This article was originally to be printed in the NT Daily on 10 November 2000. That deadline was missed (due to the presidential election mess); I was told it would be printed the following week. However, the (then) editor decided that since Veterans Day had passed, that the POW/MIA issue was no longer relevant. The column never ran, but here is a copy of what I wrote ...
A man is not dead until he is forgotten. How simple a statement, but how profound a meaning. I do not recall exactly when, or even why, I became involved in the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action cause, but not even for a single moment do I regret the many hours and late nights that I've devoted to this pressing issue. Two great organizations-- Operation Just Cause (ojc.org) and POW/MIA Freedom Fighters (powmiaff.org) -- exist on the web, and through these sites, and others like them, I have been blessed ... blessed to learn about the men (and women) that the United States so shamelessly left in Vietnam (and neighboring countries), blessed to meet other persons as devoted to the cause as I am, and blessed to meet many Veterans, several of whom I feel I may call my friend.
One veteran whom I would love to meet is Dr. Eleanor Ardel Vietti, but I realize that this cannot be (until I get to Heaven, that is). You see, Dr. Vietti is one of seven heroes whom I have adopted, and is the only female still listed as POW from the Vietnam War. A civilian surgeon, Dr. Vietti was working at the Ban Me Thuot Leprosarium when she and three others were taken hostage. That was 30 May 1962; the fate of Dr. Vietti and the others is still unknown (to the United States, anyhow).
The POW/MIA cause is not always depressing, really. A few months ago, a lady e-mailed me, asking how she could ascertain the fate of a man whose name is engraved on her POW bracelet. I provided her with several resources, and a week later, I too knew the fate of her hero. The Captain, although held POW for seven years, is alive and living in Virginia. The last I heard, the lady was in the process of returning the bracelet to a man she never knew, a man who, nevertheless, has been a part of her life for over thirty years. I only wonder if it will be thirty years for me, thirty years until my POW bracelet, bearing the name Dr. Eleanor A. Vietti, can be returned to her family.
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." The words of St. John 15:13 ring so true when uttered with the name of Jack Columbus Rittichier. Rittichier, a former Lieutenant in the US Coast Guard who earned six medals in his military career, was no stranger to risking his life for others. While still in the States, Rittichier led a mission that successfully saved the crew of the West German M/V NORDMEER, which went aground in Lake Huron during November of 1966. Less than eighteen months after braving severe weather and earning the Air Medal, Rittichier was in Vietnam; less than three weeks later, Rittichier helped rescue four downed Army men, earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross. That was 21 April 1986, and less than two months later, Jack Columbus Rittichier made the ultimate sacrifice. On 09 June 1968, while attempting to rescue a downed Marine pilot, Rittichier and the other three crew members aboard the Jolly Green 23 were shot down, their helicopter exploding upon impact. Rittichier was only thirty-four years old; his remains have yet to be returned to American soil.
As of 30 October 2000, there are still 1994 Americans unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. While that number is still too high, comfort can be taken in the fact that the US Government has not completely abandoned the cause. Many remains have been returned this year, and as late as 1998, the military was still trying to pinpoint the exact location that Rittichier and crew went down. There are also in place certain laws related to the POW/MIA issue, such as Public Law 105-85 (which requires the POW/MIA flag be flown in certain places six holidays a year, although places like the NYSE and Denton County Jail fly it daily). S. 484, awaiting the President's signature, would "provide for the granting of refuge status in the United States to nationals of certain foreign countries in which American Vietnam War POW/MIA's or American Korean War POW/MIA's may be present, if those national assist in the return to the United States of those POW/MIA's alive." Then, there are people like me, people who will never give up on this cause, even when we are told that it is useless, and that we cannot make a difference. I tell you, we can, and we have.
I encourage each and every one of you readers to become involved. If you have a web site or are considering creating one, visit one of the aforementioned web sitesand adopt a hero. If you don't plan to build an honorpage, or even if you do, I ask you to write ... write letters to the papers, to Congress, to the White House, to anyone who will listen. Most importantly, get informed. Visit my web site(www.geocities.com/vogeler_de) and read about my adoptees. Travel the POW/MIA webrings that I belong to. Go about it however, but get involved -- it is NOT a waste of time.
In closing, I leave you with one final thought ... I will be spending my Veterans Day in Waxahachie, for the unveiling of a memorial to Ellis County Veterans; how will you be spending yours ?