By John Rutherford, Producer, NBC News, Washington
Some families endure tremendous sacrifices for this country that most Americans are unaware of.
Sharon Rusch was three days shy of her sixth birthday when her father was shot down over Laos in 1972 and disappeared.
"He wasn't suppose to fly that day," Sharon said recently. "Actually, his friend was, but his friend's wife had called and said, 'I had a bad dream. You can't fly today.' So my dad took the mission and of course got shot down."
Air Force Capt. Stephen Rusch, 28, left behind his wife Judy and daughters Sharon and Rebecca.
"We had nothing," Sharon said. "My mom had no money. She would work all day at minimum wage jobs and then put us to sleep and make doll clothes for us for Christmas. It all worked out in the end, but I don't know how she did it."
Sharon joined the Air Force herself in 1992 and rose to the rank of colonel in the Dental Corps. She married a fellow Air Force officer, Kevin Bannister, and had two daughters of her own, Kira and Haley.
But her father's disappearance continued to prey on her, especially when she began receiving phone calls from a man who insisted her father was still alive and living overseas.
"He never asked for money, but that's where I think he was going," Sharon said. "I was very quick to tell him I didn't buy any of it and I thought it was awful of him to call families. He contacted me a couple of times and then sort of disappeared."
She said families of the missing are often targets of such scams.
"It's more common than you would think," she said. "It makes me a little sick to my stomach to know people are out there doing that to families."
About 10 years ago, her father's crash site was located, and a bone fragment was later recovered. A DNA sample was needed from his mother to identify his remains.
"My father had been adopted, and after a lot of work, we contacted the adoption agency, and after I explained the whole situation, the adoption agency grudgingly agreed to help me find the birth mom," Sharon said.
"The agency found her. I wasn't allowed to talk to her, but I was allowed to give her a letter. The birth mom refused to give a swab from the inside of her mouth, which is all it took to be able to identify my dad."
Sharon was never given a reason for the woman's refusal.
"I mean, what would it hurt to help somebody?" she asked. "I just can't imagine not doing that."
Two years later, however, her father's remains were identified through the fillings and leftover enamel in two tiny pieces of teeth recovered from the crash site.
"It's just amazing that they were able to find something so small in an overgrown jungle that was enough to identify him and bring him back to us, bring him back to his family," she said.
Sharon flew out to Hawaii and brought his remains home for burial at Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 30, 2007.
"I didn't think I'd be as emotional as I was," she said. "It was the first time in a long time that I cried. It was like he was finally home, and I finally knew he was being buried in the most honored place you could possibly be buried."
Even today, 36 years after his death and nearly a year after his burial, Sharon still thinks every day about her father.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss him," she said. "My dad's still my hero, and he always will be."
Photos: Air Force Capt. Stephen Rusch (Pentagon photo); Air Force Col. Sharon Bannister and her family receive American flag at burial of her father at Arlington National Cemetery, Nov. 30, 2007 (AP Photo).
Click here to view tributes to the 413 service members killed this year in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the following four casualties from last week:
1. Army Sgt. William Rudd, 27, of Madisonville, Ky.
2. Marine Col. Michael Stahlman, 45, of Chevy Chase, Md.
3. Marine Cpl. Jason Karella, 20, of Anchorage, Alaska.
4. Army Cpl. Ruben Fernandez III, 22, of Abilene, Texas.
Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He also posts stories on the military at www.fieldnotes.msnbc.com (click on "John Rutherford" under "categories") and at http://john-rutherford.newsvine.com. The tribute gallery can be found at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22802019/.