MIA's remains are identified; Memorial vigil will begin Friday
By JOHN FOOKS
Stacey Jones was 21 years old when she began "adopting" POW/MIAs, an interest first sparked when she was surfing the Internet on her home computer and learned how many American POW/MIAs there are (1,874 from Vietnam alone).
To date, she has adopted seven POW/MIAs, all Vietnam veterans. One was Lt. Jack Rittichier of Barberton, Ohio.
"When an exchange program between the Coast Guard and the Air Force was created among the branches of the military, Rittichier (of the Coast Guard) volunteered to serve a year in Vietnam with the Air Force," Jones said. "Shortly after he arrived there, his heroism during rescue missions earned him two Distinguished Flying Crosses."
His last rescue attempt was made on June 9, 1968, when he and three Air Force men in his crew were shot down while trying to save the life of a U.S. Marine pilot near the South Vietnam-Laos border.
As the helicopter attempted to pick up Marine Walter Schmidt, it was struck by heavy enemy ground fire and was seen falling to the ground in flames and disintegrate upon impact.
Jones adopted Jack in February 1999 and to this day wears his KIA (Killed in Action) bracelet. She has spoken with several members of his family through the years. Through his brother, Dave, and sister-in-law, Maggie, she has been in touch with his widow, Carol Wypick.
"Carol, who has remarried, was shocked last February when she learned that her former husband's remains have been returned to U.S. soil," Jones said.
"His remains were returned on Valentine's Day of all days. Carol was surprised that people were still looking for him and that people still remembered him."
Jones received e-mail last week from Maggie Rittichier, sister-in-law to Jack Rittichier. The e-mail stated that the Coast Guard had confirmed that one of the sets of remains repatriated on Feb. 14 was "a positive ID for Jack."
"The Coast Guard wants to bury Jack in a special section of Arlington National Cemetery that's generally reserved for the top brass called Coast Guard Hill," she said. "In fact, a (Coast Guard) commandant has given up his reserved spot for Jack. What an honor that is. Dave and Maggie wanted the funeral in October, and it has been set for Oct. 6."
Jones' story of the return of her adopted veteran's remains coincides with this next weekend's vigil for POW/MIAs in downtown Texarkana.
Sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans of America Inc., Chapter No. 278, the 16th Annual POW/MIA Vigil will begin with opening ceremonies at 1:45 p.m. Friday followed by a candlelight ceremony at 9 p.m.
On Saturday, the annual Ride to Remember will begin to muster at 2 p.m. at the Arkansas Tourist Bureau on U.S. Highway 71 North and depart at 2:30 p.m.
It is scheduled to arrive at the memorial at approximately 3 p.m., at which time more than 200 balloons representing POW/MIAs from the Four States Area will be released, followed by memorial services.
"We've been hosting this event for the past 16 years, the first one just as the Korea/Vietnam Memorial was being completed," said Greg Beck, president of the local VVA. "We had cut the brick and poured the foundation for the memorial, and we wanted to draw attention to it and in the process raise funds and awareness of the POW/MIA issue."
The issue that there were and still are so many American POW/MIAs was unknown to many people and would still be unknown if not for the annual POW/MIA Vigil.
"There are still a lot of people who do not know that we left so many POW/MIAs behind," Beck said. "From the Vietnam War alone there were 1,874 POW/MIAs, and there are 28 names on the Korean side of the memorial."
Beck and a few other hardcore veterans and their families will brave the entire vigil, which lasts one minute for each American unaccounted for from the Vietnam War and one minute for each name engraved on the memorial.
"We will stand vigil for 1,902 minutes, or 31 hours and 42 minutes," Beck said. "A few of us hardcore vets and families will stay all night and up to Closing and Candlelight Ceremonies at 9 p.m. Saturday. We'll have water, cots and plenty of coffee at the memorial. We hope the public will come down and attend whatever they can of this weekend's events."
For more information, call Beck at 870-773-8279 and leave a message on the "new-old" answering machine.
Article © the Texarkana Gazette and used with permission.