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Thursday, Mar 30, 2017
Local News

Families of missing service members gather in Tampa

TAMPA - William Lindauer sat at a table outside the Embassy Suites grand ballroom and opened his mouth long enough for DNA technician Nicole Yee to swab the inside of his cheek. Lindauer, 86, is hoping the moment of discomfort might end a lifetime of mystery. On May 3, 1944, his uncle Joe Lindauer's B-17 Flying Fortress disappeared after a bombing raid on Hamburg, Germany. No one saw the bomber go down and for more than six decades, Lindauer, a St. Petersburg resident, has wondered and worried about the fate of his uncle and crewmates. "We think they may have crashed into the North Sea," said Lindauer.
Lindauer was one of nearly 200 people from a 300-mile radius of Tampa who came to the hotel today morning to take part in a day-long program put on by the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, which is charged with searching for the more than 83,000 service members since WWII who never have been found. The programs are held monthly around the nation, said Army Maj. Carie Parker, a spokeswoman from the Department of Defense Office of POW/Missing Personnel. Held in Tampa for the first time since 2007, the program, said Parker, gives families a chance to get updates on what's being done to find their loved ones, the latest technological and political breakthroughs and a chance to commiserate with others who know the searing pain of not knowing.   * * * * *   As Lindauer had his mouth swabbed in hopes that a DNA sample could be used to help identify his uncle if a body ever is found, family members who filled the grand ballroom took part in a remembrance ceremony. One by one they stood up and told their stories of sorrow. On March 15, 1966, Jim Stewart's father, Air Force Col. Peter J. Stewart, took off from Ubon Air Force Base, Thailand, on a mission over North Vietnam. What happened next remains a mystery, became a long-simmering dispute between the Stewart family and the government and resulted in "An Enormous Crime," a book about the situation, written by Stewart's sister, Elizabeth Stewart. Col. Stewart, born in 1918, never was found. The family doesn't know if he died in the crash or in captivity. Stewart, his mother, Margaret, and the others listened as Thomas Holland, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command scientist, explained some of the science, challenges and successes of the recovery program, which began in 1995. With an annual budget of about $100 million, a dozen teams of anthropologists, explosives experts, intelligence analysts, communications officers and others fan out across the globe looking for remains while one of the world's most advanced labs helps analyze discoveries. To date more than 1,300 service members have been identified. Though the program is slated for budget and staff increases, Holland said that in today's budget climate, there are no guarantees. "For the price of one airplane, we have a program that can help identify the remains of the pilot," he said.   * * * * *   Even though her mother-in-law died Friday, Sandra Siciliano of Tampa said she had to attend the program. Pointing to a map of North Korea, she showed where her uncle, John Franklin Jr., an Army private first class, was captured and taken to a prison camp in North Korea during the first weeks of the Korean War. His family never saw him again. "He was my favorite uncle," said Siciliano, who was 10 when she last saw him. "My grandmother died of a broken heart. I came here to bring peace to my grandmother's soul."

haltman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7629

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