Families receive POW updates at Green Tree meeting
Charles Dinan has spent the past 45 years waiting to bury his brother.
In March 1969, enemy fire shot down Air Force Lt. David T. Dinan III and his F-105D over northern Laos. His parachute tangled in the jungle canopy, and the 25-year-old pilot from New Jersey was killed in action. Fellow airmen located his body hours later, but fled amid reports of enemies and left Dinan's body behind.
“We expected the remains to be returned in a couple weeks, and it never happened,” said Dinan, who lives in Peters and served in the Marine Corps at the time of his brother's death.
Recovering lost service members' remains and identifying the unknown are the responsibilities of the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office of the Department of Defense, along with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. The department hosted one of its monthly family update conferences on Saturday in the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh-Green Tree.
About 200 families from within a 350-mile radius attended. The program included presentations on techniques used for search, recovery and identification of remains and individual updates.
Dinan attended the conference because of encouraging developments in his brother's case. For decades, his family gave up hope, until the past four years when David's friends and family began a “lobbying” push to recover his body.
In March, JPAC conducted a three-day investigation in Laos near the crash site. On the mission was Leland Sorensen, then a 21-year-old pararescue jumper who found Dinan's body the day he died.
On Saturday, Dinan received the results of that search: A once-white and green plastic identification card with a slight crack through the left side, bearing David's loopy, careful signature. With confirmation of the crash site, an excavation is planned for 2015.
“Forty-five years in the jungle,” Dinan said, slipping the card back into a plastic bag. “Hopefully, we'll get some remains, and we'll have a burial,”
As of August, 1,641 service members were missing from the Vietnam War, 90 from Pennsylvania. Of the 7,811 unaccounted members from the Korea War, 574 are from Pennsylvania. Nationwide, more than 73,000 service members are missing from World War II.
Mary Megyesi, a forensic anthropologist with JPAC, explained how researchers recover bodies from burial sites in Vietnam and elsewhere. Researchers try to identify the member using dental records, DNA pulled from bone fragments or any nearby personal effects.
James Canick of the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory emphasized why relatives of missing service members should give their DNA to researchers. Extracting DNA from recovered remains has become more efficient in the past 20 years, he said.
“Our problem today is not getting DNA from the remains ... it is finding the match,” he said. “That is really the key, ‘What do we compare back to?' ”
Sgt. Shelia Sledge, spokeswoman for the Department of Defense POW/MIA Office, said the department's goal is to identity every missing service member. But with more than 53,000 lost at sea, full accounting is an ongoing effort.
Sledge said about 80 to 90 service members are identified annually.
Ed Sykes of Rose Hill, Kan., was Lt. David Dinan's roommate at the base. Four years ago, after an annual trip to the Vietnam Memorial, Sykes got in touch with Dinan's relatives, including Charles, to begin pushing to retrieve David's body. Bureaucracy is slow, he said, which is frustrating to a fighter pilot. But Sykes views the ID card discovery and planned excavation as one step closer to the military funeral Dinan deserves.
“He gave up everything at the age of 25,” Sykes said. “You don't leave him laying on the ground in the jungle, you get him out of there, and you bring him home, and you bury him properly.”
Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.