'Keep me alive until you come home'

Sister still waits for her brother's homecoming 52 years after he went MIA

Elizabeth Howe
September 19, 2019 - 11:47 am
Lance Corporal Howard Ogden

VFW

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"His name was Lance Corporal Howard Ogden Junior. But he had a lot of nicknames," Maggie Ogden Ardery begins her brother's story. "He was the youngest of eight, raised by a single mother. He joined the Marine Corps at 17 with two of his best buddies from high school — the Guzman brothers. They both came home from Vietnam." 

Ogden, 52 years after his whereabouts were last known, still has not. 

Ardery can tell you a lot about her little brother who was only separated in age from her by 18 months. Her favorite memories of him are laying in ditches together on their reservation during tornadoes and watching the storms pass over. 

"It's pretty frightening now that I think about it, but we were young and crazy," Ogden said. "He was so funny and so kind and caring — to people, to animals, to everyone. He was my best friend."

But, more than just his life before Vietnam, Ardery also probably knows more than anyone what happened to Ogden in Vietnam — up until the last day his operations were documented. 

The day he went missing, reconnaissance Marine Ogden was in the Thua Thien province with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. 

"There was a really heavy firefight up there by the DMZ zone. My brother went in to retrieve Sgt. Alan Jensen and was wounded but kept fighting back for his fellow Marine," Ardery said. "Unknowingly, I think they left him behind. The radio transmission of that day, the captain told them to pull out and didn't specifically say 'Leave him behind' — but the captain was informed that they didn't have all their Marines. He was wounded. I know this because he was operated on."

For his actions on that day, Ogden is the highest decorated Native American Iowa warrior, according to his sister. His awards include the French Congressional Medal, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart.

After years of gathering information, Ardery has the radio transmissions that recount the operation during which her brother was wounded. She also has the name of the doctor who tended her brother's wounds — a Dr. Vy. She has seen hospital logs from Oct. 18, 1967, that mention a man far too tall for the short, Vietnamese stretchers — Ogden was 6'3". She knows the grid location of the surgical tent. 

But this is where what Ardery knows stops — and the questions she has about today's recovery efforts start. 

"I got the grid location of the 4th Regiment surgical team station. That's where he was operated on. The Vietnamese went up there and exhumed 12 Viet Cong a couple of years back. But my brother — and I think two other servicemen — are buried just a few feet from those 12," Ardery said. "Why would you not go there? You know where this is."

 Ardery is 73 and has leukemia — but for years she has been meeting with POW/MIA agencies, writing letters to politicians, and conducting her own research trying to bring her brother home.

"In my mind, it's a clear path. Just go to the Vietnamese and get the location and boom — there they are. But I don't know if there's some type of roadblock between our governments. I don't know...I always thought maybe his rank was a problem. He's only a lance corporal."

Ardery said she got no response from the late Senator John McCain when she reached out to him. Nor did she receive a response from former President Barack Obama. But the current administration was more responsive. 

"I wrote a letter to President Trump. And he sent a helicopter to the grid of the surgical station with 17 people on it — linguists, bomb squad people, everything. And they found surgical debris, American buttons. I was amazed."

While the helicopter was not able to bring home the remains of her brother, Ardery said what they did find gave her hope — and indicated that she was on the right track.

But Ardery's fight isn't over and won't be any time soon. 

"I've gotten my grandchildren involved. I have four grandchildren and they've all gone to POW/MIA board meetings with me. I'm 73 now. I have leukemia. If I pass on, we're not going to stop. This isn't going to stop. I just want his remains here."

"He would write me letters. And I would say, 'Can't you come home? Please come home,'" Ardery said through tears. "And he'd say 'No. I'm fighting for the freedom of these people. We're going to help them be free.' They're not free. It's sad. He fought for nothing. I want his remains buried on American soil. And if I know where his remains are and they flew a helicopter in within feet of it — what's the holdup?"

If Ardery could give her brother a message she said it would be: 

"Give me strength. Keep me alive until you come home. But I think he would say I am home. And so I would like to tell him, 'Give mom a hug.'"

 

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