Albro Lynn Lundy, Jr.
Major, United States Air Force
Honor Guard Lieutenant gives POW/MIA bracelet to hero's family
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class
When Major Albro Lundy Jr., went down in his A1-E Skyraider over northeastern Laos, on December 24, 1970, Lieutenant Nicholas Jameson's parents had yet to meet each other, much less imagine the birth of their first son almost a decade later.
Nearly 34 years after the brave pilot was lost to the ravages of war, he finally received a hero's burial at Arlington National Cemetery April 7, 2004, and young Lieutenant Jameson was on hand to direct Major Lundy's belated sendoff. As the ceremonial flight commander in charge of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard contingent rendering full honors to the Silver Star winner, the lieutenant said the ceremony "was done with the same perfection that we always strive for" and "went off without a hitch."
Uninformed observers of the events at Section 68 on April 7, 2004, would likely describe the proceedings in much the same way. But beneath this event's solemn formalities, punctuated by the smooth, polished movements of the synchronized routines the Honor Guardsmen daily execute to near perfection, an amazing story's final chapter was unfolding for Lieutenant Jameson and the inner circle of the Lundy family.
Major Lundy's POW/MIA bracelet had found its way home, courtesy of Lieutenant Jameson and an utterly improbable convergence of events only the most hardened cynic could view as the result of fickle, random chance. The lieutenant certainly agrees, and says he never imagined when he bought the bracelet from a Daytona Beach, Florida, vendor in 1997, his second year at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University there, that a day such as April 7 at Arlington National Cemetery was even remotely possible.
"I was looking through the bracelets and I noticed that Major Lundy came from California, and that's the only reason I chose that bracelet," he said, explaining that his hometown, San Clemente, in Orange County, California, is fairly close to the Lundys' Sherman Oaks home in Los Angeles County (79 miles). "I've had the bracelet ever since and worn it almost every single day. I honestly thought that maybe one day we'd find out that he came back home, that I'd find out by reading it on the Internet or in the newspaper somewhere, but I never thought that I would ... actually be a part of the ceremony."
For the Lundy family, the April 7 full-honors funeral officially closed the file on their long, painful odyssey in search of the truth about husband, brother and father -- a journey laced with high hopes and leavened with false leads and dead ends. Although the Lundy family chose not to do media interviews during their visit to ANC and the Washington area, the below summary of Major Lundy's saga has been compiled from several legitimate sources, official and unofficial.
The long road to ANC
Major Lundy had volunteered to fly lead cover in a flight of two Douglas A1-E Skyraiders for three Air America helicopters on a dangerous medical-evacuation mission over the heavily defended Ban Ban Valley in northeastern Laos on Christmas Eve, 1970. Near the pickup point, he reported engine trouble, telling his wingman, "I've got to get out now." Seconds after the firing of the aircraft's seat rocket, the Skyraider crashed and burned, and an empty parachute was seen descending. Initially declared missing in action, Major Lundy was officially designated "dead -- body not recovered" two days later. The Lundy family was told he "died instantly as a result of the aircraft crash."
But the Air Force's initial verdict was hardly the end of the story. In June 1991, the Pentagon received a photo of three men reported to be American prisoners of war holding a sign bearing the date May 25, 1990; Major Lundy was identified by his family as one of them. The photo accompanied three sets of fingerprint records and palm prints said to be those of the three men in the photo -- all of which led to intense media speculation and a Newsweek magazine cover story on July 29, 1991. The Lundys would also discover that more than 20 live sightings of Major Lundy had been reported over the years, and the family "had seen only two of these reports ... and little if any investigation was done on any of them," according to the POW Network Web site, pownetwork.org.
The photo was later deemed "probably a hoax" by unidentified Pentagon sources, who declined to comment officially on the validity of the photos at that time. Soon the Lundys would be swept up on an emotional roller coaster that included extended visits to Laos by William Lundy, one of the major's three sons; multiple Freedom of Information Act requests; accusations of government incompetence and/or stonewalling when several sets of Major Lundy's fingerprints allegedly on file with several U.S. agencies were either lost or destroyed; and Albro Lundy III's testimony to the Senate Select Committee on POWs on Nov. 7, 1991.
When the Associated Press reported on October 28, 1997 that Laos had returned to the U.S. government the "possible remains of an American aviator missing in action from the Vietnam War" believed to be those of an "Air Force pilot lost Dec. 24, 1970, over Xiangkhouang province in northeastern Laos," a final resolution seemed imminent. Perhaps even more significantly, a dog tag and military ID belonging to Major Lundy accompanied his purported remains.
Just as it seemed the Lundy family was on the brink of writing finis and closing the books on their kinsman's fate, the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii was unable to positively confirm the "bone fragments" as Major Lundy's. Nearly five more years would elapse before DNA technology had advanced to the point where the USACILHI could announce a positive ID (March 26, 2002), but the "family chose not to accept the identification, pending independent examination and testing," according to the Feb. 7, 2004 newsletter of the National Alliance of Families for the Return of America's Missing Servicemen.
Not until January 2004, according to the alliance, were the Lundys able to confirm through an "independent" review of the DNA evidence that "the remains returned by the Laotian government are his and we will inter them at Arlington National Cemetery April 7 with a hero's farewell."
Bracelets "born" in 1970
POW/MIA bracelets have never been about wrist ornamentation at all, but serve as visible symbols and public reminders of the 1,865 Americans (as of April 5) still "unaccounted for" in Southeast Asia.
