Sunday, December 16, 2007

Greg's Dog Tag - Finally Home

Hello Everyone! We are loooong over due for an update on this site and if the information about the Tourison Memos wasn’t enough to get you hot under the collar, this post will make you want to write your Congressman. But let me preface this post with a very important fact; nothing here has deterred us, not one iota!

Here is a revised version of an e-mail that we sent out to family and close friends earlier this year with some additional information …

(June, 2007) This weekend Aunt Chris and I went to Washington, DC for the Annual POW/MIA Family Meetings. This is always an emotional time for us; this year in particular as there has been a lot of new information that has been so convincing that we have petitioned the Navy to have Greg's status changed from MIA to POW. It was obvious by what you will soon read that there are many in Washington who do not want to see this happen as it will open a flood gate for many other families to try the same thing. To put it lightly, we were met with much resistance.

I don't think I have ever experienced such an emotional swing of the pendulum as I did between Thursday and Friday of that week.

On Thursday we had a meeting with our Congressman to ask for his help and a little bit of influence to get the people at the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) to give us, at the very least, a fair shake. I have to say that at first I was unsure of the level of commitment we could expect from the Congressman but about 20 minutes into our conversation, he reminded us that he had gone to Vietnam a few times and brought up Greg's case to them and also tried to get Greg's dog tag out of the Military Museum in DaNang for us.

Then suddenly, he moved a piece of paper from the top of his desk and extended to us a silver plated circular jewelry box, with the seal of the House of Representatives engraved on it. As I held the container in my hand, I looked up at him and whispered, "Is this what I think it is?"

He smiled and said, "Open it". There in that 5 inch diameter box was indeed what I had thought, the dog tag bearing the name, GJ HARRIS. I took in a breath and handed the box to my aunt as we both sat there, tears pouring down our faces and I don't think there was anyone else in the room that did not have a tear in their eye. He had done what we had always been told was the impossible.

Through her tears Aunt Chris told him that this was the first concrete thing that anyone had done for us in over 40 years. It was the closest I had ever physically been to Greg. It was a unique and rare emotion to hold it in my hand, only wishing it would talk and tell the true story of how it came to the museum. I was just thinking that some of you reading this had most likely looked at that tag hundreds of times while it hung around Greg’s neck, never knowing that it would ever have the significance it has today.

So, we obviously thanked the Congressman profusely and felt a small victory as we returned to our hotel all the more motivated to get the answers that have eluded two generations of McDonalds. We then made some calls to share the news of the Congressman's gift with the rest of the family. That evening there was also a panel discussion as part of the Family Meetings and we had the opportunity to share the story with those assembled and there was not a dry eye in the place.


Friday, we hoped would be another day like Thursday, instead, it was sheer hell. We had an appointment with Greg's case analyst, someone we had never met and now wish we never had. Over the past few years we had found so many holes in the now infamous sandbar story that we felt we had enough evidence to get them to look elsewhere for Greg. With every discrepancy, error and impossibility presented to her she simply reasoned it away. She tried to discredit another analyst (Ref: Tourison Memos below) with much more experience than she will ever have by stating that he was a horrible writer and she, in the past, had to correct many of his errors. This man mind you, has published two books, both of an investigative nature, something that I could kick myself for not having remembered at the time to use a retort.

Another document came to light about 4 months ago (March of 2007) which stated that a VC provincial chief of staff of a smaller unit that Greg was fighting at the time of his capture had admitted in his personal memoirs of the war, published in 1997, that during this battle his unit had captured an American. The analyst was unaware of the fact that we had obtained the document elsewhere and tried to pass its contents off to us as "hearsay" in Greg's case summary file.

I questioned her for a few minutes about the document, which she insisted was irrelevant, then suddenly pulled it out from my folder and asked her why she referred to its contents as second hand information, both in the case summary and there at the meeting, when the document itself stated it was a "firsthand account of the capture" of Greg Harris. She then went on to say, "Well, it says firsthand but doesn't really mean first hand." .... Yeah, right! .... This is just one small example of the circus like atmosphere of this meeting.

Not to mention the fact that, due to the presence of a representative from our Congressman's office we assume, there were various men in suits, including a USMC Major, who were there listening to the proceedings. They included, The Head of Marine Corps Casualty Office, along with the DPMO’s Senior Casualty Liaison Officer, DPMO’s Head of the Military Personnel Services Branch and DPMO’s Legislative Aide. Also in attendance on our side, so to speak, was a representative from the Honorable John M. McHugh’s office as well as Aunt Chris, my cousin Bob and myself. Thankfully we were so focused on the task at hand that we didn't even have time to be intimidated although I am sure that was the intent. It is important to note that none of these unexpected guests introduced themselves to any of us or said a word during the entire proceedings.

We asked about an error in coordinates of the burial site between the 1990 and 1993 investigations and she said, “Oh, Coordinates don’t matter!” We asked her about how Greg’s body could have stayed in the middle of the river for some 10 to 12 hours and not be taken away by the current; she said it could have been a branch. I argued that a branch is not a common occurrence in the middle of a river that is close to a kilometer wide, she stood by her statement. We asked her how a body could have stayed on a raft (the locals claimed that some boys built a raft, put Greg’s body on it and sent it downriver) having gone over at least THREE diversion dams. She didn’t really have an answer for that.

The final blow to the meeting, after presenting just about all of the strong evidence we had, was when we outright asked the analyst, "What is it going to take to get us off the sandbar?", without a second of hesitation she looked at me and simply nodded and said, "You're not". A few minutes later, we were told that another family was waiting to see the analyst so we had to end soon. As the meeting was coming to a close and we were putting away our papers, she had the utter and complete audacity to say to me, "Mary Ann, Do you know what I would love to see? ... I would love to see you use these amazing investigative skills that you have to help another family who could really use it." Thankfully, at that moment, I had my retort ready, "My family comes first", I said.

We spoke briefly with the representative from the Congressman's office who, I felt, was processing what she had just witnessed and was still trying to make sense of it all. She said that she was going to speak with the Legislative Aide and request that they do a few specific things. So, I went back into the room to get the legislative liaison for her and found, not another meeting with another family, but three of the "suits", the Major and the analyst huddled in a small circle speaking in low voices, so much for meeting with another family.

They may think they have us against the ropes but that is far from the truth now. Their performance has done the complete opposite of its intent, now, more than ever I am convinced that their sandbar story is nothing but a cover for something that they just don't want known. There are answers out there somewhere and we will find them. We took a day to lick our wounds so to speak and now have a nice long list of things to do, check on and search for. They thought they had a fight on their hands before ... that was a walk in the park!
Since the Meetings in June, even more information has come to us and we are more convinced than ever the sandbar was not Greg’s final resting place.

Thank you to you all for being our partners in this odyssey, the future holds some great possibilities for Greg.

Wishing you all the warmest of Christmases, from your extended family tucked away in the rolling hills of Upstate New York.

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