Name: Melissa Rathbun-Nealy
Rank/Branch: Spec./US Army
Unit: 233rd Transportation Co.
Home City of Record: Newaygo, MI
Date of Loss: 30 January 1991
Country of Loss: Iraq
Status: Prisoner of War
Status in 2002: Released 03/04/91
Other Personnel in Incident: David Lockett (released)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 09 March 1991 from one or more of
the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence
with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the POW NETWORK 2010.
REMARKS: OPERATION DESERT SHIELD
SYNOPSIS: Melissa Rathbun grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and graduated
from Creston High School in 1988. Following graduation, she joined the Army
- for adventure and to earn money for college - according to family friends.
While in the Army, Melissa was married briefly and divorced.
When U.S. troops were sent to Saudi Arabia, Spec. Rathbun-Nealy, assigned to
the 233rd Transportation Company, shipped out with the rest of her company.
She was one of about 30,000 women among the 400,000 American troops
stationed in the Persian Gulf.
On 30 January 1991, Rathbun-Nealy and Spec. David Lockett, both from the
233rd Transportation Company, became missing near the border of Kuwait and
Saudi Arabia. Rathbun-Nealy was the driver and Lockett a passenger in one of
two heavy equipment transfer vehicles (tank carrier or HET) delivering
equipment to troops on that day. Rathbun-Nealy and Lockett were transporting
a repaired truck. The two vehicles took a wrong turn and ended up in the
middle of fighting as Iraqi tanks, armored patrol vehicles and troops moved
into the city of Khafji, Saudi Arabia. The vehicles came under fire and one
of them managed to speed out, but when the occupants of the first vehicle
looked back, they saw that the second, driven by Rathbun-Nealy, had gotten
stuck in the sand in attempting to turn around. Marines from the 1st Marine
Division deployed just two miles south of the city organized a rescue party
after the truck that escaped requested help.
As the Marine vehicles crept into the outskirts of the city, two Cobra
helicopters flew shotgun overhead. When they arrived at the spot where the
vehicle crashed, they found the truck abandoned with the passengers' duffel
bags and gas masks inside the vehicle. The material they had been
transporting was gone. The doors of the vehicle were open and the weapons
gone. The wheels were still spinning. No sign of the occupants was found;
there were no bloodstains seen. The vehicle was observed for the next three
days, wheels still spinning.
First Pentagon reports indicated that the crashed truck was occupied by
Rathbun-Nealy and Lockett. Later, Pentagon sources revealed that the two
missing from the crashed jeep had been rescued, but declined to name them.
Rathbun-Nealy and Lockett, the Pentagon said, were lost some distance away
from this loss location.
In early February, a captured Iraqi reported that he had been part of a
prisoner escort unit that took Lockett and Rathbun-Nealy to Basra, a
military command center and key port city just north of Kuwait. The site,
according to the source, was a primary target for allied bombers. The source
indicated that Rathbun-Nealy had an arm injury, but the cause of the injury
is not known. The Pentagon, however, initially listed the pair as missing
from their post. Nearly two weeks following the incident, the Pentagon
changed the category to Missing in Action. Despite numerous reports that the
two had been captured, the Pentagon has not yet changed their status to
Prisoner of War. Some observers feel this is an apparent effort by the
Pentagon to downplay the existence of American prisoners of war.
By February 12, U.S. military officials were admitting to receiving
"conflicting information" on the missing pair. One official said "We are
reasonably confident that they are prisoners of war. Where they are,
precisely what shape they're in, we don't know."
Critics speculate on the "information gap" relating to this case. The loss
of a servicewoman in a combat zone would be unusual, if not embarrassing, to
the U.S. The two escaped soldiers would be attractive media targets had they
been associated with the loss incident of the first known black man and the
only female in the U.S. military to be missing since World War II.
Radio Baghdad later reported that Iraqi troops had captured many American
soldiers, both men and women. The broadcast said female POWs would be given
special treatment under Islamic law. This does little to assuage the fears
of Rathbun-Nealy's parents and other observers.
In late January, video interviews of Allied POWs were broadcast on Iraqi
television, and later broadcast in the United States. Several Allied POWs
made appearances and gave "peace" statements. All appeared to be speaking
under extreme duress and appeared to have been beaten. On January 20, the
Iraqis stated that POWs would be used as "human shields" to protect their
important military sites from attack by Allied forces.
On March 3, 1991, both David Lockett and Melissa Rathbun-Nealy were released
in a group of six American POWs. They reported that, although they had been
held in solitary confinement much of the period, they had been well-treated.
Lockett and Nealy added details to their capture. Upon capture, the Iraqis
intended to leave Lockett, who was injured, behind. Nealy refused to leave
without him, and he was taken prisoner also. The blood in the front of the
truck convinced others in the transportation unit that Lockett had died.
They held little hope for his survival. Meanwhile, the Pentagon was
reporting to the families that there was no sign of violence at the truck.
The two were held at Basra until their release.
Melissa Rathbun-Nealy is twenty years old and is an only child. Her parents,
Leo and Joan Rathbun live at Newaygo, Michigan. Rathbun-Nealy has been in
the Army for two and one-half years and is stationed at Ft. Bliss, Texas.
