DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Gone, but not forgotten.
Mark V. Dennis was one of 13 Miamisburg residents who died in the Vietnam War. Thursday, his family’s fight for answers ended where it started 50 years ago.
The weather mirrored the mood Thursday morning at Hillgrove Cemetery in Miamisburg. Military honors and a graveside memorial for a hometown boy killed in the Vietnam War.
The crowd has gathered here before. Mark V. Dennis was buried at this spot in 1966. The Navy medic was just 19.
Elsie Johnson was classmates with Mark, and her brother married his sister. She was touched by the turnout at the ceremony.
“It shows respect and honor and caring,” said Johnson.
Pat Butchkoski, served in Vietnam. He didn’t know Mark, but knew he had to be here.
“We need to remember our veterans,” Butchkoski said. “We gotta pay tribute to them because they help keep our country free.”
Thursday’s ceremony marks the end of a painful, 50-year fight for answers by Mark’s family.
The Navy says Mark died when his helicopter was shot down in Vietnam.Badly burned remains were returned home and buried at Hillgrove.
A photograph of an unidentified POW in a 1970 Newsweek changed everything for the family. The resemblance was uncanny, but the military said it wasn’t Mark.
Still, it planted a seed of doubt which grew into a quest for answers.
A forensic expert at Colorado State University examined the remains and told the family they didn’t belong to Mark, that they were too short.
In 2014, an independent lab in Pennsylvania said DNA testing of the only remaining tooth showed it wasn’t a match.
In 2015, the military again agreed to take another look. More than a year later, they maintained their initial verdict: the remains are those of Mark V. Dennis.
The family toldme they do not wholeheartedly accept the results, but believe it’s time to move on. The burden to prove otherwise has been heavy, both emotionally and financially.
“I feel it’s a time to honor Mark and his sacrifice, and to honor the family for all the decisions they’ve made over the years,” said Johnson. “II’m just hoping and praying that they find some closure and peace.”
Perhaps the pastor said it best: “Today we lay Mark’s spirit and memory to rest.”
Miamisburg is honoring the sacred promise we make to the fallen, and their families.
“We’ll never forget them, they’ll be remembered forever,” said Butchkoski.
A sister ceremony, with full military honors, was in Florida at the same time Thursday as the Ohio service. The remains, which were exhumed many years ago, were inurned there with Mark’s parents.