Vietnam POW's high school class revives search - FOX 10 News |

Vietnam POW's high school class revives search

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On Veterans Day, all who served this nation are honored -- but for many families and friends of veterans who still wonder where their loved one is, the anguish of uncertainty is fresh.

An estimated 1,600 service members from the Vietnam War remain missing, and one of them attended high school in Minnesota. Now, the St. John's Preparatory School class of 1952 is renewing the effort to find out what happened to him.

The Collegeville school is an institution dating back to 1857, known for high academics and a strong bond between students who study there.

"This group right here is kind of a testimony to the closeness we felt ever since we've been at St. John's and graduated from St. John's," Joe Spano told Fox 9 News.

Spano, Jerry Streeter and Gerry Sande still meet monthly with the classmates they studied with more than half a century ago.

"We were a family then. We are a family now," Streeter said. "Our class was very, very close."

The close connection between people and place can be seen in that still sits in the halls of the school, honoring David Hrdlicka, who has been missing ever since he was shot down in Vietnam.

"He got sent in April of 1965 -- April 7, 1965," recalled Streeter. "Forty-one days later, he was shot down on May 18, 1965.

Hrdlicka was two years older than the others, but attended St. John's at the same time.

"I always marveled," Sande said. "How can anyone be so continually cheerful? He was a great guy and I miss him."

A standout athlete, he also played in the band and sung with the glee club.

"There was a humility about him that says, 'I'm not better than you are because I'm an athlete; I'm one of you who happens to be good at athletics,'" Spano recalled.

The St. John's classmates still think about their comrade often, and they've made it their mission to bring him home.

In 1968, the group got word the government believed Hrdlicka had died; however, Streeter says there has been evidence that suggests he may have lived beyond then. In 2002, Streeter called Hrdlicka's wife and said he immediately knew what he and his classmates needed to do.

"I just felt so bad for her," he explained.

Spano said the class put it to a vote and unanimously decided to start a project to find out what happened.

"I think it's just awesome to get David's school behind the whole thing," Carol Hrdlicka said.

Carol Hrdlicka now lives in Kansas, but she and her husband were married for 8 years and had 3 children before he went missing.

"You can say it's from the bottom of your heart, but there's just no words to explain … how much I appreciate having some help," she said.

So far, Streeter has been the lead investigator in finding out what happened to his friend.

"This is a collection of everything that I've gotten in the past 11 years," he demonstrated. "It's explaining that these American pilots were displayed for propaganda purposes."

Over the years, he has collected documents from the National Archives -- one that states David HrdLicka was recognized in 1968.

"This is Washington's air war and David alive after April of 1969," Streeter said. "He was supposed to have died in 1968."

A Russian journalist wrote a story about David Hrdlicka in 1969, but the name was spelled differently.

"You can't interview a dead man, can you?" Streeter asked. "This was the year after he was supposed to have died and this reporter wrote this article with him."

Although no remains have been returned to his family, the U.S. government changed David Hrdlicka's status from POW to killed in action in 1977; however, Streeter points to a document that make him believe his friend was alive as recently as 1990.

"These documents here are what we call 'live sighting documents,' and these too give us hope David is still alive," Streeter said.

The work has been hard and tedious, but David Hrdlicka's classmates say it has to be done.

"It's a brother," Spano said. "We want to know what happened."

Spano said if Hrdlicka is still alive or in captivity, having the full story is the only way to get closure -- and Carol Hrdlicka agrees. She has spent 48 years wondering where he could have gone.

"That's a pain that no one except the people in it will understand," she said.

Throughout the years, Carol Hrdlicka has testified in Washington in the hopes that the government would search for her husband. This past September, she and Streeter traveled to D.C. to meet with a number of Minnesota delegates -- including representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.

"The more people that get educated on this issue -- having one senator and several of the congressmen, it helps," she said. "You can't do it with one senator."

As for whether her husband could still be alive, Carol Hrdlicka says she doesn't know -- but in her mind, the possibility is still great enough that she got her second marriage annulled.

"I can't abandon him now, and I'll just have to keep going until I get an answer or I'm dead," she vowed. "One of the two."

Carol Hrdlicka says she will never give up the quest for answers, and the St. John's class of 1952 won't quit either.

"Once a Johnny always a Johnny, and we are a band of brothers," Streeter said.

Klobuchar's office told Fox 9 News that even though David Hrdlicka has been declared dead, she is asking the Department of Defense to take another look at the case. Meanwhile, Bachmann has introduced a bill to establish a POW/MIA committee to help the department make the recovery process more transparent, efficient and effective.

Since President Barack Obama's chief of staff in the White House is a St. John's University graduate, the group also hopes he will put them in direct contact with the president regarding their efforts.

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