Skip to comments.After 43 years, MIA hero is ‘coming home'
Posted on 02/22/2011 10:27:38 AM PST by llevrok
Forty-three years ago this month, U.S. Army Spc. 4 James Leslie Moreland vanished during a fierce battle at Lang Vei, South Vietnam.
He would later be awarded a Silver Star for heroism that night and be promoted to sergeant first class while listed as MIA missing in action.
Now, his remains positively identified using DNA from five family members, the Green Beret medic is coming home.
Sisters Linda Brown of Puyallup and Edna Anita LeMoine of Olympia and brother Donald Moreland of Lakeside, Calif., are relieved, grateful, tearful.
Ive never given up, and Im so thankful that after all these years we can have the closure that weve waited for, Brown said in an interview Sunday. Hes coming home, and hes going to be laid to rest after all these many, many years.
Retired Army Col. Paul Longgrear of Pine Mountain, Ga., shares those sentiments. Longgrear, then a first lieutenant, was Morelands commanding officer. His medic, he said Monday, is the last of my men to come home.
And in Walnut Creek, Calif., a 50-year-old woman who never knew Moreland will finally remove the nickel-plated bracelet shes worn as a symbol of hope for his return since she was 12.
I guess its an understatement to say I took it more seriously than most, said Kathy Strong of the POW-MIA bracelets that were faddish in the early 70s. I truly believed that if I continued to wear the bracelet, somehow I would help bring him home.
All credit the perseverance and dedication of the Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office for its continuing quest to find and identify Americas lost GIs.
The office lists 83,913 soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines, civilians and others as still missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and Desert Storm.
Though the family knew in recent months that a definitive identification was likely, the news still was in equal measure jarring and dreamlike after decades of fret and hope.
It was official earlier this month. An Army casualty officer, accompanied by a representative of the Missing Personnel Office, made an in-person notification to Donald Moreland, the designated next of kin, on Feb. 8. LeMoine flew to California for the occasion.
The night my sister called (with the details), all I could say was, Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Brown said.
The remains of Special Forces soldier James Leslie Moreland, known as Les to his stateside friends and Jim to his comrades in arms, will be buried May 14 alongside his parents, Fred and Gladys, in a small country cemetery at Ashby, Ala.
A FAMILY WAITS
Linda Brown was 19 the day her brother, smiling and confident, climbed aboard a jetliner at Los Angeles International Airport en route to Vietnam.
Moreland, a high school football star who enlisted in the Army and trained for its rigorous Special Forces in a time of great danger for U.S. troops, was 21.
It was June 1967.
Brown remembers bagpipes droning in the airport that day. Her mother and father were by her side. There were hugs and smiles and tears.
He made a comment sometime that he knew if he went over there, there was a possibility he wouldnt come back, she said.
Eight months later, Moreland disappeared, missing in action after the fierce battle of Lang Vei.
Brown was pregnant with the daughter with whom she now lives, Lisa Newlander of Puyallup, when the unwelcome news came to her parents house.
At the time, the family lived in Anaheim, Calif.
I wont ever, ever forget the night that they came out, that the knock came on the door, she said.
A uniformed casualty officer stood at the threshold.
I was just speechless, Brown said. The first thing that was in my mind was that they had come to tell us he was dead.
But that wasnt the message.
The brother with whom shed played cowboys and Indians as they grew up in Alabama, the sibling who took her kite flying on the spur of the moment, the young man she revered and called a hero, was missing.
There was uncertainty and hope at first. As the years ticked by, changes in Morelands status came. There was a presumptive finding of death in 1978, according to published accounts.
We had a memorial service for him, Brown said.
DNA TESTING AT WORK
In 1995, remains believed to be Morelands were excavated and sent to a military forensic laboratory in Hawaii. A terse Department of Defense report on his status lists Date returned: 1995/04/12.
But it would take 16 years and DNA samples from Morelands mother, Gladys Parks; from sisters Brown and LeMoine; from Newlander and Newlanders son, Clinton Casity, before the military was certain.
Family members attended annual meetings for loved ones of those missing in action, Brown said.
They would tell us what they were doing and what information they had. The last few years they said there wasnt any new information, they didnt have anything new.
But as DNA testing became more sophisticated, more precise, military identification sleuths continued their work to make a match, Newlander said.
Brown and her mother gave blood samples in 1992; LeMoine, Newlander and her son, who is now 18, produced buccal swabs in more recent years.
Brown wishes science had advanced more rapidly.
Im sorry that my mom didnt live to see them bring him back home, she said.
Parks died in 2001.
