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More than 100 Nebraskans and western Iowans who fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars are still officially listed as “unaccounted for.” • Each of these men has a story: His plane crashed into the Vietnamese jungle, or the North Koreans marched him away, or he went into battle and disappeared like a ghost. • Each of their families has a story, too. It’s a story of the vertigo created when a serviceman never walks through the front door, and is never properly lowered into the ground. • A small group of military scientists and investigators is working to find these servicemen, digging deep in jungles and into military records. Until this effort succeeds, the families of those “unaccounted for” are left with what they say is the worst emotion of all on this Memorial Day. • Uncertainty. • “I’ve gone through heck, and I’ve talked to a million mothers over the years that feel the same way,” says E. Robinson, one of the founders of the National League of POW/MIA Families, whose brother Larry has been missing in Laos since Jan. 5, 1970. “Not having an answer is the hardest part.” — Matthew Hansen


Jim O’Brien’s proper burial after 58 years as an MIA soldier shows the hard work — and the luck — needed to bring servicemen home. Page 2S KOREA |

PAYING TRIBUTE | Learn more about the 100-plus

Nebraskans and western Iowans still listed as “unaccounted for” from the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Pages 4-6S

THEIR STORIES | Air Force Capt. Fred “Fritz”

Rudat went down during his final scheduled mission in the Korean War. Read about Rudat, twins Doyle and Duane Sprick and others. Pages 7 and 8

The brutal nature of combat in the “forgotten war” made for high casualty counts and a large number of MIAs. Page 3S

2S MONDAY, MAY 25, 2009



About this project This section is devoted to those missing in action, or otherwise “unaccounted for,” from the Korean and Vietnam Wars. It includes prisoners of war and those killed in action whose remains have not been recovered. BELOW: The family of Jim O’Brien earned some closure after a Korean home builder discovered human remains and notified investigators. That discovery came in 1998, but because of the huge backlog of cases and the complex testing process, it took 10 years for a positive identification and funeral. RIGHT: During the Korean War, the families of more than 8,000 Americans received telegrams like this one classifying Earl Stiles as missing. Stiles went missing in November 1950, around the time of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir (adjacent photo). FUNERAL PROGRAM AND TELEGRAM COURTESY OF O’BRIEN AND STILES FAMILIES; CHOSIN RESERVOIR PHOTO: FRANK KERR/U.S. MARINE CORPS

Painstaking work, just plain luck needed to find, identify remains By Matthew Hansen WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

Jim O’Brien was lost when Chinese soldiers poured into North Korea and killed nearly every man in his unit. He was found after a North Korean decided to build a house. In the decades between these two events, Edward James “Jim” O’Brien’s MIA story is pockmarked by confusion and frustration — emotions all too familiar to the loved ones of servicemen still missing from the Korean and Vietnam Wars. No information from the government. Countless late-night family conversations about whether Jim might be buried in Korea, or alive in a prison camp, or simply gone forever. A grieving mother, Caroline, who wondered until the day she died: What exactly happened to my son? But the story of Jim O’Brien’s return home in a casket — a full-fledged military funeral 58 years after his death — is a final chapter that could soon become more common for the long-aggrieved families of the “unaccounted for,” officials say. It’s the story of a small band of military investigators and scientists who make it their life’s work to find lost servicemen. And the story of head-shaking, speech-stealing luck. When he was buried in St. Paul, Minn., last summer, Jim O’Brien became one of only two Korean War servicemen from Nebraska positively identified after a half-century of MIA status. Now he’s listed simply as “accounted for.” “I’m at a loss for words,” says Gregory O’Brien, Jim’s nephew. “It’s just all so unbelievable that I don’t know what to say.” The government said precious little after O’Brien, an Army sergeant, disappeared somewhere in Korea on Nov. 28, 1950. A telegram notified the family he was missing. Years later, the military sent an official letter saying they presumed him dead. No description of how or where he died. No apology. Caroline O’Brien eventually moved to California and took a job at Treasure Island Naval Base. She would ask returning sailors if they remembered her son, a former Navy man in World War II who had moved to south Omaha to work in the Stockyards after the war. He joined the Army in time for the Korean War.

Retrieving remains is difficult, says E. Robinson, whose brother Larry Robinson, above, was shot down over Laos in 1970. The Marine Corps pilot, shown in his F-4F Phantom, had fulfilled his flight quota but took a mission to fill in for a sick buddy. Decades passed with no information, but ever so slowly, the government began to change its long-criticized policy of releasing little information about missing servicemen. The Defense Department created the Missing Personnel Office in 1993, an attempt to bring scattershot information about missing servicemen to one central location. The office works with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, a 400-person military outfit that searches for the remains of American servicemen around the globe and also boasts the largest forensic anthropology laboratory in the world. After initially focusing most of its attention on the Vietnam War, the Missing Personnel Office spent three years compiling a complete list of Korean War MIA servicemen. About the same time, the North Korean and American governments entered into an agreement that let the Hawaii-based researchers into North Korea to dig for remains. (The agreement ended in 2005 because of heightened tensions.) This is how a team of researchers ended up near the Chongchon River in North Korea in October 1998, excavating a site where they believed many Army infantrymen died during

an early battle with Chinese forces. The work was tedious. To search for remains in Vietnam, Cambodia and formerly in North Korea, the American researchers must agree to a time limit and pinpoint a specific area. Their hosts are sometimes less than hospitable — during the joint command’s original trip to North Korea, the guides showed up armed and pointed their semi-automatic weapons at the researchers throughout the dig. And they must battle time and geography. In the five decades since the Korean War ended, records were destroyed, remains were moved and witnesses died of old age. Vietnam is covered by dense jungle, an unyielding terrain that complicates the search. “Everybody thinks it’s real easy, just go in there and get them,” says E. Robinson of Lincoln, a co-founder of the National League of POW-MIA Families, who has observed Vietnamese digs searching for his brother, Larry Robinson. “Trust me: It isn’t easy at all.” But in October 1998, the researchers got a stunning break. A North Korean man told investigators he had recently uncovered bones and dog tags while building a house near the river. He showed them where he had re-

buried the remains. Within weeks, those remains and identification were shipped to Hawaii for analysis. Months of research hinted that the military identification and remains both were Jim O’Brien’s. The skeletal length, for example, showed it belonged to a man almost exactly his size. But to make a positive identification, the remains had to be sent to a DNA laboratory in Maryland. Analyzing one set of remains takes several weeks; the DNA laboratory has a case backlog that numbers into the thousands, said Larry Greer, spokesman for the Defense Prisoner of War/ Missing Personnel Office. The military also needed DNA from a family member connected to his mother’s bloodline. After finding and notifying the family of the search, Jim O’Brien’s brother Walter allowed the inside of his cheek to be swabbed. The DNA matched. After more analysis to rule out other remains at the dig, the military gave Jim O’Brien’s family the news. He was coming home. Jim O’Brien was buried with full military honors on a Tuesday in south St. Paul. Seventy-five Korean War veterans showed up to salute the casket. The family received a booklet detailing the forensic research. It gave them new details of the circumstances surrounding his death: where he was, how the Chinese troops had overwhelmed O’Brien’s unit, the names and fates of others who served with him. The military now delivers such reports to nearly 100 families a year. There’s hope that improving DNA technology, increased cooperation from North Vietnam, China, Laos and Cambodia and a potential thaw in U.S.-North Korean relations will lead to more recoveries. Nearly 10,000 missing servicemen are unaccounted for from Vietnam and Korea alone. The day of Jim O’Brien’s funeral, the list grew shorter by one name. “It was sad, but it was also stunning,” said Gregory O’Brien, who escorted his uncle’s body from Hawaii to Minnesota. “We had accepted the fact we’d never see or hear anything about him, ever.” a Contact the writer: 444-1064,

