I was over there and remember when it happened. It’s a damned shame it took this long to find him.
The remains of the first American lost in the Gulf War have been found in Iraq, the military said Sunday, a sorrowful resolution of a nearly two-decade old question about the fate of Navy Capt. Michael “Scott” Speicher.
The Pentagon said the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology on Saturday positively identified the remains, buried in the desert and located after officials received new information from an Iraqi citizen about a crash.
Speicher’s disappearance has bedeviled investigators since his fighter was shot down over the Iraq desert on the first night of the 1991 war.
The top Navy officer said the discovery is evidence of the military’s commitment to bring its troops home. “Our Navy will never give up looking for a shipmate, regardless of how long or how difficult that search may be,” said Adm. Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations.
The Pentagon initially declared Speicher killed. But uncertainty — and the lack of remains — led officials over the years to change his status a number of times to “missing in action” and later “missing-captured.” The family Speicher left behind, from outside Jacksonville, Fla., continued to press for the military to do more to resolve the case.
Family spokeswoman Cindy Laquidara said relatives learned on Saturday that Speicher’s remains had been found.
“The family’s proud of the way the Defense Department continued on with our request” to not abandon the search, she said. “We will be bringing him home.”
Laquidara said the family would have another statement after being briefed by the defense officials; she did not know when that would be.
More than a decade after he was shot down in a combat mission, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 finally gave investigators the chance to search inside Iraq. That led to a number of new leads, including the discovery of what some believed were the initials “MSS” scratched into the wall of an Iraqi prison.
The search also led investigators to excavate a potential grave site in Baghdad in 2005, track down Iraqis said to have information about Speicher and make numerous other inquiries in what officials say was an exhaustive search.
Officials said Sunday that they got new information last month from an Iraqi citizen, prompting Marines stationed in the western province of Anbar to visit a location in the desert which was believed to be the crash site of Speicher’s FA-18 Hornet.
The Iraqi said he knew of two other Iraqis who recalled an American jet crashing and the remains of the pilot being buried in the desert, the Pentagon said.
“One of these Iraqi citizens stated that they were present when Captain Speicher was found dead at the crash site by Bedouins and his remains buried,” the Defense Department said in a statement.
The military recovered bones and multiple skeletal fragments and Speicher was positively identified by matching a jawbone and dental records, said Rear Adm. Frank Thorp.
He said the Iraqis told investigators that the Bedouins had buried Speicher. It was unclear whether the military had information on how soon Speicher died after the crash.
……Speicher was shot down over west-central Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991.
Rest in peace, Captain.