DETROIT -- It was a few years back when Susan Greeson of Little Rock, Ark., was coming out of her barbershop and saw something shiny on the sidewalk. Picking it up, she saw it was a bracelet -- one of those remembrances produced by the millions in the 1970s in honor of missing or captured American servicemen.
This one had Maj. Robert Tucci's name on it. An Internet search told her all she needed to know about him -- born in Detroit, shot down over Laos in 1969. Missing in action. Greeson put the bracelet in a box so it wouldn't be lost again.
Friday, at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, Tucci's remains are finally being laid to rest, with full military honors. Greeson wept Thursday at the news.
"Thank God they finally found him and brought him home," said Greeson, who, at age 49, remembers little of the Vietnam War. "All I could do all these years was pray and wait and wonder."
The disappearance of Tucci, 27, and Air Force Col. James E. Dennany, 34, of Kalamazoo, Mich., who was also in the F4 Phantom when it fell after taking anti-aircraft fire, has been a source of frustration, worry and doubt for friends and family for decades -- just as it has been for those close to the 1,700 service members from the Vietnam War who remain missing in action.
But Tucci and Dennany -- like the others -- were never far from the minds of the people who loved them. Both had close ties to Texas, but were remembered in Michigan. The Dallas Morning News reported Thursday that in the village of Schoolcraft, Mich. -- near Kalamazoo -- townspeople dedicated the second Monday of each month to Dennany, leaving a chair empty in his honor.
Back in the mid-1970s, an effort was launched in Macomb County to determine whether Tucci -- whose father was a World War II veteran -- was still alive and being held as a prisoner of war. Friends and family, along with Mitch Kehetian, the former managing editor of the Macomb Daily, pushed a petition to the North Vietnamese government, a request signed by then- President Gerald R. Ford.
Lawrence Zatkoff, now a federal district judge in Port Huron, Mich., was the group's legal adviser. He remembers going to Paris in 1976, in an unsuccessful attempt to secure a visa to Vietnam.
He and the others made it as far as the Vietnamese Embassy, where officials were courteous but refused to accept the petitions -- which had about 45,000 signatures -- demanding more information on Tucci.
"It was a long, long time ago," Zatkoff said Thursday. "I didn't think it would take this long."
It wasn't until the mid-1990s -- about 20 years later -- that Defense Department analysts and researchers at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, known as JPAC, began developing case leads from wartime reporting and archival research. Teams from the U.S. and Laos interviewed villagers in the area of the crash and surveyed crash sites -- but found nothing.
Then, in 1999, during another survey mission, officials turned over human remains, two .38-caliber pistols and other equipment. It was believed to be from Tucci and Dennany's aircraft. It would take another decade of work -- collecting wreckage, human remains and more -- to lead to the men's identification and, this week, their burial on U.S. soil.
It appeared that the men had died in the crash.
Leon Tucci and his wife, Jean Tucci, moved to Texas to stay. Leon Tucci died in 2009, suspecting his son's remains had been found -- but not entirely sure when they would return to the U.S.
"The only thing he was waiting for was to bury his son. Unfortunately, it was too late," Kehetian said.
Maj. Tucci's cousin, Ray Tucci, 62, of Chesterfield Township, Mich., said he still has the poster his mother had in the window of her home in Fraser, Mich., for years as a reminder to passersby not to forget about the missing airman.
Friday, the remains of Tucci and Dennany will be laid to rest in a service that will include a flyover of F16s -- and one F4, flown in specially from Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Members of both men's families will be there, though Tucci's mother, Jean Tucci, will not. Relocated to Austin, Texas, she said Thursday that her health won't permit it.
"I'm glad that his remains have been brought back to the United States," she said.
Meanwhile, there are those out there who have carried the bracelets, and remember.
"I am glad he is coming home after all this time," said Marianne Cassidy of Melbourne, Fla., who started wearing Tucci's bracelet while a high school student in 1973.
She left the band at the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall when it came through her area in 2000.
"I still place a flower at his name every year the wall comes to Florida," Cassidy said.
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