As Mason and I approached the Vietnam Wall, I had no idea how to explain this most confusing war in simplistic terms. However, he seemed to understand the gravity of it, as we witnessed before us several veterans approach the wall in tears seeking out their friends and comrades. Mason asked very few questions, and I was overcome with emotion.
I did not arrive at the wall looking for anyone; however, as we stood there before it, I was suddenly struck with a vivid memory of a Girl Scout trip to see the traveling Vietnam Wall in Jacksonville as a little girl. My mom insisted on chaperoning, because there was a family member that she hoped to find. I did not recall that person’s name, and I honestly am stunned that I was not more inquisitive at the time about this person’s service. My only explanation for this is that I likely thought the relation far removed.
With this vivid memory, I immediately texted both my cousin Ingrid and her father, my Uncle Kinsey Cheshire. They responded that I would be looking for his and my Mom’s first cousin, Tommy Dunlop. How had I not known that this was such a close family member? Something about having his name, reminded me that my Mom had told me he was missing and that fairly recently his remains had been recovered.
I promise you, it was like having voices in my head telling me his story.
The eerie part is that I did not move but was soon approached by a volunteer asking me if I needed help finding a name. I told her what I had just found out, and she confirmed that he was a POW and that his remains were recovered. I kid you not, Mason and I were standing right in front of Tommy Dunlop’s name on that wall! It is like we were guided right to it. I swear, I felt his spirit, my mom’s spirit… I felt completely surrounded by my family. I think Mason sensed it, too.
IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 18, 2005
Missing in Action Serviceman Identified
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. Navy pilot, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Navy Commander Thomas E. Dunlop of Neptune Beach, Florida, will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery on March 21, 2005.
On April 6, 1972, Dunlop took off in his A-7E Corsair II from the USS Coral Sea on a bombing mission of enemy targets in Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam. While over the target area, his aircraft was struck by an enemy surface-to-air missile and as his wingman watched, Dunlop’s aircraft exploded in a fireball and crashed. No emergency beeper signals were received from the area of his crash.
In April 1993, joint U.S. and Vietnamese teams interviewed five residents of Quang Binh Province about the crash, but the information did not further the investigation.
In 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1998, U.S. and Vietnamese investigators interviewed at least 13 other people in the province without results. Meanwhile, U.S. survey teams visited potential crash sites in 1995, 1998 and twice in 2002. Again, no useful information was obtained.
Then in 2003 and again in 2004, specialists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) excavated a crash site where they found aircraft debris, personal effects and human remains later identified by JPAC scientists as those of Dunlop.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
JACKSONVILLE, Florida – About two dozen relatives will pay their last respects next week to a Navy pilot, shot down over Vietnam in 1972, who was recently declared dead although no body was ever found.
An empty casket will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors for Cmdr. Thomas Earl Dunlop. Dunlop’s A-7E Corsair II was shot down over a remote area of Vietnam.
An official report concluded that a crash site excavated by a team of investigators definitely contained the wreckage of the plane Dunlop was flying, said his sister, Gail Hull-Ryde of Jacksonville, Florida. He was the only pilot in an A-7E Corsair II in the area at the time the plane was shot down in April 1972.
No body was found but he was declared dead after remnants of his clothing were identified.
“We’re happy there is this final closure, after so many years of nothing,” Hull-Ryde said.
Three of Dunlop’s four children will attend Monday’s ceremony.
The Pentagon’s POW-MIA Joint Accounting Command estimates 1,800 men are still missing in Vietnam.
I do not know the Dunlop family, but I hope that they find this blog and know that Tommy was loved by my Mom, Charlotte, and that I felt a definite spiritual connection to him that day.
His memory is honored.