Still searching for a loved one? Medical and technological advances are helping identify remains of U.S. military personnel retrieved from battlefields or exhumed from unmarked graves. Defense Department officials encourage families of MIAs to submit mitochondrial DNA samples to help identify remains. Samples must come from siblings, the mother or others from her side of the family. Some remains at U.S. labs are awaiting DNA samples to confirm identification. For more information, contact the casualty office of any military installation or the POW/Missing Personnel Office: DPMO 2900 Defense Pentagon Attn: External Affairs Washington, D.C. 20301-2900 — David Hendee

On the cover Main photo of Air Force Capt. Fred “Fritz” Rudat in front of a training aircraft, courtesy of his daughter, Cheryl Thomas-Miller of York, Neb. Photo alterations (sky enhanced) by Chris Machian/The World-Herald. Memorabilia photo of Marine Corps Maj. Larry Robinson by Alyssa Schukar/The World-Herald.



MONDAY, MAY 25, 2009

Confusion, politics boost Korea MIA count By David Hendee WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER


America’s Korean War MIAs total more than four times the number still unaccounted for in the Vietnam War. For decades after the conflict, North Korea refused to let Americans in to find remains. Here, medics carry a wounded soldier in 1952.

More missing in Korea KOREAN WAR 1950-1953

8,126 missing

36,574 dead; 103,284 wounded VIETNAM WAR 1959-1973 58,209 dead; 153,303 wounded

1,845 missing

Korean War

The Battle of Chosin Reservoir has also been called "Frozen Chosin," as this image of snow- and ice-covered U.S. Marines indicates. Frostbite was an additional enemy as servicemen battled 30-below temperatures during the two-week battle.


JUNE 25: North Korea crosses 38th parallel and invades South Korea. JULY 1: First U.S. infantry unit arrives in Korea. SEPT. 15: U.S. and United Nations allies U.S. MARINE land troops at Inchon. SEPT. 27: Allies recapture Seoul, the South Korean capital. NOV. 27 - DEC. 9: Battle of Chosin Reservoir. U.N. casualties: 2,500 dead 192 missing 5,000 wounded 7,500 frostbite Chinese casualties: 19,200 fighting 29,000 hunger or frostbite


JAN. 1 - 15: Chinese recapture Seoul. MARCH 7 - APRIL 4: United Nations forces retake Seoul. JULY 10: Truce talks begin. SEPT. 13 - OCT. 15: Battle of Heartbreak Ridge. United Nations casualties: 30,700 wounded and dead





Sea of Japan


North Korea, China casualties: 25,000 wounded and dead



JUNE - AUGUST: Battle for Old Baldy. U.S. casualties: 307 dead Chinese casualties: More than 4,600 wounded and dead




MARCH - JULY: Chinese attack Pork Chop Hill. United Nations, U.S. casualties: 1,292 wounded 346 dead Chinese casualties: 5,000 wounded 1,750 dead JULY 27: Armistice signed.


Yellow Sea





D AV I D H E N D E E , D AV E C R O Y A N D M AT T H A N E Y / T H E W O R L D - H E R A L D

Fighting stopped in the Korean War more than a half-century ago, but unhealed wounds remain for thousands of American families. These are the sons, daughters, brothers and sisters of more than 8,000 U.S. servicemen still officially missing in action during the 1950-53 war — and some are battling to keep their loved ones from slipping into the shadows of history. “It’s a disgrace,’’ said Irene Mandra of Farmingdale, N.Y., president of KoreaCold War Families of the Missing. America’s Korean War MIAs total more than four times the number still unaccounted for in the Vietnam War. That’s partly because of the differences in fighting and partly because, for decades after the conflict, North Korea refused to let Americans in to find remains. The Korean War raged up and down the peninsula of rice paddies and rocky, barren mountains before ending in a stalemate about where it began. “It was a terribly mobile war. We retreated as much as we advanced,’’ said Paul Edwards, a Korean War artilleryman and the founder of the Center for the Study of the Korean War in Independence, Mo. “When you retreat and give ground, you lose a lot of slightly wounded or disoriented people who would have been fine if the line had held. Many were picked up as prisoners.’’ Edwards said the system of replacing troops in Korean combat zones one by one created less unit cohesion. Part of the armistice negotiations during the last half of the war included a restriction that the United States not take more troops or equipment to South Korea. “So when someone was killed or rotated back home, the new guy would practically walk into the old guy’s boots, rifle and sleeping bag,’’ Edwards said. “That explains why not everyone was watching out for each other better. If the new guy was missing, who knew?” Thousands of American troops were wounded or killed during massive human wave attacks by Chinese soldiers, who entered the war in late 1950. “We suffered large casualties, and the wounded or dead were often left behind,’’ said Bruce Cabana of Glen Falls, N.Y., who coordinates the Korean War Veterans Association’s MIA program. “Veterans talk about the Chinese overrunning them and never seeing a buddy again.’’ Some wounded or weakened troops fell on lonely mountain roads and froze to death under a blanket of snow. Airmen disappeared after bailing out of stricken aircraft or crashing into enemy territory. Others were taken to North Korean prison camps, taken over by the Chinese. American search teams haven’t been allowed into some of these sites, said John Zimmerlee of Marietta, Ga., who maintains the Korean War POW/MIA Network. U.S. military officials estimate that more than 3,900 American remains are concentrated in four areas of North Korea: POW camp burial sites near the China border; the Unsan/Chongchon area; the Chosin Reservoir area; and in the Demilitarized Zone. Zimmerlee and Edwards said there’s evidence that hundreds or thousands of U.S. and allied troops were shipped north to prison or slave camps in China and the Soviet Union. U.S. officials say there’s no evidence that American Korean War prisoners remain in Chinese or Russian prisons. The Defense Department says that Korean War MIA accounting remains important and that finding live Americans is the highest priority. Mandra’s brother Philip was a Marine sergeant ambushed by Chinese soldiers in North Korea in August 1952. “But we never stopped thinking,’’ she said, “that perhaps he was wounded and the Chinese carried him off.’’ a Contact the writer: 444-1127,

Frustration still smolders for Vietnam War MIA families By Lynn Safranek WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