In late 1969, then-college students Carol Bates Brown and Kay Hunter were introduced to three wives of pilots missing in Vietnam by then-television personality Bob Dornan, who later became a well-known U.S. congressman. Mr. Dornan was wearing a bracelet given him by "hill tribesmen" in Vietnam, which reminded him of the suffering that war had inflicted on so many. From this seed sprang Voices in Vital America, a Los Angeles-based student organization that produced and distributed the bracelets as "a way to remember American prisoners of war in captivity in Southeast Asia," Mrs. Bates Brown wrote in an article from the Web site, www.miafacts.org.
From the time of its official birth on November 11, 1970 until VIVA ceased operations in 1976, more than "5 million bracelets were distributed, raising enough money to produce untold millions of bumper stickers, buttons, brochures, matchbooks ... etc., to draw attention to the missing men," she wrote.
Liz Flick, a regional and Ohio state coordinator for the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, began making the bracelets in 1984 and is the legitimate heir to the mission begun by Mrs. Bates Brown. She says POW/MIA bracelets are also produced by several "commercial vendors" throughout the United States, but unlike them, "Every dime we make goes to the league," she said. "This [POW/MIA] is an issue that is very dear to a lot of people's hearts, and it just seems wrong that a commercial company should make money off POWs and MIAs -- that's totally wrong."
Mrs. Flick, who's in her 32nd year as a league volunteer, has worn two POW/MIA bracelets for 31 years, even refusing to remove them while undergoing medical surgeries. The thousands of bracelets she distributes through the Ohio POW/MIA League of Families chapter are done in stainless steel (for a very modest fee) by a disabled Vietnam veteran and carry the member's name, rank, date of loss, country of loss and branch of service, as well as the League logo. For more on the bracelets and other POW/MIA-related information, see pow-miafamilies.org.
Arlington National Cemetery, April 7
As the big day at Arlington approached, Lieutenant Jameson stopped by to discuss and reflect upon the bizarre and baffling account of Major Lundy's road to repatriation, his own extremely visible role in it and how this all could come together in such an extraordinary, uncanny way. For starters, the likelihood that he would find himself at this particular ceremony after wearing this particular pilot's POW/MIA bracelet for seven years was virtually nil -- unfathomable variables over 34 years argued against its realization.
And though the lieutenant downplayed the incredible alignment of circumstances that paved the way for the events of April 7, when asked to explain how he could also be the Honor Guard's ceremonial flight commander on this occasion, he went speechless, shaking his head in wonder. He could only add that had he missed a staff meeting on March 18, and been out at ANC directing another of the daily funerals the Honor Guard performs there, he may have never been aware of Major Lundy's repatriation.
Moreover, no process exists to inform those who wear the POW/MIA bracelets of changes in the status of the heroes they honor, so news of their funerals or other findings is difficult to come by in a timely manner, especially for people as busy as Lieutenant Jameson. "If Major Lundy had been laid to rest at any other national cemetery in this country, I'd never have known," he said earnestly.
But at the end, nothing could derail Lieutenant Jameson -- and his bracelet -- from their appointed meeting with the Lundy family. Not long after Chaplain (Capt.) Mark Thomas, of the ANC Chaplains Office, delivered his inspiring words of consolation and the official proceedings concluded, the lieutenant approached the gathered Lundy family and friends, about 40 in all, to deliver his special tribute. The unique quality of his poignant, unforgettable encounter would be completely unlike anything the lieutenant had experienced in his previous 120 ANC engagements -- or surely ever would again.
Disengaging from the group, Albro Lundy III, the eldest son, and Lieutenant Jameson met for the first time. "When he came up, I said to him 'I was honored to be a part of the ceremony honoring Major Lundy,' and it meant a lot to me because for the past years I've worn his POW/MIA bracelet," the lieutenant recalled. "I showed it to him and he was a little taken aback that I happened to have his bracelet. I could tell that he kind of had the same emotions going on as I did. I felt a connection of sorts with Major Lundy, because you always wonder about how he lived, how he served and, unfortunately, how he became a POW/MIA.
"I said, 'Thank you for your father's service,' and I presented it to him and saluted him. He was very humble, very quiet and simply said, 'Thanks.' I was touched," said Lieutenant Jameson, and clearly he was.
"It was very a humbling experience," the lieutenant
said, his voice breaking slightly, "but it was also very beautiful. I know
they're appreciative, and to me that's enough."
April 16, 2004
Director of personnel presents flag to Vietnam hero's son
At the end of the Major Albro Lundy Jr. full-honors repatriation ceremony April 7 at Arlington National Cemetery, Colonel Thomas Hancock, 11th Wing director of personnel, presented an American flag to Albro Lundy III, eldest son of the Vietnam War hero. Colonel Hancock, whose niece is married to another son, Kyle, said he was honored to be part of such an important event.
"I know how proud they are of their dad," Colonel Hancock said. "I also understand the anguish they went through for so many years -- ever since December 24, 1970, the day he volunteered to fly what would have been his last mission for a fellow Airman so he could receive calls from his family. Major Lundy epitomized what we now refer to as Air Force core values -- 'Integrity first, Service before self and Excellence in all we do.'
"As Airmen, we must always remember the sacrifices
of our Airmen brothers and sisters who made the ultimate sacrifice. We
must also remember they not only believed in Air Force core values, but
lived them day to day even to their death. I thank God for Airmen such
as Major Lundy who did just that, and those who continue to serve daily
as an example for us through their faithful commitment, dedication and
service to the values we cherish!"