She was in Saudi Arabia since October, 1990. She was married for about a
year to Army Sgt. Anthony Nealy, who is currently serving in Saudi Arabia.
She is the first woman military member reported Missing in Action since
World War II.
FEMALE POW A SHIELD: REPORT
BY WILLIAM GOLDSCHLAG
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
FEB. 12, 1991
Iraq apparently is using a captured American woman soldier as a human shield
against allied air raids, a Pentagon official said yesterday.
Army Spec. Melissa Rathburn-Nealy, 20, Grand Rapids, Mich., the only female
American POW, was reportedly taken to the southern Iraqi city of Basra, which
has come under constant pounding by allied bombs since the Persian Gulf War
began Jan. 16......
With News Wire Services
FATHER OF MISSING WOMAN SOLDIER APPEALS TO SADDAM
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) The father of the only woman soldier missing
action in the Persian Gulf War hoped to help win her release by asking Saddam
Hussein to acknowledge his daughter as a prisoner of war.
''President Hussein, Melissa is my only child,'' Leo Rathbun of Newaygo
wrote Friday in a letter to the Iraqi president through Abdul Amir Al-Anbari,
the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations......
I AM OUTRAGED BEYOND BELIEF!
Editor's note: U.S. Veteran Dispatch is pleased to feature guest columnists
who contribute their personal views on issues which affect each and every
one of us as U.S. citizens. We invite any reader to share their viewpoints
through our guest column. The U.S. Veteran Dispatch exercises the right to
refuse inappropriate columns or columns containing offensive or libelous
material and to edit according to available space.
By Melissa Anne Coleman
Former POW, Iraq
As one of the prisoners of war in Operation Desert Storm, I was the first
enlisted female prisoner of war in American history. I am still a member of
the United States Armed Forces.
The motivation behind the writing of this letter is my reading of a recent
article in the newspaper. In this article, it was stated that the Iraqi
prisoners of war that the allies captured during Operation Desert Storm are
welcome to relocate here in the United States and belief that each one of
them will receive $7,000 (seven thousand dollars) to assist them in their
Firstly, as a citizen of the United States, but most importantly, as a
member of the Armed Forces and a former prisoner of war in Iraq, I am
outraged beyond belief. It was also printed in the article that the money is
coming out of a special fund for refugees. Why it is that the Iraqis and
other refugees have a special fund here in America, but there is no special
fund for Veterans Administration facilities? There are so many veterans from
this war and others who are desperately trying to make ends meet and heaven
forbid that they might have a family to support, who would give a body part
to receive seven thousand dollars from the United States government.
This brings me to another issue that has been on my mind and probably on the
minds of many other American citizens. How can the United States government
possibly justify sending aid to Kuwait, Somalia or Bosnia when they are not
even taking care of their own people? So many times I have heard a news
report stating that food has been air-lifted and dropped over these poor
countries with all of these starving citizens.
When was the last time any of you took a walk around any of our
cities here in our country? Why don't you come down off your high horses and
step out of your glass houses and take a look at what is really happening in
this country. Little children and entire families are struggling every
minute, eating out of trash cans, sleeping on sidewalks or in parks, and
getting beaten, ridiculed and sometimes killed just trying to stay alive.
For what? To walk past a store window and see little Ethiopian or Cambodian
or whatever country is being exploited that day on television, looking on
pitifully as an American begs us to send money to feed and clothe them. Why
can't the government take some of our money that they spend on the
commercials and the shipping of these supplies and give it to the Americans
that need it?
In conclusion, I have just one question:
Why is it that in this day and age, foreigners have priority over American
citizens in what seems to be every aspect of life? It may seem that I am
asking too much by requesting a response from any of the under named
offices, but actually, considering what the Iraqis are getting, mine is a
very small request. And it would only cost 29 cents.
Pres. Bill Clinton;
Vice-President Al Gore;
Gov. Ann Richards;
Senators: Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Donald W. Reigle, Bob Kruger, Phil Gramm;
Stars and Stripes.
Female POW: I wasn't a hero
by Michelle Koidin
January 16, 2001
The Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO - Her mother walked through her days in a fog, not knowing
if her only child was dead or alive. Her father prayed day and night.
Hundreds of people she had never met wore POW bracelets inscribed with
Locked away in a Baghdad prison for 33 days, Melissa Coleman had no idea
such a fuss was being raised about her. She assumed the video and
snapshots taken by her Iraqi captors let everyone know she was OK......
20 Years after first Gulf war, former POW still surviving
San Antonio, Texas (CNN) -- Melissa Coleman has
amazing stories to tell and some family Even 20 years after the start of that war, Coleman can
captivate an audience. She tells family
members still can't get enough of the harrowing tales of her 33 days as a prisoner of war during the first Gulf war.
friends or her daughters' classmates about American bombs that struck close to where she was
held by her Iraqi captors......
San Antonio, Texas (CNN) -- Melissa Coleman has
amazing stories to tell and some family
Even 20 years after the start of that war, Coleman can
captivate an audience. She tells family