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Final resting place


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Families of service members missing in action decades ago finally get closure

Members of the Ramona High School ROTC watch proceedings at the funeral of Thomas Green. Credit to Kim Henderson

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, May 23rd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Part two of the search for America’s service members who never came home.

Yesterday, we heard the story of veterans and family members who preserve the memories of those missing in action. According to the Department of Defense, more than 80,000 U.S. troops are still missing, going back to World War II.

EICHER: But what is it like for families who find out years later that the remains of their loved ones have been found?

WORLD Senior Writer Kim Henderson brings us this report.

PASTOR: Good morning. I invite you to rise.

KIM HENDERSON, SENIOR WRITER: Thomas Green’s funeral has been a long time coming.


And no one understands this better than his brothers, David and Michael.

BROTHERS: He got into Vietnam in September of ’71. (Yeah, the 15th he left for Vietnam.) And he was killed the 26th of October.

David and Michael Green at Thomas Green's funeral

David and Michael Green at Thomas Green's funeral Photo by Kim Henderson

But Thomas’ remains were under the South China Sea—unrecovered—for more than half a century. The work of finding the remains of missing troops like Green belongs to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Its teams include investigators, scientists, archaeologists, and in Thomas’ case, divers. Last year the Agency made 166 such recoveries.

In Green’s case, DNA matching proved to be the key. His mother gave a sample long ago, then David says he did, too, in 2005.

DAVID: It’s just a cheek swab, so they had the two samples that they could compare to.

Despite the rain, a lot of people have come to Thomas Green’s funeral here in Southern California. One group is standing in formation. They’re members of the ROTC at Ramona High School, Greens’ alma mater.

Rick Jordan is their commander.

RICK JORDAN: So it's important for them to realize people sacrifice for this country, and he made the ultimate sacrifice. And the least we can do is come here today. The very least we can do is come here today and show our respect for him and what he did.

Several of the students are close to Thomas Green’s age when he left for basic training—18.

Debby Hull is at the funeral, and she’s at the gathering at the VFW afterwards. She remembers 18-year-old Thomas Green quite well. But she was younger than him.

DEBBY HULL: My parents wouldn’t let us date. Okay. After they met Tom, “We know you're fine.” Let me go on a picnic with him for the first time.

Debby Hull

Debby Hull Photo by Kim Henderson

The couple got engaged just after Thomas enlisted. He set aside part of his army paycheck for Debby to go to Bible college.

HULL: Once he was done serving his time, we were going to go on the mission field.

But a helicopter crash changed all that. Getting over Thomas’ death was hard. Not knowing what really became of him was harder. Debby says she couldn’t believe it when she got a call from her brother early this year.

HULL: He said, “I just want to tell you that I got an email from somebody who says they're looking for you. I don't know if there's truth behind it, but they think they have found Tom's body.”

Larry Burns is commander of the Ramona VFW post. He says the return of Thomas Green’s remains have caused quite a stir.

LARRY BURNS: Thomas is actually on our wall. We have a wall of honor. And he's already on there. So I've got to change his plaque, because it says when he was missing, but I haven't finished where he's found, and then today, when he was interred, so that's going to happen.

Another VFW member, John Hine, describes it as the final mile after years of memorializing Thomas.

JOHN HINE: We didn't really expect any kind remains to come back. We figured it was long gone. So this is a little bit of a shock that they actually found him and we get a chance to bury him here in Ramona.

He’s right. More than 81,000 military personnel are listed as missing in action or killed in action, bodies not recovered. Very few will ever be found, identified, and buried.


So finding Thomas’ remains is something akin to a miracle. It’s a blessing acknowledged during his funeral.


Jeffrey Horn is a Lutheran pastor. He conducted the service. Later, Horn spoke of the spiritual implications of the search for soldiers’ remains.

JEFFREY HORN: God created us body and soul. And while our souls rest with Christ after we die, we wait the day of His return on the last day, and he will raise all of us physically from the dead.

Horn says it’s important to honor remains and support families.

HORN: But there is hope on the last day, and those whose bodies we don't have here, Christ knows where they are, he will raise them. He has the power to do that. So that is our hope.


Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in Ramona, California.

EICHER: To read the full print feature story on Thomas Green’s funeral, look for the May 20 issue of WORLD Magazine. And we’ll post a link to the digital version of the story in the transcript of this episode.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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