I didn’t anticipate that I’d be surprised by anything I heard at the POW/MIA League of Families meeting yesterday. Of course, I knew and anticipated there would be a special report by the League Archival Research Committee regarding a report on Case #1973. The committee had invested a full year of their time laboriously working on that lone investigation.
The team included the blended skillset of highly qualified professionals that was second to none. The team was composed of a former military officer and historian, a Vietnamese Linguist, an Imagery Analyst, and an F-4 Pilot. All four men are now private citizens who volunteer their time to take on the task of using their professional expertise to determine what heretofore has not been determined.
In case you missed it, the investigative “Archival Research Committee” receive no financial remuneration for their efforts. They are volunteers who live with the belief that no one serving their country in the military should be left behind. Consequently, their mission is to establish a basis that could subsequently lead to the return of those left behind.
The committee took full advantage of everything technologically possible as a resource in their finding of facts. In addition they had access to many Vietnamese publications and records, topographic imagery with date lines and the ability to capture before and after imagery. The details are many. I mention these things just to highlight that when it comes to investigative techniques and thoroughness, the team investigating Case #1973 was at the top of the leaderboard. They represented the best and they were passionate about the mission before them.
No stone was left unturned and they painstakingly went down a lot of trails that proved to be dead ends. They were undeterred by the need to backtrack and go a different direction. They charted flight patterns, air speeds, projected time frames, possible target areas and a host of other variables.
The F-4 pilot personally invested over 360 hours in the past 12 months attempting to look at pictures of physical evidence previously collected at the thought-to-be potential crash site. A picture may worth a thousand words, but there were at least a thousand questions as to whether or not the pictures from long ago represented parts that came off of an A-6 Intruder aircraft. It was not a simple process.
Interestingly, the pictures were taken in 1992 by U.S. military personal at the first identified crash site for (Case #1973). In addition, a host of witnesses were interviewed. Many gave conflicting reports regarding the timeline when a plane crashed in their area. Some said it was time line in which my brother’s plane was lost. Others identified an earlier time. What appeared to be parts off of an aircraft were collected and taken back for analysis.
The subsequent investigative report from 1992 was sent to my niece in a brown manila envelope. She was a college student at the time and the Investigative Crash Site Investigation Report provided graphic details of the horrors of war indicating reports of strewn body parts.
In 1992, after years of silence with no information, suddenly as a family we were confronted with an abundance of information that brought with it questions regarding the credibility of investigation team’s conclusions. Trust me, no one wanted information more than our family. I wrote back and said that we were grateful for any information regarding Ron. For years it had been a daily prayer of our family to know what happened. Without doubt, that is a characteristic of every MIA family. However, I respectfully requested an explanation of how they reached their conclusions.
I highlighted the contents of their report back to them. Since the report indicated airplane parts that were not consistent with Ron’s plane, I simply wanted some kind of justification regarding their conclusion. Almost immediately, they responded in writing that they had made a mistake. They, too, agreed that since the aircraft pieces were from “another type of aircraft”, the conclusion that it was Ron’s plane didn’t seem justified.
Initially this year’s investigative team looking with fresh eyes at the first potentially identified crash site pictures and descriptions of evidence, attempted to make sense of it as well. For one thing, there was a picture of a fragment of a tire. Was it consistent with what you’d expect of an A-6 aircraft? According to one of the tire dimensions recorded in U.S. documents, it appeared not so.
The record indicated that a tire located and photographed was 50 inches in diameter with a width of 22 inches. That is a really big tire. Think about it. Could it be from a B-52 aircraft?” I’d almost say “yes”, but how would I know? Extensive investigative research and numerous telephone calls and emails to tire manufacturers revealed that there was not an aircraft tire with those dimensions for any kind of plane manufactured anywhere at anytime.
I can’t recall the number of venders that manufactured tires for aircraft during that era, but the investigative team contacted all of them. So what was the explanation? Could it be that the person documenting the dimensions of the tire in 1992 inverted the numbers? Instead of being a tire with a 50-inch diameter and a width of 22 inches, could it have been 20-inches in diameter with a width of 5.5 inches. Maybe? If so, it could have been a tire for an A-6 Intruder.
I’ve only touched the surface of the Archival Research Committee’s report. Their investigative report is twenty-five pages in length. They matched three pieces of evidence that conclusively were consistent with an A-6 aircraft. They also determined that the downing of this aircraft wash highly celebrated by the Vietnamese. It was publicized as the 700th plane shot down. There is even a picture of the plane in a museum in Vietnam with several Vietnamese standing on it. Evidence suggests that the plane went down in a heavily populated area with lots of Vietnamese directives concerning the downing of the plane.
There was really only one piece of disturbing evidence. That was the surprise that I found unsettling. I’ve now had almost 24-hours to think about it. Rather than highlight that, let me simple say that I’ve given myself permission to focus on what I know to be true rather than what I fear to be true. How’s that for making a healthy choice?
What I know to be true is that four men comprising the Archival Research Committee and working as volunteers invested a year of their life attempting to honor my brother by orchestrating a scenario to bring him home. I am so amazingly grateful. While by their admission, they can’t say with complete accuracy “this undeniably marks the spot, put the ‘X’ here”, the information is now light years ahead of what we’ve historically known.
I don’t have the words to adequately express my gratitude to the Archival Research Team, but I’ll never forget the investment of that team’s time and the passion with which they worked to help orchestrate my brother’s return. Yesterday was a good day.
All My Best!