Sunday, August 2, 2009

Rest in Peace, Captain Speicher

The remains of Navy pilot Michael Scott Speicher were found in Iraq last week and positively identified in the last day or two. Until then, he was the only service person still Missing in Action from the first gulf war in 1991.

I try not to euphemise, and I particularly dislike the term "loss of a loved one" when we mean "death of a loved one" (although you will catch me using it from time to time, purely out of habit). But for families of those who are MIA, they truly are dealing with a "loss" in the literal sense. Frequent Quarterbackers already know how messy recovering from traumatic loss is when remains are missing. This situation was apparently no different -- for 18 years there have been rumors that Captain Speicher was alive, or that he survived his initial crash and then died some years later. He was classified as killed in action in 1991 and reclassifed as missing in action in 2002. That can't have been easy for his family.

So now his body is coming home, to a gravestone that is already standing at Arlington National Cemetery, and I would imagine that on some level that is a good thing for his family. I would also imagine that it is a complicated thing, because while they now have certainty they also don't have hope. And to whatever extent, over the last 18 years, they had brought closure to his loss or death -- however they chose to frame it -- it's being reopened now and will need to be reprocessed, at least a little. I also would guess that they feel some pressure from those around them to feel something clean and easily described, whether that is relief or grief or something else. And whatever they are feeling, it is probably not that simple.

In the musical Miss Saigon they say, "War isn't over when it ends." This situation is testament to that. While Captain Speicher may have disappeared 18 years ago, the discovery of his remains may create a critical incident in and of itself. I hope his family is getting some good support.

I also want to mention something that really touched me about this story. Apparently Captain Speicher's body was found by local Bedouins shortly after he was shot down and buried in the desert. On the one hand, some might argue that this kept the United States military from finding him. On the other hand, in most cultures of the Middle East, particularly those with nomadic origins, burying the dead is considered a selfless act of service to the dead and should be accomplished quickly. These Iraqis treated Captain Speicher with all the care they would have wanted for their own family. With all the anti-Arab sentiment in this country right now, that might be a lesson for all of us to learn.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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