He was, by any account, a great kid, the epitome of an all American young man, the middle child in a family of five siblings. He was also a good student, graduating from Lincoln High in Lincoln, Nebraska. Like so many of us back in the ‘60’s he was happiest with his head under the hood of a car, tinkering with stuff to the extent his aptitude and shade tree talents would let him. Endemic to this generation was the smell of scorched rubber at the start of a drag race, a ritual designed to establish a pecking order among the car crazy. It was speed that lured Larry into the military where he earned his wings as an Army aviator, a vocation that routinely resulted in young helicopter pilots being hurried into a jet bound for Vietnam. He was one of those chosen for this duty.
Larry Zich sold the hopped up engine from of his beloved ‘57 Chevy and used the money to buy a ring for his wife, Debbie. They were married in May of 1969. He was on top of the world, a new wife and the new wings of an aviator serving in a war that all thought was a little less intense than the preceding years, but a war never the less. On April 3, 1972, Larry was the co-pilot of a Huey on a routine flight near Quang Tri City in Vietnam. The pilot radioed ground control, indicating they were lost, a not infrequent event in Vietnam as a result of less than stellar maps and before the advent of modern navigational aids such as GPS. Weather was also a factor, resulting in the deaths of more than a few airmen in every war. The crew and passengers were never heard from again. It vanished, without a trace, and the wreckage was never found. Debbie was soon visited by the usual military contingent who explained that Larry was missing in action, a status that she lived with for many years. “Missing” leads to thoughts of captivity as a POW and finally resignation and acceptance of the ultimate fate.
The Army is part of a vast bureaucracy and sometimes things are lost or mistakes are made. In 1988, a Vietnamese immigrant to the US arrived here with an odd souvenir from his war torn youth. He had in his possession a single tooth, part of the remains he recovered from what he described as a terrible helicopter crash back home. The military took possession, but was unable to make an identification from this tooth. Apparently a dental X-ray was misread and the tooth was of no value until October of 2022, when the mistake was discovered and the tooth was identified as one of Larry’s molars. Further forensic analysis confirmed the identity. Debbie, who has since remarried after a lifetime of involvement in missing/pow interests had the answer she needed. This discovery was revealed to her through a television news cast. A shocking closure to a lifetime of wondering. To this day, she says Larry Zich was her first love and that he has been there with her every day of the 51 years since he vanished.
In early June, CWO Larry Zich will be laid to rest, with honors, at the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. Another patriot who believed in America and who demonstrated his faith in our country with his ultimate sacrifice. The hell that is war is never far from those touched by the experience. It took awhile, Larry, but you are finally back home, where you belong. God bless you sir. I salute your return.
Have a great week.