When I asked Linda Brown of Puyallup the one thing she wants people most to know about her brother’s remains coming home after 43 years missing in action from the Vietnam War, she said:
“Don’t every give up. Never, ever give up.”
I wrote about Brown and her family for a story published Tuesday. Her brother, U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class James Leslie Moreland, a Siver Star recipient, is coming back to U.S. mainland soil. He will be buried in May beside his parents’ graves in Ashby, Ala.
She and her daughter, Lisa Newlander, both lauded the U.S. government and its Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) for its perseverance in continuing to search for, find and return the remains of veterans lost in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Gulf War and other conflicts.
So did Kathy Strong, a 50-year-old Walnut Creek, Calif., woman who has been wearing a MIA bracelet in honor of Moreland since she was 12. She is part of the story of Moreland’s homecoming, too, and Moreland’s family is grateful for a stranger who wished every day for the return of Moreland’s remains.
As a reporter, I knew of the “bring every service member” home policy of the government, but in the process of writing the story this week, I learned even more about the great lengths to which this department goes.
Among recent releases posted on its website is news about:
• 11 World War II airmen whose remains have been recovered and are being returned to their families for burial “with full military honors.” They were aboard a B-24D Liberator flying out of Port Moresby, New Guinea, when their aircraft disappeared. This news was released Feb. 11
• An airman missing from the Korean War, 1st Lt. Robert F. Dees 23, of Moultrie, Ga. The department announced Jan. 21 that his remains have been identified to his family for burial. His F-84 Thunderjet crashed during a bombing run in North Korea on Oct. 9, 1952. The news was released Jan.21.
• Two airmen missing from Vietnam Air Force Col. James E. Dennany, 34, of Kalamazoo, Mich., and Maj. Robert L. Tucci, 27, of Detroit, Mich., disappeared Nov. 12, 1969, while flying an F-4D to escort a gunship on a night strike mission over Laos. News of their repatriation was released by the DPMO on Jan. 11.
That’s just a sampling of the dozens releases on the website, all bringing news of soldiers long missing being welcomed home and buried with military honors.
Brown and Newland said they’re both thankful and amazed that the government is still working so hard to bring loved ones home. But they also said they worry budget cuts could curtail the department’s work.
The slogan on the black-and-white POW-MIA flags: “You Are Not Forgotten.” is more than just a slogan, they said. It’s a promise to soldiers and their families, a sacred trust between the United States of America and its citizens.
“I hope in my heart that they find everybody so their families can have the closure that we have,” said Newlander, who is Moreland’s niece. Brown, now 62, was pregnant with Newlander when her brother disappeared.
Retired Army Col. Paul Longgrear, who was a 1st lieutenant in Vietnam when he commanded Moreland, said this week he greatly appreciates the work.
He described Moreland as a highly skilled and indispensable company medic who could perform appendectomies and tracheotomies in the field when necessary.
“Sometimes helicopters couldn’t get in and somebody was shot up pretty bad and his life was in Jim’s hands,” Longgrear said.
Moreland vanished in the battle of Lang Vei on Feb. 6-7, 1968. His gallantry in action that night won him a Silver Star.
After 42 years of wondering and waiting, Brown is thankful her brother’s remains will be laid to rest.
“I always told anybody I talked to (who has a loved one missing) that I wouldn’t ever give up, she said.
“There are still missing,” she added. “It always amazed me that there are families of the missing from the Korean War after all these years trying to get closure.”
Longgrear said of the U.S. effort to find and repatriate the remains of servicemembers:
“I just don’t have words to describe what it means knowing that if you go and die that they will do everything they can to bring you home. … I didn’t realize how much of a wound I had in my soul until they found James, and so it’s not only going to bring closure to the family, it’s going to bring closure to me.
Longgrear says he “met the Lord” in that bloody battle at Lang Vei. Now he’s an ordained minister, and he’ll officiate at Moreland’s service.