Col. Robert Standerwick was born in Cedar Rapids, Neb., grew up in Kansas and lived in Bellevue while stationed at Offutt Air Force Base. Ask his daughter, Lynn Lidie, where Standerwick spent most of his life, and she’ll answer bluntly: “Vietnam.” For years, some families of Vietnam MIAs insisted that some U.S. forces remained alive in Vietnam and protested that the government wasn’t doing enough to demand their return. Standerwick’s family was one. The Air Force colonel, 40, and his crewman survived after their plane was shot down in Laos in 1971. Rescuers lost contact before finding them. When peace agreements were reached in 1973, the Vietnamese provided a list of American POWs they would release. Although Standerwick and his crewman didn’t make the list, the crewman was released from a POW camp in 1973, with 10 others whose names did not appear. The U.S. government has not given the Standerwicks a full account of what hap-

Lynn Lidie protested in the 1980s in search of answers about the fate of her father, Col. Robert Standerwick, and other POWs. Here, she is arrested in October 1986 in Mount Vernon, Va. pened to him — which they say is what they want, whether it points to his survival or his death. “Hope isn’t even involved,” Lidie said. “It’s a matter of knowing that there’s an answer. It’s knowing that someone knows and they’re withholding that information.” Families of Vietnam War MIA and POW servicemen, furious they could get no information — or in some cases got false informa-

tion — about their loved ones in North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, forced congressional hearings in the 1980s on the topic. They publicized evidence that the military had threatened families to keep quiet after American soldiers went missing in Laos, which was then officially listed as a neutral country. They uncovered numerous examples of Vietnam War families who had been told their loved ones were dead when, in fact, they were missing or a prisoner. “We lied to some of these families,” said Larry Greer, spokesman for the government’s Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington, D.C. “There’s still some resentment about that, and there should be, quite frankly,” he said. The U.S. government now works with the Vietnamese to search for remains but denies that live POWs were left behind at the war’s end. Patricia Hopper of Task Force Omega, a POW/MIA family support group based in Arizona, said many people still don’t trust the government to provide truthful information. More than 70 families, including hers, won’t accept bone fragments that the U.S. government says belong to their servicemen because they appear to be unidentifiable.

“It’s not a matter of ‘Are there people alive?’ ” Hopper said. “It’s ‘Who, where and what is it gonna take to get them out?’ ” Lidie, who was 13 when her father’s F-4 Phantom was shot down, learned from her mother’s activist example. Carolyn Standerwick, along with Nebraskans Kay Bosiljevac and Carol Cushman, were known locally as the “MIA wives,” outspoken women who lobbied for the government to share what it knew about their husbands’ whereabouts. Remains belonging to Bosiljevac’s husband, Air Force Maj. Michael Bosiljevac, were returned in 1987. Kay Bosiljevac is the daughter of former Omaha Mayor Al Veys. Maj. Cliff Cushman remains missing. In the 1980s, Lidie was active in Washington, D.C., protests and trips to Thailand to help with civilian rescue missions. Although her activity has dwindled in recent years, she said, “my brain is constantly working on it.” Lidie believes that what happened to her father will be uncovered eventually. “Maybe not in our lifetime,” she said. World-Herald staff writer Matthew Hansen contributed to this report. a Contact the writer: 444-1083,



4S MONDAY, MAY 25, 2009


1st Lt., Air Force 22, Plattsmouth, Neb. Sept. 9, 1952, N. Korea The fighter plane Alkire was piloting was hit by an enemy MiG-15 and crashed. Previously completed 34 missions as a jet fighter pilot and earned the Air Medal.


Cpl., Army 20, Pottawattamie Co., Iowa Nov. 6, 1951, N. Korea Anderson was wounded in action in October 1951. He returned to duty only nine days before being listed as missing in action.



Cpl., Army 21, Cass County, Neb. June 11, 1953, Korea Bradley, who attended Omaha South High School, was drafted and went missing just two months after reaching Korea.


Seaman, Navy St. Paul, Neb. Nov. 5, 1950, Korean Strait A fireman on the USS Samuel Moore, Bydalek reportedly died after being swept overboard during a battle.



Cpl., Army 18, Omaha Nov. 2, 1950, N. Korea Listed as missing in action after the Unsan Engagement, one of the Chinese army’s first major operations of the war.


Sgt., Army 25, Buffalo County, Neb. Sept. 8, 1951, N. Korea Listed as missing in action six days before his 26th birthday. Went missing after fighting on Hills 682 and 717.



Pfc., Army 25, Correctionville, Iowa July 11, 1950, S. Korea Died while a prisoner after being captured in South Korea and marched to North Korea on the infamous Tiger Death March.


Petty Officer 1st Class, Navy 26, Omaha June 12, 1951, Sea of Japan Presumably killed in action when the USS Walke struck a floating mine off the coast of North Korea. The explosion killed 26 men and wounded 40 others.



Cpl., Army 18, Dow City, Iowa Feb. 14, 1951, Chunchon, S. Korea Houston’s name and the date Feb. 23, 1951, were found written on the wall of a Chunchon jail cell. He was one of 10 brothers to serve in the U.S. military.


Sgt., Army 19, Campbell, Neb. Nov. 28, 1950, N. Korea Joined the Army at 17 and disappeared near the Manchurian border as about 300,000 Chinese troops poured into North Korea.

Cpl., Army About 24, Douglas County, Neb. May 18, 1951, S. Korea Reportedly died as a prisoner a month after being captured.

Pfc., Army 23, Harlan County, Neb. Sept. 10, 1951, N. Korea A member of the 35th Infantry Regiment, he was seriously wounded July 27, 1951. He returned to duty Aug. 3. He was killed near Hills 717 and 682.






1st Lt., Air Force Crawford, Neb. April 22, 1951, Korea Barnes bailed out of his F-84 Thunderjet fighter after it was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire near Kumwha. He was reportedly taken prisoner and died two months after being captured.

Sgt., Army Grand Island, Neb. Sept. 1, 1950, Korea A one-time Golden Gloves boxer, he fought in both World War II and Korea. He made a record before going into combat, on which he tells his family he will sing them a song to remember him by.

Lt. j.g., Navy 25, Geneva, Neb. Feb. 21, 1952, N. Korea The fighter pilot was escorting a damaged aircraft to an airfield when his airplane suddenly swerved and crashed into the sea.

Capt., Air Force 37, Kearney, Neb. April 16, 1951, S. Korea Helton piloted an F-84E Thunderjet fighter that crashed into a hill near Keasong-ni, South Korea.

Cpl., Army 20, Woodbury County, Iowa July 27, 1950, S. Korea A member of the 29th Infantry Regiment, Jensen was listed as missing in action after heavy fighting near Hadong.






Sgt. Maj., Marine Corps 31, Omaha June 12, 1952, N. Korea He served as a radar observer on a plane that reportedly was hit, crashed and exploded during a combat mission near Sinmak.

Pfc., Army 26, Furnas County, Neb. Nov. 30, 1950, Korea Herrick, a member of the 9th Infantry Regiment, went missing after fighting at the Kunu-ri Gauntlet.




Sgt. 1st Class, Army 19, Omaha Dec. 1, 1950, N. Korea Served in an anti-aircraft unit and reportedly died of pneumonia in a prison camp in 1951. He left behind a wife and an infant son born a week after Dorrance left for the war.

Pfc., Army 18, Dakota City, Neb. July 18, 1952, Korea A member of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, he went missing after fighting on Old Baldy.

