Joseph Andrew Matejov
Sergeant, United States Air Force
Courtesy of Newsday
Joe Matejov's remains are at Arlington National Cemetery, according to his tombstone. But his family believes the 1970 graduate of East Meadow High School has lived out his last days in Laos, Russia or somewhere in between, and might even still be alive.
His brother, John, and three lawyers working pro bono will argue before the Defense Department on July 19 that Matejov's status should be changed from "killed in action" to "missing in action," John Matejov said in a phone interview Thursday from his home in Story, Wyoming.
The new designation could cause the government to test any new evidence for his brother's DNA and -- most importantly -- would set the record straight, John Matejov said. Whatever may have happened later, he does not believe his brother died when his military plane was shot down over Laos on February 5, 1973.
"The opportunity for my brother is at hand," Matejov, 53 and himself a retired Marine, said of his older brother.
Joe Matejov's Air Force EC-47 electronic surveillance plane was shot down during the Vietnam War. The U.S. military has determined that he and seven other crew members died in the crash, basing their conclusion on a partial tooth, 30 bone fragments, guns and ID tags -- including Matejov's -- found at the site in Laos. The U.S. government identified Matejov's remains in 1995.
John Matejov objects to the findings because none of the bone fragments were DNA tested, so none were linked definitively to his brother. The military says that when fragments are so small and charred, testing cannot properly capture a DNA sample, and will instead destroy the remains.
The Matejov family, which fought for years to learn the fate of Joe -- an Air Force sergeant who turned 21 three days before his plane went down -- is now scattered around the country. But their fight against the military has been well-chronicled.
Mary Matejov, who now lives in Woodbridge, Virginia, told Newsday in 1990 that she believed her son was a prisoner of war after syndicated columnist Jack Anderson discussed on ABC's "Good Morning America" the possibility that some POWs had been left behind in Indochina. Anderson gave no names, but he said the government had declared dead four crewmen of an EC-47 despite clear evidence that they had been captured alive. Intelligence documents seen by the family also swayed Mary Matejov.
John Matejov says the family allowed his brother's name to be etched on the Arlington tombstone in 1996 so the families of the other crew members could move on with the grieving process. "They were lost as a crew and they were being buried as a crew," he said.
Larry Greer, spokesman for the Pentagon's Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, says missions have returned the remains of more than 1,250 individuals since 1973, and many others from as long ago as World War II.
"The overwhelming majority of families express appreciation, express confidence, express amazement that the government continues to pursue their cases up to 60 years," he said.
But John Matejov does not believe the missions undertaken by the military to recover the remains of missing soldiers provide a full accounting.
Posted: 11 June 2006