ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy secretary has reclassified a Navy pilot shot down over Iraq in the first Gulf War from captured to missing.

Lt. Cmdr. Michael "Scott" Speicher’s F/A-18 Hornet was hit by an Iraqi missile on Jan. 17, 1991, making him the first casualty of Operation Desert Storm.

Speicher was initially listed as killed in action/body not recovered, but his status was later changed to missing and then captured based on sightings of him that have since been discredited, the Defense Department announced Tuesday.

He was also promoted twice, to captain, while listed as missing, according to the Navy.

Former President George W. Bush cited Speicher’s alleged detention as one of the reasons to go to war with Saddam Hussein, and the military conducted a search for him after the 2003 invasion.

The search found the letters "MSS" written in an Iraqi prison, leading to speculation that they could be the initials for "Michael Scott Speicher."

"I’ve seen his handwriting. The ‘M’, the ‘S’, those were Scott’s," one of Speicher’s high school friends, Jim Stafford, told Stars and Stripes in January 2004. "There is no doubt in my mind he was in that cell."

But in 2008, the intelligence community determined that Speicher is dead though his remains have not been found, setting in motion the latest change, the Defense Department news release said.

Navy Secretary Donald Winter said in a statement Tuesday that he decided to reclassify Speicher’s status after a review board recommended continuing to list Speicher as captured.

Winter said he had doubts about the review board’s conclusion that Speicher could have survived his ejection.

"Consequently, I cannot support the recommendation of the Status Review Board," Winter said in the statement.

"However, in the abundance of caution, and in the absence of a board report on which I can rely; I determine that Captain Speicher’s status should be changed to ‘Missing in Action.’ "

The change in Speicher’s status will not end efforts to find Speicher, said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

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