Sgt., Army About 20, Douglas County Nov. 28, 1950, N. Korea A member of the 35th Infantry Regiment, he was seriously wounded in South Korea on Sept. 14, 1950, and returned to duty Nov. 1.




Pfc., Army Tecumseh, Neb. April, 25, 1951, S. Korea. Dorsch wrote to family friend Lyman Gottula just before being captured or killed: “I’m ready to go home now, but I guess I can’t. Maybe I can soon, though. I sure hope so.”

1st Lt., Air Force 30, Crete, Neb. Jan. 6, 1953, Korea Piloted an F-84 Thunderjet fighter that reportedly exploded.

1st Lt., Army 23, Sioux City, Iowa July 14, 1953, N. Korea The battery commander was reportedly killed in action while fighting near Kumson.


Cpl., Army 22, Woodbury County, Iowa Aug. 4, 1951 Member of the 24th Infantry Regiment.


Cpl., Army 20, Atlantic, Iowa Feb. 13, 1951, Hoengsong Member of the 15th Field Artillery Battalion.


Cpl., Army Omaha Dec. 3, 1950 Minikus graduated in Central High School’s class of 1945.






They hailed from farms and ranches, villages and cities across the Midlands. Some were combat veterans of World War II. Some dropped out of high school to serve their country. Some were postwar enlistees who were swept into the “police action” that became the Korean War. These 82 men are among more than 8,000 Americans still missing in action from what has been called the “forgotten war.” A few died in isolation along trails and in aircraft crashes. Most, however, disappeared on battlefields or died in distant prison camps. The muster on these pages lists the men with known Nebraska and western Iowa roots missing during the 1950-53 fighting. The medal shown where a photo wasn’t available is the Korean Service Medal. Also listed are rank; branch of service; age when they went missing; home or hometown of record; date they were missing in action and where; and other information when available. Nearly six decades later, the search continues for their remains. Their families and their nation have not forgotten. — David Hendee COMPILED BY WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITERS MATTHEW HANSEN, DAVID HENDEE AND LYNN SAFRANEK KOREAN WAR VETERANS MEMORIAL PHOTO: STOCKXPERT





Pfc., Marine Corps 19, Goehner, Neb. Dec. 2, 1950, N. Korea Member of the 5th Marines, he was killed while covering the withdrawal of friendly forces at Yudam-ni in Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

Petty Officer 1st Class, Navy 23, Omaha Aug. 27, 1952, off coast of N. Korea Was aboard the USS Sarsi when it struck a mine and sank. Two were killed instantly, 92 were rescued, and Kunsch and two others were declared missing.

Pfc., Marine Corps 23, Omaha Nov. 27, 1950, N. Korea Lenon, who also served during World War II, spent his 23rd birthday on a ship bound for Korea. Killed at Yudam-ni in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

Master Sgt., Army 27, Long Pine, Neb. Dec. 1, 1950, Chosin Reservoir, N. Korea Medic, seriously wounded while tending comrades and taken prisoner. Died Dec. 7, 1950.

Cpl., Army 20, Morrill County, Neb. Nov. 19, 1950, N. Korea Member of 5th Cavalry Regiment. Known as “Gene.’’ Listed his home as Guernsey, Wyo.


Cpl., Army 21, Nance County, Neb. March 25, 1953, Old Baldy Killed on a mapping mission, Ramaekers served at the same time as his twin brother.

Petty Officer 2nd Class, Navy 21, Schuyler, Neb. Jan. 29, 1953 Radar operator on AD-4N Skyraider night dive bomber aboard carrier USS Kearsarge. Lost on night heckler mission.

1st Lt., Air Force 24, Cherokee, Iowa Nov. 25, 1951, N. Korea Navigator of B-26B Invader with 730th Bomber Squadron. Crew bailed out on night mission northwest of Chorwon.

Sgt., Army 21, Malvern, Iowa Sept. 18, 1952, N. Korea Forward observer at Outpost Kelly when Chinese attacked.

Pfc., Army About 21, Sioux City, Iowa July 16, 1950, S. Korea Member of the 19th Infantry Regiment. Missing at Kum River.











1st Lt., Army Mills County, Iowa Nov. 28, 1950, N. Korea Member of the 35th Infantry Regiment.

Cpl., Army About 30, Woodbury County, Iowa Dec. 1, 1950, N. Korea Medic with 32nd Infantry Regiment. Killed while tending wounded comrades at Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

Cpl., Marine Corps 21, Omaha Nov. 30, 1950, N. Korea Nicknamed “Bud.” Missing at Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

Pfc., Army About 18, Cherry County, Neb. Dec. 2, 1950 Member 32nd Infantry Regiment. Missing at Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

Sgt., Army About 23, Douglas Co., Neb. May 20, 1951, S. Korea Member of 20th Signal AirGround Liaison Company. Died while prisoner Aug. 31, 1951.






Capt., Air Force 27, Columbus, Neb. April 12, 1951, Sea of Japan Rudat’s plane was shot down on what was scheduled to be his last mission, while he filled in for another airman.

Pfc., Army About 23, Hall County, Neb. Nov. 26, 1951, N. Korea Seriously wounded in North Korea on Sept. 3, 1951, and returned to duty 10 days later.



Cpl., Army About 26, Carleton, Neb. Nov. 6, 1950, N. Korea Member of Headquarters Company, X Corps.

Pfc., Army About 29, Nemaha Co., Neb. Dec. 1, 1950, N. Korea Medic with 9th Infantry Regiment. Taken prisoner while tending wounded comrades at Kuni-ri. Died in prison camp Feb. 3, 1951.



1st Lt., Army 34, Beatrice, Neb. Dec. 1, 1950, Chosin Reservoir Communications platoon leader with the 31st Infantry Regiment.

2nd Lt., Air Force 21, Sioux City, Iowa Feb. 28, 1952 Pilot of an F-84E Thunderjet fighter with the 9th FighterBomber Squadron. His aircraft received a direct hit by anti-aircraft fire. Bailout was unsuccessful.

Airman 1st Class, Air Force 22, Verdon, Neb. Jan. 31, 1952 B-29A Superfortress crewmember based at Okinawa, lost at sea during routine combat mission.




Sgt. 1st Class, Army About 30, Woodbury County, Iowa Sept. 2, 1950, S. Korea Member of 38th Infantry Regiment. Missing at Naktong Bridge.


Cpl., Army About 21, Brown County, Neb. Dec. 14, 1950, S. Korea Seriously wounded Aug. 11, 1950. Later returned to duty. Taken prisoner and died while prisoner April 18, 1951.


Cpl., Army 20, Omaha Feb. 14, 1951, Korea The popular South Omaha boy was taken prisoner on Valentine’s Day.





Sgt., Army 20, Beatrice, Neb. Nov. 22, 1950, N. Korea Member of 19th Infantry Regiment.

Cpl., Army 18, Meadow Grove, Neb. Nov. 25, 1950, Chongchon River, N. Korea Member of the 38th Infantry Regiment.

Master Sgt., Army 34, Omaha Nov. 30, 1950, N. Korea The North High School graduate joined the Army at age 20, serving first in Germany in World War II. Family was told he died in prison.

