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: The search for America’s prisoners of war and those missing in action. MIAs and POWs.
This Memorial Day, our country will remember those who gave their lives to protect and defend us. But the Department of Defense lists more than 80,000 U.S. troops as still MIA.
Their bodies never returned from the battlefield. And their families are still wondering what really happened to their loved ones. WORLD Senior Writer Kim Henderson brings us this report.
KIM HENDERSON, SENIOR WRITER: Last December, I had an interesting visitor show up at my front door.
RICK GUNDER: My name is Rick Gunder. I’m 71 years old. Been riding on ‘Run for the Wall’ since 2014.
Rick wears wireframe eyeglasses and the unmistakable cap of a proud military veteran. The “Run for the Wall” he’s talking about is a cross-country motorcycle event. It raises awareness for America’s missing in action and prisoners of war, the ones who didn’t come back from our wars.
GUNDER: That's where I first got Danny's bio. I carried that from Eagle Nest, New Mexico, to the Washington, D.C., wall.
The bio he’s referring to belongs to my cousin, Danny Entrican. He was a soldier who went missing in 1971 in Vietnam. Actually, just over the border in Laos.
Rick taped Danny’s bio to his Victory Vision, a sleek, top-of-the-line touring motorcycle. Then he rode 2,600 miles in honor of Danny.
And now, Rick and his wife, Cleta, have crossed several state lines just to meet us. Because we’re Danny’s relatives.
The Vietnam War was the longest and most unpopular war in American history. Rick knows all about that. He served there, working on turbine engines.
Cleta remembers it, too.
CLETA: It was very hard. When he came home, he was called baby murderer, baby killer, baby rapist horrible things. He did not even put a uniform on while he was at home until we got to the next military base, because of what people were saying. So we didn't tell people.
Rick feels a connection to my Green Beret cousin.
GUNDER: Right after I got his bio, I was sitting in the hotel room. And when I started reading it, I found out that he went MIA exactly 30 days to the day before I left country and went back to the United States.
The correlation hits Rick hard. He explains what the bio says about Danny.
GUNDER: They got ambushed, and he wasn't able to make it back. And he told his guys to get on the aircraft. It was there. He didn't make it back.
The next morning, the Gunders visited the VFW post named in honor of Danny. We also went to the local military museum.
GUNDER: I never would have dreamt I would find so much information about Danny.
The museum has a case full of Danny’s personal items.
But all of Danny’s immediate family went to their graves not really knowing what happened to him. He’s listed as an LKA case. That’s “last known alive.” He was last seen alive near enemy forces. No remains have ever been recovered.
GUNDER: That just tugged at my heart. So horrible. I'm just. I can't wrap my head around that. I just can't. Somebody has to make sure we don't forget all of these guys.
There’s actually a government agency whose main job is making sure “all those guys” aren’t forgotten. It’s the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the DPAA for short. Its job is to recover, identify, and bring home the remains of the missing.
In March, I spoke with Agency Director Kelly McKeague at a gathering in Dallas for families of MIAs. McKeague says the effort to recover remains is an inherently American pursuit.
KELLY MCKEAGUE: We have a moral obligation, a moral imperative with which to go find them, to give their families answers. And families have not moved on. It's still something that is a hole in their heart, a void in their life. And it's something that we as a nation owe it to them.
It’s a massive mission. They’re striving to account as fully as possible for more than 81,000 personnel missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War.
At the conference, attendees heard from all kinds of team members working to solve these mysteries.
SPEAKER: Recovery team. Their purpose is to go out there and methodically excavate the site.
SPEAKER: One of the big things in Southeast Asia is unexploded ordnance. So we always take out explosive ordnance technicians.
Things that compromise DNA.
SPEAKER: Pesticides. Are those going to give as much as a degradation.
The highlight at these gatherings is something called a “remembrance ceremony.” Family members introduce the crowd to their loved ones that never came home.
SPEAKER: My father was lost between Japan and the Philippines.
SPEAKER: Our uncle, Noel Shue, who was killed over France. His plane was shot down by the Germans.
SPEAKER: He participated in the Bataan Death March.
SPEAKER: We had to go to the local Air Force Base to look at pictures of POWs, hoping that he would be one of those people that was identified.
SPEAKER: My uncle, Master Sergeant James Henry Calfee of Bowling, Texas. No remains have been found.
But sometimes remains are found. More on that in my next segment.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in Dallas, Texas and Brookhaven, Mississippi.
EICHER: This piece is a companion to Kim Henderson’s recent cover story in WORLD. It’s a detailed three-thousand word piece on the search for America’s missing military members. You can look for the May 20th issue of WORLD Magazine or head over to today’s transcript and we’ll have a link for you.
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