A POW/MIA Recognition Day

A ceremony will be held at 8 a.m. Friday at Brooks Park in Bend.

The names of Bend’s 16 veterans still missing in action will be read at the ceremony. The program will also include the reading of proclamations by the president of the United States, Oregon’s governor and Bend’s mayor.

A copy of the new Oregon law designating U.S. Highway 26 across Oregon as POW/MIA Memorial Highway will be presented.

Dollie Dexter Raymond never thought she would still be wondering what happened to her brother 53 years after he vanished during the Vietnam War.

The 72-year-old Redmond woman thinks about his disappearance every day. It stirs conflict in her heart. She can’t decide if she should accept that his remains will never be found or take comfort knowing the U.S. government is not giving up searching for soldiers like her brother, who went missing in action.

“I will never give up hope,” she said. “But yet I have to go on with life.”

Her brother, Bennie Dexter, is one of 16 Bend veterans who remain missing in action. The other 15 veterans fought in World War II. All of them will be honored Friday at a POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony in Bend.

Dick Tobiason, chairman of the Bend Heroes Foundation, which is hosting the ceremony, said it is important to educate the public about the veterans who are still not accounted for and recognize the pain still felt by their families.

“These people can not go to a cemetery and lay a wreath on a grave,” Tobiason said.

Dexter was a 21-year-old technical sergeant in the Air Force when he was captured by Viet Cong soldiers on May 9, 1966. He was driving a jeep on a jungle highway 165 miles north of Saigon when he was abducted. The jeep was found the next day, abandoned along the highway.

What happened after his capture remains unclear.

Through the work of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, military officials believe Dexter was taken as a prison of war and kept at a training camp in Vietnam. After a third attempt to escape the camp, officials say Dexter was shot and killed, then buried by a stream near the camp.

Three years ago, members of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency excavated the land where Dexter was thought to be buried, but no human remains were found. The workers had trouble pinpointing the burial area since the stream had dried up and vegetation overtook the land.

But the workers have vowed to keep searching. The last Raymond heard, the site was under review and workers could return for another dig. They told her they had not given up.

“It’s hard to get answers because you can imagine what they are dealing with,” Raymond said. “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Not having closure for Dexter has taken a toll on his family, especially his mother, Ileana Dexter, who died in 2007 at 80.

The last thing Dexter told his mother before getting on the airplane to Vietnam was, “Mom, if I don’t make it back, make sure you get me home.”

“She was never able to fulfill that,” Raymond said. “I actually think it killed her.”

Through the years, Raymond has seen how hard it has been for her family. Her oldest daughter, Tammy, was born two years before Dexter went missing and is helping Raymond stay in contact with the government officials who keep searching.

“I just pray there is some type of closure before I die so my children don’t have to live with it,” Raymond said, “and carry on the torch, so to speak.”

In 1976 — three years after POWs were released from Vietnam and Dexter was still not found — the U.S. government declared Dexter was presumed dead.

Dexter’s family held a ceremony that year at Bend’s Deschutes Memorial Garden cemetery. At the ceremony, the family erected a cenotaph for Dexter — a monument that honors people whose remains are elsewhere.

The monument is still displayed at the cemetery.

Raymond hopes one day she can bring her brother’s remains to the cemetery. That would be a day of celebration. She’d invite her brother’s classmates from Bend High. Many said they would show up, Raymond said.

“If we ever find his remains,” she said, “we’ll have a big party.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com