August 02, 2009

Stories Unearthed from the Sands of A Faraway Desert

The Navy does not leave their men and women behind. It doesn't matter how many years have passed, they will follow every lead, turn every stone, rake every piece of sand to find them and bring them home.

For the family I wish them peace, a peace they have not had in 18 years.

Eighteen years is a long time to question, wonder, worry, grieve.

I witnessed that anguish for 37 days, a story I am finally going to tell here. I've been blogging for 5 years and have alluded to it... and those who know me well know the story as it is a part of me. I will leave out names, but share my side of the story.

It was shortly after Captain Speicher was shot down, during GWI in January. And for those of you who are wondering how he became such a young Captain, when you are listed as other than KIA, you continue to get promoted.

I said something to TGOO about this once, as we were talking about people he knew that were POWs in Vietnam. I said something like, "Wow, what if they were a really crappy officer, and they still got promoted?"

He replied, "Of course. Can you imagine? Not only did you pay this huge sacrifice for your Country, you're held captive, and then released only to find out you were passed over for promotion?"

But that is how it works and it is the right thing to do. So if any of you saw a picture of Captain Speicher and were doing a double take as to how such a young man could be a Navy Captain, it is because time stopped when he was 33, but his career continued as if he were still with us.

As it should have. And this is not to say he does not deserve them, that it was solely automatic. Not at all... all I have read has said he was a good guy.

I have spoken of a very close girlfriend of mine that I visit once a year when I go home. She is the friend that I can go a year or two without seeing and then pick up the phone and say, "Hey, -----" and pick up the last sentence of our last conversation and continue as if there was never a pause.

We have been through some seriously bad stuff together. And because of what we have endured together, there is a bond between us that can never be broken.

I got the phone call at work. She was freaking out because her husband had been shot down. Nobody was sure exactly what had happened... but it wasn't good.

As the days progressed, he was deemed KIA. I got an education on ejection seats, cockpits and his type of aircraft, as I sought out every Navy and Marine pilot I worked with to try to understand the scenario and the probability of survival.

His beacon in his seat didn't go off, although we found out later it had failed. His plane had been hit by a SAM. For reasons I won't go into here, his wingman saw nothing.

Everyone assumed he was KIA, but it was changed to MIA. Letters started to pour in from his squadron mates about how much he had loved his wife. They sent pictures of him, pictures he had of her... sent them to her with deeply heart felt letters as they were helpless and crushed... young men at war, experiencing loss.

Meanwhile, she was on the West Coast, and here I was working at Company X in West Palm Beach. Did she need me to fly out? No. So I did the next best thing and I called... every single day.

We'd go over what was in her head. What she'd gotten in the mail. The phone calls she received. And over and over she kept saying to me, "Bou, he is not dead. Wouldn't I feel it in my bones? Wouldn't I just KNOW my soulmate is dead? I don't feel it. I won't believe it."

And for 37 days, after the initial shock wore off, that was her frame of mind. "I would feel it. I don't feel it. He's not dead." And she would tell me, in near hysteria at times how she was sick of people treating him as if he were dead, as she wasn't going to believe it.

And I did nothing but listen and offer encouragement and tell her, "If you don't believe it... then he's not."

Lest I appear that I was the picture of strength for her, never in near hysterics, that is an inaccurate picture. For her, I was what she needed me to be. Off the phone, I was a mess, keeping the TV on 24/7 on CNN, literally sleeping with the news on in my bedroom. Coverage of the war, I could not get enough. I was a mess inside... but never to her.

She would ask me often what I thought. I'd analyzed the data every which way. I'd gone over it with pilots, with my Dad, with everyone I knew as I knew the details of how he went down. And no matter how I looked at it, with the data I had... he was dead. In my heart I was crushed, dealing with my own issues, of realizing that at age of 25, my best girlfriend from college could very well be a widow, something that is not supposed to happen to one so young.

What good would it have done to tell her that I couldn't see a way around it? That I'd talked to so many, and it... just was so bleak. What good? If he was dead, we'd find out soon enough and we'd deal with it then. If living on hope was what we needed, then that was what we'd do.

And so I'd tell her, "If you believe it in your heart... then who am I to say? It is true." And I did believe it. As much as I looked at the cold hard data and it said otherwise, if she felt it in her bones he was alive, then I believed that too.

He was not my mate. I was not spiritually tied to him. In my mind, she should know things in her heart that I did not.

And so she believed and prayed and I believed through her and prayed.

Senator McCain came to her aid. This past presidential election was very personal to me. Everyone else looked at it from afar, a distance to people they did not know running for the big office. That was not how I looked at it. Senator McCain helped keep my friend sane... I could not picture our current President doing what Senator McCain did... and for that, I view the Senator in a different light.

I am thankful for him and all that he did. One day I hope I can tell him personally.

And he had my friend meet up with Mrs. Bush, where Mrs. Bush hugged her and told her that if she did not believe in her heart that her husband was dead, then he was not. And she related the story of 'her George.'

My friend came home with a renewed resolve that her husband was alive. Nothing bothered her anymore. She was at peace with her beliefs and it didn't matter if the CACO showed up or the Mailman with letters from his squadron... he was alive and she did not question it.

And in turn, I felt more that she was right, data nor not, and if people asked me, I'd say he was alive. They would see. Her faith had buoyed me to believe the same, unequivocally.

When the POWs were released to the Red Cross, there he was. Nobody knew he'd been a captive. His video had never been shown, although he had prayed it would be so his family would know he was alive.

