Over the past few years people have asked me where I find the strength to keep going in the POW/MIA issue. Where does the energy , the drive, the ability to keep pushing forward come from when everything around us seems stacked against us and there appears to be nowhere to turn? The only way I know how to answer you is this way:
During the Vietnam War my husband, a Marine, served at Chu Lai. Like so many others who were young and uninformed, I did not feel capable of enduring or understanding what I was facing. Later, this led to the feeling that some how I let him down, when in fact, I just had not learned one simple truth: there are limits to my talents and abilities.
Survivor guilt is not experienced only by veterans. Survivor guilt strikes family members, too. This guilt is a plague we all face. It strikes at our very core not only because of our own demons, but because of our anger over our government's mishandling of the war.
I felt then, and feel today, that I have a debt to honor. This is not something I chose to do- it is something I, and we, must do. There is unfinished business left to us. As a nation we shamefully abandoned our Allies and our own people indiscriminately. As a Nation we need to correct those errors when and where possible. Somewhere along the way I learned the lesson that WE ARE THE NATION -- IT IS UP TO US.
Now to the point , how do I keep going? There is a burning rage inside me where the issue is concerned. How dare our government abandon - throw away- military men for political expediency. How dare they think that all military men, like my husband, were and are expendable. How dare they think they can play God with all our lives.
As a person, I need to find peace for myself; to find closure to that War. The only way I know to do that is to fight for what is right using that strength and ability God grants me. I will find peace when I can assure myself that all POW/MIAs - both dead and alive - are home.
I see the faces of the men and women who are missing. People like Eleanor Ardel Vietti, a missionary doctor captured by the VC in 1963 and who was tracked by US intelligence for years. Pilots like a classmate of mine, Jack Harvey, who was shot down late in the war. Men like Earl Hopper, Jr. whom I never knew, but whose life controls mine so totally. All of them. I see their eyes. I remember their incidents. I know, based on years of research, that some are alive today.
I see the families. Some are very involved in all aspects of this issue. Some are knowledgeable only in their individual case. Some are truly lost souls themselves who desperately need our help. Others gave up hope years ago. Some don't care- never did. They went on with their lives from the start. They are only human, so are we.
The families are involved in this issue because of a quirk of fate. The rest of us - veterans and concerned citizens alike- are involved because we make the conscientious decision to be involved. For us, making that personal commitment binds us more tightly than blood.
I try to keep focused. When I feel hopeless, I review the facts as I know them today. Facts like:
1. Confirmed POWs were left behind in 1973- 117 of them in Vietnam alone based on USG documents dating from the end of the war.
2. The amount of information known about POWs in Laos, both during and after the war, is staggering and solid; yet, the USG never negotiated with the Laotians for our POWs. The current information- intelligence - about POWs there today leaves no question that some are alive. Men like Henry Serex, Peter Matthes, Morgan Donahue, Tom Hart, Eugene DeBruin, David Hrdlicka, Dan Borah just to name a few.
3. US intelligence has tracked POWs through a variety of means for years. They are alive, and will remain alive until one of four things happens: They die of illness, they die of old age, they are murdered, or we get them out. There are no other options.
4. The sheer volume of material pried out of our government's files about this issue from all wars is overwhelming in quality and quantity.
5. Because of the work we have done on behalf of our missing countrymen from the Vietnam War, we've learned this is not the first time the USG chose to abandon her POWs. For example, of the 8,177 POW/MIAs at the end of the Korean War who remained unaccounted for, our government fully expected an additional 3,000 to be returned upon further negotiation. When those negotiations failed to transpire, that number was later pared down to 389 through status changes. These men, without question, were confirmed Prisoners of War.
6. At the conclusion of World War II there was a total of 78,751 POW/MIAs from all theaters of operaation. Of that number, right at 23,500 were confirmed prisoners in German POW camps who were "liberated" by the Russians, and ultimately shipped into the Soviet slave labor system. Those are only the Americans. Other allied prisoners who were also liberated at the same time bring the total somewhere around 124,000 to 154,000 men. There is no way to determine how many "displaced persons" they also shipped into captivity from countries they overran.
7. Since the early 1990s, long held POWs of other nationalities captured by the communists from those wars have escaped and/or been returned by those communist regimes to their homelands. They escaped, or were returned, individually or in groups of up to 70 or more. These men were well up in their 70s to 80s, and very much alive!
8. Regardless of their status in the eyes of our government, POWs have a right to come home. They have a right to be with their family and friends; to spend their remaining days in whatever comfort and serenity is available to them. We have the responsibility to make it happen if it is humanly possible. Our government sure as hell won't.
9. Those past and present USG officials responsible for this travesty must be held accountable for their actions. This will not happen until live POWs are publicly returned to the United States.
10. The USG has never wanted to face the ramifications of those abandoned POWs returning home. People like Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, John McCain, six presidents from both major political parties, and others who want to see their personal and professional dirty little secrets remain buried. The only way that will happen is to keep live Prisoners of War "buried."
10. If we walk away from this issue now, our POW/MIAs are truly lost. Literally, we are their only hope and opportunity for freedom.
11. USG officials are nervous and afraid of this issue. If our efforts were not moving along the right path, they would simply ignore us. But they aren't. Each time we make a ripple, they respond with a tidal wave. Just review the way the Senators on the Senate Select Committee behaved. Most of them belittled and vilified those who support the premise of Living POWs while coddling those who do not.
12. The number of Americans who believe there are live POWs today being held in one form of captivity or another against their will continues to grow. Media polls prove that.
13. If we walk away from this issue now, our POW/MIAs are truly lost. Literally, we are their only hope and opportunity for freedom.
I want my life back and I want closure to the Vietnam War. I want to make sure that this travesty will not happen to my children and grandchildren. I know you feel the same. But none of this will happen unless we make it happen.
God has not given me an option of whether or not I remain in this issue. I am doing what I must do. And, yes I truly believe we will see POWs returned from Southeast Asia IF we remain focused. We might even see them return from other wars, too. Now wouldn't that be a sight to behold?
Think about it. God Bless.