POW/MIA Effort Continues Three Decades After Vietnam War
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 29, 2005 The United States and Vietnam are helping heal wounds left by the war that ended 30 years ago by working together to determine the fate of missing servicemembers in Vietnam, including 1,800 from the United States.
"As we mark the 30th anniversary of the end of the war, we must not forget those on both sides who made the ultimate sacrifice during the terrible conflict," said U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Marine.
"The best way to do this is to remain steadfast in our efforts to achieve the fullest possible accounting of our missing personnel from the Indochina conflict," Marine told participants at the March 17 Texas Tech 5th Triennial Vietnam Symposium in Lubbock, Texas.
Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, called POW/MIA recovery operations "our most robust PACOM program in Vietnam," during March 8 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Marine said he regularly urges the Vietnamese government to maintain its cooperation and to take concrete steps to allow full access to all archival records, renewed joint activities in the Central Highlands, and a concerted effort to conduct underwater activities.
"Right now, there are teams spread out across Vietnam conducting investigations and recovery activities," he said. He referred to five recovery teams, two research and investigative teams and an investigation team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command that deployed to Vietnam in early March.
The Defense Department announced two recent successes in this effort earlier this month, resulting in the remains of six servicemembers being identified and returned to their families for burial.
On April 25, Defense Department officials announced that the remains of Marine 2nd Lt. Heinz Ahlmeyer Jr., Marine Sgt. James N. Tycz, Marine Lance Cpl. Samuel A. Sharp Jr., and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Malcolm T. Miller were identified.
The four men were part of a reconnaissance patrol operating in Quang Tri province, South Vietnam, when they came under attack and were killed May 10, 1967. Their surviving patrol members were rescued later that morning, but the four men's bodies could not be recovered, officials said.
In the fall of 1991, several Vietnamese citizens visited the U.S. POW/MIA Office in Hanoi, claiming to have access to the remains of U.S. servicemen. One of the Vietnamese men provided bone and teeth fragments.
Between 1993 and 2004, eight joint U.S.-Vietnamese teams led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command interviewed and surveyed the skirmish area and two other joint teams conducted excavations and recovered remains. After extensive analysis, scientists from JPAC positively identified the four missing men.
Sharp was buried April 23 in San Jose, Calif. Ahlmeyer, Tycz and Miller will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery May 10, 38 years after they were killed.
On April 12, the department announced that two Army officers missing from the Vietnam War since 1971, Col. Sheldon Burnett and Warrant Officer 3 Randolph Ard, were positively identified and their remains were returned to their families for burial.
The two officers died when their OH-58A helicopter was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire and crashed in Savannakhet province, Laos. After 11 days of heavy resistance, South Vietnamese ground troops reached the crash site but found no trace of the missing men or any graves.
Between 1989 and 1996, joint U.S.-Lao teams led by JPAC conducted five separate field investigations, without success. Then in 2002, U.S. specialists interviewed four former North Vietnamese soldiers, three who had seen the bodies of the unaccounted-for soldiers. The fourth Vietnamese soldier had drawn a sketch of the area shortly after the incident.
In 2003, the four Vietnamese witnesses and local Lao villagers guided the team to the crash site, where they found aircraft wreckage but no human remains. In August and September 2004, JPAC and Lao specialists excavated the crash site and two nearby graves, where they found human remains, U.S. military clothing and Ard's identification tag.
After extensive analysis of the remains recovered at the site, JPAC scientists positively identified Ard and Burnett.
JPAC officials acknowledge that achieving these successes can be "agonizingly slow" and is frequently difficult and downright dangerous.
At an April 7 ceremony at the JPAC headquarters at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, Maj. Gen. W. Montague Winfield, commander, and his staff paid tribute to 16 men who died during a POW/MIA recovery mission in Vietnam four years earlier. Seven JPAC members and nine Vietnamese government counterparts were killed when their MI-17 helicopter crashed in the mountains of Vietnam on April 7, 2001.
Marine expressed appreciation for support both countries are providing to bring closure to missing servicemembers' families. "I want to thank the dedicated men and women - both American and Vietnamese - who work so hard to find answers for the loved ones of these soldiers," he said.