A soldier’s story finally comes to an end
CALUMET — Marshall Kipina was born in Augusta, Maine, on Dec. 18, 1944, and grew up in Calumet. Like so many Midwestern boys growing up in Midwestern towns, he had many friends; among them were: Bob Tarvis, Bob Harter, Jim Niemala, Joe Waaranen, Jim Mattson, and John Hendra. And like so many Midwestern boys, Kipina played varsity football, as a guard, for the Copper Kings, along with Mattson, Hendra, and others of his friends.
And, like so many men from Midwestern towns, Kipina grew up with a strong sense of duty. So strong, in fact, that he enlisted in the United States Army in 1964, the summer he graduated from Calumet High School.
Kipina was sent overseas, as a technical observer with the the 131st Aviation Company, (Aerial Surveillance), I Corps Aviation Battalion (PROV), 17th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade, stationed at the Phu Bai Army Airfield at Hue, in southwest Vietnam.
On the night of July 13, 1966, at 2300 hours (11 p.m.), pilot Captain Robert Graham Nopp, and Observer Kipina, took off from the airfield in an OV-1C Mohawk for a 2.5-hour surveillance mission. The crew was tasked to operate in a classified area under call sign SPUD 23. Weather in the assigned area was recorded as moderate thunderstorms, heavy rain, with poor visibility. Nopp and Kipina were scheduled to return from a two and a half-hour mission that ultimately would not see them return to the United States for 52 years.
When the aircraft failed to return to Phu Bai as scheduled at 1:30 a.m., the Company Operations Specialist began seeking information on the overdue aircraft. He contacted Phu Bai Tower, Phu Bai Area Radar Control Center, and requested information from Ground Control Intercept (GCI) Units. Phu Bai Area Radar Control advised that they last had contact with SPUD 23 shortly after take off at 11:14 p.m. Several intensive searches were conducted using visual and electronic means, but SPUD 23 was not located. The search did not end then. The two airmen were listed as Missing and Action, and later as dead.
Kipina’s and Nopp’s names were recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, along with others unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War.
On April 6, 2018, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), in a public release, announced Kipina’s and Nopp’s remains had been found and positively identified. Back home in Calumet, Kipina’s old friends, who were now also Vietnam vets, finally learned what happened to Kipina.
The OV-1C plane crashed into a karst on the very southwest tip of the Bolaven Plateau, in Laos. The wreckage was located with the help of a local unit of the village of Chiangho. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC)/DPAA had known of the location for many years, but the height of the wreckage, located at 550 meters above ground level, made the excavation of the site extremely difficult. Subsequently, however, the remains were recovered and positively identified.
A rosette was placed next to Kipina’s and Nopp’s names on the Courts of the Missing to indicate they had been accounted for.
Kipina and Nopp were finally laid to rest on Oct. 18, 2018. They were interred next to each other in the Arlington National Cemetery. Four junior cadets from Calumet High School’s Junior ROTC, and an officer attended his service, while local veteran’s organizations also conducted a service at the Lakeview Cemetery in Calumet Township at the same time Kipina was buried at Arlington. Staff Sergeant Marshall Frederick Kipina’s story, and his journey, has at long last, reached an end.
In honor of the fallen hero, Houghton and Keweenaw counties declared Oct. 18 as Marshall Kipina Day. Flags will be lowered to half staff that day. He will not be forgotten.