Major George Eyster V comes from a family of military officers dating back to the Revolutionary War. His tour of duty in Iraq, however, left him disillusioned and questioning. Then he accepted a posting to J-PAC, an elite division whose mission is to fulfill the most solemn promise of the military code: bring all fallen soldiers home to the country for which they gave their lives.
In 1944 Captain Ryan McCown, a dashing young Marine aviator assigned to the USS Nassau, was shot down over the jungles of Papua, New Guinea. McCown’s diaries and letters home provide a powerful portrait of the fears and sacrifices of a very different war—and the pathos of the ultimate cost of duty.
Eyster’s mission with J-PAC eventually took him and his team deep into the sweltering interior of New Guinea to at last deliver this fallen veteran to his loved ones—while perhaps also recovering something lost in himself.
Bryan Bender is the national security reporter for The Boston Globe and president of the Military Reporters and Editors Association. He has covered U.S. military operations in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and the Balkans. He also writes about terrorism, the international arms trade, and government secrecy.
George Senseny Eyster, five generations of them, seven generations of soldiers. The youngest generation, the grandson of a Lt. Colonel who was Vietnam casualty, son of yet a another Lt. Colonel, where he fit into such expectations. George V served in Iraq and almost gave up an army career, but was given a chance to serve with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC).
The rest of the book was fascinating, especially since one of my uncles is still missing from WWII, with the rest of the crew of a B-25 off New Guinea, and I’d read about the care given when doing excavations through the decades since the war. Eyster not only led work in Vietnam, he was introduced to the Vietnamese officer who commanded the troops who killed his own grandfather.
The most compelling part of the story was the chapter called “Rediscovery,” walking the reader through the difficulties of taking a crew into the challenges of New Guinea (physically with the jungle, but also with nuancing native sensibilities about the land and getting paid), and the care with which the remains of fallen Americans are shown. Where “every day is Memorial Day.”
This generation of George Eysters found his very satisfying role in leading the return of remains to an American family who had been lost for decades. What a legacy.