Never Forget, Never Lose Faith
by U.S. Air Force Heather Heiney
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
In 1967 a 12-year-old boy received a telegram notifying him that
an aircraft carrying his father, Maj. Mark Stephensen, had failed to
return after a mission in North Vietnam.
That boy was Mark
Stephensen II, vice-chairman for the National League of POW/MIA
families and guest speaker during the Prisoner of War/Missing in
Action Remembrance ceremony Sept. 19 at Peterson Air Force Base,
Stephensen describes his response at the time as
September 19, 2019 - Mark L. Stephensen II, vice-chairman for the National League of POW/MIA families accepts an award from Col. Jennifer Fitch, individual mobilization augmentee
to the 21st Space Wing commander at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Fitch presented the award as part of POW/MIA Remembrance Week to thank Stephensen for his service and sacrifice in working toward full accounting of all unreturned veterans. (U.S. Air Force photo by Griffin Swartzell)
“In 1967, the war was gearing up significantly,” he explains.
“There had been other losses, other pilots that had been shot down,
who'd been stationed there at Mountain Home [Air Force Base, Idaho]
and were in dad's squadron. If a blue staff car with a white roof
showed up outside of your house, you knew, it was not gonna be a
The Air Force took care of Stephensen and his
family, he said, offering comfort and support in their time of need,
and promoting the missing major to colonel. In 1970, Stephensen’s
mother joined the then-new NLPF and acted as the state coordinator
for Idaho. Years later, in 1984, Stephensen would take over for her.
The NLPF works to support the fullest possible accounting of
unreturned veterans, the term Stephensen says is preferred for
describing service members who are missing in action. Their original
charter deals specifically with unreturned veterans from the Vietnam
War, but they support accounting and repatriation of remains in all
conflicts for all U.S. personnel.
“Our organization was
instrumental in getting a defined organization [the Defense POW/MIA
Accounting Agency] for that, to go above casualty offices and
mortuary affairs into a unit that is specifically designated for
recovery of missing personnel,” he says.
To this day, he and
his organization are in near-daily contact with the DPAA to support
“It's not so much the league’s accomplishment,
but as a result of this effort to work with our government, 1,057
missing in action have been returned since the end of the war,” says
Stephensen. “And my father is one of those.”
In 1988, 21
years after his father went missing, Stephensen finally got closure.
His father’s remains were repatriated to the U.S., and just like in
1967, his first response was disbelief.
“I think I said
something completely silly, like I think you gotta be kidding me,
knowing full well there was a higher probability of accountability
because it was a multiple-crew aircraft and one member of the crew
[Capt. Gary Siglar, then a 2nd Lt. and the crashed aircraft’s
navigator] had been recovered,” he says. “I had been on the board of
directors for years at that time, so I know exactly what had to
occur for that to happen.”
As of Sept. 13, 2019, the DPAA
reports that 1,587 Americans remain missing from the Vietnam War.
But Stephensen is hopeful, saying that National POW/MIA Recognition
Day and POW/MIA Remembrance Week are reminders to never forget the
nation’s unreturned veterans and to never lose faith.
Stephensen, he still remembers his father as a humorous, humble man
who joined the Air Force to be a cook and wound up a pilot instead.
“He made us laugh all the time,” Stephensen says. “He was a hero,
but he’d come home, and he was a regular dad. He took care of all of
National League of POW/MIA Families |