Sgt., Army Harlan, Iowa Nov. 30, 1950, Kunu-ri Noehren served in the Navy for two years before joining the Army. He died in captivity after being captured during battle.

Cpl., Army 25, Guthrie Center, Iowa Dec. 1, 1950, Kunu-ri Sand worked on farms in Guthrie County before he was recalled from the Army Reserves. Member of the 82nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion.

Sgt. 1st Class, Army 23, Long Pine, Neb. Nov. 26, 1950, N. Korea Member of the 38th Infantry Regiment. Missing near Kunu-ri.

Sgt., Army 25, Council Bluffs Dec. 1, 1950, North Korea Died in North Korean prison camp of disentery and malnutrition no later than May 15, 1951.

Pfc., Army About 18, Fort Calhoun, Neb. July 5, 1950, Osan, S. Korea Member of 21st Infantry Regiment. Taken prisoner, forced trek to North Korea on Tiger Death March. Died while prisoner at Hanjang-ni, North Korea, Feb. 16, 1951.










1st Lt., Air Force 24, St. Edward, Neb. Sept. 7, 1950, at sea Lightner flew F-51 Mustangs on ground support missions, surviving several hits by enemy fire until his 47th mission.

Pfc., Army Lincoln County Nov. 28, 1950

Pfc., Marine Corps 20, Shenandoah, Iowa Oct. 6, 1952 Member of the 7th Marines, he was killed in action in Western Outposts.


Master Sgt., Marine Corps 33, Lincoln Dec. 7, 1950, N. Korea Member of 1st Service Battalion. Killed fighting at Koto-ri near Chosin Reservoir.

Capt., Air Force 24, Cozad, Neb. June 19, 1951, near the N. Korea/China border Laier’s only child was born two days before he was reported missing.

Pfc., Army 19, Anita, Iowa Nov. 29, 1950, Chongchon River Member of the 38th Infantry Regiment, Larsen was killed near Kunu-ri. He was the youngest of three brothers.

Cpl., Army Woodbury County, Iowa Nov. 30, 1950, near Kunu-ri Member of 38th Field Artillery Battalion. Died while prisoner Feb. 11, 1951.

2nd Lt., Air Force 23, Potter, Neb. July 7, 1950, S. Korea Bailed out of his F-80C fighter jet returning to Japan base from seventh bombing mission.

Airman 1st Class, Air Force 21, Blair, Neb. April 7, 1951, N. Korea While on a bombing mission, his aircraft was attacked and crashed four miles off the coastline. He was taken prisoner.

Pfc., Marine Corps 19, Omaha March 26, 1953 Attended South High School before enlisting. A member of the 5th Marines, he was defending Outpost Reno when the Chinese overran his position.



Sgt. 1st Class, Army 20, York, Neb. Nov. 2, 1950, N. Korea Member of the 8th Cavalry Regiment, taken prisoner at Unsan. Died May 11, 1951.

Cpl., Army 38, Otoe County, Neb. Dec. 6, 1950, N. Korea Cook was listed as missing after a firefight near Hagaru in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

Sgt., Army 20, Sioux City, Iowa Dec. 6, 1950, N. Korea Cory reportedly was killed while driving a supply truck two miles north of Hagaru in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

Pfc., Army 18, Campbell, Neb. July 25, 1950, S. Korea Served as a member of the 5th Cavalry Regiment.


Sgt., Army 33, Omaha Dec. 2, 1950, N. Korea Baker, a medic, was reportedly captured while tending to wounded soldiers near Pyongyang. He died of malnutrition in a prison camp in February 1951.

Cpl., Marine Corps 21, Council Bluffs Dec. 2, 1950, N. Korea A member of the 5th Marines, presumably died during heavy fighting at Yudam-ni during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.



Pfc., Marine Corps 20, Omaha Dec. 10, 1950, N. Korea Sandoval had been a Marine for one year. Member of the 1st Marines.

Cpl., Army 20, Cass County, Neb. Dec. 2, 1950, N. Korea Member of 7th Infantry Division. Killed in action, Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

Sgt. 1st Class, Army About 21, Rock County, Neb. Nov. 30, 1950, N. Korea Member of 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion. Missing near Kunu-ri.

Cpl., Army About 18, Douglas Co., Neb. Oct. 15, 1952, N. Korea Member 31st Infantry Regiment. Missing at Triangle Hill.

1st Lt., Air Force 23, Ogallala, Neb. June 10, 1951, N. Korea Fighter pilot with 95 combat missions, he was shot down flying an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft. Aircraft fell into the Yalu River.


6S MONDAY, MAY 25, 2009





Master Sgt., Air Force 22, Spencer, Iowa Oct. 18, 1966 Aboard an HU-16 Albatross aircraft sent out to recover a downed pilot in the Gulf of Tonkin. Reportedly was downed during bad weather.

Lt. j.g., Navy 24, McCook, Neb. Oct. 10, 1966, N. Vietnam Plane shot down during night reconnaissance mission and rocket attack.



Sgt., Army Special Forces 25, Benkelman, Neb. April 22, 1961, Laos Served as an American adviser in Laos. A radio operator, he was reportedly killed during a grenade attack.


2nd Lt., Marine Corps 29, Papillion Jan. 24, 1966, S. Vietnam Navigator on an F-4 Phantom fighter jet. Disappeared when the aircraft he flew with fellow Nebraskan Doyle Sprick went down just outside Hue.


Col., Air Force 41, O’Neill, Neb. Nov. 26, 1967, N. Vietnam Pilot’s plane exploded. The incident report says plane was shot down, but various pilots contend a faulty fuse was connected to its bombs.


Lt., Navy 25, Lincoln July 26, 1969, Gulf of Tonkin Brenning, a pilot, crashed in what the Navy termed an “accidental aircraft loss” just after taking off from the USS Ticonderoga. A search effort was unable to find him.

They range from a 19-year-old Marine lance corporal from Omaha to a 56-year-old Air Force major from Lincoln. They include Army Special Forces troops and Navy pilots. These 30 men from Nebraska and western Iowa didn’t come home from the Vietnam War. They are among the 1,845 Americans still unaccounted for from the conflict. The medal shown here where a photo wasn’t available is the Vietnam Service Medal. Also listed are rank; branch of service; age when the servicemen went missing; home or hometown of record; date they were missing in action and where; and other information when available. — David Hendee


Lt. Col., Air Force 45, Sioux City, Iowa Nov. 10, 1967, N. Vietnam Cook, an instructor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, volunteered to fly in Vietnam. His plane went down during a bombing mission.

Maj., Air Force 56, Lincoln June 14, 1969, Laos



Seaman Apprentice, Navy 20, Boys Town Jan. 27, 1968, Vietnam Cordova graduated from Boys Town in 1965 after being sent there from Colorado. He went overboard on the aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge.

Capt., Air Force 24, McCook, Neb. April 6, 1970, Laos Played drums in combo at University of Nebraska. Entered Air Force after graduation in 1967. Sent to Vietnam in 1969. Plane shot down.





1st Lt., Army 25, Sidney, Neb. June 1, 1971, S. Vietnam

Capt., Air Force 27, Odebolt, Iowa March 9, 1969, Laos Rex, the first Odebolt native to be appointed to the Air Force Academy, was the pilot of an aircraft that crashed in enemy territory.



