This "Character Profile" was written by my close friend, Andy, for one of his journalism classes; he allowed me to create a copy on my site. I have made no changes (save linking to points of interest in the article), even though I now have a new URL and e-mail address. Thank you, Andy, for being such a good friend and for writing this tremendous article. [*note : Rittichier's remains weren't recovered at the time this profile was written, but I am thrilled to say that his remains have since been recovered, repatriated, and buried.]
You Are Not Forgotten
A UNT Student Memorializes Fallen War Heroes
Written for: Feature Writing
Class -- Dr. Mitchell Land
February 7, AD. 2001
A rescue chopper burst into flames after descending into a verdant patch of jungle in Vietnam. The flames took the lives of all four on board.
Jack Columbus Rittichier, a former Lieutenant in the US Coast Guard who earned six medals in his military career, was in charge of the mission. Before coming to Vietnam, he saved many lives.
He led a mission that successfully saved the crew of the West German marine vehicle "Nordmeer," which went aground in Lake Huron during Nov. of 1966.
Less than 18 months after this medal-earning mission, Rittichier commanded a battalion in Vietnam. Three weeks later, Rittichier helped rescue four downed Army soldiers, earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Two months later in June of 1968, Rittichier attempted the rescue that led to his death. He and three crew members aboard the helicopter were shot down.
His charred remains were recovered*. They have yet to return to American soil.
"He was no stranger to heroism," said Stacey Jones, Texarkana senior and POW activist.
Life goes on at NT as several plaques commemorating such fallen heroes stands a somber vigil over the second floor of the University Union.
The letters are tarnished with age. Passers-by laugh and converse around it, seemingly unaware of the horrors these men endured in the name of freedom.
A student leans against the plaque talking on a cellular phone. He enjoys not only his freedom of speech, but also the prosperity that allows him to afford such advanced technology.
Two girls run past the monument carefree, racing to their mailboxes in the Union Post Office.
But Jones pauses for a brief moment each time she passes the memorial.
"It is not morbid, but rather respectful, to honor our prisoners of war, soldiers missing in action, and other veterans every day of the year," Jones said.
So she built a web site to complement the Union memorial. She said a web-based memorial allows the stories of those still unaccounted for to reach a broader audience.
Each name listed on the memorial plaque is electronically chronicled on the site. Jones said she plans to research the lives of those listed on the plaque.
"Honestly, I haven't had the time to research any of the NT student casualties," Jones said. "But I plan to someday, and am looking for more information"
Not all of those listed on her website are from North Texas, nor are all the honored soldiers confirmed dead. There are also veterans from other parts of the country who are (or were once) classified Missing in Action.
The last are listed alongside a graphic of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, D.C.; "Armstrong, Harwood, Kinsman, Vietti, Rittichier, Forrester, Green..."
By clicking each name, a brief description is given of each veteran, including hometown, last known location complete with coordinates and a scanned image of a wax crayon rubbing of the soldier's full name as it is engraved on the national memorial.
People from many states and other countries have written her to ask how to become more involved in the POW/ MIA cause.
"Knowing that I've motivated them to become involved in this important cause keeps me going," Jones said.
Jones was not reared to have concern for veterans issues, nor did she have any particular mentors to guide her in the cause.
"I didn't talk to my parents much, and they didn't always know what is going on with me, let alone my interests," Jones said.
Jones spent most of her childhood in Richardson, where she lived with adopted parents.
In the fourth grade, Jones went into the custody of the State of Texas following several instances of abuse. Through high school, she lived in the Texas Baptist Home for Children in Waxahachie.
The School of Music drew her to NT. She soon decided music wasn't her strength, so she decided instead to major in political science, her second love.
Jones immediately became involved with conservative politics, which helped channel her interest to veterans affairs. She joined the North Texas College Republicans and has held several offices since.
Jones became a political activist. Her personal web site boasts several photographs of her with famous statesmen, including president George W. Bush.
While surfing the web in 1998, she came upon a web page devoted to a Vietnam MIA. She followed a link to Operation Just Cause, one of two organizations on the web that helps in POW and MIA "adoptions." Jones said she decided this was a worthy cause.