And for 37 days, I witnessed what it was like for a family not to know.

And the Speichers have been going through this for EIGHTEEN YEARS. It is something I cannot fathom.

May they have peace. May they be able to grieve properly and give him the final respects he so rightfully deserved. May they be able to continue knowing that we all know he was a hero, having paid the ultimate sacrifice and that our hearts are with them.

May they have peace.

Posted by Boudicca at August 2, 2009 08:41 PM

"you're held captive, and then released only to find out you were passed over for promotion?"

That's kinda how I felt through all 3 of my enlistments....

Seriously Though, I am truly thankful that the family has some closure to this.

Thank you Cpt Speicher for your service to this Country!


Posted by: P'cola Titan at August 2, 2009 09:12 PM

I cried for them today. That they finally know for certain. That they finally have an answer.

I simply can not imagine.

May he rest in peace and may his family find peace in his return.

Posted by: Teresa at August 2, 2009 10:06 PM

Thank you for this wonderful post.

Posted by: Greta Perry at August 2, 2009 10:10 PM

Oh Boudicca, that was beautiful. Thank you so much for so vividly explaining how important it was for Speicher to be found. Though I've never been in a similar situation, everytime I heard another tidbit of news about him, I thought of how agonizing it all must be for the families. I'm am so grateful that they now have a chance to find peace.

Posted by: FbL at August 2, 2009 11:25 PM


You are a good friend.

Posted by: Rave at August 3, 2009 08:34 AM

Bless you, Bou. You're the kind of friend we all need at some point in our lives. I'm so glad your friend's husband came home! I thought for sure that as I sat here reading this, your friend was Mrs. Speicher.

I live in Cincinnati, near the Maupin's, and I've met them on a few occassions. They suffered for a long time over the fate of their son... but not as long as the Speicher's. I just can't imagine. I just can't. It's why it's so important that they BOTH got to come home- eventually.

Posted by: AFSister at August 3, 2009 11:18 AM

I don't know. I don't think that I did anything that anyone else wouldn't do for someone they cared about so much that they were a friend. And what I did was nothing. I just listened. What she was going through was... hellish on a good day.

Families need closure. You end up with rumors and all sorts of wild accusations and ideas and... emotions run high and the entire process is so ghastly... and I only witnessed 37 days.

My heart is pained for the Speicher family. It aches for their loss. I take solace only in that they have closure. They deserved that.

Posted by: Bou at August 3, 2009 08:06 PM

Amazing post! Bless you for raising this.

We have also just had two pilots returned from the Vietnam jungle that had been MIA since the late 1960's. I just can't believe what their families must have been through.

Posted by: Shaz at August 4, 2009 01:05 AM

Sorry... should clarify that by "we" I mean Australia.

Posted by: Shaz at August 4, 2009 01:06 AM

My heart just breaks for them - and all who have missing loved ones. May Peace be with them all.

Posted by: Richmond at August 4, 2009 09:43 AM

Thank you for sharing this story, "unequivocally" defines the bond you describe. My mother knew days before the USMC showed up at our door to tell her that her husband had been killed. She felt it, and notified her family, so they were present when there was a knock at the door. I still remember going to the door, looking at the window, turning to my mom and telling here that a policeman was at the door. She told her waiting sister to take me to another apartment to spend the night. I found out the next morning that my "policeman" was actually a Marine delivering the news that my dad, my moms husband was KIA. She KNEW, felt it, days before, it is real.

God Bless, and Semper Fi

Posted by: Jerry at August 4, 2009 03:30 PM

Thank you for that, and may the Captain's family somehow find peace.

Posted by: Jim - PRS at August 4, 2009 07:55 PM

Shaz- I still have my mother's POW-MIA bracelet from Vietnam. The invention of the internet (thank you Al Gore heh) has enabled me to find out what happened. I wish it had a happy ending, where I could send him the bracelet as so many are able to do. Unfortunately, he was KIA. But once again... I'm so completely torn up for the families, but closure is needed. Everyone deserves to know... even if they know in their hearts.

Richmond and Jimbo- I so wish them peace. I wonder if it truly can be found, but I wish it for them. They deserve that now and more.

And lastly, Jerry- I cannot imagine. I have read your comment at least 20 times, wondering how to respond to it. Do I tell you how sorry I am? Because it hurts to read. And I am. But..I'm not sure. It seems hollow in print... not as heartfelt if I were in person, to be able to look you in the eye and say it.

But you have reconfirmed what I suspected... sometimes we just know things... deep inside, we know. When the CACO showed up at my girlfriend's door, they showed up in a little Chevette. They had to ditch the black sedan as the journalists were following them. How sick is that? Any modicum of civility lost... that the press can't leave the grieving families even the respect of finding out with great dignity. It sickened and angered me.

Posted by: Bou at August 5, 2009 01:15 PM

This is the fourth or fifth time I've read this. I can't say much because the room is still so smokey, almost four years since I quit smoking, that my eyes get watery.

You may not think that you didn't do anything anyone else would do, and maybe you didn't. Thing is, you did it better than most.

In this house, the prayers never really stopped for Cap'n Scott. We mentioned him by name every once in a while, if we thought of him, the rest of the time we just prayed for all who wear, or wore, Uncle's suit. I hope now he sleeps a little better, having been finally covered by that red white and blue blanket he so richly deserved.

Posted by: Peter at August 6, 2009 02:37 PM