This week, we celebrated Memorial Day, a time to remember and honor those who died defending our country. Several years ago, one person in our church, Jan Reger, reminded me to also remember the families of those listed as “Missing in Action.” You don’t hear that term mentioned anymore. Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts list very few military personnel as MIA but as Jan reminded me. “Not so, years ago.” Her brother was listed as MIA in Vietnam.
This is her story.
On May 13, 1970, my brother, Captain Alan R. Trent, USAF, was shot down over Cambodia. He was the lead pilot in a Phantom jet hit while going in to blow up a bridge. The plane went down and exploded on impact. A scout plane did not see any parachutes but reported the two crewmen may have ejected without the chutes opening since they were close to the ground. They went down in enemy territory so US forces weren’t able to get to the crash site for four days. By then, the enemy cleared away any evidence the pilots were in the plane. There were no human remains so we were hopeful they either got away or were captured. But after the war ended and POW’s returned, he was not among them, nor was he ever on any lists so his status was changed to “Killed in Action.” But no one ever determined what happened.
In 1996 I received a letter saying Red Cross investigation teams entered Cambodia and found the crash site. They had to dig down through three levels of forest but they located several parts of the plane, a BIC pen, and a military boot among other things. They found a portion of one ejection seat, so they felt at least one pilot went down with the plane. Then in 2000, the Air Force investigated another crash site nearby and discovered more pieces of Alan’s plane. They determined his plane hit a knoll, bounced off and exploded in another area. There were pieces spread all over but still no indication as to what happened to either pilot. The Air Force sent a book which contains pictures of flight uniforms, straps, rubber life rafts, pieces of the plane, etc., found at the crash sites but found no evidence of bones or burial sites.
So that’s where we stand. We know nothing more about him today than on May 13, 1970. My dad died in 1982 accepting Alan’s death but mom felt the reason she lived so long was to be here when Alan comes home. In her heart, she knows he’s not alive but without any material proof of his death, it is so hard to accept even now. I cannot imagine such grief and I admire her for being able to get on with her life. Alan’s name is now on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. My mother saw it once but would not go back. I don’t really blame her.
I became involved with the Families of American POWs/MIAs and served for several years. I attended conventions with other families, most of whom still don’t know what happened to their loved ones. There are over 1900 men unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. As I watched the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I felt the sadness all over again. On this chapter in my life, I always look back with pain.
My heart hurts for the families of soldiers killed and those who are MIA. Thanks for asking about Alan and letting me talk about this wonderful young man again.
Alan was single, twenty-nine and a graduate of the Air Force Academy. He planned to go into the ministry before joining the Air Force. His plans were to come back from Vietnam and enter seminary to hopefully become one of the first “flying chaplains” in the USAF. His faith in God was so strong.
I don’t get to talk about my brother much anymore. It’s so hard to keep his memory alive. Vietnam has always been such an awful time in our country’s history and people don’t want to talk about or deal with the “leftovers” of such a war. I pray the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t end the same way.
Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor those who served and died and for those who we simply don’t know what happened. Jan’s story helps us understand the trauma, families of our brave men and women in the armed forces endure.
You can send Jan Reger an email of encouragement at: Jan.Reger@centrahealth.com