Individuals who adopt a POW or MIA receive in the mail a bracelet with information regarding the missing soldier. The adopter in return makes an effort to encourage members of Congress and other government officials to search for and recover missing soldiers.
"I adopted first only one guy, then decided to adopt the other guy in the incident with him," Jones said. "I was content with that, until I thought it a great idea to adopt a female. Since the only female was a civilian, I decided to go ahead and adopt a hero from all branches."
The name of Dr. Eleanor Ardel Vietti, the only listed female civilian POW from Vietnam, is engraved on the bracelet Jones wears every day.
Jones also maintains a memorial web page for two Army soldiers, and one each for The Coast Guard, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy.
While roughly 9,000 visitors have viewed the site, few people offline expressed interest in the project.
Few NT students she has sought shared an interest in her project —- Even among the College Republicans.
Jones spoke with many of her instructors about this issue.
"The few I've talked to about this seem to think that the POW and MIA issue is not an issue at all," Jones said. "I haven't received good vibes from any professor with whom I've discussed my involvement."
Jones said she doesn't think anyone is completely uninterested in the issue, per se.
"Some people are just more aware than others," she said with a smile.
Jones authored an opinion column for the NT Daily about POWs and MIAs for Veterans Day last November.
The Commentary page editor at the time politely refused to print the article.
Despite the lack of publicity regarding her lone vigil, several students later applauded her for the effort.
Jeff Jendel, Haslet senior and former College Republican chairman said Jones' memorial is a reminder of the intense struggle for freedom.
"Her efforts to help everyone remember our fallen and missing soldiers are a constant testimony of the high price that has been paid," he said.
Former College Democrat president Rachel Burlage, a recent NT graduate, commended her involvement.
"I think it's a good example of taking the past with us into the future," Burlage said. "I don't know if our generation could do what the previous generation did, and frankly, that frightens me."
Susan Ganzer, Denton senior, said Jones' website is a tribute to American values.
"It is a shame that so many people spend their lives finding fault with our nation," said Ganzer. "People like Stacey are out there reminding us what we stand for."
Jones said she is reminding local governmental agencies of what the POWs and MIAs stood for. She is also investigating federal legislation requiring government institutions to fly a black and white POW/MIA flag on certain days.
Public Law 105-85 requires the National League of Families of POWs and MIAs flag to be flown on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, POW/MIA Day (third Friday of Sept.), and Veterans Day.
Under the law, the United States Post Offices, Veterans Administration, every major military installation, the Capitol, the White House, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, each national cemetery, and at each of the buildings containing the official offices of the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the director of the Selective Service System must fly the flag on the aforementioned days.
"This is an excellent law, but one that I notice the Denton Post Offices don't exactly obey," said Jones. "The Denton County Jail flies the flag daily, for which it should be commended."
Jones is also reminding the Denton County Republican Party of POW and MIA issues. She is working with local party officials to assure a table at the annual Lincoln Day fundraiser is left vacant in honor of missing soldiers from all American wars.
"There are people out there who tend to recognize special days or months only when they are going on," she said. "Black History or Native American History or similar 'months' and 'days' are observances that should be recognized year round."
Christopher Schmidt, Sweeny, Texas freshman, said veterans should be remembered despite the ugliness of war.
"No one doubts that war is bad," said Schmidt. "But it's important to constantly remember the men and women who were willing to give their all despite the horrors of war."
Jones said her goal is not to spread accounts of blood and gore but rather to encourage others and teach them to enjoy liberty and freedom.
"I am not saying that everyday should be Veterans Day," said Jones. "But thanks to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, everyday is Independence Day."
Stacey Jones' website is at:
Contact Jones at: firstname.lastname@example.org
POW= Prisoner of War
MIA= Missing in Action
KIA= Killed in Action
Number of Vietnam War POW/MIAs from Texas still unaccounted for: 131
Total Number of U.S. Vietnam War POW/MIAs still unaccounted for: 1,994
Total Number of Vietnam War POW/MIAs whose remains have been found: 589
For more Vietnam War statistics and information, visit http://lcweb2.loc.gov/pow/sumrpts.html