Every day is POW-MIA recognition for families.
Tears flow as Deanna tells her story of the special day of remembrance for her missing brother, even though she thinks of him daily. She places the bouquet of wheat from their family farm in Marion, Kan., at the base of the panel inscribed with Dean's name. "That is where I really have contact with him," she said.
"The neat part of it is while I stand there quietly, there is always someone, no matter what time of night, who comes over to put an arm around me and ask if I need a hug. One time a little girl came over and said, 'Lady, do you need a hug?' It really tore my heart out."
Maj. Klenda was the pilot of an F-105 Thunderchief shot down over then North Vietnam on Sept. 17, 1965. He was last seen ejecting from his aircraft. Nothing of him has been found despite three excavations near the crash site.
Jo Anne Shirley of Dalton, Ga., remembers her brother, Maj. Bobby M. Jones, most on his birthday.
"It's his day," she said. "But I remember him every day." Jones, a flight surgeon, was aboard an F-4 Phantom that disappeared from radar as it approached Da Nang Air Base in Vietnam on Nov. 28, 1972. He is still missing. "My biggest motivation is that someday my brother and I will meet face-to-face again. I want him to know I did all I could for him. I want him to be proud of me."
National League of POW/MIA Families Executive Director Ann Mills Griffiths remembers her brother U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Cdr. Jim Mills, on special occasions like Memorial Day, Veterans Day, POW/MIA Recognition Day, and his birthday. "Those are the kind of days that you automatically think about him and what if he was here," she said.
"I can't afford to think about him all the time," said Griffiths. "My interest is for everybody else. If I focused on my brother it would affect the accountability of everyone else."
Lt. Cdr. Mills disappeared in an F-4 Phantom while on a night low-level bombing mission on Sept. 21, 1966. For 40 years, there's been no word on what happened to him.
Dean Klenda, Bobby Jones and Jim Mills are among the 1,802 missing from the Vietnam War. Their sisters are among the thousands of siblings, parents and children who yearn for closure to the loss of their loved ones. For some, closure has come. For others, members of the Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) will continue the search.
This was true for Terri Knudsen, whose uncle, Walter S. "Daisy" Knudsen, was lost during World War II, but his remains were recovered 60 years later. "He was never forgotten by the family," she said. "He was a huge void in our lives. His birthday was the day we remembered him more than any other."
"The pain and abandonment the MIA families feel cannot be easily healed," said National Adjutant Arthur H. Wilson. "They live each day with hope that diminishes little by little over decades. They hope and dream, and in some cases the remains of their loved ones are found. But it is the families of those who are never found that will continue to suffer."
On Sept. 15, the nation will commemorate National POW/MIA Recognition Day in honor of the thousands of Americans who were prisoners of war or who remain missing. For the families of those missing it is an important day in which the service and sacrifices of POWs and MIAs are acknowledged and remembered. But each family has a personal day--a day in which their loved ones are remembered in a special way.
"While Memorial Day and Veterans Day honor all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, this observance specifically honors those Americans who were or who are prisoners of war or missing in action," said Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of DPMO Robert J. Newberry. "I believe it also helps remind our nation about those who remain missing and helps ensure that they are not forgotten."
"These families watched one day as their loved one left and never returned," said DAV Interim POW/MIA Committee Chairman William B. Taylor. "They think about their loss contantly. It's a great void inside which you cannot fill."
Deanna lives only 30 yards from a creek where she and her brother used to fish. "He left his legacy around the farm," she said. "I still have a void in my life."
After her brother disappeared, Deanna volunteered at the Oakland, Calif., Naval Hospital. "That helped me fill the void of Dean's loss for many years," she said.
She also became a flight attendant for World Airways, which took millions of American service members to Vietnam, and then home again. "I always wondered 'what if he showed up and got on my plane?'" she said. "When I was flying over Vietnam, I thought, 'He's down there somewhere.'"
The members of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) will return to Vietnam to scour the "somewhere" for Maj. Klenda's remains. "They have new evidence," she said. "He stays alive because there are people looking for him. Every year my hopes go up again. If they bring even a piece of bone home, that would be enough because we would know he would be home. It would bring closure. I'd have him very near to me."
JPAC teams will also be searching for Maj. Jones. "I haven't abandoned hope, but I'm realistic," said Shirley. "I think our goal is to account for Bobby. I have seen many miracles in the 54 years we've been involved with this. I won't rule out that I will never get an answer, but I have become very realistic about what the chances are."
Bobby Jones was two years older than his sister Jo Anne. "We were very close," she said. "At first you think they will find him. That didn't happen. In my opinion, he's still serving."
"I feel we have an obligation to bring them all home," she said. "Having a MIA in a family gives you an appreciation of the sacrifices being made today for our freedom. It's what makes us free."
"I say every day is POW-MIA Day for me," she said. As Board Chairman for the National League of POW/MIA Families, Shirley does what she can do to resolve issues for those who have lost loved ones U.S. Army Air Corps Staff Sgt. Knudsen, nicknamed "Daisy" because of his flowing blond hair, disappeared on his first training mission near Paupa, New Guinea in 1944. It was believed the B-24 Liberator bomber named Five by Five encountered bad weather and crashed in a jungle mountain. Six decades later, his remains were recovered by members of JPAC.
"When we got that call, I cried," said Terri Knudsen. "It was unbelievable they found his remains 61 years later. I told my dad the plane had been found and he was speechless. For him 1944 was like yesterday."
"I think the family thought of him most on his birthday and they never knew what happened to him," she said. The family provided DNA samples in case remains were ever found.
The family found closure when DPMO Mortuary Affairs Specialist Paul A. Bethke briefed the family. "It was very emotional," said Knudsen. "We were finding out what happened and saw the irrefutable evidence they had."
"Bethke presented the horrible facts surrounding the accident, a terrible crash and fire," she said. "Then he handed over a silver identification bracelet, and my Dad said, 'that's him."
Sgt. Knudsen was buried April 22, 2006, in Sioux City, Iowa. For the family, the story had ended.
"Many of the families tell us they were astounded to learn that anyone remembered, and even more amazed that our specialists were able to find and identify the remains of their missing loved ones," said DPMO's Newberry. "Some have told us they never knew DNA could play a role in the identification, and they appreciate the fact that we sought them out."
"I think DAV does will in its mission for the fullest possible accounting of MIAs," said Taylor. "DAV must continue to do more and do better. We must always remind our leaders in government to help bring our missing home to their loved ones."
"I think it's hardest on parents and siblings because they know the loved ones best," she said. "Many of the children were younger and don't remember. But those who were older have suffered greatly."
Proud of her work for the POW/MIA families, Griffiths focuses on the missing loved ones of others. "We have today 781 accounted for out of the Vietnam War, and that's hundreds more than anyone thought we'd ever get," she said. "I think that's important to today's veterans and active duty service members. What we started will be there for them."
As for finding Jim Mills, she believes there's "no reason to be overly optimistic, but no reason to believe he won't be found."
"What we started has become an obligation of the U.S. government," said Griffiths. "Even if I never get answers about my brother, we have created a legacy that goes on."
"Every family member of a POW or MIA must deal with their lost loved ones in their own way," said Violante. "It is our goal that as many families as possible get the answers they are searching for and as many MIAs as possible can be recovered."
"POW/MIA Recognition Day is an important event for thousands of families," Violante said. "It is a time that our nation remembers the promise, as the DAV does, that as many as possible will be brought home."
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|Date:||Sep 1, 2006|
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