Someone gave President George Bush the not-so- classified information on Keith “Gary” Flanagan last November, as the president and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made their way down a reception line of the US MIA Office reception line in Hanoi.
Flanagan’s from Ballinger, Texas, the president was told.
“West Texas talk happened,” Flanagan would offer a year later.
In July, after 35 years serving the U.S. country team in Hanoi as the resident Vietnam expert for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Flanagan returned to his home town, where people are proud to say one of their own distinguished himself as the longest serving member of JPAC.
Flanagan will be the special guest speaker for the Brown County Veterans Day program, which begins at 1 p.m. today at Riverside Park. He began his career as a Vietnam specialist in 1972, when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, and for 15 years was a Vietnamese linguist in the intelligence career field. He was active Air Force for 20 years, and for the last 15 has served as a Department of Defense civilian in Vietnam.
Flanagan is an original member of the US MIA Office staff that opened the first official post-war U.S. agency in post-war Vietnam. In 1987 he interviewed hundreds of refugees from Southeast Asian nations, mostly Vietnamese, who claimed to have information about American prisoners-of-war and missing-in-action. In 1988, Flanagan was on the first team to travel to Vietnam as a result of the Vessey-Thach agreements.
Then, in 1988 and 1989, he was the interpreter and analyst for seven of the first Joint U.S.-Vietnam Forensic Teams. At the Vietnamese Government’s request, Flanagan said, the teams examined almost 1,000 remains believed to be those of American servicemen, resulting in the repatriation of more than 160 transfer cases to the United States. Identifications, based on these remains, continue today.
Flanagan, fluent in Vietnamese, graduated with honors from the Defense Language Institute’s Basic and Intermediate Vietnamese Language courses, he completed two years of intensive technical training at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. Flanagan has an Associate of Arts Degree in Interpreting and Translating from the Community College of the Air Force, a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Angelo State University in San Angelo.
In 1992, when “back home in Texas” and preparing to go back to Hanoi and continue his service as a civilian with the DoD, Flanagan expressed doubt there would be any former American servicemen found alive. But the rumors persisted, he said, that there had been sightings.
Nevertheless, he said, the families of those who had not returned should be given closure.
“It’s important,” he said. “It’s time.”
Billy Murphey, Brown County Veterans Service Officer, said this year’s Veterans Day program will have a different routine than has become the tradition in the last several years.
Plans are for the event to include an open mic where veterans of wars from World War II through the present can offer testimony.
The VFW Post 3278 Ladies Auxiliary will be cooking hot dogs and plans are in the works to have several static displays available for people to see, Murphey said.
“In year’s past, we have kept our celebrations on the 11th of November and started with a parade and our Ceremony at 11 o’clock, signifying the 11th hour, 11th day, 11th month of the signing of the Armistice of World War I. This year with Veterans Day falling on Sunday, we are going to have an event later in the day in Riverside Park here in Brownwood,” Murphey said.