Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Seeking Closure: Family Members Wish to Bury Loved Ones Whose Bodies Never Returned

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Seeking Closure: Family Members Wish to Bury Loved Ones Whose Bodies Never Returned

Article excerpt

After Vietnam, thousands of American boys came home.

Some came home wrestling with jungle demons that clung to their souls. Some came home with a pine box and a neatly folded flag for their mothers and sisters and lovers, as if the fabric could fill an empty seat at Thanksgiving dinner.

But some did not come home at all, cut down in jungles too thick to comb and seas too wild to search.

For a few families, fuzzy pictures and hazy recollections from returning prisoners kept hope alive; malnourished and sickly, but alive. For most, though, the news began and ended with a Defense Department telegram. But the casket and the flag never came.

"I just would like so much to see some conclusion," said Gail Hull-Ryde, a Jacksonville woman whose brother, Thomas Earl Dunlop, was shot down over North Vietnam in 1972. "I would give anything to have some remains."

Today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, and Dunlop's memory has been hovering on the edge of Hull-Ryde's consciousness. There was never any physical evidence of Dunlop's death, but the Navy followed its policy of declaring a warrior "killed in action" if there is no information about him during the year after disappearing.

Hull-Ryde can accept that Dunlop -- a lifelong resident of Neptune Beach and one of the Navy's rising stars -- was killed on that day in early April when a surface-to-air missile shot him down five miles south of Dong Hoi. She has no reason to believe that he survived long after ejecting from his A-7 Corsair II attack jet. But there must be something left of him, she reasons, and she wants it back.

More than 100 Floridians who fought in Vietnam are still there, in body; they are listed as missing in action or killed without recovered remains. Too often, veterans said, there was no way to uphold the soldier's creed of not leaving comrades on the battlefield.

"For the families there's always that empty hole," said Carl Crumpler, a retired Air Force colonel from Jacksonville who was held for nearly five years as a prisoner of war in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" prison. "I know, in a couple of cases with close friends who were not able to get the remains, that it lingers indefinitely and they don't lose hope that someday they will get closure by bringing home some token."

Dunlop's survivors have accepted his death, they said. Don Hull-Ryde, Gail's husband and one of Dunlop's closest friends, was also a Navy pilot. He talked to the men who were on the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea with Dunlop, the men who were on duty the day he was shot down. Outside of official policy, inside the fraternity of the men who knew the importance of such things, Don Hull-Ryde learned that Dunlop was certainly killed.

"Most of us who were there knew the name of the game," he said. …

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