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Daily Journal
     June 8, 2021      #99-159 KDJ

Some gave all but got little back 

By Dennis Marek

In March 1962, we were technically not at war in Vietnam. President Johnson didn’t “officially” send troops there for another three years. But that didn’t mean that we hadn’t started to plant a strong foothold there years earlier, and with armed troops. There have been so many lies about that war from the top on down, to learn another new one probably won’t shock us much. But this one hurt families once again.

On March 16, 1962, a Lockheed Super Constellation propeller-driven aircraft left Travis Air Base in California for an undeclared mission. The aircraft was flown by Flying Tiger Line and not by the Air Force. But it was filled with active duty military personnel. These 93 soldiers had been gathered from across the nation for this unclear mission a few weeks before. Also aboard were three South Vietnamese and a crew of 11, headed for Saigon.

The airplane refueled in Hawaii, at Wake Island and then Guam. This was to be the last leg of the flight to Saigon, but the airplane vanished. There was one report by a tanker that a crew member had seen a midair explosion, but no survivor or even debris was ever found.

For 60 years, the families of these soldiers learned nothing. There was no honoring of them even though they died in the line of duty. Through the Freedom of Information Act requested by one family member, a totally redacted set of documents were produced. The remaining readable portions gave no clue about this secret mission.

There is no doubt that these soldiers were going to South Vietnam as a part of the war effort that would soon come to fruition. There is no information released about what they were supposed to accomplish nor that such a task was later performed by other soldiers. The story of 93 soldiers giving up their lives went untold.

It has been a sword in the sides of these families that none of these men were ever memorialized. There are 58,318 names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, but none of these men are included. Why not? The answer has been that they did not die in the combat zone.” Really? They were headed to a place already in combat between the North and South Vietnamese. They were American troops headed to that war zone with a military purpose and they died. Does this seem fair at all?

Gary Peters, a Democratic senator from Michigan, realizing the inequity of the situation actually introduced legislation in 2019 to allow these 93 names to be inscribed on the wall. The resolution never even made it to the floor for a vote.

So the rhetoric is that these men did not die in Vietnam because they just didn’t reach the shore. For years, you had to die in Vietnam or die later from injuries suffered there within a matter of months. A man named Scruggs was in charge of the wall and was insistent on these rules and fought to keep off any new names. The dates for possible inclusion were to be from 1959 through 1975. So why is this event excluded?

As some of my readers over the years might remember, that “rule” was overcome in the case of a pilot named Edward Alan Brudno who was shot down over North Vietnam and was a POW for six years. When I worked in the CIA, some of his letters to his wife, later turned over to my department, contained well coded-information that led to the discovery of a previously unknown POW camp. That camp became the site of the only attempt to free POWs from the North. As I watched him exit the airplane after his release in 1973, I marveled that he survived.

Within a few months, Brudno became the first returnee to commit suicide. With the persistence of his brother and the help from war correspondent Joseph Galloway of We Were Soldiers Once and Young fame, his name was added to the wall but only after years of persistence. Mr. Brudno did not die in Vietnam nor directly from injuries suffered there. Did he have PTSD, even though no one had adopted that term yet? To my knowledge, no one has used that mental condition for having a name added to the wall. But his name is on the panel today. It was even added to the traveling wall that came to Bradley a couple of years ago.

The families of these men have fought for years to have their men honored. Recently, the founder of Wreaths Across America was moved by this account and decided to create a monument for these soldiers. The monument is in Maine and has the names of all the American soldiers who were on that fateful flight.

But why not the wall? They died while on the way to a combat mission in a combat zone, just not yet declared one by our country. The officials who guard over the wall were finally convinced to recognize Brudno, but why not these men? Will it demean any of the names who are already on it? So let’s go after them again, Sen Peters, you now have the votes. That would give a large number of families a real Memorial Day. Thanks to David Sharp of The Associated Press for some of the facts and the drive to find even more.

Dennis Marek can be contacted through the Daily Journal at editors@daily-journal.com or through his personal email at dmarek@ambltd.com.

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