Many people have asked me questions over the decades similar to this one: “How did you and your father and mother live with the pain and heartache of not knowing what happened to Morgan, particularly after you trying so hard to determine his fate? Aren’t you lodged in a hell that has not come to resolution in 48 years?”
Not knowing what happened to a beloved family member certainly is a burden that no heart should have to bear. Ask any psychologist, psychiatrist, minister, priest or rabbi. The pain of not knowing is pervasive and relentless and builds over time to almost unbearable levels. It just constantly gnaws at you. The heart escalates to absolute elation when there is a possibility of hope and it utterly collapses to anguish and desperation when such hope vanishes.
The pain of not knowing my brother’s fate was especially intense because my father and I came to realize that with the U.S. Government having abandoned the POWs he and I were responsible for determining Morgan’s fate.
The purveyors of the lie that there were no live POW-MIAs after Operation Homecoming in Vietnam and Laos had no grasp whatsoever of the amount of pain and suffering they caused the families and concerned citizens.
The United States Government’s commitment to eliminating the Live POW-MIA issue was pervasive and relentlessly. It destroyed my mother and father. It also came close to destroying me. In this Post #8 I will tell you about how my mother and father were hammered by the tragedy and how I survived it to live to this day.
BACKGROUND TO THE FAMILY DONAHUE
My father was born in New York City in 1918. His childhood was impoverished but he made the best of it that he could. At age 14 he lied about his age to get accepted into the New York National Guard. He went on to win a Presidential appointment to West Point through sheer initiative. However, he could not enter his second year because of his terrible grades, which he attributed to sports and social events (euphemist for “women”). He needed two years of college to get into the Army Air Corp flight school – becoming a pilot was his compelling desire in life – so he enrolled in the University of Mississippi. Can you imagine a New York City kid at Ole Miss?
After getting two years of college under the obligatory belt he was accepted to Army Air Corp flight school and became a pilot, then trained as a bomber pilot. His unit was assigned to Tampa, Florida, and my father was part of the first flight group to land at the MacDill AAC base there. The mayor of Tampa hosted a reception in honor of the new pilots. He met my mother-to-be at the Mayor’s reception and they soon eloped to northwest Florida (she became Shirley Morgan Donahue). Subsequently, he was transferred to Long Beach, California, where he spent all of WWII in the AAC Ferrying Command flying aircraft to the fronts in the war. Morgan was born in Cedars of Lebanon hospital in Los Angeles in 1944.
At the end of WWII my father became a Captain for Eastern Airlines based in Miami, FL, where I was born in 1946. Six weeks after I was born my father left Eastern and moved to California to re-join the Army Air Corp, which officially became the United States Air Force in 1947. Behind this move was the Government’s commitment to fund his education, which it did. My father earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Stanford University while also studying at the University of California, Berkeley. During this time he flew as much as he could, principally flying Navy aircraft out of Moffat Field.
For Budd, his AAC and USAF career was the epitome of achievement in life considering his humble childhood and teens; serving his country, receiving an education, flying, meeting beautiful women, career advancement, global travel and more. He mandated that his two sons become USAF pilots as well and drilled it into our hearts and minds from birth onwards. Morgan very much followed our father’s mandate and graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1967 (the 21st “Blackjack” Squadron). His and my careers to come were pre-determined by my father. He knew no other way for Morgan and me.
I started out confirming the mandate as Morgan did. I had one year of high school in Montgomery, AL (Maxwell AFB), where my father had been transferred again. After three years he would be assigned to Wiesbaden Air Force Base in Germany. That one year in Montgomery (Sidney Lanier High School) included Army ROTC, and I absolutely excelled at it, earning the Superior Cadet award above all others in the Corps including the senior officers. Morgan had become 3rd in command over the ROTC, and I stomped him in my first year. I led the annual Army awards parade. My father was the proudest man alive, and he confided in me that if I kept it up I was destined to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
However, moving to Wiesbaden for the balance of my high school education somehow unwound my intention of becoming a military aviator. It was like the divine scheme of things saying to me, “We have other plans for you.” I became disenchanted with a military career and I actually started bagging the entrance exams for USAFA, West Point and Annapolis. I just wanted to get through a university and do something other than be a military pilot. Needless to say, my father was hugely disappointed in light of my vastly auspicious start in ROTC. Our relationship became very estranged and we did not rebuild it until Morgan was lost.
2nd Lieutenant Morgan Donahue’s first assignment post-aircraft training and post-survival training was as a C-I23 “Provider” navigator based at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon. This was a big disappointment because he was hoping to become a back-seater on at F-4. The C-123B aircraft in the Vietnam War typically had two navigators. Morgan’s companion navigator at Tan Son Nhut was 2nd Lt. Scott Albright (John Scott [Scottie] Albright II). Morgan and Scotty were roommates at the Air Force Academy for at least 2 years. They became deep friends and together with other USAFA friends undertook various wild endeavors including stealing the U.S. Navy Academy’s goat in Annapolis, Maryland. They took the stolen goat from to the Air Force Academy in Colorado ahead of the Navy-Air Force game. The goat was paraded at the game much to the humiliation of the Navy. On the way to getting the goat from Annapolis, MD, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, the goat was lodged at Budd and Shirley’s home in Alexandria, VA, for a short while.