STANLEY K. SMILEY Lt., Navy 30, Sidney, Neb. July 20, 1969, Laos

Col., Air Force 40, Bellevue Feb. 3, 1971, Laos Standerwick and his crewman survived after their fighter plane was shot down. They were declared MIA.


Maj., Marine Corps 33, Randolph, Neb. Jan. 5, 1970, Laos Shot down flying for ailing comrade during second Vietnam tour.

Pfc., Army 22, Carroll, Iowa June 17, 1969, S. Vietnam Ambushed, wounded on patrol during first days in combat. Known to be POW.

Sgt. Maj., Army 34, Wakefield, Neb. Dec. 2, 1966, Laos Wounded on reconnaissance mission. A rescue attempt failed to recover Stark and a fellow Green Beret, last seen being led away by the enemy.





Maj., Air Force 27, Danbury, Neb. Oct. 7, 1966, Vietnam Listed as missing in action after the jet he piloted disappeared during a reconnaissance mission.

Airman 1st Class, Air Force 21, Shelby County, Iowa Nov. 16, 1966, Laos Piittmann was a passenger on an aircraft that was hit by ground fire and crashed. The pilot and co-pilot were rescued, but Piittmann was not.

Capt., Navy 34, Hoskins, Neb. March 1, 1968, at sea Scheurich, a pilot, flew a Grumman A6A Intruder aircraft that did not return from a mission. He and his plane were not found.

Maj., Marine Corps 34, Fort Calhoun, Neb. Jan. 24, 1966, near Hue Piloted a plane that was shot down on a flight with fellow Nebraskan Delmar Booze.






Lt. Cmdr., Navy 28, Sioux City, Iowa Oct. 25, 1967, 11 miles north of Hanoi Pilot of a plane shot down during an attack. No parachute was seen.


Lance Cpl., Marine Corps 19, Omaha Oct. 18, 1967, S. Vietnam

Spc., Army Special Forces 25, Laurel, Neb. Dec. 28, 1965, Vietnam Crew chief on helicopter that went down during a pre-dawn flight. Scattered debris and personal effects from the helicopter have now been found.

Staff Sgt., Air Force 36, Omaha March 11, 1968 Hall, last stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, took off his Air Force uniform to join a secret, CIA-backed mission in Laos. He disappeared when North Vietnamese commandos overran his location.


Staff Sgt., Army 21, Omaha March 25, 1971, S. Vietnam A fellow soldier reported that Puentes had been wounded at the base of a hill. He was gone when rescuers returned. A linden tree is planted in his honor outside Pawnee Elementary School.

2nd Lt., Army 38, Harlan, Iowa March 12, 1970, S. Vietnam

Capt., Air Force 29, Oxford, Neb. Nov. 21, 1972, at sea between Hue and Da Nang Parts of Stafford’s F-111 bomber washed up on shore after it was shot down, but he and his crewman weren’t found.

Capt., Air Force 24, Danbury, Neb. July 6, 1971, near the shared Laos-Cambodia-Vietnam border Last radio communication from his plane indicated he was flying through unfavorable weather conditions.


Chief Warrant Officer, Army 24, Lincoln April 3, 1972, on mission to Quang Tri City His helicopter crashed on his birthday. Later, a freed POW identified Zich as a survivor he saw in the Hanoi Hilton prison camp. Zich, however, has not been found.


Mystery surrounds fate of aerial photographer’s Cold War spy plane By Matthew Hansen WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER


Airman 1st Class, Air Force 23, Webster County, Neb. Sept. 10, 1956 Aerial photographer was lost when spy plane disappeared during a typhoon near Soviet airspace.

Wayne Fair liked cameras, an innocent hobby that landed him near the center of a lingering Cold War mystery. If he hadn’t discovered photography in high school, then maybe the farm boy from near Red Cloud, Neb., wouldn’t have found himself snapping photos on a spy place near Soviet airspace. If Fair had liked math instead, maybe the 23-year-old wouldn’t have disappeared in 1956. He wouldn’t have become a historical footnote: Wayne Fair is the

only Cold War-era Nebraskan listed as “unaccounted for.” Fair joined the Air Force in 1953 soon after he graduated from Cowles High School. The Air Force asked him to choose an area of interest. He thought about the camera he’d first seen in high school, his fascination with how it reversed a real image and produced a memory. He chose aerial photography. Fair eventually shipped to an Air Force base in Japan and told his family that he was using his aerial photography training. He didn’t tell them how. On Sept. 10, 1956, an Air Force

RB-50 plane and its crew disappeared over the Sea of Japan, never sending a distress signal before it vanished from radar. The military immediately blamed the crash on Typhoon Emma, a storm that raged near the plane’s flight plan. One of the largest sea rescue efforts in American history commenced but didn’t turn up any sign of the missing plane. The family heard of the search on the radio, but the news became undeniable when men in uniform showed up at the front door. Your son is missing, they said. For decades, the government maintained the plane crashed after

it was sent to check on the typhoon. In 1992, the U.S. government acknowledged the lie. The flight was a spy mission that called on the RB-50 to fly near Soviet airspace. But mystery remains: The Russians continue to deny they had anything to do with the plane’s disappearance, even as they have acknowledged shooting down other American spy planes. They say they have no information about the missing RB-50, and a U.S. commission investigating Cold War-era aircraft disappearances concluded that “new leads for further inquiry have not been developed.”

No shred of the missing plane has ever been found. For years — long after Fair was classified dead — his family believed he could be a prisoner. Today, 53 years after his disappearance, they hold out hope that a piece of his aircraft will appear. “I guess it’s because we never had anything to show for sure that he was gone,” said sister Irene Schriner. “When you don’t have anything, you just hope.” a Contact the writer: 444-1064,

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MONDAY, MAY 25, 2009

Blunders doom secret CIA mission inside Laos By Matthew Hansen WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

Willis Hall, once stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, disappeared during a CIA-backed, classified mission that took him to a mountain in Laos.

Willis Hall removed his Air Force uniform during the Vietnam War to join a secret, CIA-backed mission in Laos. Some 41 years after Hall’s disappearance, his son is still seeking answers about how and why Willis Hall vanished. “He was patriotic, I was patriotic, we all were,” said Steven Hall, who lives in Omaha. “But I can’t support what our government has done here.” Staff Sgt. Willis Hall had served in World War II and in Korea. He had been trained to maintain teletype machines in the Air Force and also learned how to make codes. Both skills attracted military leaders, who asked Hall — stationed at Offutt Air Force Base — to join a secret mission.

