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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Wives of MIAs the other casualties of war

Dana Chwan. It was one of those names you don’t forget, even after 40 years.

Today she lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, although when I tracked her down the other day she was staying at her daughter’s in Colorado, where she said she was just sitting, watching the snow fall.

I didn’t remember the details of her story or what I had written in the early ’70s for the old afternoon Tampa Times, only that the first time we spoke her husband was listed as missing in Vietnam and she was not only not convinced he was dead, she was furious at what she thought was a government that was not doing enough to find him.

For us, I suppose, the story begins at a Tampa apartment complex in 1964. It was at a pool party where the young teacher, just graduated from the University of Tampa, had met Michael Chwan, who had been there with a group of Air Force pilots.

A marriage followed with a whirlwind of happy days and trips to the Keys or the Bahamas before Michael shipped off for what was supposed to be a 90-day assignment in Thailand.

He reassured her that last day with, “Hang in there Babes; 90 days isn’t forever. I’ll be back before you know it. I promise.”

After he left, she decided to quit her job, sell her car and go to stewardess school.

“It was a spur of the moment thing,’’ she says. “I had it in the back of mind that somehow I would manage to fly to Thailand and surprise him.”

She became a stewardess, but it was not for her and she came back to Tampa to wait for Mike.

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It was on her 24th birthday that she got off the plane at Tampa International to learn Mike’s plane was missing, and he was reported missing, as well. A few weeks later, she also learned that she was pregnant.

By 1973, Dana was raising a daughter and living off the pay of her husband, who was still listed as missing in action.

It would not be until April of 1985 that Mike’s remains were recovered from the F-4 that had been shot down while attacking the Ninh Binh Bridge in North Vietnam on Sept. 30, 1965. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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I’ve always thought that was the untold story behind the statistics of the missing and killed, the thousands of families whose lives have been forever altered.

About a year and a half ago, Dana Chwan decided to tell her story in a book. It’s now available and called “The Reluctant Sorority.” I read it and thought it was a little strange in that the “sorority” weaves the stories of two fictitious women in with the very real story of the Chwans.

“I did it because I wanted to tell a story about the insanity of war, especially the kind of wars we are involved in today that have no value other than to those who profit financially,” she says. “The other two women in the story are a Vietnamese woman and a Russian. The Russians, of course, were very much involved in what happened in Vietnam, and I wanted to show how so many people suffered in that war as is happening today in Afghanistan.

“I don’t know that writing this book will make a difference, but in a way it helps me understand what has happened in almost the last half century of my life.”

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