Roger Netherland - Final Chapter

The following is excerpted from an article written by John Dalles, Pastor of Wekiva Presbyterian Church in Longwood Florida. Pastor Dalles is Gloria Netherland's nephew. The article was written for the benefit of Gloria's family following her death; however, it does describe in detail the final chapter in Roger's great career. (Posted 07/05/2005)

Gloria Dalles Netherland, a Pittsburgh native who became the wife of a
celebrated Navy pilot, and a symbol of all whose family members were listed
as Missing in Action during the Vietnam War, died on Tuesday, March 22,
2005, at her Mclean, Virginia home. Mrs. Netherland was one of four
daughters of John Dalles and Lucy Valicenti, born on November 5, 1926 in
Cheswick, PA. Mrs. Netherland was a graduate of Aspinwall High School.
She was married to the late Roger Morton ("Dutch") Netherland, USN (born
April 5, 1926 in Beaver, PA). Commander Netherland's plane was shot down by
enemy fire on May 10, 1967 while flying a mission over North Vietnam. Listed
as MIA until the Vietnam conflict ended, and thereafter as "presumed dead",
his repatriated remains were among the first Vietnam casualties to be
positively identified by improved DNA matching, in May of 2000.
The Senate Select Committee on POWs and MIAs tells the next portion of Dutch
Netherland's story:
"On May 10, 1967, Commander Netherland was launched in an A-4C, side number
NF 404, from the U.S.S. Hancock as the leader of a flight of aircraft on a
mission against Kien An Airfield near the port city of Hai Phong. Three
surface-to-air missiles were launched at his flight, and the third missile
exploded below his aircraft. His wingman reported observing him drop his
external tanks and begin a left turn streaming fuel. His aircraft then did
an inverted roll and crashed. There was no ejection seen. A search for sign
of him was negative. He was initially declared missing in action. After the
end of hostilities he was declared dead/body not recovered. Returning U.S.
POWs were unable to provide any information that he was alive in the
northern Vietnamese prison system. In December 1982, a Vietnamese refugee
reported the downing of a U.S. aircraft and described the recovery and
burial of remains from the crash site. The incident appeared to correlate to
that of Commander Netherland. In September 1989, Vietnam returned the
alleged remains of Commander Netherland together with his identity card and
wallet. Forensic examination of the remains concluded they belonged to an
adult male but a board decided that they could neither rule out nor
recommend identification of the remains. A U.S. team in Vietnam during July
1990 conducted a survey of the crash site associated with Commander
Netherland. The site location and information concerning the circumstances
of the crash were consistent with the known facts surrounding Commander
Netherland's loss. A return to the site in December 1991 resulted in witness
interviews who provided their knowledge of the crash, including a
description of human remains located in a position consistent with the
results of a high angle high speed dive into the ground."
Six years after his plane was shot down, the North Vietnamese began
returning some remains of our missing men to the US government. The Armed
Forces Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii began the slow, painful
process of identification, using DNA, trying to match remains to specific
missing servicemen. At that time, the Navy department contacted Gloria and
told her that one set of remains was very possibly Dutch's, but it was
impossible to make a positive identification due to the time elapsed and the
fragmented condition of the remains.
They urged her not to give up hope. And in 1998, the Armed Forces Institute
of Pathology (DNA Registry) in Washington, contacted Gloria to tell her
there had been a major DNA breakthrough and they felt Dutch's was a perfect
test case. They asked her if by any chance she had something of his,
completely unique to him, perhaps a razor that he had used or an envelope
that he had sealed. Gloria remembered that Dutch's father had given her a
box of old photographs, and among them was an envelope marked "Roger's First
Haircut". Lo and behold, it held a thick lock of blond hair, in perfect
condition. That lock of hair turned out to be the key to Dutch's positive
identification, and the end of a long journey for Gloria Netherland.
On Tuesday, June 20th at 3 PM after a simple, lovely, private service,
Commander Netherland's ashes were placed in a niche at the columbarium of
Arlington National Cemetery. At that time, Gloria said, "I am deeply
indebted to and very much in awe of the wonderful special dedicated people
who never gave up on their difficult, daunting task - that of insuring
positive identification - with very little to work with. I salute them."
Mrs. Netherland was the subject of Louis R. Stockstill's 1969 article
depicting the plight of spouses of MIA's and POWs. Along with her lifelong
friend Sybil Stockdale, wife of Vice Admiral and former US Vice Presidential
candidate James Bond Stockdale, Gloria Netherland represented all who
wondered, hoped, prayed and waited, not knowing if their MIA's would ever
return. Had Dutch Netherland survived, he would have shared with Vice
Admiral Stockdale the distinction of highest-ranking returning POW.
Commander Netherland is listed among the honored graduates at the US Naval
Academy Chapel at Annapolis, as well as on the Vietnam Memorial on the Mall
in Washington DC.
The Netherlands met in the late 1940's under romantic circumstances, on a
commercial air flight that developed problems en route to Pittsburgh.
Sensing that the passengers were beginning to panic, Gloria, who had a
beautiful trained singing voice, stood up and encouraged all of the
passengers to sing together. As she led them, they sang along, and a calm
settled over the passenger cabin. Dutch Netherland, who was a passenger on
the same flight, was impressed by her quick action in the midst of the
crisis and thought to himself, "I have to meet this girl." The plane landed
safely, Dutch introduced himself to Gloria, and they fell in love.
Prior to Commander Netherland's disappearance over Vietnam, his career had
taken them to tours of duty in Norfolk, Virginia, Pensacola, Florida, Rome,
Italy and Tokyo, Japan. The Netherlands understood the risks of his naval
career and while they did not have children, they doted on their nieces and
nephews. They were great animal lovers, supporting the world famous San
Diego Zoo by donating an exhibit of golden marmosets to the Zoo in the
1960's.
As a lieutenant, Dutch Netherland had served as naval attache to US
Ambassador Claire Boothe Luce in Rome. The Netherlands were called upon to
entertain world figures. Gloria sent long letters home to the family in
Pittsburgh, who made an occasion out of reading them together. Gloria's
younger brother Robert enjoys quoting one letter in which she relates, "We
had a number of people in for dinner, including King Faruk and several of
his wives..."
Mrs. Netherland leaves many friends in the world of diplomacy, the Navy and
family that includes three sisters, one brother, four nephews, three nieces
and 9 great nieces and nephews. A brother, John S. Dalles, preceded her in
death.
Gloria was an intensely private person who felt, nonetheless, that by
sharing her story with Louis Stockstill and his readers, new resolve might
be found. In our current era, with a different war, but with families who
struggle and pray and wait, perhaps knowing the rest of the story may give
others a measure of strength in the midst of their own difficulties.
Thank you for letting me share this with you.

Sincerely,
- John A. Dalles
email: jdalles@wekivapresbyterian.org

PS There are several tender references to my aunt Gloria and uncle Roger in
their friends Jim and Sybil Stockdale's book, IN LOVE AND WAR.


Return to Home Page