WINCHESTER — Ronald Lee Holtzman and Dallas Alan Driver never came home from Vietnam. The remains of Frederick County’s only two soldiers still listed as missing in action (MIA) from Vietnam are lost somewhere in the dense jungle canopy.
They haven’t been forgotten, though. On Saturday at 11 a.m., a ceremony will be held at the Conrad Hoover American Legion Post 21 at 1730 Berryville Pike near Winchester, where a new memorial with an array of eight flagpoles will be dedicated to the missing men.
Holtzman, who lived near White Post, was a 21-year-old sergeant in the Army on Aug. 24, 1967, when the helicopter on which he served as a gunner crashed into a river in the Kontum Province in South Vietnam. He was last seen being swept downstream, weighed down by a heavy flak jacket and yelling that he could not swim. The Army declared him dead that same day.
Driver, a Stephens City resident, was a 21-year-old infantryman in the Army when he died in a helicopter crash on Oct. 9, 1969, in South Vietnam’s Long Khanh Province. Driver’s body was never recovered, and the Army pronounced him dead on Oct. 10, 1970.
Neither helicopter was involved in combat at the time of the fatal accidents. Army officials believe Holtzman’s chopper was caught in a severe downdraft that knocked it into a deep, swift-moving portion of the Dak Bla River. The cause of Driver’s helicopter crash is unknown.
American Legion Post 21 Vice Commander Nelson Ritter knew both of the missing men. Holtzman was his cousin, and Driver was his classmate at James Wood High School.
“I wanted to get the Post to do something for the two MIAs from this area, and this being the 100th anniversary of American Legion, we also wanted to have a centennial event,” Ritter said. “We came up with the flag display.”
The illuminated memorial includes plaques for Holtzman and Driver embedded in a stone wall built with materials donated by Frederick Block. The eight silver flagpoles will fly flags for the United States, commonwealth of Virginia and American Legion, as well as the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
Holtzman and Driver are also included on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Holtzman’s position on the wall is Panel 25E, Line 38, and Driver’s name is engraved on Panel W7, Line 122.
Even though both men have been declared dead, they will continue to be considered MIA until their remains are found, identified and returned to the United States.
“They’re still over there digging up remains, so you never know,” said American Legion Post 21 Commander Lauretta Lockhart.
Ritter said Saturday’s ceremony marks just the third time that Post 21 has dedicated something to the memory of fallen veterans. The first was in 1919, when the post was created and named after World War I soldier Robert Young Conrad of Winchester, who was posthumously presented with the Distinguished Service Cross after dying from combat wounds on Oct. 9, 1918. The second was in 1947, when the post updated its name to Conrad Hoover American Legion in memory of World War II casualty Charles Loring Hoover of Winchester, who died on Nov. 29, 1942.
Anyone interested in joining Post 21 or its auxiliary units is encouraged to speak to Ritter or Lockhart at Saturday morning’s ceremony. Membership rules were expanded earlier this year so that anyone who served in the military on or after Dec. 7, 1941 — not just combat veterans — can join the American Legion. Additionally, auxiliary unit memberships are now open to men and women whose spouse or parents were in the military.
More information about Conrad Hoover American Legion Post 21 is available at alpost21va.org.