Laporte's sister never accepted that he might have been killed, her daughters say. She spun elaborate theories--maybe he had made it back to his Vietnamese fiancee, and her family was hiding him. "I'm like my mother," Eavenson says. "I'll always believe he is alive until I have some concrete proof." Thaddeus Laporte, now 85 and retired in Florida, has also had his doubts. "I was notified when he was missing that they went and searched for him, and that was all they told us," he says. "I always had a feeling that he was alive because no one had any positive proof that he died."
But his wife adds that if Laporte were alive, "he somehow, I think, would have tried to get word to us."
Until 1986, when they read the UPI account that Laporte may have been seen alive, the family's hopes were no less tenuous than those of thousands of other MIA families. Then, they began demanding some answers from the government. Pulizzi went to the local paper, the Modesto Bee, which printed a story about her plight. "I would like the government to know there is no peace for the families," she told the Bee. "I can't rest until I know whether he's alive and what happened to him."
She also appealed to her congressman, former Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced), who checked with the DIA. The Navy regarded the UPI account as fabrication, Coelho wrote her. The letter made no note of the report that Finlayson saw or any other possible sightings mentioned by other Americans who were in Vietnam in the years after Laporte disappeared.
No, his family says, Michael Laporte was no traitor. When KCBS-TV news interviewed Willard Swanson about the rumors in 1986, he snapped: "That just boils my blood. He loved his country."
But in some ways, that is not even the issue to them any more. "If I could just see him come through the door, I would forgive him for everything," Margaret Swanson told the television reporter. "Even if he had deserted, I would forgive him for that."