Diocesan News

Mass Celebrates War Pilot 50 Years After He Was Shot Down in Vietnam

  • Capt. Francis Xavier Egan (standing right) grew close to his Air Force colleagues at flight training school in Arizona. (Photo: Courtesy of Jane Egan)
  • The crushed rosary beads Bill Egan is holding in a plastic bag were recovered when his brother’s remains were found on the ground. Fifty years later, they still bring comfort to the family. (Photos: Paula Katinas)
  • Fifty years after his death, Capt. Egan’s memory was honored by pilots at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona, who sent a basket of flowers and attached this note. Capt. Egan was stationed at Williams before he was deployed to Vietnam.
  • “What better gift? Capt. Egan gave his life for others,” said Father Francis Passenant (left), administrator of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church. After the Mass, he chatted with Bill Egan.
  • Bill Egan (left) and Francis Egan were close to each other all of their lives. The boys are pictured with their dad, Francis, in a photo taken in the early 1950s. (Photo: Courtesy of Jane Egan)
  • Members of the Egan family, some of who live on Long Island, in Boston, and in Ireland, traveled near and far to attend the memorial Mass.
  • Francis Xavier Egan, who was 26 years old when he was killed, had a love of flying and a passion for the great outdoors, his family recalled. (Photo: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund)

FOREST HILLS — When Capt. Francis Xavier Egan served as a U.S. Air Force pilot in the Vietnam War, he carried a set of rosary beads with him wherever he went. He had those beads on him when he was shot down and killed by the Viet Cong on Dec. 19, 1972. 

The beads, which were crushed upon impact when Capt. Egan’s plane crash-landed, were among the personal effects the military returned to his family when his remains were brought back to the U.S. shortly after his death. Despite their damaged condition, the  family appreciated having them because they were so meaningful to him.

On Sunday, Dec. 18, nearly 50 years to the day of his death at the age of 26, Capt. Egan’s siblings and their families gathered at his parish, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Forest Hills, for a memorial Mass to pay tribute to him. 

His brother Bill Egan, who now lives in County Galway in Ireland, brought the rosary beads in a tiny plastic bag to the church on Sunday.

“I don’t carry them with me wherever I go, like Francis did, but I did want to bring them here today,” said Bill Egan, who described his brother as “a very spiritual guy.”

Francis Xavier Egan’s life centered around his Catholic faith and his devotion to service, his family said. Born on Nov. 11, 1946 — Veteran’s Day — he was the youngest of Francis and Irene Egan’s four children. The family lived in Forest Hills and belonged to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church. All of the Egan kids — Maureen, Annette, Bill, and Francis —  attended the parish school. 

Young Francis served as an altar boy and was named head altar boy when he was in the eighth grade.

Maureen Egan’s fondest memory of her brother was his sense of humor. “He had a real sense of fun,” she remembered. ‘He loved the ocean and surfing. He was just an all-around great guy.”

After earning a degree from Marist College and teaching in a Catholic school for a short time, he enlisted in the Air Force in 1969. 

In volunteering for military service, Francis Xavier Egan was like the vast majority of those who served in Vietnam. According to the organization Vietnam Veterans of America, 75% of those who served in the war were not drafted but enlisted for duty.

“He volunteered to learn how to fly. He had found his vocation in life. His goal was to become a commercial airline pilot when he got out of the service,” Bill Egan recalled.

But it wasn’t to be. On Dec. 19, while flying a mission over the Quảng Nam Province, his plane was shot down, and he was killed. His remains were returned to the U.S., and he was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens. The Egans visited his graveside before coming to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church for Sunday’s Mass.

“As men and women of faith, we believe that Capt. Egan is with Christ now. Capt. Egan was a model of service and sacrifice,” said Father Steve Katsouris, S.J., who celebrated the memorial Mass.

Capt. Egan was one of 58,000 U.S. military service members who died in the Vietnam War.

Auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez, the pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church, said he has a special reason for wanting to remember the men and women who sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War. 

“Those young men and women were my contemporaries,” Bishop Sanchez explained. “They responded to a call and gave their lives selflessly. We cherish their memory and continue to hold their families in our prayers.