Wednesday, November 29, 2006

For Either Side: No Such Thing As “Closure”

By John E. Carey
Special to The Washington Times
Thursday, November 30, 2006

To me, there is no such thing as “closure.” There is only life and life’s cumulative experiences, both happy and sad.

The enemy sees it the same way. They never have closure. Years after the end of a conflict, there is often still animosity.

The secret of a good life is to seek and attain balance. Don’t let the evil conquer the good and don’t become “Goodie Two Shoes” either.

I have daily reminders of the war in Vietnam all around me. God’s Greatest Gift to me is Honglien Do. She came from Vietnam “the hard way.”

She was on the run from the Communists, in and out of prison and in and out again for several years after the Communists overwhelmed her country in 1975. Sometimes, circumstances forced her into hiding in her own house like Ann Frank.

Lien’s brother Fong disappeared into the Communist prison system in 1975 and never came out. So Lien is the lucky one: she is here in the USA with us. The day after Thanksgiving, “Black Friday,” we went for coffee at the 7/11 at 4 AM. Then Lien went to work. This November, Lien voted for the first time in her life.

To escape Communist Vietnam, my wife Lien and about 50 others spent 22 days in an open boat without food. The engine of the boat failed after about the first hour at sea. The only fresh water available to the drifting refugees was rainwater collected in little cups. Four people died in that boat before it reached safety.

After reaching the Philippines, my wife, who by now was mixed into a horde of other Vietnamese refugees, witnessed the agents of the overwhelmed Philippine government. The Philippine government built small huts in a kind of “stalag” to house the refuges behind tightly guarded barbed wire.

Lien lived on Palowan Island, The Philippines, for ten years. Fifty or so people, men and women, young and old, lived together in a room the size of your TV room or den.

After ten years the Philippine government sent her back to Saigon where she was an enemy of the state without papers. After eighteen years: she was back where she started.

Saigon fell and was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975. My wife made it to safety in the United States in 1998!

Today, at Arlington Cemetery, our nation will bury Colonel Charles J. Scharf, United States Air Force. He was the pilot of an F-4 fighter over North Vietnam when he was shot down in October 1965.

His widow, Patricia Scharf, 72, of Arlington, Virginia, has never remarried, has never had children and still considers the brave Air Force officer the love of her life.

Colonel Scharf was positively identified by DNA these 40 years after his death. U.S. government investigators matched the DNA from the love letters to his wife that he had licked to bone fragments found where he had crashed.

“What other nation would go to such lengths,” says my wife Lien. She doesn’t need any more proof that the United States is the greatest nation in the world. But she is constantly turning over the evidence and showing it to me.

Besides the DNA, there are some relics of Colonel Scharf and his life lost. Mrs. Scharf will bury most of them today. The Colonel’s singed identification card, with his name still decipherable. His dog tags. His silver captain's bars. (He was promoted posthumously to colonel.) And finally his scapular.

In my experience, only really devout Catholics, like my brother in law Charles, wear the scapular. Colonel Scharf was wearing his on the day that he died. It was a gift to him on his wedding day. His wife still wears the matching cloth religious pendant.

We’ll go to Arlington today to honor and remember Colonel Scharf and all the American men and women who died for us. Lien, despite her own travails, feels very strongly a bond to the men and women who sacrificed and served in the attempt, the futile attempt, to keep her country from slipping into Communism.

This ties us inextricably to the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today too. Each day we think of them and pray for them.

When America puts its reputation on the line, our brave young men and women go to war for us and many come home wounded or lost. And if we as a nation lose our nerve and give up our resolve, hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of people find themselves at risk, imprisoned, on death lists or killed. Translators, drivers and the lowest who assisted the Americans all become targets, just as Lien did in Vietnam.

We hope this sad history is not repeated in Iraq. But we fear that it will be.

We thought the American people might want to think about this today; the day we bury Colonel Charles J. Scharf, United States Air Force.

John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants Inc. and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times.


The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. Air Force officer missing in action from the Vietnam War have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

He is Col. Charles J. Scharf of San Diego. His funeral is scheduled for Nov. 30 at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington D.C.Col Scharf and a fellow crew member took off in their F-4C Phantom IIs from Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand on October 1, 1965.

Their mission was to attack an enemy concentration and a major highway in North Vietnam.

After the lead aircraft developed problems en route, Scharf assumed the lead of the two other F-4s in the flight. After he completed two bombing runs, Scharf's aircraft was hit by enemy fire.

His radio transmission of "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday" was heard by the other two aircraft. One radioed "Gator 3 (Scharf's call sign), you're on fire, you'd better get out! Bail out, Gator 3!"

Scharf's plane began to disintegrate and a parachute was seen leaving the aircraft.

The other two aircraft lost sight of the parachute, and circled the area for about 10 minutes where Scharf's aircraft had crashed and burned but no radio or visual contact was made then nor in subsequent aerial search and rescue operations.

In January 1990, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) provided information to U.S. officials indicating two men were buried near their crash site, but that one had been washed away during flooding.

Within a month, a joint U.S.-S.R.V. team, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), interviewed three witnesses to the crash and located scattered wreckage at the site. The 1992 excavation of that site yielded human remains, a dental prosthesis, numerous personal effects including the rank insignia of Scharf's fellow crewman.

A second joint excavation in 1993 recovered additional artifacts, but no remains.

A third excavation in 2004 recovered additional evidence including pilot-related life-support artifacts, a metal captain's insignia (Scharf's rank at the time) and a plastic denture tooth.

Among dental records and other forensic tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) also attempted to use mitochondrial DNA from a known maternal relative to establish the identification.

However, the tests were inconclusive.

From Scharf's widow, they obtained a number of envelopes containing letters he had sent to her during the war.

AFDIL specialists were able to extract mitochondrial DNA from the gummed adhesive on those envelopes, and JPAC was able to confirm the identification.

JPAC's detailed analysis of the debris and other evidence concluded that the parachute sighted was the F-4C's drag parachute.

For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO web site at or call (703) 699-1169.