Memorializing an MIA and two former POWs

By Richard Zowie— On Thursday, Sept. 26, I covered the POW/MIA remembrance ceremony here in Fredericksburg. Jack Ledford, whom I wrote about two weeks ago, spoke of his 555 days as a prisoner of war in the Korean War.

These ceremonies are always very emotional, when you consider the physical, psychological and emotional pain the survivors went through and when you wonder what happened to those still officially listed as Missing in Action.

At home, I have a bracelet of an MIA helicopter pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Frederick Cristman. His chopper — hit by enemy gunfire and losing transmission oil pressure —crashed in Laos on March 19, 1971.

When I was younger and very naïve, I thought perhaps he was still alive in a prison in Laos. Now, I believe it’s as simple as this: his remains have yet to be recovered. Most likely, he died immediately in the crash.

Cristman was 21 when he disappeared and, according to one online record I saw, had a month left on his tour. On Oct. 23, 1978, a month shy of what would have been his 29th birthday, he was declared legally dead. He is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

In 2001 and then in 2002, I interviewed two POWs, retired Army and Air Force Tech Sergeant Joseph Lajzer (rhymes with “laser”) and Col. Arthur Burer (rhymes with “pure”) for stories for the San Antonio Express-News and the Randolph Wingspread, respectively. Lajzer was in the infamous Bataan Death March in World War II while Burer spent almost seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Lajzer weighed 84 pounds and had a knee injury when liberated in WWII, and Burer, who’d been shot down as a combat pilot, endured unspeakable torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese.

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