18 YEARS OF UNCERTAINTY
A LONG, UNCERTAIN SEARCH
Then-LCDR Michael Scott Speicher was shot down on 17 January, 1991. The following day, he was declared Missing in Action. After Operation Desert Storm, he was declared Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered. Remains provided by Iraq were not a DNA match, though, and the search continued.
The mystery deepened when a Qatari military official found the wreckage – with the canopy far enough away to suggest that Speicher could have ejected.. In December 1995, a U.S. team went into Iraq and investigated the presumed crash site – leading to a 1996 declaration maintaining the presumption LCDR Speicher had been killed when his F/A-18C had been shot down.
On 11 January, 2001, the outgoing Clinton Administration changed the status to Missing in Action when new evidence indicated that Speicher might have managed to eject.
At that point, Speicher was promoted to Commander.
However, there were questions – and when reports emerged claiming Speicher had been sighted, his status was changed to Missing/Captured. Then-Secretary of the Navy Gordon England stated that he believed that at the very least, Speicher’s whereabouts were known of by Saddam’s regime.
After Iraq was liberated, that belief was reinforced when his initials were discovered carved into the wall of an Iraqi prison. At the same time, though, it appeared that the informants may have lied to the United States. In the intervening time, Speicher had been promoted to Captain.
The search continued. On 10 March, 2009, Speicher was again declared as Missing in Action. The following July, U.S. Marines were given a tip to search a location in al-Anbar Province, where remains were recovered. The remains were taken to the United States, where dental records confirmed that they were those of CAPT Speicher.
America's first casualty of Operation Desert Storm returned home on 13 August, 2009.