January 27, 2005
The Vietnam War ended nearly 30 years ago, but the search continues for U.S. soldiers missing in action.
According to the National League of POW/MIA Families, 1,842 Americans are still unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. That number includes 18 from Arizona.
At this point, all are presumed dead. Many have been legally declared dead.
But without evidence to prove otherwise, the missing will stay on the list.
U.S. government agencies and full-time special teams look for missing soldiers, said Ann Mills Griffiths, executive director for the National League of POW/MIA Families in Arlington, Va. She said the remains of more than 700 soldiers on the list have been recovered since the war’s end.
Helen Bates of Mesa still receives calls for and about her son Paul Jennings Bates Jr., an Army captain who disappeared in August 1971 at age 28. Paul’s tour in Vietnam was scheduled to end just a month later with a transfer back to the States. Reports from witnesses left no hope that he survived a fiery plane crash.
In February 1974, Bates and her family held a memorial service for Paul after receiving permission to declare him legally dead. The service coupled with feedback from those who last saw Paul made accepting her son’s fate easier, Bates said.
"Anything is better than not knowing. If they’re gone, they’re gone and there’s nothing you can do about it,’’ she said.
Over the years, Bates has answered phone calls from Paul’s military friends asking for pictures, or a crew chief who thought highly of him. Family gatherings keep memories of her first child thriving because everyone loves to talk about him.
"He knew before he went that he wasn’t coming back," Bates said. "I’ll see him again one day. That much I know."
Of others in the East Valley, Lowell S. Powers is the only Scottsdale name on the list of those still unaccounted for in Vietnam. He vanished after a helicopter crash in April 1969, and was legally declared dead in January 1979.