Donald Shay’s father is retired now. Donald’s little sister has two young children of her own. His fiancee finally married someone else. And Donald’s mother doesn’t bake his favorite apple pie much anymore; the good smell brings back too many bad memories.

Mr. Shay doesn’t know any of this. And he may never know. In fact, his family may never know where he is, or where he was when he died, if he died. For Mr. Shay is one of 2,477 Americans still missing in action from the Vietnam War.

Ten years after the fall of Saigon and 15 years after that smiling, 24-year-old lacrosse player flew off a radar screen into his family’s memory somewhere over Indochina, no one knows for sure what happened to any of the missing Americans.

More Than Mere Statistics

But in one of the more mysterious legacies of that painful era in American history, these men who went off to war as individuals have now become, as a group, much more than simply a sad statistic. They are the subject of movies, books and songs, the object of angry demonstrations, earnest petitions and solemn vigils, the focus of intense Presidential interest, microscopic analysis and secret satellite photography and the heart of some delicate diplomatic exchanges trying to bridge broad cultural chasms.

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