Families of MIAs gather to get info. from govt.

July 25, 2008 5:05:50 PM PDT
An estimated one hundred and fifty families are gathering at a hotel near O'Hare Airport this weekend. They are all eager to hear the latest information on their loved ones who are missing in action.It's the first meeting in three years between Defense Department officials and Illinois families of POWs and those missing in action. But it has been since 1997 that the military has rededicated itself to finding those lost loved ones whose cases stretch back to World War II, and include all the wars since then, including the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon wants to help the families understand the story of what happened on the battlefield and help them complete the act of healing from monumental loss.

She's 74 now, but not a day has gone by in the last 43 years that Jeanne Wood doesn't think about her brother, Lieutenant Thomas Pilkington, a Navy commander from Morton Grove, who was 25 and engaged to be married when he was shot down over the Gulf of Tonkin in September, 1965. She was in her family's living room with her mother when they received the news.

"The next thing you know the door bell rang at the front door and when I opened that door there stood a casualty officer from the Navy and he looked so sad. I will never forget that," said Wood.

Lt. Pilkington was part of a two-plane bombing mission that sought to destroy anti-missile batteries on the shores of the gulf, just south of Hanoi. Four airmen vanished that night and the same thing happened the next night. Recently, with some cooperation from the Vietnamese government, the Pentagon has determined the airmen's watery grave. And now they're staking out the area using the techniques of forensic anthropology.

On Saturday, Larry Greer, a retired Air Force colonel will explain how advances in DNA science may yield answers about what happened to the American heroes.

"They can extract DNA sequencing from ancient remains that have been buried in the jungle for decades and get that DNA out and match it with family reference sample," said Col. Larry Greer (Ret.), POW/MIA office.

Family members whose cases are closer to being solved will be asked to give DNA samples at Saturday's meeting. And of the 150 Illinois cases that are active, Greer hopes to deliver some sense of hope.

"Some of them will come away with the expectation that, my gosh, my case has not ended, it has not been put on a shelf somewhere," said Greer.

When asked what it would mean to actually find her brother, Wood says it would mean everything.

"I think it would be everything, it is the best I can say. I would like to have him back, bring him home," said Wood.

Overall, the Pentagon is tracking 88,000 MIAs: 78,000 from WWII, 8,100 from the Korean conflict, 125 from the Cold War, 1,700 from Vietnam, and one each from Desert Storm and Iraq but none from Afghanistan.


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