PORTLAND – Teresa Getchell waited 38 years, four months and one week to learn that her husband, Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Getchell, had died instantly when the two-man B-57B Canberra bomber he was co-piloting crashed into a mountainside in Laos on Jan. 13, 1969.

Five years ago, the military identified his remains using DNA analysis. Getchell, who devoted nearly half of her life to finding her husband, will finally join him.

She died last week after a short illness. She was 75. Her family is making arrangements to bury her ashes with his remains in Arlington National Cemetery this summer.

“This will close the final chapter in her life,” said her son, Greg Getchell of Portland, on Friday. “She is with my father now. She waited a long time for that.”

The Getchells met at Camp Gregory, a summer camp in Gray. She was the camp nurse and he worked in maintenance.

In 1961, they got married at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and began raising a family there.

In 1968, Paul Getchell left on a six-month assignment to navigate B-57B Canberra warplanes on secret bombing runs in Laos, from the Phan Rang Air Base in Vietnam.

His plane disappeared on Jan. 13, 1969. The next day, two Air Force officers appeared at the front door of Teresa Getchell’s family’s home in Buzzards Bay, Mass., to deliver the devastating news.

Getchell began her long search for the truth about what happened that day. Fueled by her love for her husband, she got involved in the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. She became a tireless advocate for families of missing soldiers and prisoners of war.

Getchell served as state coordinator for Maine and Massachusetts. She marched in countless parades to raise awareness for the cause. She attended hearings in Washington, D.C.

For nearly four decades, she wore a bracelet engraved with her husband’s name and the date he was last seen.

Getchell’s son, who was 4 when his father disappeared, said his mother dedicated her life to finding him. Her daughter, Karen Getchell of Portland, was 3 when her father died.

“She was a special woman,” Greg Getchell said of his mother, who lived in Portland. “She felt that she owed it to my dad and to us kids to find out what happened to him. She remained faithful to my father.”

Teresa Getchell never remarried.

For more than 10 years, she worked in the pulmonary department at Mercy Hospital. In the late 1970s, she taught nursing at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish. Later, she worked as an assistant teacher at the Longfellow School in Portland.

Greg Getchell remembers the time she served as a volunteer nurse in Haiti. He said his mother had strong faith and a passion for helping others. He said she supported dozens of local and national causes.

“She believed in giving back,” he said.

She also had a passion for golf, and enjoyed playing bridge. She was an avid runner and ran in several half-marathons. She regularly walked around Back Cove.

“She was the heart of this family for a long time,” said her younger sister, Barbara Kokalari of Connecticut. “She had a strong, positive presence in my life.”

Almost five years ago, Teresa Getchell’s prayers were answered when military officials identified her husband’s remains from the crash site. In May of 2007, she and her children laid him to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

Now, her children plan to divide her ashes into thirds. They want some to be buried with her husband in Arlington National Cemetery, some to be scattered at Camp Gregory, and the rest to be buried in Calvary Cemetery in South Portland, where her husband has a plaque and her parents are buried.

“This is just another example of her wanting to be close to family,” her son said. “If there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s that she is not suffering anymore and that she’s with my father.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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