Stephen Arthur Rusch
Captain, United States Air Force
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
IMMEDIATE RELEASE No. 1354-07
Airman Missing In Action From The Vietnam War Is Identified
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
He is Captain Stephen A. Rusch, U.S. Air Force, of Lambertville, New Jersey. He will be buried on November 30, 2007, at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
On March 7, 1972, Rusch was the weapons systems officer in an F-4E Phantom II aircraft attacking enemy targets in Salavan Province, Laos. The plane was the number two aircraft in a flight of two. When Rusch’s aircraft was cleared to begin its second run over enemy targets, the flight leader of the number one aircraft lost sight of Rusch’s plane and observed enemy ground fire followed by a large explosion. An immediate search was begun, but all attempts to establish radio contact and later search efforts were unsuccessful.
In 1995, a joint U.S./Lao People’s Democratic Republic (L.P.D.R.) team, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), investigated the incident and interviewed several Laotian citizens. The team surveyed the crash site identified by one of the citizens and found aircraft wreckage.
In 2001, a U.S. citizen, acting as an intermediary for a Laotian citizen, turned over to U.S. officials a bone fragment and a photocopy of Rusch’s military identification tag. The bone fragment proved not to be from Captain Rusch.
In 2002-2003, joint teams conducted two excavations of the crash site. The teams recovered human remains and non-biological evidence including U.S. coins and life support equipment.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA and dental comparisons in the identification of the remains.
For additional information on the Defense Department’s
mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO Web site at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo
or call (703) 699-1169.
He lives in a daughter's hazy memories, his sacrifice engraved into a plaque in Lambertville City Hall.
Air Force Captain Stephen A. Rusch, who grew up in West Am well, went to war more than 35 years ago and never came home.
His fighter bomber disappeared during a mission over Laos on March 7, 1972, amid a hail of enemy ground fire. Rusch was listed as missing in action, another casualty of the Vietnam War whose fate remained a mystery. He was 28.
Then suddenly last summer, there was news: Human remains found in the wreckage of an airplane in the Salavan Province were positively identified as Rusch's.
On Friday, Rusch will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
The news was made public yesterday in a brief Defense Department announcement that contrasted with the long and painstaking search that brought Rusch's story to a close.
For Sharon Bannister, the discovery of her father's remains offers a chance to grieve and honor the dad she hardly knew.
Bannister, 41, was 6 years old when her father was ruled MIA. She remembers visiting him on Air Force bases and having him home for the holidays.
"I just remember being a dad dy's girl and missing him every day," she said in an interview yesterday.
Bannister followed her father's footsteps into the Air Force and is now a Colonel.
Nearly 1,800 Americans who served in the Vietnam War are still listed as unaccounted for, according to the Defense Department's POW/Missing Personnel Office.
For the survivors, nagging questions fill the passing years.
Cynthia Lathrop, a sister of Rusch's, remembered the last time she saw her little brother.
It was just weeks before Christmas in 1969, she recalled in a 2004 interview with The Times. He met his family to exchange early Christmas presents before he shipped out to Vietnam; he gave her a mah jong set, she recalled.
Rusch, a 1961 graduate of the Hun School in Princeton Township, had deep roots in the Lam bertville area.
His father, Hugh L. Rusch, was an inventor and vice president of Opinion Research Corp. of Princeton. Hugh Rusch and his wife, Cynthia Van Tuyl Rusch, were longtime Lambertville area residents before moving to Doylestown in 1990.
Cynthia Rusch died in 2000 at the age of 95, while her husband died in 2001 at 99.
A plaque commemorating Stephen Rusch has hung in Lambert ville City Hall for decades. It lists his status as MIA.
Lambertville Emergency Management Coordinator David Burd recalled the Rusches and was stunned to hear that their son's re mains were identified after so many years.
"That's incredible," Burd said.
The family had only bits of information about Rusch's disap pearance over the years, Lathrop said in the 2004 interview. They heard he volunteered to take the place of an ailing airman and "never came back," she said.
Rusch was the weapons system officer in an F-4E Phantom II, on a mission accompanied by another aircraft, according to the Defense Department. When his flight was cleared for a second run over enemy targets, the flight leader of the other aircraft lost sight of Rusch's plane and saw enemy ground fire followed by a large ex plosion.
The military began to search for the fallen aircraft immediately, but all attempts to establish radio contact and later search efforts were not successful, the DOD said.
In 1995, Americans and Laotians investigating the incident interviewed several Laotians and found aircraft wreckage.
In 2001, a Laotian gave an American intermediary a bone frag ment and a photocopy of Rusch's military identification tag, officials said. The fragment didn't belong to Rusch.
During the next two years, teams excavated the crash site and recovered human remains, U.S. coins and life support equipment.
Using forensic tools and circumstantial evidence, military scientists eventually used DNA and dental comparisons to identify Rusch's remains.
The researchers are part of the Joint POW/MIA Account Command, known as JPAC, working with the Armed Forces DNA Iden tification Laboratory in Hawaii.
JPAC searches for missing Americans from all of the wars since World War II. It identifies the remains of 75 to 100 people each year.
Bannister said she found it comforting to know that the military worked for decades to find the remains of those missing in action like her father.
"It makes it a lot easier to serve," said Bannister, a dentist who commands a dental squadron at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Fla.
She said it was interesting that she has spent her career as a dentist and her father was identified using two of his teeth found in Laos.
As Bannister grew up, she heard family stories that her father was "fun, a good musician, caring and obviously dedicated to his country."
"He was doing what he wanted to do, which makes it a little easier losing him," Bannister said.
While she doesn't feel that her father inspired her decision to join the Air Force, he did inspire her to make it her career once she joined.
She recalled meeting a general 15 years ago who asked her for her name. When she said "Rusch," he said he knew her father. "The Air Force is truly a family," she said.
Yesterday, Bannister watched as a military mortuary affairs officer reverently placed her father's remains -- the two teeth -- in a casket at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. Today she will accompany the casket to Arlington.
Family members attending the burial will include Bannister, her sister Rebecca Rusch of Ketchum, Idaho, and Rusch's former wife Judy Rusch of Springfield, Illinois.
That Rusch died quickly brings comfort to Rebecca, who was just 3 1/2 in March of 1972. Her only memories of her father come from relatives and photos, but she has al ways wanted to believe Rusch didn't suffer.
"The biggest importance for me is knowing he wasn't a prisoner of war and didn't suffer for years on end," said Rebecca Rusch, 39.
"We're just glad that there's some closure
to this," Bannister said. "It makes you feel a little sad, but it makes
you happy that we're going to be able to put him somewhere in honor."
E-Mail: 24 August 2008
Today I visited the gravesite of Captain Stephen Rusch. I Have been wearing his Pow-Mia bracelet since 1986. I wasn't planning on a trip to Washington,D.C. but after a long time I decided to go. I have left that bracelet on his tombstone. It is with great hope that you would honor the bracelet that I left for him, and for his family if you could take a picture of the stone and the bracelet. Respectably submitted, Warren A. Atheras. WEBMASTER NOTE: See the photos from this request below.
Posted: 30 November 2007 Updated: 25 August 2008 Updated: 27 August 2008
Photos Courtesy of Holly, August 2008