Joseph Patrick Dunn – Commander, United States Navy

Courtesy of the Patriot Ledger

New book describes life story of pilot's wife:
She has spent 37 years fighting for GIs missing in Vietnam


Maureen Dunn looks at photos of her husband in hallway gallery of her home.
Her husband, Navy Commander Joseph Dunn, was shot down over South China Sea in 1968.

RANDOLPH, MASSACHUSETTS – If her life went according to her original plan, Maureen Dunn would have had 10 kids.

“I just wanted to be a cookie baker,” she said.

Then came February 14, 1968, when her husband Joseph Dunn's unarmed A-1 Skyraider plane was attacked by two Chinese MiG fighter planes over Hainan Island in the South China Sea.

Joseph Dunn was able to bail out of the plane, get into a life raft and activate an electronic locator beacon. He was 5 to 7 miles offshore.

Despite nearly four decades of persistent effort, Maureen Dunn hasn't been able to learn what happened next.

Joseph Dunn wasn't among the American prisoners of war who came home in 1973. The Navy changed his status to presumed dead in 1982, and a funeral with full military honors was held for Navy Commander Joseph Dunn at Arlington National Cemetery.

While Maureen Dunn's efforts have not produced all the answers she's been seeking, they have paid off for others. They've helped lead to the efforts to recover remains of other Vietnam veterans as well as those who have fought in other wars. They've also led to changes in the preparations made by military men and women who are about to go off to war, and how their families are treated if they don't return.

‘‘Maybe I will never have Joe's remains back, and maybe someday I will,” Dunn said. ‘‘If I don't, that will be the legacy my husband left for the young men and young women who are now in the service. Everything is in position for these other families.”

Dunn is working on a book that will tell the story of her life, her husband's disappearance, her search for answers and the movement she helped form. She's working with Melissa Robinson, an Associated Press reporter based in Washington.

The two met at a Capitol Hill hearing in 2002, and Dunn began to tell her story to Robinson.

“I met Maureen by chance,” Robinson said. “I wanted to do a book, and it was a book that found me.”

Dunn has had book offers before, but wasn't ready to see her private life and that of her family in print until now.

“This is a part of history. Much of the POW-MIA movement started here,” she said.

The book, titled “The Search for Canasta 404,” is scheduled to be published by University Press next year.

At first, Dunn did what was expected of a Navy wife, and remained quiet. But after months of finding out what she had originally been told was wrong, she went public with her search for answers. It began with a bumper sticker “Where Is Lieutenant Joe Dunn U.S.N.R.?”

She remembers the advice she got from legendary New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin.

“He said, ‘Take off the white gloves and start swinging,' and I took the white gloves off,” Dunn said. “I guess I got sick of people patting me on the hat. I think that hat got crushed. I questioned their answers.”

Joseph Dunn was one of the first names engraved on the metal POW-MIA bracelets, which were started in 1971 by a group in California. Maureen Dunn still wears one, along with a yellow “Livestrong” bracelet to show her status as a cancer survivor.

She was involved in the formation of the National League of Families, which sought a full accounting for all the military personnel listed as prisoner of war or missing in action in the Vietnam War.

“What about the people who aren't fighting, the people who don't have the strength to do what I did. These people are just going to be overlooked,” she said.

Since the end of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam in 1973, the remains of 749 U.S. military personnel have been recovered in Southeast Asia, including 20 from Massachusetts. There are still 1,814 unaccounted for, and search efforts are continuing.

After years of effort, Dunn's son Joseph D. and nephew Daniel Gallagher traveled to China in 1991 and met with the pilots who shot down Dunn's plane. They brought back eating utensils and a bucket that may have been made from the wreckage of Dunn's plane, but not much in the way of information on the pilot's fate.

Maureen Dunn is also heading up an effort to build a national POW-MIA Memorial on the Congress Street side of City Hall Plaza in Boston. The 16-foot, black granite monument would be topped by an 18-inch eternal flame.

Dunn said she still finds it a bit strange to be involved in a book on her life. Looking back, she said she resents the fact that the actions of her government turned her into an outspoken advocate.

“They made me do this,” she said. “They made me become a person I'm not fond of sometimes. But I had to do this to get this done.”


  • Date of Birth: 9/17/1942
  • Date of Casualty: 2/14/1968
  • Home of Record: HULL,. MASSACHUSETTS
  • Branch of Service: NAVY
  • Rank: CDR
  • Casualty Country: COM. CHINA
  • Casualty Province:
  • Status: MIA

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