Thursday, November 11, 2010

Always Remember...Veteran's Day 2010

When I was 14 years old, my favorite uncle was shot down in Vietnam, and the missing him is as strong today as it was when I was a child.

He will always be young in my mind, playing the trombone, driving a turquoise and cream Chevrolet Bel Air and taller than any adult I had ever seen. He left behind his wife (my favorite aunt) and a son and daughter, too.

When I moved from Oregon to Virginia, one of the first things I wanted to do was visit the Vietnam Memorial and find his name and put a picture of the car he had, as I had no photos of him. The memorial is the most moving place to be, and my favorite, if that is the right word, of all the monuments I have visited, because it is so, somber, that feeling of going underground. But also such a wonderful tribute to those who never made it back to their homes, their families, their lives ahead of them...

I had never googled his name before, but I did on Memorial Day last year, and this is what I found...

Name: Ralph Carol Balcom, Jr.
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 24 December 1933
Home City of Record: Seattle WA
Date of Loss: 15 May 1966
Country of Loss: North Vietnam (see text)
Loss Coordinates: 171200N 1064000E (XE100100)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F105D
Other Personnel In Incident: None Missing

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 1991 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 1998.

SYNOPSIS: Ralph Balcom Jr. was shot down over North Vietnam about 20 miles north of the Demilitarized Zone in Quang Binh Province. A radio signal indicated that Major Balcom had parachuted to the ground, but because of zero visibility at the time, search planes were not able to locate and rescue him.

Two months later a propaganda film appeared with a man Ralph's parents immediately recognized as their son being paraded down the streets of Hanoi. The U.S. Government later identified the man as a returned POW Kyle Berg, also from the state of Washington.

In November 1973, the Air Force discovered that Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) in Nakhon Phanom was carrying Balcom as a Prisoner of War while Defense Intelligence Agency carried him as Missing In Action. The Air Force directed JCRC to delete any reference pertaining to POW status in Balcom's files. Balcom's status was changed from Prisoner of War to Missing in Action, although analysts say today that JCRC records were the most accurate and complete because of their close proximity to the region.

JCRC also lists Balcom as being lost in Laos, not North Vietnam. The loss coordinates, 171200N 1064000E are in North Vietnam about 20 miles north of the DMZ. Grid coordinates XE100100 are located a few miles northwest of the Ban Karai Pass in Laos. It cannot be determined why there is a descrepancy in loss locations between agencies.

Today, over 44 years have passed since Ralph Balcom's last flight over Vietnam. His family is still not sure whether he is alive or dead. Over 10,000 reports of Americans still held captive have been received by the U.S. Isn't it time we brought these men home?

Ralph C. Balcom was promoted to the rank of Colonel during the period he was maintained a Prisoner of War and Missing in Action.

To my dear uncle...I will never forget.


  1. What a beautiful tribute. But to be so many years and not to know whether your family member was dead or alive....I can't even fathom the difficulty.

    Remembering All Beings who have served and who serve today....

  2. The MIA stories terrify and horrify me. To think that we have men left behind like that, without knowing - is just absolutely awful. If nothing else, knowing someone is dead gives closure.
    This was very interesting Teri and maybe someday you will really know what happened

  3. So sad! I went to the memorial in DC, breaks my heart looking at it!

  4. We owe our veterans a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

  5. I'm so sorry.. This must have been and still be so difficult for your family ... ..

  6. Such a lovely tribute.


    I am sure your uncle, looking down from up there is very proud of you!

  7. Americans were pictured as evil and yet your Uncle was so not respected as a human being. I am so sorry. I have a high school friend whose name is on the wall, Norman Bettis. A gentle kind boy who died in 1969 over there.

  8. What a sad sad story. I am so sorry for your loss Teri. Big sigh. That was such an awful war. All wars are awful but was alive during that one still have my Make Love not War necklace.

    My heart goes out to you and all his family.

    Thank you for visiting today and catching up on so many of my blog posts. Fun to get your wonderful comments. ;-)))))))

  9. This was a very touching tribute. It brings a sad & stark reality to what so many of us only witness from the outside, looking in.

    Veteran's Day is one of the most significant holidays this country celebrates (along with Memorial Day)... & yet the majority of people show little or no respect for the men & women who've risked their lives for all of us, who take our freedom for granted.

    At least, this year, after years of lackluster attendance, the parade for vets held in NYC had a very sizable crowd of onlookers showing their appreciation as the soldiers marched by.

    It was nice to see.



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