By Steve Guntli
After nearly 50 years of uncertainty, a Blaine veteran is finally being put to rest.
Rainer Sylvester Ramos enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating from Blaine High School in 1966. When his helicopter was shot down in Vietnam in 1968, his friends and family waited for confirmation on Ramos’ fate. Thanks to a government program, Ramos’ remains have been found and he is being returned to the U.S. for a proper soldier’s burial.
Tom Modica is a board member of the Whatcom County chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America. In 1991, his organization adopted Ramos into their ranks as their honorary Missing In Action (MIA) member.
“It’s a very informal ceremony,” Modica said. “The Vietnam Veterans of America doesn’t allow MIA soldiers as members, so it’s our way of keeping the missing men in our thoughts and helping out the family however we can.”
Though Modica never knew Ramos personally, he and other members of his organization feel they’ve come to know him over the years. Members of the chapter keep an open seat for Ramos at each board meeting, and have been wearing commemorative bracelets with Ramos’ name and rank since the adoption ceremony.
Born in Germany in 1947 to an American soldier father and a German mother, Ramos grew up on a series of military bases from Wichita, Kansas to Athens, Greece. In 1965, his father transferred to the Blaine Air Force Station, a radar surveillance station that was shut down in 1979. Though he was only in Blaine for one year, Ramos made the most of his time, working odd jobs as a babysitter and gas station attendant and playing his guitar in his free time.
After graduating, Ramos enlisted in the Army, where he became a chief warrant officer and a helicopter pilot. In 1968, while flying a mission over Vietnam’s Quang Tin province near the Laos border, his chopper was shot down. A rescue helicopter was sent to search the wreckage, but heavy enemy machine gun fire made a safe rescue impossible. Ramos and the three soldiers in his helicopter were placed on the MIA list.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is a government initiative that seeks out the remains of missing soldiers so they can be returned to the U.S. for proper burial.
In the fall of 2014, nearly 50 years after Ramos was shot down, his remains and the remains of his crewmates were found. The remains were sent to a lab in Hawaii to be identified before being returned to their families.
Ramos will be buried in the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. on June 17. On May 25, Modica and his fellow veterans will honor Ramos with a special ceremony in Hovander Park in Ferndale, near the Vietnam veterans’ memorial.
Ramos’ mother, Maria, never gave up hope that her son would be found.
“My feeling is he is someplace and somebody is taking good care of him,” she said in a 1991 article in the Bellingham Herald. “That’s always my thought. I can’t accept that he’s gone. I don’t. People keep saying, ‘be happy that he’s in heaven,’ but I don’t think so.”
Maria Ramos died in 2010.
The news of Ramos’ death was bittersweet for Modica, but at long last, there is certainty.
“There’s closure,” he said. “We finally know, and we know that there’s one more of our men back home.”
The Vietnam Veterans of America memorial service will be held Monday, May 25 at 4 p.m. in Hovander Park.