The body of Naval Captain Michael Scott Speicher has been found in Iraq after an 18-year-search. See 8-13-09 update below:
The remains of Captain Speicher were found just days ago in the Anbar Province of Iraq. They have been positively identified as Michael Scott Speicher, who was shot down in his FA-18 Hornet over the the Iraqi desert on the first night of the Persian Gulf War, January 17, 1991. For 18 years his whereabouts were unknown.
Scott, who was 33 years old at the time his plane went down, left behind his wife Joanne, a 3-year-old daughter and 1 year old son; his parents and two siblings now college-students, who were toddlers at the time of his death. The family was notified Saturday that their loved one would finally come home. Captain Speicher considered Orange Park, FL home.
The Navy’s search for Mr. Speicher in Iraq has been unending. Immediately after his plane was reported down, the Pentagon announced the first casualty of the war. Ten years passed with no positive evidence of a death, and officials changed Speicher’s status to “missing in action.” Once the Iraq war started and we had a U.S. presence in the country, the search was stepped up. In October 2002, the Navy again changed the status to “missing/captured.” Yet another review of the case was made in 2008. Navy Secretary Donald Winter made the decision to continue with the “Missing” status, even though there was “compelling evidence” that the pilot did not survive the desert crash.
Following the fall of Baghdad, rumors circulated that Speicher may be alive and held prisoner. Iraqi citizens have been an important part of the search through the years, and finally the chain of locals led the U.S. Marines to Captain Speicher.
Officials said Sunday that they got new information from an Iraqi citizen in early July, leading Marines stationed in Anbar province to a location in the desert which was believed to be the crash site of Speicher’s jet.
The Iraqi said he knew of two other Iraqis who recalled an American jet crashing and the remains of the pilot being buried in the desert.
“One of these Iraqi citizens stated that they were present when Captain Speicher was found dead at the crash site by Bedouins and his remains buried,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
In 2003, the search for Scott Speicher became national news again when the initials “MSS” were found etched into a prison wall in Baghdad, and “Iraqi defectors” claimed sightings of Speicher alive.
A U.S. Army camp in Iraq is named in honor of Captain Speicher, who was promoted to Captain after his plane went down. Camp Speicher is a “Contingency Operating Base,” located near Tikrit in northern Iraq, about 105 miles north of Baghdad. The 42nd Infantry Division and the 101st Airbone have been based at Camp Speicher, along with the headquarters of the Multi-National Division, North during Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the reign of Saddam Hussein, the location was known as Al Sahra Airfield.
Joanne Speicher married Scott’s best friend, Buddy Harris, 18 months after the death of her husband. Harris was also a Naval pilot and continued to be active in the search for his close friend. They have two children in addition to Scott’s daughter and son. Mr. Harris remained active in the search.
Here’s the rest of the story:
Harris, who married Speicher’s widow only to be told that he might not be dead after all, says he has hoped all along that his friend would return home safely, whatever the impact on his family.“We will throw a huge welcome home party,” he said. “Then we will deal with whatever comes next in an adult and private manner.”Harris, 44, added: “I want to be able to look him in the eye and say, ‘This is what I did, this is why I did it’. And I can’t imagine him being displeased.”When Speicher’s aircraft vanished he left behind Joanne, his college sweetheart, Megan, three, and one-year-old Michael.“I knew Joanne before she and Scott got married,” Harris said. “She was like a sister. We had a lot of fun together. We were all pretty close. Scott was the leader of his class, a fun-loving, nice guy, always with a smile on his face. We had that connection between us.”Speicher became a national hero when, in May 1991, a memorial stone was erected in Arlington national cemetery in Washington.It was less than a year after marrying Joanne that Harris, who was working at the Pentagon, heard that wreckage from the jet had been found intact. He decided to keep the news from his wife, uncertain how it would affect their marriage.The Pentagon considered mounting a special forces operation to rescue Speicher if he could be located.
“I felt it was a mission we had to perform because we never leave one of our own out there without hope,” said Tim Connolly, assistant deputy secretary of special operations at the time.American officials approached the International Committee of the Red Cross, which obtained permission to search the crash site. It found the cockpit canopy and a flight suit with the legs cut open. There were no signs of blood.Harris knew he had to tell Joanne. “Up to that point, there was just no sense in making her more miserable over possibilities,” he said.She took it well, he explained, but added: “It wasn’t a happy environment for a while. I mean, you can just imagine trying to give that kind of information to your wife.”
Friends of Joanne say she has dealt with the news of her husband by “putting it all into a compartment that she refuses to open.”
“She has moved on and at times says she doesn’t want to look back,” said a close friend. “It makes her sound uncaring and she’s not but she’s had to move on with her life.”
Harris, on the other hand, remains preoccupied with the search. “I gotta find out the truth,” he said. “This is important, the most important thing in my life.”
Read the Arlington National Cemetery Website
The remains of Captain Michael “Scott” Speicher returned home to Florida today – 18 years after being the first U.S. military to be shot down over Iraq.
Buddy Harris, Speicher’s close friend, and now the husband of his widow Joanne, accompanied the casket from Dover, DE to Florida.
This is the ultimate definition of bittersweet. We got Scott home and that was the ultimate goal,” Harris said outside the base chapel as mourners slowly passed by the casket.
Captain Speicher was a native of Kansas City. He will be interred at Jacksonville Memory Gardens in private services.