The war in Vietnam claimed 58,000 men and women, whose families had the chance to weep, grieve and say goodbye. But for nearly 2,000 families, the war has never ended. Their loved ones are among the missing in action.
"There's always this emptiness in your life. I mean, there hasn't been a day gone by that I haven't thought of Ross," says Betty Fobair about her brother.
Lt. Col. Ross Fobair was on the very first plane shot down over North Vietnam. It was July 1965 and his family awaited word that never came.
His nephew Bruce Griffin says, "There's this strange sense of he's neither dead nor alive, he's nowhere, he doesn't exist." Griffin was only 9 years old the last time he saw his uncle.
"I certainly didn't understand the meaning of the word 'missing'," he adds.
In 1966, several prisoners were paraded through the streets of Hanoi.
"We held out hope that some day there would be letters from home from someone, some POW, named Ross Fobair," recalls Griffin and seven more years passed, with rumors of possible sightings.
It was 1973 and, during Operation Homecoming, Americans across the nation saw on their TV screens the release of a few POWs.
"You could see the joy in their faces. Ross wasn't there. We held out hope," says Griffin.
Year after year of nothing, no word at all, but Griffin was haunted, always by the same thought: "What if he had survived? Wouldn't he want to know that someone in his family was still looking for him and hadn't given up on him?"
Finally, a long-awaited break came in 1997 when a crash site was found and a team of searchers was being sent to Vietnam.
"When I heard that they were going, there was a part of me that needed to go too," adds Griffin.
There was virtually nothing left, but the digging continued. And three years later, "they found a tooth. That was it. That was all they ever found," says Griffin.
At the ceremony, Griffin spoke: "Several people have commented, including his squadron mates, what a terrific smile he had, isn't it fitting that what identified him was a part of that smile."
A generation has passed since the last troops came home from Vietnam. Griffin hopes if Americans are ever again asked to serve in war....
"It's meaningful to them to know that if they're left out their on their own, the country's not going to abandon them. And that's why the POW/MIA flag says you will not be forgotten."
Lindon Dix had not forgotten. Though she'd never met any of the family, for nearly three decades, sh wore a POW-MIA bracelet carrying the name of Ross Fobair.
And Wilbur Anderson Had Not Forgotten, he was Fobair's squadron mate, and close friend. Recently he went to The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"And the first name I went looking for, was Ross Fobair. And I found it," he said.
Judie Taber Mills has never forgotten. Her brother, Lt. Commander James Mills, U-S Navy Flier, is still missing, 35 years after being shot down in Vietnam.
"We just want the truth...I think it's one of those things that every family wants to honor the memory of their loved one," she says as she wipes off her tears. "Sorry, but in Jimmy's case, there hasn't been that type of honor for him, and I would love that for him."
For the nephew of Ross Fobair, the search came down to this:
"Keep your eye on the prize, your expectations low, and never give up."
For one family, 36 years of waiting, hoping, and agonizing, comes to an end on a brilliant spring afternoon. They finally could say with pride: Welcome home.
For more information:
- The National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia
- P.O.W. Network
- MIA Facts
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