While members of my immediate family have served in the military, only distant members of my family–none of whom I ever met–have died in service to their country. For that, I am extremely fortunate. Knowing that, I endeavor every Memorial Day to highlight an individual in my family tree who did make this ultimate sacrifice. I spend time researching the individual in a more detailed way than time usually allows. I like to think that the time I spend learning more about these individuals’ sacrifice and sharing that information with others serves as an homage.
Today, I did some research and discovered a wealth of information about the harrowing Vietnam War experience of a distant cousin (5th cousin 2X removed): Billy Ray Laney.
A particular special operation in which Billy Ray was involved later became the subject of numerous military investigations that went on for over thirty years. I have read several reports that have included the testimony of one of Billy Ray’s surviving comrades in which his comrade describes Billy Ray’s fatal mission. While Billy Ray’s status remained “MIA” for over ten years, further investigations involving DNA did eventually produce more answers for the Army as well as for his family.
Billy Ray Laney’s widow and three children were ultimately able to properly bury his remains. Memorials to him are erected in his native Alabama and, since 2009, at Arlington National Cemetery.
The details surrounding Billy Ray Laney’s fatal mission can be found in a piece written by Maggie Ruth for the website History.net.