As eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle reflect this Memorial Day upon the sacrifice made by those who died in the nation’s armed forces, finding a place in memory for the prisoners of war and those missing in action is in order.
Just 10 days ago, the U.S. Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced that the remains of an Air Force pilot shot down during the Vietnam War have been identified.
Maj. Robert Harry Schuler Jr., of Wellsburg, N.Y., was lost in action Oct. 15, 1965, on a mission north of Hanoi, according to a press release from the Department of Defense. Investigators from the United States and Vietnam conducted seven inquiries into Maj. Schuler’s disappearance between 1993 and 1998. The search led them to a Vietnamese army officer who remembered his unit shooting down an F-105 Thunderchief. Excavation of the crash site revealed pieces of the F-105 and human remains that DNA analysis showed to be Maj. Schuler’s.
This kind of work goes on four times a year in Vietnam. Of the 1,921 people originally listed missing in action, the remains of 518 have been identified and returned to the United States.
Investigators have determined the fate of 162 of the 196 people listed as “last known alive,” servicemen and women who may have survived the encounter that took them out of action but who did not return to their units. The remains of 48 of them have been identified.
Operations are also being undertaken to learn the fate of 377 Americans missing in action in Laos and 55 in Cambodia.
The families of the men and women who disappeared in Southeast Asia must take some solace that their loved ones are not forgotten and hope remains that they may have the small comfort of preparing a grave for them close to the places where they grew up.
Memorial Day has lost much of its import in the decades since the Vietnam War. Memorial Day parades were important community events throughout the Southwest in the 1950s and 1960s. No more.
To help rekindle the Memorial Day spirit in the minds of Americans, the National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed by Congress in December 2000. Americans are asked to pause at 3 p.m. today “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.’”
That is a fitting observance, particularly with the nation at war in Iraq and our community so personally touched through the daily sacrifices made by our neighbors at Cannon Air Force Base.
While it is nice to see family and friends gather for cookouts and fellowship at Ned Houk Park or Greene Acres or in back yards throughout Clovis and the region this holiday, we hope Americans everywhere will take a moment to remember that our soldiers continue dying just about every day in the service of their country.
Memorial Day is our chance to honor our country’s courageous military personnel, in our thoughts and with our actions.