I am inspired to share a personal family story after reading Mr. Cockburn’s excellent article last week, “Vietnam MIAs.” (Portions of this were lifted directly from the testimony of Albro Lundy III in front of the POW/MIA Senate Select Committee hearings in the summer of 1991 headed and chaired by Senator’s McCain and Kerry.)
In March of 1970 at the age of 37, Major Albro L. Lundy, Jr. said goodbye to his parents, wife and six children to answer his country's call. In the face of extreme controversy about a conflict half a world away, he unquestioningly went off to fight for freedom against an enemy he, nor the American people, new at all. The Lundy family was raised God fearing Christians and believed wholly in their government and its stated mission to protect democracy against communist threat.
On Christmas Eve 1970, Major Lundy was flying a med-evac search and rescue mission in North Central Laos over the Ban Ban Valley looking to rescue a pilot reportedly shot down the day before. Although two other A1E fighter groups had refused this mission, Major Lundy volunteered. Three Air American helicopters, two Raven forward air controllers, and Air America C-7A and another A1E were flying on that mission. Major Lundy reported having a rough engine and that he needed to leave the airplane. Subsequent intelligence analysis indicated that his engine was hit by ground fire, as the area was heavily defended by both North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao ground troops.
Major Lundy announced that he was leaving the airplane and the observers watched an apparently normal chute deployment. One observer reported seeing someone in the chute initially, while other observers reported that no one was in the parachute as it neared the ground. Ground rescue teams were unable to reach the parachute site as the area was very hostile and casualties were taken.
Major Lundy was declared MIA (Missing in Action), survivability rated as Category 1 (indicating out of aircraft at time of crash-. Two days later Major Lundy was declared KIA/BNR (Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered). There is no clear explanation given as to why he was declared KIA. Commander of the 56th Special Operations Wing, Col. E.J. Walsh, specifically indicated that Major Lundy did not leave the aircraft and that “he died instantly as a result of the aircraft crash.” Yet, one witness states that he saw Major Lundy in his parachute and the government to this day lists his survivability category as 1, meaning that he was out of the airplane. Additionally, the family was told that a parachute deployed from the plane, yet no adequate explanation has ever been given as to how his parachute could deploy if he went down and was incinerated in the plane.
In addition to his family, his love was flying and he was very skilled at it. During the first eight months of his tour in Southeast Asia, Major Lundy was awarded the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Air Force Air Medal and six Air Force Commendation Medals, (Fourth through Ninth Oak Leaf Clusters.)
The Lundy family living in Palos Verdes, California went on with their life. Johanna Lundy, Major Lundy's wife of 20 years, went to law school, became an attorney and raised six children on her own. Major Lundy's loss was so traumatic to the family that they completely avoided the POW/MIA cause even while the war was ongoing. The Lundy family accepted the death of Major Lundy so firmly that when Lt.Scott Barnes met some of the family at church in the summer of 1981 and said he had information that Major Lundy was still alive, the family said they were not interested in his information because Major Lundy was dead.
Lt. Barnes approached the Lundy family because he had been told by corpsman, Eric Brace, that Mr. Brace had seen Major Lundy’s unique name in a ‘visitor’s’ book in Laos while he was held prisoner there.
Mr. Brace had been declared dead by the U.S. government, yet returned alive in 1973 during Operation Homecoming.
In the spring of 1991, the government sent Ms. Johanna Lundy a transcription of letter purportedly written for Major Lundy. The government classified them as “dog tag reports” of an obviously fraudulent nature although the report contained correct information not found on a dog tag. Johanna's response was to toss them in the trash and mention them to her family in passing. This is another example of how firmly the family believed that Major Lundy was dead.
Albro III Lundy then had ordered his own set of documents and while examining them found a mention of thumbprints buried in the bottom of the transcription. It was difficult for him to understand why this wasn't mentioned in any of the government's analysis. Certainly this could prove or disprove the correct nature of the report and whether or not Major Lundy did survive. Albro III called his Air Force Liaison officer, William Frampton, about the case. His first question was, “Have you run the fingerprints yet?” Frampton replied that THEY DO NOT CHECK FINGERPRINTS UNLESS THE NEXT OF KIN REQUESTS IT. Albro III was stunned and heartbroken that his government would do this to his father and his family.
Mr. Lundy then went to the Department of Motor vehicles and learned that they had no record of his father ever having a driver's license. He also attempted to attain records from the three military bases Major Lundy was stationed at over his years of service. When he pressed the State Department as to why there were no records of his father serving at the bases he did, the State Department, under threat of lawsuit, admitted that they had 'expunged' the records to keep the black marketeers of Southern Asia from exploiting the POW/MIA families with false information. (The U.S. government claimed that the families were being blackmailed with information gleaned from U.S. government records and the Laotian/Cambodians were extorting ransom payments for further information about their husband/son's whereabouts in the area where loved ones were missing.)
In late April of 1991, 20 years after his father had been shot down in the jungles of Southeast Asia, Judge Hamilton Gayden called Albro III and suggested he contact Gladys Fleckenstein, the mother of Lt. Comdr. Larry Stevens, because she might have a photo of Major Lundy. Ms. Fleckenstein, the Mother of Lt. Commander Stevens, had attained a black and white photograph of what she believed was her husband, still alive in Cambodia/Laos. Included in the photograph, which made the covers of Newsweek, People and Time magazines, was another airman, Lt. James Robertson, as well as an unidentified third middle aged Caucasian.