The mission, run by the Central Intelligence Agency, involved the operation of a radar system in Laos that improved aerial bombing in Vietnam. The hitch: The U.S. military couldn’t operate in neutral Laos. To join, Hall, 36, had to be discharged from the Air Force and go to work for Lockheed Aerospace, then serving as a CIA front in Laos. He and other technicians rotated on and off Lima Site 85 by helicopter, even as mission leaders became worried the unarmed workers would be attacked. According to the CIA’s own history, North Vietnamese troops overran the site March 11, 1968. The government concluded that 11 technicians who didn’t escape by helicopter that day were killed by enemy fire or blown off a nearby cliff. But the military could account for only eight of the 11, the CIA says. It

gave up hope of recovering living personnel and blew up the site to destroy evidence of the radar system. This “had the collateral effect of probably obliterating the remains of any Americans who were left on the mountain,” the CIA history says. In then-classified memos, military leaders acknowledged a series of blunders that led to the massacre. But the government told the families none of this for decades. Instead, they told the Hall family only that Willis Hall had died, his son says. The family believed that until being anonymously mailed a classified report hinting that the Air Force wasn’t sure whether some men had been taken prisoner that day, Steven Hall says. Members of the Hall family and others began a decades-long search to learn if the technicians were pris-

oners of war. They interviewed survivors and lobbied U.S. senators. “There were always a lot of rumors,” Hall said. “We never got any answers.” Larry Greer, spokesman for the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, said researchers have traveled to the site and interviewed former enemy commandos who raided it. The military has no evidence the technicians lived, he said. Hall now believes that his dad is dead — whether or not he survived March 11, 1968. But the government, he said, mistreated the families of the technicians on Lima Site 85. “We were lied to,” he said. “That’s where my support of the government becomes questionable at times . . . because of the attitude they had toward the people they left behind.” a Contact the writer: 444-1064,

“They ended up in a full-out war.” Shirley Smith, sister of Earl Stiles

WWII vet set to leave, until Korea erupts In a letter postmarked Sept. 19, 1950, Earl Stiles apologized for not writing. “We have been on the front line as inf(antry) for 16 days & just got back. ... I hope we never have to go back up there again.’’ Above right, Stiles’ WWII dog tag (with his mother’s name misspelled).


Pottawattamie County sheriff’s deputies went to the door of Orval and Elverna Stiles on South 24th Street in Council Bluffs on Jan. 3, 1951, carrying a Western Union telegram. “The Secretary of the Army has asked me to express his deep regret that your son Cpl Stiles Earl C has been missing in action in Korea since 1 Dec 50. . . .’’ Stiles, 25, was a veteran of the China-Burma-India theater during World War II. He re-enlisted with the combat engineers after the war and was scheduled for discharge in November 1950. Instead, he wound up on the front lines of the Korean War. Stiles was part of the 2nd In-

Iowa man went AWOL to seek missing brother

fantry Division’s fighting withdrawal along the Chongchon River in North Korea after Communist Chinese forces attacked en masse. Stiles’ 2nd Engineer Battalion rushed in to serve as an infantry battalion. Stiles was captured near Sonchu while his unit was fighting through a heavily defended mountain roadblock. Chinese captors marched Stiles and 100 to 300 other prisoners north from valley to valley at night to avoid detection from the air. Stiles arrived at a prison camp along the south bank of the Yalu River separating North Korea and China on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day 1950. The weakened Stiles survived and was marched to Camp 5 at Pyoktong on the Yalu. He died

Loss felt by family that saw 10 of 12 brothers serve

there, among companions, from malnutrition and dysentery. Survivors estimated his death date as no later than May 15, 1951. He was buried on rising ground around a short arm of water behind the camp. North Korea returned some remains from Camp 5 in 1954. Stiles’ remains were not among them. U.S. troops were victims of the harsh Korean winter. They were told they were fighting a “police action,’’ said Stiles’ sister, Shirley Smith of Underwood, Iowa. “They ended up in a full-out war,’’ Smith said. “Earl wrote about the mountains, the cold and their thin clothing. They just were not prepared. That’s the sad thing.’’ a Contact the writer: 444-1127,

Man reads Soviet bragging decades after dad’s death

By David Hendee

By Lynn Safranek

By Lynn Safranek




The Korean War had evolved into a violent stalemate, similar to the trench warfare of World War I, when Army Sgt. Lyle K. Thaller manned a hilltop artillery battery in the steep hills and razorback mountains of North Korea. Miles across enemy lines on the confused battlefield, Thaller’s brother Ralph served in another Army unit. On Sept. 18, 1952, Lyle’s battery at Outpost Kelly exchanged fire with Chinese artillery and mortars. After dark, the enemy attacked from three sides, overwhelming the perimeter defenses, and assaulted the command post. Thaller and an officer, both forward observers, were at the command post when enemy hand grenades landed in their midst. Thaller, 21, is not believed Lyle Thaller to have survived the assault. Regimental commanders chose not to send immediate reinforcements or to order artillery bombardment for fear of striking survivors displaced from their fortified trenches. When Ralph Thaller learned his brother was missing, he left his outfit and sneaked across no man’s land by night, sleeping by day, said a third brother, Robert Thaller of Malvern, Iowa. “Ralph joined up with Lyle’s outfit and stayed over there about 30 days, looking for Lyle,’’ Robert said. “Then my folks got a letter from the Army saying that Ralph was missing!’’ Ralph Thaller eventually returned to his outfit, where he faced desertion charges. “He explained the whole thing, got away with it and then got sent back to the front,’’ Robert said. Continuous fighting around Outpost Kelly made it impossible to recover the fallen. The Chinese remained in control of the site, which today lies within the Demilitarized Zone and North Korea. “My dad was an old Navy man, and he always thought that maybe Lyle would show up,’’ Robert said. But Thaller and 58 others remain unaccounted for from this battle.

The Houstons probably stood out in Dow City, Iowa. After all, not every family has 20 children — eight girls and 12 boys. Ten of the sons served in the military, including during World War II, the Korean War, the Cuban missile crisis and Vietnam. The family patriarch, George Houston Sr., was an Army cook during World War I. With so much service comes some tragedy. In World War II, George Jr. was lost at sea off the coast of Scotland, after the sinking of the USS Jacksonville. Cpl. James Houston, born on the Fourth of July like his father, was lost in battle — or so his family thought — in the Korean War. James Houston Just 18 when he was declared missing in action, Houston was so young when he enlisted in the Army that his mother had to sign his papers. She must have fretted about the decision. In a letter to her from Fort Lewis, Wash., announcing his impending departure to the “Far East,” Houston told her not to blame herself. “They would have drafted me,” he wrote. The family was told that Houston’s entire company was killed in a Valentine’s Day battle in 1951. In recent years, Ken Houston, the family’s youngest child and himself a Vietnam veteran, took an interest in his brothers’ military careers, sending away for whatever information he could gather. He learned a year ago that his brother James hadn’t died in battle. James’ name was found scribbled on a jail cell wall in Chunchon. A date alongside his name read Feb. 23, 1951. Finding out so many years later might have been a blessing. Their mother, who died in 1989, always worried that James had been taken captive.

