Sunday, May 15, 2011

No longer missing, but still missed...

In a small town in Alabama, about 400 or so people gathered in a cemetery this weekend to pay their respects and welcome home a soldier who had been missing for 43 years. Finally, James Leslie Moreland, known as Les to his friends & family, was being laid to rest between the graves of his parents.

Moreland was a 22-year-old Special Forces medic when he was last seen mortally wounded at the Lang Vei Special Forces camp on the South Vietnamese border in a battle remembered as the first time the North Vietnamese used tanks. Moreland was one of ten Americans killed, captured, or missing after the fall of Lang Vei during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Three of the soldiers were captured and held by the enemy and released in 1973. They were SFC Harvey G. Brande , SSG Dennis L. Thompson, and SP5 William G. McMurray. Two others, SFC Earl F. Burke and SFC Eugene Ashley , were killed in action, with Ashley later being awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. The remaining five soldiers were listed as missing in action: SGM Kenneth Hanna, MSG James W. Holt, MSG Charles W. Lindewald, SFC James L. Moreland, and SFC Daniel R. Phillips.

The remains of Hanna and Lindewald were repatriated on 15 Jan 2004 and positive identification announced on 08 Sep 2004. In 1995, remains believed to be Moreland’s were excavated and sent to a military forensic laboratory in Hawaii. But it would take 16 years and DNA samples from five different family members before the military was certain. His remains were identified on October 13, 2010. And now, finally Les is home with his family.

Linda Brown, right, and her daughter Lisa Newlander wear POW/MIA bracelets bearing the name of Newlander’s uncle and Brown’s brother, Les Moreland.

Kathy Strong asked for a POW/MIA bracelet for Christmas in 1972 when she was in seventh grade. For 38 years, she’s faithfully worn the bracelet with the name of James Moreland. Saturday the bracelet was buried in Moreland's casket.

"I hope everyone knows why we are here today," said retired Army Colonel Paul Longrear, Moreland's former commanding officer, in the eulogy. "We are not here to celebrate a burial. He was already buried in the debris of war. We are here today to celebrate a homecoming."

Mourners gather at the memorial service for Les Moreland

A 21-gun salute pierced the rural quiet. When “Taps” played, retired and active military in attendance, at least one-third of the crowd, snapped salutes. Then roaring through the clouds came four Navy jets in formation, until one jet dramatically peeled away in what is known as The Missing Man formation, symbolizing the departure of a fallen comrade. Moreland’s sister was then presented with the folded flag from her brother’s casket. Nestled in the flag were three spent brass M-16 shells representing: duty, honor, country.

At least two dozen retired and active Special Forces soldiers attended from around the country.

"It's been worth waiting 43 years to see this," said William Amelung, a 65-year-old retired Green Beret who trained with Moreland and "earned our berets together"

Retired Sergeant Major Dennis Thompson, who had served with Moreland at Lang Vei and been captured by the enemy, had traveled from Washington state to attend the service. When asked why, the fellow Green Beret said simply, "Because he would have done the same for me."

The green beret of the US Army Special Forces, resting atop Les Moreland's casket, with the black, yellow, and red "flash" of the 5th Special Forces Group and the Special Forces crest. Upon that crest are the words "De Oppresso Liber", Latin for "To liberate the oppressed". Welcome home, Les.

1 comment:

Coffeypot said...

Welcome home, Doc Les. Rest in the comfort of home now.