Ms. Fleckenstein had previously been aware of the Lundy family name from a letter sent to her by Chuck Trowbridge of the DIA (Department of Internal Affairs) in February 1991 stating that Major Lundy was supposedly held with Robertson and Stevens. Ms Fleckenstein requested the Lundy family address; however, the government would not release this information. The fact that private individuals had to bring these families together is not so incredible when compared to the fact that the government possessed a three-man photograph with an unidentified third man and independent corroborating evidence that these three men were being held together and never once contacted the Lundy family to possibly identify the third man. This blatant government malfeasance directly contradicts the stated POW policy of being the “nation's highest priority.”
Upon receiving a copy of the photograph from Ms. Fleckenstein's source, an American humanitarian worker who received the photo at Site 2, Thailand was contacted for the photo. Albro III immediately submitted it to a preliminary photo analysis that showed the photo had not been tampered with, except for the label applied as the sign. Albro who wanted to protect his family, especially his mother, did not mention the photo or his investigations.
Albro III finally told his mother about the existence of the photo in early July, just prior to flying to Washington for the National League of Families conference. Johanna demanded to see the photo before hearing any corroborating evidence, and she identified the photo within minutes. “That is a picture of my husband!”
Albro Lundy III made four trips in 1991 from California to the Pentagon to see the file on his father and was denied access each time by the POW/MIA steering committee headed at the time by Senators John McCain and John Kerry. The first time occurred during the League of Families conference where the Robertson, Stevens, and Lundy families all met together for the first time. When all three families questioned Pentagon officials during the League of Family Conference July 11-14, they all said they had never seen the photo before. Because of the families' definite identifications of the men in the photo, Carl Ford and Ken Quinn made plans to give the photo to the Vietnamese and request repatriation of the men.
Before Ken Quinn could even get to the bargaining table on July 25th, the real OFFICIAL government policy was made quite clear to the Vietnamese: THE POWS ARE ALL DEAD.
The Pentagon undermined Ken Quinn's trip to Hanoi to discuss the Robertson/Lundy/Stevens photo by releasing to CBS News a seven-page analysis discrediting the letters and therefore, by association, the photo, even though the two had never before been connected, on the eve of this meeting. This analysis, containing a plethora of errors and misinformation too numerous to cite here, was handed to nation-wide news media before it was released to the three families involved.
One of the most tragic results of this breach was the fact that Ms. Johanna Lundy was told by reporters over the phone that the analysis indicated that remains of her husband and his identification card had been found. The fact that the government would even have printed this information when it knew that Major Lundy flew “sanitized” is preposterous. ('Sanitized' is the term airmen still use to mean to fly without any identification because of the United States illegal wars and covert operations.)
The United States lost 586 servicemen, missing in action, in Laos during the Vietnam War. In February of 1973, the communist Pathet Lao, through their spokesman Soth Petrosky, claimed to hold dozens of our men as prisoners of war and demanded that the US negotiate for their release. Within two months, President Nixon fell from power because of Watergate and never negotiated with the Pathet Lao. The Vietnamese, as recently as July 1991, through their UN Ambassador, told Johanna Lundy that the Vietnamese did not negotiate with the United States regarding POWs held in Laos and that the US must negotiate directly with the Path Lao. To this day, not one living American POW has returned from Laos. “You do not understand...there is a greater destiny for our foreign policy in Asia and the POWs are expendable in pursuit of that policy…” said Harriet Isom, Charge'd d' Affairs, United States Embassy, Vientiane, Laos, 1990.
Beginning in 1992 and over the next five years, the second oldest Son of Major Lundy, William, traveled and lived in Cambodia and Laos looking for evidence that his father might still be alive. He found much evidence, not only of his father's possible whereabouts and existence, but other POWs possibly alive as well. Through his brother, Albro III, he sent the evidence he found to the attention of Mr. Kerry and Mr. McCain directly who promised “to do everything possible to look into the matter with utmost urgency.” Yet no one from the government MIA/POW agency ever contacted them until some 12 years later when Albro III was called from the State Department and told “We have your father's bones and have positively DNA identified the remains as your fathers”!
The Lundy family, who held no belief any longer in their government, demanded an independent DNA lab test of the remains. The State Department agreed and sent the remains to Hawaii where the family paid for an independent test that confirmed up to “97% positivity” that the remains, in fact, were their father’s.
Details remain unknown about by whom, how and where Major Lundy’s remains were found.
On April 7, 2004, the entire Lundy family flew to Arlington cemetery for a full military burial with honors at Arlington Cemetery to finally put to rest their heroic father. My wife and I (my brother married the oldest daughter of Major Lundy, Terry Lundy Lee), all flew in for the big ceremony given by our government to this hero “killed in the line of duty serving his country.”
It was very impressive with the military parade led by a casket draped in the American flag, with riding boots facing backwards. The missing man formation flyby by F-14's flew in precision as the appointed military speakers spoke all the altruistic words about how Major Lundy “gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country.”
Standing next to me at the funeral was my oldest nephew, Joshua Lee, 20. He is the oldest grandson of Major Lundy and was in his second year of school at the United States Air Force Academy. (On a sad irony, my brother had passed away in 1995 due to cancer leaving Joshua’s mother, Terry, to raise their five children without a father once again.) Joshua had flown on a military plane to Hawaii and had personally escorted the remains of Major Lundy Jr. to Arlington, Virginia. After the ceremony I asked him “In the end, what was your grandfather’s death all about? Why did he have to die for a war that killed millions of innocent people with the express approval of Senators of this country who still serve in as leader in our Congress? And why has no one been held accountable for the illegal sercret wars held in Cambodia and Laos by our U.S. government?”
In his full military attire, he simply shrugged and said, “I have no idea.”
He then boarded the plane back to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado to learn to be an ace fighter pilot, to learn further how to prepare for more undeclared wars with the most powerful weapons the world has ever known, against all declared and undeclared enemies “who are not with us,” solely for the express purpose to continue America’s manifest destiny over all others on her unapologetic goal of hegemonic dominance over all, foreign or domestic.