KEEPING A PROMISE
Kathy Strong asked for a POW/MIA bracelet for Christmas 1972. She was in seventh grade, and everyone in her English class had one.
The bracelets, distributed by the nonprofit group VIVA (Voices in Vital America) came engraved with the service members rank and name, branch of service, date and place he or she went missing. They cost $2.50, according to a history posted on the National League of POW/MIA Families website.
You could get one with the name of a family member, loved one or someone you knew, or you could simply request one for a stranger. The idea was you would wear it until your soldier came home.
Strongs came in her Christmas stocking. She knew nothing about Moreland. After about a year, she wrote to VIVA and asked for information. She received a small photograph and basic bio material
Thats all I knew for the next 34 years, she said. But she wore the bracelet religiously.
Three years ago, on the 40th anniversary of Morelands disappearance, the Contra Costa Times of California published a story about Strong and her dedication to the man she never met, the combat medic who disappeared four years before she put on his bracelet.
Brown discovered the story. The family contacted Strong, and she flew to Seattle. She attended the 2009 Auburn Veterans Day Parade with Brown, Newlander and Newlanders son, Clinton, who was then in the National Guard.
Many people notice her bracelet.
A lot of people say, Wow, I used to have one of those, said Strong, whos a financial analyst at Mechanics Bank.
Its not known how many stored them away before the name on the bracelet came back to American soil. Some 5 million were sold between 1970 and 1976, according to the POW/MIA Families website. You can still buy them, though VIVA long ago disbanded.
Strong wanted never to forget.
She asked the family if she could have the bracelet buried with Morelands remains. They agreed.
Shes like a guardian angel to him, Newlander said. Shes become part of our family.
Brown agreed. It means a lot to me that shes worn the bracelet all these years.
Strongs company is giving her bereavement leave to attend the funeral.
You were supposed to return it to the soldier when they came home, she said, and I just wanted to keep that promise.
Wow, what a soldier.
God bless him and his family. America is a free nation because of folks like him.
Kathy Strong’s loyalty is inspirational. Loyalty is an under-appreciated virtue.
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She wore the bracelet regularly all her life? That is astonishing if true, and I suppose it is true, as she got to know his family. Amazing. Thank God!
Your duty is done, Soldier. You can rest now. THANK YOU.
I graduated from high school in June, 1967.
It seems like a hundred years ago.
Welcome home, Les.
Reason: For gallantry in action while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam: Specialist Four Moreland distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 6 and 7 February 1968 while serving with the Special Forces during an attack on the Lang Vei Camp. North Vietnamese Army tanks and infantrymen launched a ravaging attack on the compound on the night of 6 February and inflicted numerous casualties on the defenders. Braving withering cannon, mortar and machine gun fire, Specialist Moreland moved through a hail of bullets and shrapnel to treat the wounded. When the attackers overran the outer perimeter, he secured anti-tank weapons and grenades, joined a hastily formed tank killer team and moved to engage, the hostile armor. He advanced to point blank range and assisted in destroying one tank with highly effective fire. With bullets striking all around him, he then maneuvered to the command bunker to resupply himself with ammunition. He was seriously wounded when the position received a direct hit and was neutralized. Specialist Four Moreland's gallantry in action was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Authority: By direction of the President under the provisions of the Act of Congress, approved 9 July 1918.
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I graduated in June 1967 as well. It seems like a lifetime ago, and it was because I was a 17 year old without a real reference point in life.
Rest in peace, Les.
PING - a hero returns.
That’s a great story...
I dated a gal a few years ago who wore a MIA braclets so I know some people still wear them. She was in in her 20s at the time so it wasn’t from the 1970s.
This is wonderful news.
Welcome home faithful servant.
“Your duty is done, Soldier. You can rest now. THANK YOU.”
He’s been at rest for a long time. Now the rest of us can rest, for him, at least. There are still nearly 84,000 of our brothers still missing from the past several wars, not to mention those lost in previous centuries.
It’s never too late to say ‘thank you’ though. A lot of his comrades at arms missed that, 43 years ago. Thank you for remembering them today.
WRM, MSgt, USAF(Ret.)
This story made my monitor get crazy blurry. The way our men returning from VN were treated back in the late 60’s/early 70’s was an absolute disgrace that still brings very emotional responses here.
“It seems like a hundred years ago.”
I left for Vietnam on 5-July-1967. I believe it WAS a hundred years ago.
mine, too. I was 12 when this guy left for Nam. I enlisted in 1973, and experienced some of the backlash they were getting by then.
I’m not saying all those guys were angels, but most of them were kids just like me. Trying to do their duty for friends, family, and country. They did not deserve to be accused of the things they were accused of.