The Pentagon once took the unprecedented step of switching Capt. 'Scott' Speicher's status from 'killed in action' to 'missing-captured,' thinking he was alive.
U.S. Navy/Handout/ Reuters
The confirmation Sunday that remains found in Iraq are those of Capt. Michael "Scott" Speicher – the first American casualty of the 1991 Gulf War – ends a veritable saga punctuated with hope, uncertainty, and despair for the past 18 years. The mystery befuddled the military and even led to rumors of unconfirmed sightings.
On a tip from an Iraqi citizen last month, American marines went to a location in Anbar province near where Speicher's F/A-18 Hornet jet crashed in January 1991. The man had heard secondhand that nomadic Bedouins had found Speicher's body in 1991 and buried it.
Over the course of several days, remains of a body were found and sent to Dover Air Force Base in the US, where the medical examiner there used forensic information to determine that the remains were Speicher's.
The evidence concluded the improbable story of the naval aviator who had flown some of the first air strikes of the first Gulf War.
"Our Navy will never give up looking for a shipmate, regardless of how long or how difficult that search may be," said Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, in a statement. "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."
The difficulty in finding Speicher's remains – despite the overwhelming US presence in Iraq since 2003 – is a function of Bedouin culture.
"These Bedouins roam around in the desert, they don't stay in one place, and it just took this time to find the specific site," says Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida, who had pushed the Pentagon to find Speicher.