As the child of a soldier who has been missing in action for 44 years, a North Texas woman knows all too well that it is the not knowing that can hurt the most.
“The questions never stopped,” said Shannon Spake after some thought and a deep breath. “Wondering where he was, if he had been taken prisoner, imagining the worst of the worst.”
Spake, a Haslet resident, will speak Tuesday to sailors stationed at the Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base who will observe National Prisoner of War Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Recognition Day.
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Spake’s father, Lieutenant Commander Dennis Pike, has been listed as Missing in Action since March 23, 1972 when his Naval airplane went down and he ejected during a bombing run over Laos.
For more than 40 years, Spake’s family knew little else about the fate her father may have suffered.
In 2014, Spake said she learned, through her involvement with the National League of POW/MIA Families, that her father’s ejection seat and flight suit had been recovered. The belief, Spake said, is that the parachute on the ejection seat failed and her father was likely killed on impact.
She remains hopeful, she said, that his story will one day become fully known.
“Your one directive as an MIA family is to keep the hope. And that’s what we were told, that our job is to remain hopeful,” Spake said.
Although it is a deeply personal one, the story of Spake’s father’s fate can unfortunately be told by thousands of families who never learned what happened of their service member.
73,126 Americans are still missing from World War II, 7,802 Americans from the Korean War, 1,618 from the Vietnam War, 126 from the Cold War, and six Americans from Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts, according to a public affairs officer from the NASJRB. That number totals a staggering 82,678.
The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that of the Americans who've been held as prisoners of war, 4,120 were captured and interned during World War I, 130,201 during World War II, 7,140 during the Korean War, 725 during the Vietnam War, 47 during the Gulf War, one while in conflict in Somalia, three while in conflict in Kosovo, and nine during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Of the total 142,246 Americans captured by hostile forces, 125,213 came home.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day is typically observed on the third Friday of September each year, but the Fort Worth NASJRB will observe the day on Tuesday due to a scheduling conflict, according to a public affairs officer.
Spake said she is honored to share her father’s story with the sailors in Fort Worth.
“To let people know that this case and this cause is not dead,” Spake said. “I’m passionate about this because our current and future military service members need to know that if they are lost behind enemy lines that our government will not forsake them. That we will go to the nth degree to return their remains, or to fight for their release, because that’s what we do as Americans. We leave no one behind.”