The U.S. Department of Defense announced on Sunday that the remains of the first American shot down in Persian Gulf War have been positively identified, finally ending over 18 years of speculation regarding his whereabouts.
On January 17, 1991. U.S. Navy Capt. Michael "Scott" Speicher was shot down while flying his F/A-18 Hornet. Since that time, his fate remained uncertain as friends, family and fellow servicemen were left wondering if he had survived, was being held in captivity or if he had been killed in action.
Over the years, the captain’s disappearance also mystified high-ranking members of the armed forces.
Hours after Speicher's disappearance, then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney announced that Speicher was the first casualty of war, despite the fact that there was no evidence of the captain's death. Although initially listed as "Killed-in-Action/Body-Not-Recovered" in May 1991, Speicher's status was changed in 2001 to "Missing in Action" because of lack of evidence. His status was changed yet again to "Missing/Captured" in 2002 because of sighting reports in Iraq that have since been discredited.
The search continued in 2003 when an American military unit was sent to search for the missing pilot following the U.S. invasion of Iraq. This investigation merely yielded a number of false leads, including the discovery of what some investigators believed were the initials “MSS” scratched on the wall of an Iraqi prison. The captain’s status was changed back to MIA earlier this year.
Although he held the rank of lieutenant commander when shot down, Speicher continued to receive promotions during the years that he was missing because of they uncertainty of his status.
The 18-year search came to close when some Iraqi civilians contacted the Marines with the location of the crash site and attested to having witnessed Bedouins burying Speicher's remains in the desert after the crash. The remains, which included bones and skeletal fragments, were flown to Dover Air Base last week and positively identified as Speicher's by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.
Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, claims that the discovery of the remains illustrates the American military's promise that “no man will be left behind.” According to The Telegraph, Admiral Roughhead said, "Our Navy will never give up looking for a shipmate, regardless of how long or how difficult that search may be."
Roughhead's comments contradict the sentiments of Speicher’s wife, two children and friends, who attest that the military neglected to investigate the crash immediately after it happened. They formed the group "Friends Working to Free Scott Speicher” and continued to pressure the military to probe the pilot's disappearance over the last 18 years.
Nels Jensen, one of Speicher’s friends, said the group was frustrated the military neglected to send a search and rescue team immediately after the crash. According to the Miami Herald Nelson still thinks that some good has come from his friend’s disappearance saying, "Never again will our military likely not send out a search and rescue party for a downed serviceman.