Janet Townley's father, a civilian pilot in the Vietnam War, was reported missing two days after Christmas in 1971 when his transport plane was shot down over northern Laos.
"My dad's been there for 14 years, and I feel there's a very good chance he's alive. We know there are men alive," said Townley, 30, of Hesperia, Calif.
"It's just more and more frustrating year after year," she said.
"We do have a photograph of him in captivity," said Townley. Her family obtained the photo, which was taken sometime before October 1972, through the U.S. Air Force.
"Surely these men feel after all these years that the country has forgotten them," said Townley, who was among 650 people who attended the 16th annual convention of the League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
The league, whose five-day convention at the Radisson Mark Plaza Hotel in Alexandria ended yesterday, is the largest organization of family members and friends of the 2,464 Americans, including several civilians, still officially listed as missing in Southeast Asia.
The feelings of those gathered for the convention seemed to be marked by the belief, or at least the hope, that their loved ones are still alive somewhere, as well as by frustration with the perceived lack of government and public attention on the issue of POWs and MIAs. Some, though, noted with appreciation the recent surge of attention paid to this issue.
"The whole issue of Vietnam is a little more socially acceptable than it has been in the past few years. Everybody's behind this big Vietnam push, with 'Rambo' and everything else," said Gary Wright of Falls Church, a disabled Vietnam veteran whose father was declared missing near Hanoi on Jan. 17, 1967. "Isn't it ironic, though, that it takes a violent movie to make people realize that there is a problem."
Kimberly Huss-Tomesh was not quite 3 years old when her father, a Navy lieutenant junior grade, was reported missing over the Gulf of Siam on Feb. 6, 1968.
"I don't remember his personality, only his physical image, and I feel robbed," said Huss-Tomesh, now 19, of Eau Claire, Wis.
Huss-Tomesh and her mother, who remarried about three years after Roy A. Huss was first reported missing in action and later killed in action, have been involved in the league for just over a year.
"It was a totally helpless feeling. We felt guilty about not doing anything, yet we felt that there was nothing we could do," Huss-Tomesh said of her feelings before joining the organization.
"The waiting has been very hard -- waiting for news to find out if he is a POW or not," said Helen Williams of Richmond, Calif., whose brother Roy, an Army staff sergeant, has been missing since May 12, 1968. "I feel that he is a POW ."
James B. Brown was 19 when his helicopter went down south of Saigon on Oct. 31, 1972.
"It's an awful thing to have it hanging over you constantly, but we hope -- we're hoping hard that he is still alive ," said James' mother, Louise Brown, of Albuquerque.
"It seems that our country is finally realizing that these men are missing," said Jack Laeufer of Lima, Ohio, whose cousin Col. Owen (Pete) Skinner was reported missing while flying over Laos on Dec. 12, 1970. "The adrenaline is starting to flow."
"Pete is a year younger than I am, he's 51 now, and every time you eat something or go someplace, you wonder what he's doing," said Laeufer. "I never give up hope. Whether Pete comes home or someone from Texas comes home, it makes no difference -- I'll be the happiest person in the world."
"The hostages in Iran, everyone counted the days for them. Who's counting the days for the POW/MIAs? Nobody but the families, the children," said Wright.
"We're counting the years," added Huss-Tomesh.
Some of the families search for documents and information that might help them learn the fate of their missing family members.
Huss-Tomesh asked Navy officials to bring the file on her father's disappearance to the hotel where the league's convention was held, which they did.
"All his records that I've looked at are so screwed up, there are records of four crash sites in his file," she said. "One page on the report said they found two bodies [there were 12 men on the plane's crew with her father], another said none, and another said they found a raft."
"There are live Americans there, [but] if my father comes home in a box then I have to accept death and go through the grieving process," she said.