- The Washington Times - Monday, August 3, 2009

After more than 18 years, the remains of Capt. Michael “Scott” Speicher, who was shot down in combat at the opening of the Gulf War, have been positively identified, Pentagon officials said Sunday.

Capt. Speicher was 33 years old when he disappeared on a combat flight mission in Iraq, and now has headed home.

The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) positively identified Capt. Speicher’s remains, which were recovered in Iraq in early July, after an Iraqi citizen came forward with long-sought information about his fate. He was buried by Bedouins who discovered the crash site in Iraq’s western Anbar province.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Captain Speicher’s family for the ultimate sacrifice he made for his country,” said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. “I am also extremely grateful to all those who have worked so tirelessly over the last 18 years to bring Captain Speicher home.”

RELATED STORY: Speicher family still has questions

His family and friends never gave up hope that one day he would be found.

Cindy Laquidara, a spokeswoman for the family, said relatives learned Saturday that Capt. Speicher’s remains had been found, the Associated Press reported.

“The family’s proud of the way the Defense Department continued on with our request” not to abandon the search, she said. “We will be bringing him home.”

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 gave American troops the chance to search for Capt. Speicher on the ground.

At one point, the initials “MSS” were found scratched into the wall of an Iraqi prison, leading to the speculation that Capt. Speicher may have been captured and held prisoner.

In 2005, a tip led investigators to excavate a potential grave site in Baghdad. Though the excavation failed to find the pilot’s remains, it eventually led investigators to several Iraqis who thought they had information about the pilot, Pentagon officials said.

Capt. Speicher was flying an F/A-18 Hornet over west-central Iraq when he was shot down by the enemy on Jan. 17, 1991.

“Our Navy will never give up looking for a shipmate, regardless of how long or how difficult that search may be,” Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said Sunday.

“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Captain Speicher and his family for the sacrifice they have made for our nation and the example of strength they have set for all of us.”

Pentagon officials said Marines stationed in Anbar province went to a location in the desert that was thought to be the crash site of the jet.

An Iraqi who was working with the Marines said he knew of two other locals in the area who recalled a U.S. jet crashing in the desert and that the pilot had been killed on impact.

The remains of Capt. Speicher were buried by desert nomads who were first to arrive at the scene of the crash.

At the time, the pilot was a lieutenant commander. But because his status was changed from killed to missing, he received regular promotions to his present rank.

The Marines, along with the Iraqis, one of whom was in the area on the day Capt. Speicher lost his life, aided the search and recovery.

The remains were recovered over several days during the past week and were flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for scientific identification, officials said.

“The recovered remains include bones and multiple skeletal fragments,” said Rear Adm. Frank Thorp. “Positive identification was made by comparing Captain Speicher’s dental records with the jawbone recovered at the site.”

The teeth were also a match, both visually and radiographically, he said.

The AFIP’s DNA Lab in Rockville is also running DNA tests on the remains recovered in Iraq and is comparing them to DNA reference samples previously provided by family members.

Defense officials said those results will take about 24 hours to obtain.

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