OUR VIEW: A special salute to our troops

The barbecues and crab boils of Memorial Day weekend are now relegated to memory.

The meaning of Memorial Day is sometimes easily lost in the midst of celebrating what is considered the official kick-off for summer. But even among those aware that the last weekend of May has special meaning, confusion can prevail.

The day is set aside to remember the military dead of the nation’s wars, initially begun to commemorate federal soldiers who died in the Civil War.

Veterans know more than anyone except families of the dead, that Memorial Day is not to be celebrated, but observed.

This year, however, some announcements from the U.S. Department of Defense contain cause for some muted and reverent celebration. Here in Terrebonne and Lafourche as well as nationwide, the number of living World War II veterans is rapidly declining. Veterans of the wars in Korea and Vietnam are far more visible and their numbers greater.

All of them – no matter where or when they fought – know the importance of accounting for war dead.

Last week the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that the remains of Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Alvin Beethe of Elk Creek, Nebraska, were positively identified.

On Nov. 26, 1944, Beethe, of the 393rd Fighter Squadron, 367th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force, was the pilot of a P-38 Lightning aircraft that failed to return from a bombing mission near Duren, Germany. The crew of another aircraft reported that Beethe’s aircraft crashed near the town of Morschenich. Beethe was reported killed in action and his remains were not recovered.

Following the war, the American Graves Registration Command successfully located Beethe’s crash site.

In 2008 a DOD team traveled to Morschenich and surveyed the purported site. In June 2013 an excavation recovered human remains and aircraft wreckage.

Scientists used DNA analyses which matched his cousin and also his nephew. Beethe will be buried with full honors June 8 at Arlington.

On the same day DOD made another announcement.

Army Cpl. Richard L. Wing, 19, of Toledo, Ohio, missing from the Korean War, was also identified. His outfit, Company H, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, was deployed north and southeast of the town of Kunu-ri, North Korea and saw fierce fighting. The soldiers were forced to fight through a series of Chinese roadblocks, commonly known as the Gauntlet. Wing was reported missing in action after the battle.

In 1953, returning American soldiers who had been held as POWs reported that Wing was captured by Chinese forces in November 1950 near Kunu-ri, and died of dysentery in a prisoner of war camp known as Camp 5 in Pyokdong, North Korea.

Between 1991 and 1994, North Korea turned over to the U.S. 208 boxes of human remains believed to contain more than 400 U.S. servicemen. Documents accompanying them turned over at that time, indicated that some remains were recovered near the camp.

Identification protocols included the matching of DNA from remains believed those of Wing with his brother. He will be buried at Arlington as well, on June 5. Today, 7,852 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, and 1,629 from the war in Vietnam. Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died. Today, more than 73,000 are unaccounted for.

If you are a veteran and are reading this, and these identifications are news to you, we want you to know that we regard the ability to do so a privilege and an honor. And we wish to express our gratitude that regardless of political considerations, the state of otherwise current national affairs, the men and women of the DOD accounting agency tirelessly continue their efforts, embodying the time-honored belief that none of our war dead should be left behind.