a prisoner of war after his B-17 was shot down in Germany during World War II. Ward Jr. had been inspired by his adoptive dad to join the military and attend Texas A&M.

Though Behrens never met his uncle, he knew of Ward’s love for maroon and white.

“He was your stereotypical, all-out Aggie,” Behrens said. “Since he was a kid, he knew he wanted to go to Texas A&M. He embodied the Aggie values.”

Ferrell and her sister, Liz, had been close with their older brother. Ferrell recalled visiting the Texas A&M campus as a girl, when Ward, a member of the Corps of Cadets, took the girls to the Corps commissary for ice cream. Ward let his sisters tag along, as the girls demanded to be a part of his life, Ferrell said.

“He was awesome, and I remember telling him that when I grew up I was going to marry him,” Ferrell recalled with a chuckle. “I loved him so much.”

When Ward’s plane went missing in Laos, Ferrell struggled with the idea that he may have died. She blamed herself, believing God was punishing her. Her mother Mary, who is now deceased, became obsessed with the thought of her son coming home, Ferrell said.

“It consumed her,” and she refused to accept that he could be dead, Ferrell said.

Mary Ward would protest any move to include her son on a “killed in action” list. She would call the Air Force and give them hell if they tried to indicate to anyone he was dead, Ferrell said.

“Mama never gave up on him.”

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(1) comment

James Hannah

This is extraordinary news for the missing airman's family and should bring them much needed closer. I am always heartened by such stories given the usual bleakness of the news.

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