Richard Laier, the only child of an only son, was born in 1951 — two days before his father’s fighter jet was shot down over North Korea. Only two years ago, Laier found out about the man who killed his father. It was after his grandmother Bernice Eich died in Cozad, Neb. As executor of her will, Laier was tasked with proving his father’s death for insurance purposes. As he browsed the Internet for information, one link took him to a Web site praising Nikolai Sutyagin, an ace Soviet fighter pilot. Air Force Capt. Robert Laier was considered Sutyagin’s first “kill.” Even after all those years, seeing Richard Laier the Soviet pilot’s name linked with his father’s death left Richard Laier with “a bit of a hole in my stomach.” “When you start putting faces with it,” he said, “a war becomes worse.” Robert Laier, 24, was rumored to have been taken prisoner after surviving his plane crash June 19, 1951. Guys in the barracks reportedly heard Laier’s voice over Peking Radio, but that was never confirmed. Growing up, Richard Laier made regular trips to Cozad to visit his grandmother. His cousins would tell stories about his father. Richard Laier asked them to share the good stuff: What was his sense of humor like? What kind of trouble did he get into? “I tried to build up a better profile,” said Laier, now 57 and living in Miami. Eich always held out hope her son would come home. Through the years, Richard Laier researched his father’s involvement in the war, primarily to give his grandmother closure. In 2004, the U.S. military mailed him information detailing his father’s dogfight with Soviet fighter pilots over North Korea. Robert Laier’s F-86A plane was last seen going into a steep dive. No one saw a parachute.

a Contact the writer: 444-1127,

a Contact the writer: 444-1083,

a Contact the writer: 444-1083,




8S MONDAY, MAY 25, 2009

Though she barely knew him, Cheryl Thomas-Miller of York, Neb., treasures items that belonged to her missing father, Air Force Capt. Fred “Fritz” Rudat.



In her only memory of her father, Cheryl Thomas-Miller is with him, riding her bicycle up and down an empty airstrip in the Panama Canal Zone. She was 5 when Air Force Capt. Fred “Fritz” Rudat, 27, was killed in the Korean War. But Thomas-Miller has held onto any item she can to bring herself closer to him — 8 mm films of him, his letters to

her mother, his flight book from flight school, the telegram declaring him missing in action and even photos released by the Soviets, showing them shooting down his plane. “It was my dad’s last mission,” she said, because he had already fulfilled his required missions. “He was filling in for someone else.” Thomas-Miller was born in Roswell, N.M., when her father was in flight school. The family also lived in Frankfurt, Germany, while Rudat partici-


Image of her father emerges over time

pated in the Berlin Airlift, flying food and clothing into the city. When he went off to Korea, she and her mother moved to Duncan, Neb., to live with her grandmother. ThomasMiller now lives in York. She shaped a picture of her father by watching old family films, paging through photos and talking to relatives. In 1995, she received information from the U.S. military that included 20 pages of transcripts of translated Russian fighter-pilot chatter.

Rudat’s B-29 bomber crashed into the Sea of Japan, cold waters that ThomasMiller hopes will preserve his aircraft. If her family DNA is matched to any recovered remains, her father will be buried alongside other family members in Columbus, Neb. “I just so believe he’s in heaven,” she said, “and I believe God made sure he got there right away.” a Contact the writer: 444-1083,


McCook Navy pilot dies on night bombing mission

Both twins pursued flying, but only one came home

13th day of war fateful to engineer from Potter

By David Hendee

By Lynn Safranek

By David Hendee




Michael Confer’s last radio call to his flight leader was, “Rolling in for rocket run.’’ Navy Lt. j.g. Confer and his flight leader were on a twobomber night mission Oct. 10, 1966, over North Vietnam from the carrier USS Coral Sea. They were flying A-4C Skyhawks, the Navy’s primary light bomber during the early years of the Vietnam War — and the jet now-U.S. Sen. John McCain was flying when he was shot down by a surface-to-air missile and captured in October 1967. The flares of Confer’s flight leader failed to find targets at the primary destination. The pilots diverted to an alternate target, a coastal storage area at Kien Hanh. Flares dropped at 4,500 Michael Confer feet, and Confer rolled in to attack. He fired rockets slightly above the flares, overshooting the target. A moment later, Confer’s plane erupted into a brief flash of flame that left a column of smoke. No anti-aircraft fire had been seen during the attack. Confer made no other radio calls, and no parachute was seen. His plane crashed into the Gulf of Tonkin. Search-and-rescue efforts found nothing. He was 24. Confer was an all-conference football player during his junior and senior years at McCook (Neb.) High School. He was the 1960 class president and attended the University of Colorado on a Navy ROTC scholarship. His father served in the Navy during World War II. “Mike had a sense of adventure and loved to fly. He worked very hard to get into jets,’’ said his brother Rod Confer of Lincoln. “That was what he wanted to do.’’

Twins Doyle and Duane Sprick of Fort Calhoun were both U.S. military fighter pilots. Doyle joined the Marines right out of high school and eventually became a captain; Duane was commissioned by the Air Force after graduating from Omaha University with an engineering degree. Doyle served in Vietnam — and Duane expected to do the same. But when the plane piloted by Doyle, 34, was shot down in January 1966 near Hue, South Vietnam, and he was declared missing, Duane was sent to Korea instead. “I wanted to go (to Vietnam) and do my thing because that’s what I was trained to do,” Duane Sprick said. “They wouldn’t send me.” Doyle Sprick Duane Sprick eventually returned to Fort Calhoun and took over the family business, Sievers-Sprick Funeral Home. His sons are now fourth-generation owners. Not knowing what had happened after Doyle’s crash, the Spricks’ parents assumed he had survived. They expected him to walk through the door any day. Duane Sprick found closure after speaking to his brother’s commander. He was told Doyle’s two-man F-4B Phantom was hit in bad weather, which would have made it more difficult for him to navigate to safety. He could have turned out to sea and ejected. But Duane Sprick thinks it’s likely his brother crashed into a nearby mountain.

Don Schwartz loved speed. When he was a teenager and young man, his father — a farmer, John Deere dealer and mayor of tiny Potter, Neb. — regularly talked with Schwartz about speeding tickets. “He had a ’38 Ford and was always tuning it to go a little faster. I think that’s why he wanted to fly,’’ said his brother Jim Schwartz of Torrance, Calif. Don Schwartz earned an engineering degree from the University of Wyoming and joined the Air Force in the late 1940s. He learned to fly jets, married and was sent to Japan. Then the Korean War broke out. During the 13th day of the war, 2nd Lt. Don Schwartz piloted an F-80C fighter on a mission south of Suwon, Don Schwartz South Korea. The targets were North Korean tanks and trucks. It was Schwartz’s seventh combat mission. Diving out of an overcast sky, Schwartz made two passes. “They were very effective,’’ his flight leader wrote. The fighters were critically low on fuel and individually headed back to base in Japan. Over the Korea Strait, Schwartz’s compass failed and his radio weakened. Maj. John Duganne, the flight leader, wrote: “My last contact with Lt. Schwartz was after his transmission that he had only 10 gallons of fuel left, had an island in sight off his left wing and requested . . . whether or not he should ditch the aircraft. . . . I told him not to get excited, not to ditch the airplane, but to bail out and plan his actions carefully.’’ Schwartz’s last radio call indicated he was bailing out. “Just think, 23 years old and sitting in that plane all by yourself,’’ said Jim Schwartz. “It’s amazing.’’

a Contact the writer: 444-1127,

a Contact the writer: 444-1083,

a Contact the writer: 444-1127,

Remembering the Missing - 2009  

The Omaha World-Herald's 2009 Memorial Day special section, 'Remembering the Missing'

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