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News & Stories
News | Sept. 7, 2023

Lost in the Sky: A Family’s Commitment to Finding Answers

By SGT Ashleigh Maxwell

It’s Thanksgiving Day in 1967. The Mayercik family has gathered in New Jersey to celebrate together and give thanks for another year. The smell of freshly cooked food and the joyful sound of conversation and laughter fills the house as the family reflects on what they are grateful for. Between the bustling movement in the kitchen and the fellowship happening throughout the halls, there is a stifling knock at the door. Outside, two uniformed men stand, preparing to deliver news that will change the lives of this family forever. 

Maj. Ronald Mayercik was a navigator aboard an RF-4C Phantom II during the Vietnam War in 1967. He vanished, along with the aircraft’s pilot, Col. Brenden Foley, after departing for a weather reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. An aerial search and rescue mission was launched in an attempt to locate the aircraft but no sign of wreckage or the crew was ever found. Mayercik was never heard from again and to this day is listed as unaccounted for by the Department of Defense.

“There's no grave to go visit,” said Traci Wood, niece of Mayercik. “There's no ‘what happened to him?’ or ‘what did he go through?’”

For 56 years, the family of Mayercik has searched for answers. With no information, no clues, and no trace of the aircraft wreckage ever being located, they have desperately clung to the hope that someday, somehow, he will come home.

“They didn't even want to move,” said Wood, about her grandparents. “They always said ‘what if he comes back and we're not here?’ so they hold out hope, still to this day.”

Since the early 2000s, the family of Mayercik has relied on the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to provide answers and solve the mystery of his disappearance. They attend DPAA events regularly, including the annual Vietnam Government Brief, to receive updates and information on the search to bring him home.

“It’s been a long time and [DPAA] is still going up there and excavating,” said Wood. “He deserves to come back here and be buried on U.S. soil with his family.”

William (Buddy) Newell, the research analyst assigned to Mayercik’s case, has been involved with DPAA for years.

“I have a special relationship with this case,” said Newell. “We will keep going [to the site] until we can find him and get an identification.”

The first field investigation team that attempted to locate the crash site started their investigation in 1994 in Laos. It wasn’t until November of 2000 that the investigation was relocated to Vietnam after the team received notification that a local had discovered Mayercik’s identification tag near Hanoi, Vietnam.

“When you find ID tags you know that the body was nearby,” said Newell. “They adjust whenever they go out and they do these excavations wherever they find these specific items.”

Between the years of 2005 and 2013, excavation teams attempted to establish base camps on a mountain just Northwest of Hanoi, Vietnam to begin the search for possible remains, but due to inclement weather conditions in the area, these attempts were unsuccessful. In 2016, DPAA decided to coordinate with the Vietnamese, who were more familiar with the area and acclimated to the weather conditions, to begin a unilateral excavation in attempt to locate Mayercik.  

“That’s when we started finding material evidence that supported this location,” Newell said. “We have a really good relationship with [Vietnam] and everything is just looking better.”

Three generations have passed, all of them dedicated to keeping the memory of Mayercik alive. His bedroom nicknamed “Uncle Ronnie’s room”, by his nieces and nephews, became a place of fun and excitement where they would occasionally sleep, awaiting his return.  

“He was almost like a legend in our family’s eyes,” said Wood. “I would hear stories from my mom and my grandparents.”

His picture, a large painting commissioned shortly after his disappearance, and a replica of the Phantom aircraft he disappeared in, hang in a special place in his childhood home, serving as reminders that although he is gone, his life, his sacrifice, and his memory will never be forgotten.

Mayercik’s family plans to attend the annual Vietnam Government Brief until he is found. DPAA will continue in their search to bring him and hundreds more home. The agency remains committed to providing the fullest possible account of missing and unaccounted-for U.S. service members for their families and for the nation.

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Public Affairs Contact Information

Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency PAO
Washington, D.C.
2300 Defense Pentagon
Attn: Outreach and Communications
Washington, D.C. 20301-2300