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Parents of Only Missing Female Soldier Pray For Their Daughter

February 2, 1991

NEWAYGO, Mich. (AP) _ When Leo and Joan Rathbun first learned the only woman soldier missing in action in the Persian Gulf War was from a transportation company, they prayed for their daughter.

But a military officer came to their home on Thursday night to tell them their only child, Army Spec. Melissa Rathbun-Nealy, apparently had been captured with another soldier near the Kuwaiti border.

″At first, we jokingly thought surely out of the hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, that the woman reported as missing wouldn’t be our daughter, Melissa.

″But our worst fears became a reality when we were informed that our daughter was missing in action,″ the Rathbuns said in a prepared statement released Friday.

″We were told that Melissa and the other soldier’s jeep was found abandoned in the desert with their duffel bags and gas masks inside the vehicle,″ the statement read. ″We can only hope and pray that she’s OK.″

Rathbun-Nealy, 20, is believed to be the first servicewoman reported missing in action since World War II, the Pentagon has said. The male soldier who disappeared at the same time was identified as Army Spc. David Lockett, 23.

She is with the 233rd Transportation Co. based at Fort Bliss, Texas. With the Army for 2 1/2 years, she has been in Saudi Arabia since October, her parents said.

The Pentagon said 23 Americans are listed as missing in action as a result of fighting in the Persian Gulf. Authorities said they didn’t know how many had been captured by Iraqi forces.

″It’s been a nightmare,″ Mrs. Rathbun said in an interview with local station WZZM-TV. ″It’s like I’m living in a dream ... that I’m going to wake up and she’s OK.″

Family friend Joseph Schmitt said that Sunday was the last time Rathbun- Nealy talked to her parents, who live in this city about 25 miles northeast of Muskegon.

″She was in good spirits and was very happy to be able to talk to them,″ said Schmitt. ″She sent her love.″

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