Let’s remember them

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeremiah Monk
  • 66th Training Squadron commander
This coming weekend, most of us will enjoy a Monday off in celebration of Veteran's Day. As you take some well-deserved time off from your duties, I encourage you to remember the legacy of sacrifice and honor for which this holiday was established.

There are 83, 408 Americans still officially listed as missing in action from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and from several other conflicts. One, Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, is listed as the sole active American prisoner of war.

Our nation has not forgotten about our lost heroes, and a relentless but unheralded search for our people continues every day. Led by the Defense Prisoner of War and Missing Personnel Office, our nation is doing everything in its power to bring peace and conclusion to the families of our missing veterans. In fact, just last month, DPMO positively identified and accounted for three Americans lost in the Korean War.

Last April, DPMO also accounted for six more Americans missing from the Vietnam conflict. Lt. Col, Derrell B. Jeffords, Maj. Joseph Christiano, Capt. Dennis L. Eilers, Master Sgt. Larry C. Thornton, Tech. Sgt. W. Kevin Colwell, and Staff Sgt. Arden "A. K." Hassenger, all U.S. Air Force, were lost on Dec. 24, 1965 when their AC-47D Spooky gunship crashed in Savannakhet Province, Laos.

On Christmas Eve 1965, Spooky 21 departed Da Nang Airfied on an armed reconnaissance/strike mission. On the same day, President Lyndon Johnson announced a weeklong bombing halt over North Vietnam in honor of the Christmas holiday, a ceasefire that went into effect later that day.

Ironically, Spooky 21 was the last flight before the ceasefire took effect. Their mission was to monitor enemy activity moving through the area along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. En route to the primary target 32 miles northeast of Saravane City, Laos, Spooky 21 was diverted to a secondary target 18 miles northeast of the same location.

At 10:50 a.m., the crew broadcast a "mayday" call, after which they were never heard from again.

A two-day search and rescue operation followed, but the efforts were hindered by intense ground-to-air fire. The search was terminated at 3 p.m. on Dec. 26, and the crew joined the rapidly increasing list of Americans missing in the Vietnam conflict.

For forty-seven years, the families of these heroes celebrated Veterans Day by wondering what had happened to their fathers and sons. On July 9, the remains of the entire six-man crew were finally put to rest in a single casket at Arlington National Cemetery.

The crewmen of Spooky 21 are among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Although Laotians have admitted to holding American prisoners of war, these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords which ended the war in Vietnam, since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

It is for heroes like (since promoted) Col. Christiano, Col. Jeffords, Lt. Col. Eilers, Chief Master Sgt. Colwell, Chief Master Sgt. Hassenger, and Chief Master Sgt. Thornton that we celebrate Veterans Day.

So as you enjoy a day off from work, please take some time and reflect upon those who gave their lives for this country and for the freedoms we enjoy.