By lex, on July 17th, 2011
Closure at last for the family of one Texan’s native sons, too long missing in action after struck by ground fire in Laos:
“He’s finally home,” Sanders, of La Porte, said of her beloved uncle. “Our family is back together. We’re complete.”
Egan, who was born and grew up in Houston, was shot down April 19, 1966, while bombing targets in Laos. The crash site was eventually located, but his whereabouts remained a mystery. A DNA sample Sanders provided about 10 years ago was a near-perfect match for bone fragments a farmer in Laos turned over to U.S. officials in late 2009.
“I’ve been waiting for them to find him all these years,” said Anne Egan, cradling his urn. A burial for the Navy pilot is scheduled for Saturday.
William Egan was flying an A1-H Skyraider off the aircraft carrier USS Hancock when he was shot down in an area of central Laos that was considered a major artery of the Ho Chi Minh Trail leading into Vietnam.
“His wingman repeatedly flew over the crash site but could see no indication that (Egan) got out of the aircraft,” said Maj. Carie Parker with the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office.
Such repatriation of remains is considered a right and proper thing for those left behind in the maelstrom of war in Vietnam.
But in New Jersey, a local community wonders why their “favorite son” is slated to remain in a mass grave in Libyan soil:
Even as the United States and its Western allies participate in a modern war in Libya, a small city in New Jersey and a congressmen are battling to bring home the remains of 13 American sailors who died there in another war more than 200 years ago.
The remains couldn’t be brought home until the current war ends. Eight of them lie in an unmarked mass grave under Tripoli’s Green Square, where supporters of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi frequently hold anti-American protests.
But even when hostilities cease, the movement to bring the sailors home faces stiff opposition at home.
It’s not a political issue; members in the House from both parties voted in late May for legislation that would repatriate, identify and honor the sailors with a military funeral, if there is a government in Tripoli that might cooperate. Rather, Navy officials cite military policy as a justification for leaving the sailors’ remains thousands of miles away from their country.
Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, explained the Navy’s position in a 2008 letter to Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), author of the legislation to bring back the remains:
“Navy custom and tradition has been to honor the final resting place of those lost in downed ships and aircraft. The Navy considers the Tripoli cemetery to be the final resting place of these Sailors who sacrificed their lives for our Nation.”
Naval history buffs, including those who have had the privilege of reading “Six Frigates” – thanks, Hogday – will remember that Richard Somers died in a daring attempt to burn the Tripolitanian pirate fleet pierside using the fireship Intrepid. The ship exploded prematurely, taking the life of Somers and his crew of volunteers. Their bodies were dragged through the streets of the capital, and set upon by dogs before American prisoners successfully begged their guards for permission to bury their bodies in a mass grave.
A monument to Somers, and other veterans of the Barbary War, stands today in Annapolis, Maryland.
It would be nice if we could bring him home too.