From: radtimes (resist@best.com)
Date: Sat Aug 11 2001 - 16:59:53 EDT

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      Greensboro News & Record
    Saturday, August 4, 2001

    ALLISON PERKINS Staff Writer

        Sara Gist-Bernasconi knows her husband is alive.
       The pilot he was flying with in a two-seater F-4 reconnaissance
    plane said
    he saw Tommy E. Gist eject safely over Dong Hoi, North
    Vietnam, on May 18, 1968. In 1985, Vietnamese officials sent his
    identification card to the United States, with the explanation that
    his body had burned in that crash.
        Gist-Bernasconi knows he always carried his I.D. in his pocket,
    so how
    did it survive unscathed?
       "It leaves me continuing to press for answers," said Gist-
    Bernasconi, of
    Albuquerque, N.M. "It leaves me with the feeling the
    Vietnamese government has answers. It leaves me to believe my own
    has more answers than I've been told."
       Gist-Bernasconi is not alone in her search for answers.
       This week, hundreds of Vietnam veterans have gathered in
    Greensboro for
    the 10th biannual convention of the Vietnam Veterans
    of America Inc. Many in the organization believe there are
    Americans still
    being held as prisoners of war in southeast Asia.
       Early Friday morning, the group held a candlelight ceremony to
    fallen comrades: those whose remains have been recovered and
    finally returned home; and those who are still missing.
       "As we gather here we are reminded of the tremendous pain war
    causes in
    our bodies, our minds, our spirit," said Father Phillip Salois,
    chaplain of the VVA. "There is a group of people today who have a
    pain - the families of those who never
       "What kind of indignities have been perpetrated on them? Where
    are their
    remains? Do they even remember they have a family who loves
    them and longs for their return?"
       A list of 50 service members who remain missing, one from each
    state, was
    read during the ceremony. Officially, the whereabouts are
    unknown of about 2,000 people, from all branches of service and the
    sector, who served in Vietnam.
       Patty Hopper of Glendale, Ariz., says it is possible hundreds of
    those on
    that list may still be alive.
       Hopper created Task Force Omega Inc. in 1983 with her husband,
    Earl Hopper
    Sr., a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and
    two other veterans, to help bring the POW/MIA issue to the
    attention of the
       Their son, Earl Hopper Jr., was believed taken prisoner after his
    aircraft was downed by North Vietnamese troops. Hopper and the
    pilot both ejected safely. The pilot was returned to the U.S. from
    prisoner camp in 1973. Hopper remained missing and, in 1982, was
    determined to be no longer living by the U.S. government, his
    mother said.
       But the family has documentation, provided by former intelligence
    officials, indicating that Hopper was still alive as recently as
    1984, that there had been a failed CIA mission to extract the young
    when his plane first crashed.
       "It isn't a matter of 'Are there people alive?' " Hopper said.
    "It's a
    matter of 'Who are they? How many are there? And what is it
    going to take to get them out?'
       "This isn't a game," she said. "These are living, breathing
    humans. Their
    lives didn't just end. I have seen nothing that
    indicates he is not still surviving."
       There are continual searches for remains of American service
    throughout southeast Asia. Joint Task Force-Full Accounting
    investigates information about possible crash sites in the area and
    recommends dig sites to the Army's Central Identification
    Laboratory. Both are based in Hawaii.
       CIL-HI, which searches for remains from all wars, makes several
    around the world to painstakingly dig for bits of bone, metal,
    fabric or anything they can find. The items are then brought to
    their lab in
    Hawaii, and DNA tests are used to determine whose remains they
       On the other side of the equation, the Veterans Initiative of the
    helps repatriate objects Americans took as war trophies from
    enemy soldiers to Vietnamese families and find burial sites of
       "We felt this was the right thing to do," said William Duker of
    former chair of Veterans Initiative. "Regardless of what
    side you were on, you should know what happened to your loved one."
       As more American troops came forward with information, so did
    troops. One elderly man, dying of cancer in a hospital,
    even offered to take American officials to the site of a plane
    crash they
    had spent years searching for, Duker said.
       Duker, who has been on several trips to Vietnam to help search
    remains, said most of the Vietnamese enjoy reuniting with
       "It's been a really rewarding experience," he said. "There's
    negative about it. And most of us realized even then that the
    majority of the Vietnamese people were just caught in the middle."
       Though he's hesitant to say troops definitely remain alive and
    Duker said he has not given up hope.
       "I'd like to think there's someone out there who would like to
    come home,"
    he said.

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