Sunday, August 2, 2009
After 18 years, a hero comes home
It was January 16, 1991. It was sometime shortly after dinner, I believe, on a Wednesday evening. We’ll call it, say, 7:30 PM. That put it at about 3:30AM local time on January 17 in Iraq. I was sitting by myself in the TV room of my barracks behind the MP station for the Camp Funston subsection of Fort Riley, Kansas. The guys who weren’t on duty were mostly in their rooms, leaving the big-screen TV all to me, which meant I could shine my boots and watch CNN in peace without any of my platoon-mates bitching about me being such a news hound.
In truth, though, most of us were paying more attention to the news as of late, since CNN was being more forthcoming about the developing situation in the desert than the Army was. The bulk of the First Infantry Division had already deployed from Riley and we were all speculating as to whether we were getting the call up to join the division to beef up the division’s 1st MP Company or the other Riley-based unit, the 977th MP Company. Some of our platoon-mates were already in-theater, having gone ahead with the initial deployment of the division. My own room mate was already there.
I looked up from my boots with an agape jaw as CNN started reporting the beginning of the air war with live reports from the al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad by reporters Bernard Shaw, John Holliman, and Peter Arnett.
“This is Bernie Shaw. Something is happening outside...Peter Arnett, join me here. Let’s describe to our viewers what we’re seeing...The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated...We’re seeing bright flashes going off all over the sky.”
I shouted for the guys to get their asses to the TV room, post-haste, and inside of a minute, there were fifteen or twenty guys crowded around. No one spoke. We all just stared and watched as CNN reported the opening moves of a war that we were uncertain of soon joining.
A few hours later the Pentagon reported that our first confirmed loss off the air war was a Navy F/A-18 Hornet pilot off the USS Saratoga named Michael Scott Speicher. To this day I’ve never forgotten his name or the fact that they never found him. IN December 1993, a group from Qatar found the wreckage of Speicher’s Hornet in the desert, but it was two more years before investigators finally made their way to the crash site.
From a big article series I read on Speicher’s case that originally appeared in The Virginian-Pilot in 2002, it seems that the jet had lost power, gone into a flat spin and dropped almost straight to the desert floor. Speicher's jet had not, as first thought, been blown to bits in the sky either by a SAM or by a MiG-25, as conflicting reports had stated. It seemed also that Speicher had ejected from his aircraft.
Well, today the mystery is put to rest. The family has been notified that Speicher’s remains had been found and identified by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology through a jawbone and dental records. This was after an Iraqi came forward last month with new information about the crash site and where the body had been buried after the crash by local Bedouins.
We’ll likely never know for sure 100% what happened to “Spike” Speicher. Was he shot down by a missile or by an Iraqi fighter? Was the jet downed by a mechanical mishap? Did Speicher die during the ejection, or did he survive to be captured, and later executed and his body dumped?
None of that really matters. It won’t bring him back. What matters is that his family and friends, his comrades in arms, and the nation can have closure. Scott Speicher has been found, and he’s coming home.
Rest in peace, brother. Your mission is accomplished. Welcome home, sir.