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Tucci’s remains identified, buried

Announcement puts to rest decades-old story of Fraser airman missing in Vietnam

By: Heidi Roman | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published January 26, 2011

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FRASER — The story of Air Force Maj. Robert L. Tucci finally has an ending.

After more than 41 years of wondering what happened to the 27-year-old Fraser man who served in the Vietnam War, the U.S. Department of Defense has returned his remains for burial.

Fraser veterans took off Tucci’s MIA/POW bracelet a decade ago, accepting the fact that he wasn’t coming home, but he was finally given a proper burial Jan. 14.

Tucci was buried in the Dallas-Ft. Worth National Cemetery along with another identified Michigan airman, Col. James E. Dennany of Kalamazoo, 34.

On Nov. 12, 1969, Tucci and Dennany were flying an F-4D aircraft over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos when it was shot down. No formal search was conducted because of heavy antiaircraft in the area.

Tucci’s family and many in Fraser waited for him to be found, hoping he had survived and been taken prisoner. But when hundreds of wartime prisoners were released, Tucci wasn’t one of them.

“The family came to the Fraser Veterans of Foreign War post and asked where their son is,” Fraser Vietnam veteran Mike Sand remembers. “It got very controversial because rumor had it that Tucci was alive.”

The question ignited community members and veterans, who rallied around Tucci and launched an effort to locate all other missing service persons.

“We’re a very patriotic community,” Sand said. “This community, this four square miles, is really significant in military history.”

Answers from governments on both sides were few, Sand said. In the mid-1970s, veterans and residents decided to send a local group to Paris to demand answers from the Vietnamese embassy about the men and women still missing from the war.

George Sheppard, a Clinton Township resident and Vietnam veteran, remembers it well. His family owned a restaurant at Groesbeck and Utica Road back then, the Sheppard’s Inn, and held a fundraiser to sponsor the trip.

“Tucci was the focal point of that, and that started out in the little city of Fraser,” Sheppard said. “I think it was 100 tickets we sold at $150 a piece; we included dinner and drinks within the ticket price.”

They raised about $15,000 and raffled off a Lincoln Continental. With that money, Larry Zatkoff, now a federal judge, and Nelson Amsdill, who was the Fraser VFW post commander at the time, went to Paris. They brought along a petition with the signatures of 80,000 people — including the signature of President Gerald Ford.

The Vietnamese delegation still didn’t have answers and indicated that the United States would learn about the missing men and women once it paid for the war damage.

A break came in 1999, when a joint survey between the United States and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic led to the discovery of human remains and other equipment that villagers had recovered from a crash site where Tucci and Dennany went down. The Defense Department Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office returned the remains to Tucci and Dennany’s families on Jan. 11.

It was too late for some members of Tucci’s family, including his father, who had since died. His remaining relatives now live in Texas.

But around here, the burial came as a bit of closure to the community that remembers Tucci’s story so well.

“Everyone identified, whether they’re from Michigan or not, but particularly from Michigan. (It) is very emotional for me,” said Warren resident Marty Eddy, president of the Prisoner of War Committee of Michigan. “This is one more family that has their answer. They have their closure.”

With Tucci and Dennany having been identified, there are still 50 Michigan residents unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. The two airmen’s return dates will be added to Michigan’s POW/MIA Memorial in a special ceremony in September.

There’s still a space left next to the names of the 50 others who are missing.

“We work for the day when we can put a date down on every one of those names,” Eddy said.

Each name holds a great deal of significance, Eddy said.

“I tell people it’s like throwing a pebble in a pond of still water,” she said. “You have all those ripples. The loss of each person has affected so many. It’s their families, their friends, their neighbors, their churches. One of them could have been president. One of them could have cured cancer. You never know.”

A total of 1,702 U.S. service members remain missing from the Vietnam War, according to the Department of Defense. Visit www.dtic.mil/dpmo to learn about the mission to find them.

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