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Brother MIA for nearly 50 years — and still missed at home

First slide

Many soldiers go to war. Some do not return. That is the case for 1st Lt. Lawrence E. Lilly, who went missing March 17, 1971, during the Vietnam War. Lilly was a co-pilot of a Bell Cobra attack helicopter doing visual reconnaissance near Seang, Cambodia, when his helicopter was shot down.

According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, more than 81,000 Americans remain missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars and other conflicts.

For nearly 50 years, Lilly’s family and the U.S. Department of Defense have looked for him. But time has not dulled the pain.

“It’s still raw because it’s still unsettled,” said his sister, Susan Harvey.

Harvey, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria, said her brother first considered the priesthood, entering the Maryknoll Seminary in Glen Ellyn, Ill, as a high school junior.

“During Larry’s time in the seminary, the Vietnam War was escalating,” said Harvey. “Larry had aspirations of becoming a priest and at the same time thought about how he could serve his country. Our father had served in WWII and the Korean War.”  

Lilly transferred to The Catholic University of America in Washington and joined the U.S. Army after graduation.

“He then was assigned to Vietnam where our father in the Air Force also was assigned,” said Harvey. “So, father and son got to meet up in Vietnam.”

“I think faith probably pulled (my brother) through some tough times,” said Harvey.

Harvey and her family have relied on faith, though for years they attended Mass in silence with their grief.

“We weren’t supposed to talk about it per the Department of Defense,” she said. “We weren’t supposed to be in Cambodia.”

Though his remains are far away, Lilly’s name can be found locally in Arlington National Cemetery, the Captain Rocky Versace Plaza and the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Alexandria, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. His name also is inscribed on the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial in Hawaii.

Lilly’s name will be read among 67 other Alexandrian veterans who died or remain Missing in Action at the 18th annual Veterans Day Ceremony at the Captain Rocky Versace Plaza Nov. 11 at 1 p.m.

Harvey doesn’t want anyone to forget the veterans. She said she appreciates it when the church remembers veterans in their prayers.

“Any mention of veterans is positive,” she said. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019