A state representative has been “frustrated” in his effort to speed up a determination of what happened to 15 Missourians in the Vietnam War. The federal government, meanwhile, is looking for DNA from the families of two of those men.
The legislature in May passed House Concurrent Resolution 35, which asked the federal government to make it a priority to determine what happened to 15 Missouri men presumed killed in that war. This week Missouri House members received a response to that Resolution from Fern Sumpter Winbush, the Acting Director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
In a letter Mrs. Winbush summarized the Agency’s efforts to account for the 15 men named in HCR 35 and described the process that goes into learning the final disposition of missing U.S. military personnel. She also noted that the Department has DNA for 13 of those 15 Missourians, to which it can compare DNA from unidentified human remains, but it has no DNA samples for Lieutenant Commander Charles Weldon Marik of Oakland and Captain Dwight Gray Rickman of Joplin.
Read more about Lt. Commander Marik and Capt. Rickman at the bottom of this article
Representative Tom Hurst (R-Meta) sponsored HCR 35, and has read the Agency’s response.
“If you go by what you’re being told … they know of these people, they’re trying to find them, and they’re doing what they can to do it, so given that it’s almost like I got the impression that, ‘You can pass a resolution, you can write us letters, we’re doing all we can but nothing more is gonna be done that isn’t already done,” said Hurst.
Hurst said he is learning what impact efforts such as this resolution actually have when they reach Washington D.C. In this case he said he has received one letter basically acknowledging that HCR 35 has been received.
Hurst said he will look for other avenues to push for resolution in the cases of these 15 men and that could include asking Governor Eric Greitens (R), himself a former Navy SEAL, to get involved.
“I know it’s not much to me or you, but just to get back maybe [a soldier’s] dog tags could give that family something to hold just for some closure,” said Hurst. “It sounds simple and it seems simple, but whenever you deal with government, naturally, it’s got to be difficult.”
Hurst said much of that difficulty lies not with the U.S. Government but with the government in Vietnam, where there could be roadblocks to locating remains or belongings or to retrieving some believed to already have been located.
St. Joseph representative Pat Conway (D), a Vietnam veteran, supported HCR 35. Conway said he was satisfied with the response from DPAA.
Conway hopes the search efforts will continue.
“Those of us who have a connection to Vietnam have always felt that some of those soldiers didn’t get the fairness that they deserved and, I think, the respect for those who didn’t make it back,” said Conway. “We can keep trying. It’s not that huge of a cost, and if some of those people can be able to say that their family members are, to a certain extent, more accounted for, I think that the pursuit of the information and Representative Hurst’s drive in trying to get this done is going to be something that will be helpful in the long run.”
Meanwhile Conway, Hurst, and other legislators are hopeful that relatives of Captain Rickman and Lieutenant Commander Marik can be found and put in touch with the Marine or Navy casualty offices that could potentially secure a DNA sample from them. Anyone in those families or who knows of them could contact the Missouri House Communications Office, attention Mike Lear, for help.
The other 12 men listed in HCR 35 who fought in Vietnam and are presumed dead are: Private First Class Paul Alfred Hasenbeck, First Lieutenant Steven Neil Bezold, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Donald Martin Cramer, First Lieutenant William R. Edmondson, Private First Class Dickey W. Finley, First Lieutenant Frederick William Hess Jr., Major Carl D. Miller, First Lieutenant Bernard Herbert Plassmeyer, Lieutenant Colonel Dayton William Ragland, Captain Robert Page Rosenbach, Captain John W. Seuell, First Lieutenant George Craig Smith, and Sergeant Randolph Bothwell Suber.
Captain Dwight Gray Rickman
On Christmas Day, 1972, Marine First Lieutenant Dwight Gray Rickman was the observer on an observation plane on a reconnaissance mission over southern Vietnam. During the flight radio contact with the plane was lost and it never returned to base. Search and rescue efforts failed to find the plane or its crew. Years later Rickman was promoted to Captain.
The Department of Defense investigated the case seven times in Vietnam, including the excavation of two possible burial sites, but Rickman’s remains have not been found and he remains unaccounted for.
Lieutenant Commander Charles Weldon Marik
On June 25, 1966, Navy Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Charles Weldon Marik was the bombardier/navigator on a fighter jet flying a combat mission over northern Vietnam. The plane was hit by enemy fire and both Marik and the pilot ejected over the South China Sea. The pilot was recovered but Marik was never found. He was later promoted to Lieutenant Commander.
In the 1990s, Department of Defense teams met with residents of coastal villages in case anyone remembered Lieutenant Commander Marik’s remains washing ashore. No evidence to that end was found and he is believed to have been lost at sea.