POWs and MIAs are not forgotten in Granite State
There are about 83,000 American servicemen listed as Missing in Action in World War II and the conflicts that followed in Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War and the Persian Gulf.
The list includes six New Hampshire service members still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, 43 from Korea, and an unknown number from World War II.
"Each one of those service members had a mother and father," said Army Staff Sgt. Shelia Sledge, a public affairs officer at the Pentagon's Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO). "That's more than 160,000 family members still awaiting their service members to come home."
One of them is Juliette Mulleavey of North Woodstock.
Her son was just 19 when the Army reported him missing in Vietnam in 1968. The fifth-born of her seven children, they had named him Quinten, from the Latin word for five.
Had he returned home safely from Vietnam, Quinten Mulleavey would be 65 years old on Sunday. Instead, his mother said, "He will always be 19 years old to us."
Over the years, she learned that her son was believed to have been captured and later shot in the back while trying to escape. "They buried him somewhere in a field and since then, those fields have been tossed around for planting."
Military officials have told her "they have very little hope of finding anything," she said.
"They doubt very much, but once in a while, I get letters still, saying they're hoping."
And a sample of her blood is on file in case there are remains to match someday.
In the years after her son was reported missing, some of his friends named their sons after Quinten. "I really love that," she said. "I thought that was nice."
Over the years, New Hampshire has done a lot to make sure those listed as POWs and MIAs are not forgotten.
In 2007, the state passed a law requiring the display of the black POW-MIA flag above all state facilities, National Guard armories and other state-owned military facilities whenever the American flag is flown, "until all questions concerning the fate of America's POWs and MIAs are sufficiently resolved."
And Meredith hosts what is believed to be the longest-running continuous POW/MIA vigil in the nation every Thursday at 7 p.m. in Hesky Park.
Bob Jones of Meredith is vice president of Northeast POW/MIA Network. He said there's a loyal group that has kept faith at the lakeside park for 25 years, whatever the season.
"That's what's important now, even if they're not at that flagpole, that somebody's sitting in a truck in that parking lot when the wind chill's 37 below and there's snow," he said.
Jones said in most cases when the remains of a missing service member are reported as identified, it may be only a bone fragment. But for the families, that is deeply meaningful, he said. "It gives you something to bury."
At the DPMO, whose motto is "Keeping the Promise," analysts pore over case records of missing service members, looking for clues that could help pinpoint the location of remains, Sledge said. "Once they put those clues together, they can ask permission to get into another country to help survey the land and look for remains," she said.
These analysts work closely with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, where experts conduct search and recovery operations for remains, and try to match recovered remains with DNA from surviving relatives, Sledge said.
DPMO also is charged with keeping family members apprised of efforts to account for their loved ones.
Already this year, the remains of 14 service members previously listed as missing in action have been identified and returned to their families for proper military burial.
Working for DPMO is a critical mission, Sledge said. "My job means that we're helping return these service members to their loved ones," she said.
"It's even more touching when you deal with the families one on one, and you see and hear their stories. And you know that they still have hope in their heart that one day their loved ones will be returned."
Mrs. Mulleavey turns 94 years old today. She said she's given up hope that her son's remains will be returned to New Hampshire, but she has come to accept that. "You know, you never forget but you learn to live with it," she said.
Last Sunday, the family gathered for Easter dinner at her home. "That's when we mention, 'God bless Quinten.'"
"And every time when we have our Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner or his birthday, he's never forgotten," she said. "We always remember Quinten."
NH men missing from the Vietnam War:
. Clyde Douglas Alloway of Portsmouth, MIA in South Vietnam, on June 7, 1970;
. Frank Neil Badolati of Goffstown, MIA in South Vietnam, Jan. 29, 1966;
. Gerald Robert Helmich of Manchester, Laos, Nov. 12, 1969;
. Quinten Emile Mulleavey of North Woodstock, South Vietnam, April 3, 1968;
. Albert L. Page Jr. of Derry, North Vietnam, Aug. 6, 1967;
. Robert Joseph Sullivan of East Alstead, Laos, July 12, 1967.
And according to DPMO, the remains of four New Hampshire men previously missing or held prisoner in the Vietnam War have been returned:
. William Roy Pearson of Warner, MIA South Vietnam in 1972, returned June 7, 1994;
. Richard O. Ganley of Keene, MIA Laos in 1969, returned Nov. 15, 1993;
. Phillip J. Stickney of Manchester, MIA North Vietnam, 1966, returned Jan. 16, 1998;
. Sheldon John Burnett of Pelham, MIA Laos in 1971, returned Oct. 4, 2004.