In hearing his family and friends reminisce, it's obvious Kurt LaPlant was loved. I first learned of Kurt in mid-September, when Michelle Tessaro of KCLY radio in Clay Center called me about a story going around town. A young Marine who grew up there was in a helicopter shot down in Vietnam 40 years ago, and the military had just identified his remains. Michelle felt Kurt's story deserved to be heard by a wider audience - a story of service and sacrifice - and a brotherhood that refused to leave one of their own behind. She got me in touch with Kurt's sister, Tina, who arranged for me to meet with her and her mother, Marie. Tina recalled rubber band fights among the eight siblings and being very proud of her big brother. Marie remembered Kurt as a quiet son, but also very protective of his younger sisters. I asked Tina if she missed her big brother after he was declared dead. She said that if you don't see a body, you don't realize he's gone. Forty years later, the family has something. Remains excavated from the crash site are positively identified as Kurt. There is now something to lay to rest. Kurt and the three other Marines whose remains were also left with the wreckage will be bured at Arlington National Cemetery this spring. Tina says the family shared their story to honor the military's commitment to not leave Kurt behind. She acknowledges it takes millions of dollars to find one man, but she says it's important. She told me of meeting a man whose brother was left alive on the ground. She told him not to believe they'd stopped looking for him. According to the U.S. government, more than 88,000 Americans remain missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War. Kurt LaPlant is proof they are not forgotten.
For more information, visit the site for the Defense POW/Mission Personnel Office: http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/index.htm