- Jun 29, 2009
U.S. pilot found dead 18 years after Gulf War
BEIJING, August 3 (Xinhuanet) -- The remains of the first American casualty of the first Gulf War have been found, the Pentagon revealed Sunday. U.S. navy Captain Michael "Scott" Speicher had been shot down in the open hours of the Gulf War but his fate remained a mystery. It wasn't clear if he had died in the crash or if he had been taken captive.
His remains were discovered in the desert sands of Anbar province by military researchers acting upon information handed to them by an Iraqi. According to the Pentagon. the Iraqi had disclosed that a number of other local Iraqis had witnessed the plane crash and that a group of Bedouins had buried the pilot. Led to the burial place by a number of witnesses, the U.S. military team found a jaw bone which matched the dental records of Captain Speicher.
The Iraqi government under the leadership of Saddam Hussein persistently refused to discuss the case, thus fueling the theory that Captain Speicher had been captured. President Clinton also added to the belief Captain Speicher was alive when he declared the U.S. had new information and changed the pilot's status from "killed in action" to "missing in action". In autumn 2002, as the U.S. prepared for a second war in Iraq, the navy again without explanation changed his status to "missing/captured," leading some critics to speculate the Bush administration was trying to build a case for invasion.
Speicher's family issued a statement saying: "The news that Captain Speicher has died on Iraqi soil after ejecting from his aircraft has been difficult for the family, but his actions in combat, and the search for him, will forever remain in their hearts and minds."
Admiral Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said that no member of America's armed forces would be abandoned. "Our navy will never give up looking for a shipmate, regardless of how long or how difficult that search may be," he said.
Speicher had been flying an F/A 18 Hornet fighter when he was shot down 160 km west of Baghdad on the night of Jan. 16, 1991. His plane crashed in a remote, uninhabited area known as Wadi Thumayal. The U.S. Navy maintained in a 1997 document that Speicher was downed by a surface-to-air missile. However, an unclassified summary of a 2001 CIA report states that Speicher's aircraft was shot down by a missile fired from an Iraqi aircraft, possibly a MiG-25.
Several memorials have been dedicated to the fallen pilot. The Florida State University named its tennis center after Speicher, who himself was a keen player. A memorial statue and plaque was erected onboard Naval Air Station Cecil Field, though the station has since been deactivated. And in Iraq a former Iraqi airbase near Tikrit was named Camp Speicher.
Speicher's remains will now be returned to his wife Joanne, who has since remarried, for a proper military burial.