How important is it to have an answer? Our family’s quest for an answer has been a long arduous journey. What is true for us is also true of every family waiting for a time when remains (if any) can be brought home.
Forty three and a half years ago, I was waiting for a very different outcome. Truthfully in 1973 and for an extended period of time after that, there were many times that the lyrics to “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” rolled around in my head like it was the most popular song of the day. It was a fantasy I could not keep myself from pursing. I prayed for it. I longed for it. It was a hope that resonated with every dimension of my soul.
Do you remember the lyrics?
“When Johnny comes marching home again,
We’ll give him a hearty welcome then
“The men will cheer and the boys will shout
The ladies they will all turn out
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.
“The old church bell will peal with joy
To welcome home our darling boy,
“The village lads and lassies say
With roses they will strew the way,
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home…”
My lingering fantasy and hope that something like that could or would happen has been lost to the ages. I don’t remember when I last heard the lyrics to that song in my head, but it was decades ago. After forty-four years, that’s not the kind of homecoming I give myself permission to long for or hope, but I do ache for a definitive answer.
What do you do if the answer you’ve been given is the wrong answer? Worse yet, how do you manage the thought that you knew from the beginning that the answer you subsequently accepted was not correct? I spent a portion of yesterday beating myself up. How could I have been so inept?
For the last eighteen years, my brother’s alleged crash site seemingly was often on the list to be considered for excavation next, but how I ever gave myself permission to accept the determination that the correct site had been located is beyond my understanding.
We questioned the first report we were provided in 1992 because it contained fairly diverse testimony related to a ten-year-window of the time the crash took place. More disturbingly, parts of an aircraft were recovered and they didn’t match the type of aircraft in which my brother was flying.
Trust me, after twenty years of silence and waiting, no one was more interested in knowing the details and circumstances of my brother’s fate than his family. Yet, because of the discrepancies, including reference to airplane parts that were not a match to the plane he flew, we were resistive to accepting their finding.
I responded to the report in writing by thanking the military for the information they shared and affirming our keen interest in knowing the truth of what happened to my brother. However, I ask questions about the contradictory information included in the report; particularly reference to plane parts that were from an aircraft different from his. I simply wanted to know the basis for their conclusion. It was an appropriate question. They subsequently responded that a mistake had been made. They too, concluded that the crash site could not have been that associated to my brother.
Six years later, another investigation team visited the same site and reached the same initial conclusion that had been made in 1992. This time we didn’t push back. Perhaps we were so desperate for an answer that we were open to accepting any answer.
Though it didn’t come as a complete surprise, because my niece had been given advance notice several weeks ago, there is now fairly conclusive proof that the crash site previously identified is not that of my brother’s aircraft. In addition, Karoni and I were briefed by the League Intelligence and Research Advisor from the private sector before Thursday’s case review on my brother.
Based on historical documents now available from the Vietnamese and new technology related to imagery analysis, his team of private investigators who do this work pro bono because of their commitment to the issue, expressed their belief that the crash site does not belong to that of my brother.
Post crash imagery reflects craters or disturbance in the terrain. Certainly their presence reflects the probability of a crash site. However the availability of pre-crash imagery dating back to July 1972 reflects identical imagery. Based on that and other information discovered by the private investigators, it is their belief the crash site is that of an aircraft that went down in 1967.
With Karoni’s permission, the League Intelligence and Research Advisor and his team presented their findings to those in attendance at the League Meeting on Friday morning. Karoni requested that the family name not be included with the presentation. It seemed preferable to simply reference a case number rather than use names.
Sometimes a person is blindsided by emotions that seemingly come out of nowhere. It happened to me on Friday morning. The case name chosen for the information was: “CASE #: 27 DECEMBER 1972”. In addition, there was a picture of the type of aircraft.
When I saw the case number and the plane, it caught me off guard because I was not expecting an emotional response. Initially, I had to catch my breath. I subsequently listened as the four men explained the work they had done and how they had reached their conclusion. I was absolutely amazed. I was absolutely amazed and grateful.
Last night, I told my niece, “It has been a good day.” She responded: “Really?” I said: “Yes, It has been a good day because we can now hit the reset button. We’ve been like a dog barking up the wrong tree. We have to hit the reset button to get the outcome we need. We need to bring your father home.”
All My Best!