Brad Dodge was 4 when his father was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967. He's grown up wondering about his father, trying to learn more about this baseball-loving pilot whose picture was on the cover of Life magazine, a symbol of thousands of servicemen who were then missing in action in Vietnam.
Brad barely remembers his dad, and he has long doubted whether he would see him again. Now it is over. Yesterday the Pentagon announced the names of three servicemen, among them Navy Cdr. Ronald W. Dodge, Brad's father, whose remains Hanoi returned to the United States two weeks ago.
Brad Dodge, like members of the families of Air Force Capt. Richard H. Van Dyke and Lt. Stephen O. Musselman, grieved. But, he said, in a way he was relieved.
The Vietnamese returned the remains, incomplete and packed in separate small wooden boxes, on July 7, after repeated inquiries about those missing in action, military officials said. Laboratory technicians identified the remains Monday, and officials notified the families.
Cdr. Dodge, who had been a young pilot with hopes for a career in professional baseball, became a symbol of the 2,500 servicemen MIAs. A photo of him, after capture and escorted by North Vietnamese soldiers, was published in Paris Match, a French magazine, and later reprinted on the cover of Life and in 5 million brochures urging that more attention be paid to the missing.
Dodge, who was flying an F8 Crusader jet when he was shot down on May 17, 1967, was 31. Paris Match published the photo on Sept. 9, 1967, and nothing had been seen or heard of him since.
Capt. Van Dyke, of Salt Lake City, was shot down over North Vietnam on Sept. 11, 1968, at age 24. Lt. Musselman was shot down over North Vietnam on Sept. 10, 1972, when he was 26.
Officials said they were certain of the identifications, which were made at an Army laboratory in Honolulu after the remains were flown there.
Identifications were made by comparing the characteristics of the bones with medical information of missing servicemen, especially those considered to be most likely because of when and where they disappeared, said Maj. Cliff Purcell, an Army spokesman in Honolulu.
"We definitely won't know when they died," said Lt. Col. Jerry Grohowski in Washington. "We probably won't know how they died, but that is a remote possibility."
Yesterday the survivors sorted through their memories. Brad Dodge said his father attended high school in Olympia, Wash., and then attended the University of Oregon, where he played football and baseball.
Ronald Dodge was a fine catcher who had played for the Seattle Rainiers and who might have played for the Cincinnati Reds if he had not been shot down, his son said.
Steve Musselman had been very proud, one week before he was shot down, when his name was painted on the outside of his bomber in recognition of his successful missions, his mother, Ethel Musselman recalled yesterday from her home in Texarkana, Tex.But on the day of his last mission, his plane was being repaired, so he took another.
"He was bombing a missile site and got a few hits in," she said. Then he was hit by a missile, and "his plane went in an uncontrolled dive. He radioed, 'My altitude is . . .,' and he was cut off. He landed in a rice paddy 14 miles from Hanoi."
Ethel Musselman said Navy officials told her that Steve probably had been shot to death, perhaps as he floated to earth by parachute. "I'm more fortunate than many mothers," she said. "I still have four sons."
Kay Van Dyke said from her home in Salt Lake City that her son, Richard, attended Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., and then joined the Air Force after attending the University of Colorado.
"He was a personable young man, a large man," she said. "He loved everything. He was just a fun-loving, living, man."
Her son's plane was hit by a missile and he ejected safely, she said. "He was seen to land, to stow his parachute and to go into the woods."
Her husband, Milton, added that prisoners of war later released said their son was in the same camp, with a broken leg apparently resulting from his bail-out. The North Vietnamese "took him from the camp and said, 'your buddy has to have his leg amputated.' Then one of the guards came back and said, 'Your buddy didn't make it.'"