Mother still doesn’t know for sure what happened to son
The Marine has been missing since his helicopter was shot down in 1969 over Vietnam.

FARMINGTON – Joan Dunham still doesn’t know what happened to her son, Bruce Kane. All she knows is his status as a U.S. Marine has changed three times since 1969 when a helicopter he was riding in was shot down over Vietnam.

He was last listed in 1992 or 1993 as “killed in action,” Joan said.

Joan held a picture of Bruce, dressed in his dark blue uniform with red piping and brass buttons, a white hat with a blue visor atop his head.

“He was a handsome boy,” she said.

Six medals, including a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart, were laid out nearby. The Veterans of Foreign War in Jay helped get them for her.

Bruce enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps right out of high school and was deployed in early 1969 to Vietnam.

Joan said she “raised all kinds of hell, in plain language,” when she found out her youngest son was deployed to the same war zone where his older brother, Donald, had been for two years, “because no two sons are supposed to be in the same war zone.”

She talked to her younger son for the last time by phone in early 1969 before he was deployed.

At the time, she was divorced and in her late 30s and had raised three children.

Her sons met in Vietnam, and the older one took up the issue of two brothers in the same war zone. In the meantime, Joan got a writing campaign going, complaining to the government about the error.

Then Bruce was sent on a covert mission, Joan said.

It was in August 1969 that Joan received the news by telegram. Later a U.S. Marine came to her New York home to tell her that Bruce’s helicopter had been shot down and that he was “missing in action.”

She remembers the day, she said. It was one month and two days after his 20th birthday.

“It’s depressing,” Joan said. “Everything is on hold. … Was he dead, was he alive, was he wounded? All these things go through your mind. My life is still on hold.”

She wrote to Washington, including the president, and had others write, to find out what happened to her son..

“I didn’t get much of a response,” she said. “It was just something I had to live with.”

The trouble, her husband, Bob, said, “is you still don’t know.”

Bruce was “missing in action” for 18 years before he became listed as “last known alive.” In 1992 or 1993, the government sent a letter to Joan, who then lived in Farmington, to inform her the government had exhausted all efforts to find her son and that he was now listed as “killed in action.”

Joan and Bob went to Washington, D.C., and read Bruce’s file. The contents raised more questions than answers.

When he was shot down, the government claimed he was a gunner in a Huey helicopter, Bob said. But when they read Bruce’s file, it said he was a hydraulics engineer, and that he would go on covert missions. Map coordinates didn’t match, and they claimed he was a novice swimmer.

“He was a lifeguard as a civilian,” Joan said.

Bob said the file stated that when the helicopter was shot down and entered the water, Bruce swam ashore and dropped off his gear. He then swam back to save two crew members, Bob said, but on the third time out Bruce went down and drowned.

It’s all confusing, Joan said. First he’s dead, then he’s alive and then he’s dead again, she said.

“My heart is broken,” she said. “I still have part of him here. He’ll always be part of me.”

Everything that pertains to Bruce, Joan keeps in a metal portable file.

“He’s still not buried,” Joan said. “He’s not home where he belonged. He was born and raised over here. I’ll always wonder. It didn’t bring peace. It’s like opening a coffin and finding it empty. Is he dead or is he alive? To this day, there is no peace.”

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