WASHINGTON — Hope mixed with fear make up the fleeting thoughts of a lost
friend that hit Jim Stafford at the oddest of times — during church, over a
pancake breakfast, while showering.
Where is his friend, Scott Speicher? Is he eating well, able to shower, in
But never do Stafford's thoughts drift to "is he alive?" the 46-year-old
Floridian said Saturday at a candlelight vigil held on the western lawn of the
U.S. Capitol. Saturday was the 13th anniversary of the Navy pilot's
disappearance over Iraq. Speicher was 33 when his F/A-18 Hornet was downed by
an Iraqi missile over southwestern Baghdad on the very first night of Operation
Family and friends first were told his plane exploded midair Jan. 17, 1991.
The Navy secretary designated his status KIA-BNR — killed in action, body not
Then came a change, evidence Speicher might have ejected and possibly
"It was shocking news, and it gave us a tremendous sense of hope that we
might get him back," said Stafford, a high school chum and president of the
nearly 2-year-old group Friends Working to Free Scott Speicher Inc.
Then another twist on the emotional roller coaster — word that a set of
initials were found carved into an Iraqi prison wall: "MSS." Could they be
those of Michael Scott Speicher? Stafford is convinced his friend of 30 years
etched those letters.
"I've seen his handwriting. The M, the S, those were Scott's. There is no
doubt in my mind he was in that cell."
The downed pilot's friends have held several vigils in his hometown of
Jacksonville, Fla., but this is the first national outreach, which drew roughly
75 people to the nation's capital to stand in bitter freezing temperatures, at
times pelted with sleet and snow, to remember their friend.
"Why this year? Because this is the first time we have a crew on the ground
in Iraq looking for him," said volunteer Kelly Jefferson.
Childhood friends attended.
"He was remarkably funny and very smart," said Jeff Paussa, 46, of Kansas
City, Mo., who has known Speicher for 40 years. "The gang of us who were
friends remember he never brought books home and always got straight A's."
In Iraq, the ground search is on.
"Coalition forces on the ground in Iraq continue the search for information
that leads to answers about the status of Captain Scott Speicher, and they
won't stop until there is closure for his family and his nation," Marine Maj.
Pete Mitchell, a Central Command spokesman said.
Army Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Young Jr., who was held prisoner for three
weeks in Iraq after his Apache Longbow was shot down in March, was slated to
speak at the Washington vigil. Young instead attended a memorial service of a
friend killed in Iraq when his medical transport helicopter was shot down by
His mother, Kaye Young, addressed the group, reading a letter her son had
penned. Ronald Young wrote that during his days of captivity, he often thought
of Speicher, and each of the seven times he was moved, he searched the walls
for any signs the Navy pilot might have been in that cell. He found none.
But they didn't gather Saturday to eulogize the downed pilot, said Capt. Tony
Albano, Speicher's roommate aboard the USS Saratoga 13 years ago. "Spike would
not have wanted us to do that." Instead, they spoke of the good things: his
contagious smile and his faith.
And hope. "We just want our friend back," Stafford said.
For more information about the Friends Working to Free Scott Speicher
Inc., check out the organization's Web site at:
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