Scotty’s father was an Air Force Colonel based at Clark Air Force Base in Luzon, Philippines. Clark was the headquarters for the USAF in Asia. As a senior Air Force personnel officer there he was able to secure transfer for Morgan and Scotty to fly the Ho Chi Minh Trail over Laos based in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. Getting out of their non-combatant flying – Morgan and Scotty referred it hauling pigs, goats and chickens – was exactly what Morgan and Scotty wanted to do, and Col. Albright fulfilled their desire. Morgan and Scottie were assigned to the 606th Special Operations Squadron of the 56th Special Operations Wing.
On December 13, 1968, the blessing of Morgan graduating from USAFA became a curse. Morgan and Scottie were lost, less than 5 full months of flying the Ho Chi Min Trail, and declared MIA on the basis of the pilot who had bailed out from the aircraft seeing at least one other parachute descending in the moonlight. Interestingly, Morgan conveyed to Budd before his disappearance that the C-123’s viability for the mission was increasingly questionable. Thus began the saga of finding out what happened to Lt. Morgan Jefferson Donahue.
Budd and Shirley were completely, utterly distraught, and Budd was in Vientiane within days of the MIA declaration trying to get the facts of what and how the incident happened and whether Morgan had survived as the pilot did. Budd had retired from the Air Force and now was head of Security at the Air Force’s Eastern Missile Test Range headquartered in Cocoa Beach, FL. The Test Range extended across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in support of all military and all non-manned launches. Budd was able to move through all that traffic and get contacts, and the era of relationship-building in Laos and Thailand began.
The Family’s Love
The four Donahues were closely knit, which is typical of military families. However, I believe our closeness was exceptionally high because of my father’s admonition that his sons become military aviators. I cannot imagine the pain he endured knowing that his admonition – which Morgan wholeheartedly embraced – had a role in his fate. Morgan and Budd were deeply bonded whereas I had become the beer-drinking, partying college kid who was on the sidelines to them. They certainly loved me, but I was not at all in their communications loop. However, I deeply loved Morgan and was exceptionally proud of him, so I thoroughly embraced an obligation to find out what happened to him.
My father and I pursued the search for Morgan; as I mentioned in prior posts. When the Paris Peace Accords were signed and subsequently no Laos POWs came home during Operation Homecoming we were stunned beyond belief. We were crushed. In the two years after that Laos fell to the communists and the POW-MIA issue was left unaddressed, the pain for the Donahue family accelerated in light of the fact a senior Pathet Lao official had told Budd and Shirley in person before the end of the War that the Pathet Lao were holding “tens of tens” of US POWs and would return them when the hostilities in Laos ceased and a treaty was signed between Laos and the USA.
From my previous posts you should have an idea of the effort that Budd and I put into finding out what happened to Morgan Donahue. Over the years, we were met with a vast array of disappointments virtually all of which were the result of the United States Government’s efforts to block us and not allow us to succeed in finding Morgan and other POW-MIAs. Given the Government’s pervasive and intensive blocking of my father’s and my efforts on virtually every front, it was as if the U.S. Government had become the enemy and the Laotians and Vietnamese were mere by-standers, waiting for the USA to fulfill its promise. I cannot tell you how much additional pain this caused us because the whole family deeply loved our country; a depth that goes, even still for me today, to the point of chauvinism. Harsher still, my father had built his life and career on the U.S. Government and the military until Morgan was lost.
How does one survive such pain? It destroyed both my parents, much as it has many other POW-MIA families. They could not withstand the Government’s assault against our efforts. It was and is still official USG policy that all the POWs came home in Operation Homecoming and that no live POWs were left behind. Thus, the Donahues must be stopped on all fronts lest they find Morgan or another POWs because that would have proved the USG left him and other POWs behind. My father and I contacted what must have been thousands of private individuals, refugees, government and diplomatic personnel, and others while appearing in hundreds of newspapers and TV shows in Asia, the United States and Europe trying to get to the bottom of the POW-MIA issue and Morgan’s fate. We did so to inform the public about the fraudulence of the USG’s claim that all the POWs came home.
I know that the U.S. Government also told the Laotian Government not to deal with Jeff Donahue and my friend, Bill Shemeley. We encountered this in person.
The USG produced and still produces lipservice on the POW-MIA issue, declaring “The US will never leave another serviceman behind” and honoring the POW-MIAs in various events focusing solely on the return of remains. I have been invited to every USG annual POW-MIA event. Most recently, I sent an email to the senior USAF general in charge of the 2014 event which stated (1) my questions at previous events which were solicited in writing by the staff were never, ever answered, and (2) if the USG ever going to assign some resources to the live POW-MIAs. My letter to him was not the kindest thing I ever composed and he immaturely came back to me reiterating the policy and how it was unacceptable of me to having accused a senior US general as being uninformed about the POW-MIA issue given there are so many troops in the field searching for remains. I couldn’t believe a multi-starred military officer could be so uninformed, I doubted he’d even read one of the great books on the subject, that 2016 efforts were 100% fixated on searching for bodies.
