Clifford Pindell has come home.
Pindell, a Washington native who was raised in Baltimore, left the area soon after Pearl Harbor in 1941 to go to the Pacific Theater with the Navy. But before he went, he had a chance to see his new nephew, Clay Pindell, who was less than a year old at the time.
On Aug. 6, 1942, Petty Officer 1st Class Clifford Pindell, then 24, was part of an eight-man crew aboard a PBY-5 Catalina, a Navy reconnaissance plane sent out on a routine patrol mission over New Hebrides in the South Pacific. Fierce fighting was underway in the theater, including the American push to take Guadalcanal from the Japanese. The weather was bad, and the plane never returned. Searches failed to find any trace of the plane or its crew.
Clifford Pindell's family back home in Maryland soon learned the sad news.
"My father was just furious," said Clay Pindell, now a 58-year-old retiree living in Alexandria. "He went down right away to go enlist and fight the Japanese."
But the missing crewman's brother was not allowed to fight because his job with the telephone company was considered essential on the home front, Pindell said.
Over the years, Clay Pindell heard stories from his father and other family members about his popular and handsome uncle and his death serving the country. Until recently, all he had was the family lore.
Then in 1994, relic hunters discovered a crash site on the island of Espiritu Santo, now part of the Republic of Vanuatu, and notified U.S. officials.
A team from the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory from Hawaii excavated the site in March and April 1994 and recovered human remains, equipment and personal items and an unexploded 500-pound bomb among fragments of aircraft wreckage.
Lab specialists have used forensic tools, including DNA testing, to identify the crewmen. As the work progressed, they began notifying family members.
Several years ago, Clay Pindell received a phone call from his father, Charles, now living in Florida. "They've found Uncle Clifford's remains," the father said.
Clay Pindell was stunned. "I didn't even know there was a possibility," he said. "We thought he was at the bottom of the Pacific."
Navy investigators believe the plane, flying in heavy fog, lost one of its engines. The crew may have turned the plane to return to its base but struck a tree on the island, lost a wing, crashed and burned.
On Nov. 17, the Pentagon announced that the remains of Clifford Pindell and the seven other crew members had been identified and returned to their families for burial. The others are Petty Officer 1st Class William H. Osborne, of Martinsville, Va.; Lt. Maurice S. Smith, of Lodi, Calif.; Ensign Edward W. Riepl, of Herndon, Kan.; Petty Officer 1st Class James W. Pearson, of Alliance, Neb.; Petty Officer 2nd Class William R. Pipes, of Chickasha, Okla.; Petty Officer 2nd Class Merlin J. Rich, of Wheeler Township, Mich.; and Petty Officer 2nd Class Vernon H. Stolz, of Saginaw, Mich.
A funeral with full military honors was held for Clifford Pindell on Nov. 16 at Arlington National Cemetery.
On behalf of his father, who was too ill to attend, Clay Pindell received the folded flag that had covered the remains.
It was an emotional event, he said, "much more so than I would have thought. I didn't even know my uncle. But these were eight guys who gave their lives for their country all at once."
More than 78,000 Americans from World War II remain unaccounted for, according to the Pentagon.
Here's food for thought: Fewer than two-thirds of students ages 12 to 17 know on which continent Vietnam is located. Many of them--13 percent--think it's in Europe, and 3 percent place it in North America. Ten percent said it is in Africa or South America, and there were some who think it is in Australia.
These are the results of a new survey sponsored by the Washington-based Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the nonprofit organization that was established to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The survey of 500 students from across the country interviewed this fall also found that only 39 percent mentioned Vietnam when asked which wars were taught in their high schools.
"It is apparent throughout the results of this survey that students need more comprehensive information about the Vietnam War era," said Jan Scruggs, the Vietnam veteran who conceived the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. "What students are being taught does not appear to be making a lasting impression, considering that a significant portion are unable to correctly identify the continent on which Vietnam is located."
To try to improve the situation, the memorial fund is distributing a curriculum package to all 26,000 public and private high schools in the United States this fall.
The package includes a 156-page teachers guide, a combat chronology, a video of the Vietnam episode of CNN's series on the Cold War, posters and essays.
An interactive Web site (www.teachvietnam.org) also has been created, allowing students and teachers to see official government documents, digital images, audio and video news clips and oral histories.
Scruggs said the Memorial Fund is responding to "the mounting requests from educators for an extensive teaching resource about the Vietnam War era that thoroughly examines the many different facets of that period."
Help From High Schoolers
Researchers at the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Bethesda are getting some free help with their work from high school students.
The Navy installation in Montgomery County signed a memorandum of understanding last month with the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County establishing a mentoring program that will have students working with Navy scientists and engineers.
The arrangement was born after Peter Montana, a Carderock official, learned that the Virginia science and technology magnet school attended by his son has a mentoring program allowing seniors to work in year-long research projects.
Carderock, which is responsible for many ship innovations during this century, is nothing if not a center for research. The agreement makes "the extensive technical expertise and facilities of the site available to America's next generation of scientists and engineers," according to a statement from Carderock.
Military Matters appears every other week. Steve Vogel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org via e-mail.