It's been a long time since I've read such an inspirational story - a story about decades of quiet, selfless dedication. A story about those who honor the price of freedom.
It began when two men were teenagers going on souvenir hunts through the Belgian forests, at that time still scattered with WWII litter. Then, one day, they found the skeletal remains of a German Soldier. And four years later, in 1988, the remains of an American Soldier.
"When we found our first American, it was a turning point."
Since then, they've never stopped looking through the quiet woods, although years often go by between finds.
"Sometimes I think I see shadows," Speder said. "In a sense, they are still here."
When you ask them why they do it, why they've devoted countless hours of their time over decades to locating Americans they never knew, Americans who died well before they were born, they say they consider it an honor.
"They liberated my parents and grandparents," Speder said. The soldiers "are kind of my family."
Annually, the U.S. spends more than $100 million a year on POW/MIA matters, much of it in Southeast Asia, based on Defense Department figures. Despite the sum, JPAC won’t send recovery teams to Europe — or, for that matter, anywhere in the world — without solid leads.
When a site is confirmed, the mortuary affairs office in Landstuhl is contacted and it coordinates with JPAC to ultimately bring the remains to Hawaii for further examination and tests.
[Finding solid leads] is where Speder and his team enter the equation.
One of the cases involves Pfc. Dominick Posillipo.
When his unit retreated during the early days of the German counteroffensive, Posillipo’s body was left behind and never recovered, his nephew, John Lozito, said. A month later, the Posillipo family received a telegram from the War Department stating he was missing in action.
A subsequent telegram said he died in Denmark, though unit buddies say he died near Steinbruck, Belgium, on the northern flank, where the 99th was situated.
Lozito continues to research the incident. While JPAC officials have visited the general area, Lozito is also in contact with The Diggers.
"They are my family’s last hope," Lozito said of the Belgian search team.
"They are the only hope for my uncle to come home."
Full story with more photos here.