Transcending the Loss
Please note that I did not cite the real names of the doctors quoted below in order to protect them. The events and situations are real.
My total commitment to finding Morgan and incessantly being blocked by the brick wall of reality ultimately caused my life to collapse. In late 1977, while I was living in New York (mentioned in Post #1) and working at Chemical Bank, I was overwhelmed by serious traumatic anxiety. My world just folded up, and I was in dire mental straits, plagued with fear and uncertainty about myself and my job.
I took up jogging in Central Park thinking my lack of exercise was the problem. I also went to multiple doctors who did innumerable tests. All the tests were negative. Finally, I was referred to Dr. Michael Johnson at Columbia University Hospital. He was a cardiologist and after two meetings with him he told me, “Mr. Donahue, you don’t need any more tests. Physically, you are fine. What you need is a psychiatrist. Here is the one I suggest, Dr. David Miller.”
Telling me to see a psychiatrist was the wrong message to tell the son of a military officer. I shared what Dr. Johnson said with my father, who responded, “You’re a tough guy. You’re a Donahue. You sure as hell don’t need a psychiatrist. Donahue’s don’t go see shrinks.” Hence, I ignored Dr. Johnson’s guidance regarding Dr. Miller and ramped up my jogging in Central Park. My traumatic anxiety seemed to retreat.
However, about a month later the traumatic anxiety came back with vengeance, and I was worse off than ever. The fear of landing in the Bellevue Hospital psych ward was overwhelming me. I went back to see Dr. Johnson’s and he asked, “Mr. Donahue, did you go to see Dr. Miller?” I said, “No, sir.” He then said, “Then I cannot help you. You have to see Dr. Miller.”
Dr. Miller’s office was on Park Avenue just before Union Square. I was working downtown and living in 61st Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenue, so he was pretty convenient. I went to see him and found him to be a compassionate and brilliant man but not in alignment with my issue. However, I decided to stick with it. Incidentally, Drs. Miller and Johnson were only about 4 years or so older than I and already were top physicians in their professions.
After the 5th or so session Dr. Miller said to me, “Mr. Donahue, you are suffering traumatic anxiety because you believe what happened to Morgan should have happened to you.”
My response to that was, “Dr. Miller, there is no way that could be the case. Forget it. I don’t believe that; it’s b.s.” He said, “O.K., but let’s move ahead. And so we did, for a year of sessions, sometimes two sessions a week.
A year later, Dr. Miller said to me, “Mr. Donahue, the problem here is that you believe what happened to your brother should have happened to you.” I looked at him intensely, and a powerful sensation came over me from my tips of my toes to the top of my head. I burst out crying. Dr. Miller and I knew this was an instantaneously healing. I then said good bye to him, thanked him profusely for healing me, walked across a church across Park Avenue, cried some more, and went home.
He had closed the loop and it took a year of psychotherapy for me to grasp this.
I then knew I was transcending the brick wall. I knew I was now to cease banging my life against the wall and instead transcend it by going around it, which is what I did and what I do to this day. The USG was no longer my enemy in terms of there being live POWs. It was and is just an entity in my life that has no control or influence over me.
About another month or two after my healing, another dimension to transcending the brick wall occurred. It was late one evening and I was on my bed polishing my shoes as I usually did. I felt the toe-to-head sensation and looked up and there was my brother about eight feet away brightly lit in white heavenly garb and appearance. He did not communicate with me. He just appeared, and his appearance probably lasted no more than a second or so before he disappeared.
This happened again several nights later when I was driving home from the train station in Katonah, NY, to Ridgefield, CT. My brother appeared again, seated next to me, again in brilliant white light and garb! He appeared probably no more than a second or so. I remember both episodes vividly.
I had no idea what was happening to me and I was in Dr. Miller’s office the next day, understandably. After expressing his deep sympathy, he said something very close to this: “Mr. Donahue, what happened to you is called a wraith experience. In your case, this is Morgan’s spirit communicating with you. The message his spirit is communicating is that he is dead and you committing your life to finding him is holding him back from him progressing through the sidereal celestial realm to his ultimate destiny. He wants you to cease devoting your life to him. He also knows that you love him incessantly.”
In many ways, Dr. Miller saved my life and gave me a new life such that I transcended the brick wall and live life free of the deep, psycho-spiritual encumbrance of fixation and devotion to Morgan and the POW-MIA issue. The guilt – the deep traumatic anxiety – was released. Going forward, I could experience my transcendence and live my life as an observer of Morgan and the POW-MIA issue without destroying myself. I no longer would be comprehensively and pervasively imprisoned by both. That made me a better advocate of the issue and my advocacy of the truth being told.
And so it is. My heavens, all I have to say is how little we truly know about the mind and spirit…
I send deep peace and love to all of you,
Note: Morgan was promoted to Major from 1st Lieutenant per standard MIA standard procedures.