By Col. Greg Lengyel , 1st Special Operations Wing Commander
/ Published September 18, 2009
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- My earliest memories come from the mid-1960's. I was not even 4 years old at the time. My father was a dashing young Air Force pilot. He would come home for lunch in his flight suit, and it was the highlight of my day. I anxiously waited to join my father at the lunch table. He'd come in the door, give Mom a kiss, and say something to the effect of, "How's my lunch pal?"
He was my hero, and I wanted to be just like him.
I vividly remember the large family gathering over Memorial Day weekend in May 1967. It was my father's farewell party before he deployed to Vietnam. He carried me on his shoulders down to the town square where we watched the Memorial Day parade. For some reason, I had decided that I wanted a toy gun that shot those little darts with the suction cups on them ... and I wanted it worse than anything in the world. After a lot of begging and crying, my dad walked me down the end of the street to a small store and bought me that gun. I was very happy, but I had no idea that I would not see my father again for almost six years.
I was playing in the front yard the day the Air Force staff car pulled up to the house. Three officers went to the front door to talk to Mom. She cried and lots of relatives showed up at the house soon thereafter. Mom and the adult relatives tried to explain to us what was going on, and they a presented a positive front, but it would be years before I could comprehend the reality of the situation.
There was a very nice McDonnell Douglas plastic model of an RF-4 that was always prominently displayed on our very large stereo console. For those that aren't old enough to know what I'm talking about ... a console stereo is like an MP3 player, but it's as large as a sleeper sofa. Anyway, I would take that plane off the stereo and fly it around the house, saying, "I'm going to Bietnam to get Dad."
I remember when the prisoner of war bracelets became popular. I was so proud to have a bracelet with Dad's name on it. My wife Diane found some of them on eBay, and we're wearing them today in honor of this ceremony.
After 31 months ... I say again, 31 months of missing in action status, we found out that in August 1969, while on a low-level reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam, his RF-4C aircraft was hit with a 100mm anti-aircraft artillery round. Then Captain Lengyel and his back-seater, Lt. Glenn Myers, ejected and were captured immediately.
It was my life and it was all that I knew. Dad was in Vietnam and would come home when the war was over. It was all going to be okay.
It was tough. Mom had four kids between the ages of 1-7 when Dad was shot down. I would never wish it on anyone, but I'd say it made us better people, a better family and better Americans. My dad has always been my hero, but the light bulb came on for me early in my own fatherhood experience ... my mom is my hero as well. There have been many times in my life that I've been tempted to whine or feel sorry for myself, on a 365-day tour to Iraq, for example. All I have to do is think of my parents' experience with the Vietnam war, and I stop whining and get a spring back in my step.
The Lengyel family was lucky. My father came home, and Mom and Dad are alive and well today and recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
Unfortunatley, more than 8,100 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, and nearly 1,800 Americans are unaccounted for from Vietnam.
Forty-nine Americans were listed as POW/MIAs during Operation Desert Storm. The Department of Defense has accounted for all 49, the last being U.S. Navy Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, whose remains were located in Iraq, and who was identified and returned to his family in August 2009. The U.S. government significantly improved its recovery and accounting procedures on the battlefield, resulting in the smallest post-war accounting effort. Our success has continued during the recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Observances of National POW/MIA Recognition Day are held across the country on military installations, ships at sea, state capitols, schools and veterans' facilities. This observance is one of six days throughout the year that Congress has mandated the flying of the National League of Families' POW/MIA flag. The others are Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day. The flag is to be flown at major military installations, national cemeteries, all post offices, VA medical facilities, the World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the official offices of the secretaries of state, defense and veterans affairs, the director of the selective service system and the White House.
The importance of the League's POW/MIA flag lies in its continued visibility, a constant reminder of the plight of America's POW/MIAs. Other than "Old Glory," the League's POW/MIA flag is the only flag ever to fly over the White House, having been displayed in this place of honor on National POW/MIA Recognition Day since 1982.
From this day forward, the National League of Families' POW/MIA flag will proudly be flown over the 1st Special Operations Wing Headquarters every day.