Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Missing In Action! A Soldier's Sister Keeps Vigil

'The crash woke me up from a sound sleep.'

"I'd dreamed I saw the smoking wreckage of a car or plane that had crashed in the desert of the American Southwest. It was so real!" 

Douglas Ferguson in Flight Suit. (Sue Scott)

'And later that day, December 30, 1969, I knew my brother's spirit had come to me in that dream, as my family received a phone call informing us that Doug--USAF Captain Douglas Ferguson, had been shot down over Laos.'     -Sue Scott

For Sue Scott, it has taken 44 years to reach this day. Doug's remains were recovered from the crash site in April 2013, and identified this past February. With a deep sigh of grief mixed with relief, she says:
"He is ready to be home now." 
Doug in Uniform (Sue Scott)
"Home" will be near Mom and Dad in the family's Tacoma, Washington gravesite, during Doug's Committal Service with Honors on May 2, 2014, surrounded by family and devoted supporters.

"I always thought I would get lucky with an answer," Sue admitted, "taking it 'one day at a time'" (for 16,060 days.) She likens the experience of a loved one missing, to losing a child in a store. "At first, they feel so close; you know if you keep looking, you will be reunited." Sue explained that, early on, the usual "signals of a crash" were not evident, "so there was hope."

But obtaining information about Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) soldiers' status was hard won, and next to impossible in the regions of conflict. The new anti-war era of pushing back gave stunned families, like Sue's, a voice. The National League of POW/MIA Families was formed in 1970 and to this day, provides powerful advocacy.

"1,642 Americans are still listed by DoD as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War...The League seeks the fullest possible accounting for those still missing and repatriation of all recoverable remains.  The League’s highest priority is accounting for Americans last known alive."   Status-of-the-POW/MIA Issue - March 11, 2014
Another 'voice' came in the form of brass and copper bracelets launched by a Los Angeles, California student organization, VIVA (Voices in Vital America) that embraced the desperation of wives of pilots who had been declared MIA in Vietnam.

Through and beyond my 1970's school years, my mother, Elizabeth, like 5 million others, wore a bracelet engraved with a soldier's name. "As the mother of teenagers, I was so sorry--and yet so proud, to wear it," she shared.

Sue Scott wore a bracelet with Doug's name, but being vocal about her missing brother was not always easy. Captain Ferguson's status was Missing In Action (MIA) until a military review board amended it a few years later to: Presumed Killed In Action.  Sue said, "the abnormal became normal; my focus was always broader than my own loss. I was driven to keep the issue alive," even as emotions about the Vietnam War ran hot.

She continued, "Co-workers respected my work with the League but, petitioning door to door, I'd been told, 'your brother got what he deserved.' That hurt."

Over the years, Sue has found these things helpful to take care of herself:
  • Keeping close to faith and family.
  • The recent creation of a memorial website for her brother: Forever Missed memorial tribute to Doug. "It's been wonderful to connect with people I haven't seen in so long, people who knew and cared about my brother."
  • Having a mission-- a deep sense of purpose.
Living a purposeful life has, for Sue, been "an opportunity to make a small difference in the world so that the families of those who serve today--and in the future--will never have to wait more than 40 years for answers, and our service members will be returned to their homeland."

In addition to her long tenure with The National League of POW/MIA Families, Sue serves on a review committee for appointments to U.S. military academies (Doug was a graduate of the Air Force Academy.) Here too, her passion has a voice as she assure candidates, "we've got your back." And Sue Scott is proud of what she calls

 'Doug's Final Gift'

"This was not a journey I made by choice. But faced with a challenge, ordinary people can become part of something bigger. Collectively, we accomplish much, and impact the world."


AFTERWORD:   As I researched and wrote this post, I thought of other types of missing persons...

a family nightmare that begins with a runaway, a kidnapping (including parental,) a disappearance.

These are complex losses, deeply painful, and often unresolved. The burden of uncertainty is crushing. I will write more on this loss, in the future.

To send a note of sympathy in an unresolved loss situation, the Condolence Coach suggests:
  • I am so sorry you are facing this.
  • I know you love (name) very much.
  • No matter what happens, memories of (name) live on, for me. (Include a brief, happy story, if you wish.)
  • I pray for you and (name) every day.

Read Sue's One Year Anniversary Reflection 

POTUS does it and you should too
Please don't ask me how my son died

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