September 8, 2023

Senator Ricketts’ Weekly Column: Getting Answers for our POW/MIA Families

September 8, 2023

Over a half a century ago, President John F. Kennedy once said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.” National POW/MIA Recognition Day on September 15 is an opportunity to honor and remember the women and men who may be missing but must never be forgotten. Americans who are Prisoners of War (POW) or Missing in Action (MIA) deserve to be honored and recognized for their sacrifices on behalf of our nation. Their families – who sometimes go the rest of their lives waiting for news of their loved ones – also deserve special recognition and our deepest appreciation. This year, I want to highlight a Nebraska story that reminds us of those sacrifices.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Larry Alfred Zich, a native of Lincoln, was a pilot during the Vietnam War. On April 3, 1972, he was co-piloting a combat support mission in South Vietnam with three other crew members. The Huey helicopter they were flying went off the radar and was never heard from again. It was Zich’s 24th birthday.

For fifty-one years, Zich’s family and friends have lived in a world of unknowns. Neither his remains nor the helicopter were recovered. For fifty-one years his family had to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays with no news.

Last year, that finally changed. In 1988, a Vietnamese refugee turned over human remains from individuals who had allegedly died in a plane crash. It wasn’t until nearly 35 years later, on October 25, 2022, that the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) conclusively confirmed some of the remains belonged to Zich.

In March of this year, DPAA announced the identification of Zich’s remains. When his widow Debbie Jensen saw the news in Nebraska, she had no idea how to get ahold of the Department of Defense. She reached out to my office for help getting in touch to ensure he would be brought back home to Nebraska. Our team of dedicated casework staff connected her with the appropriate contacts at the Department of Defense. As a result, Chief Warrant Officer Zich was properly laid to rest with full military honors at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery on June 6, 2023.

Zich is just one of the tens of thousands of service members who have not come home and whose status remains unclear. As of May 2023, there are more than81,000 Americans missing from conflicts dating back to WWII. The friends and family of these women and men deserve our prayers and our thanks for the sacrifices they have made.

Nebraska has a rich history of supporting our military. Offutt Air Force Base is home to one of three Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency labs in the U.S. These labs analyze and inventory skeletal remains, identify bones, and determine a biological profile to identify unknown service members who died in previous wars. The National Defense Authorization Act I recently supported would authorize funding for the planning and design of a new lab facility at Offutt so more families like Zich’s can get the answers they deserve. 

As governor and now Senator I am constantly fighting to keep our state one of the best for active and retired military to live, work, and raise a family. I signed paperwork naming Nebraska’s section of U.S. Highway 20 as the “Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway.” The NDAA also secures a 5.2% pay raise for servicemembers. I’m also a supporter of the Major Richard Star Act, which provides injured combat veterans with their full benefits.

Along with Senator Fischer and the rest of my colleagues in the Nebraska delegation, my team and I are here to serve you. Contact my team and I anytime by phone at 202-224-4224 or on my website at  www.ricketts.senate.gov/contact. I am honored to serve our great state and will continue to work to protect the Good Life from Washington overreach.