Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen announced today he has approved the recommendation of the Department of Defense Senior Working Group to disinter the remains of the Vietnam Unknown in the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery for mitochondrial DNA and other forensic examination.
Secretary Cohen directed that the disinterment be accomplished as soon as practicable and the forensic examination of the remains begun thereafter.
Cohen said: "In reaching my decision, I weighed two fundamental concerns -- respect for the sanctity of the Tomb of the Unknowns and our national commitment to the fullest possible accounting of Service members missing in defense of our country.
Advances in science give us identification techniques that we did not have in 1984, when remains of an American killed in Vietnam were placed in the Tomb of the Unknowns.
After considering the recommendations of the Senior Working Group and consulting with Members of Congress, I have concluded that we must honor our commitment to attempt to locate and identify the remains of all Americans lost in combat."
The Senior Working Group made its recommendation to the Secretary of Defense after a lengthy process of inquiry, evaluation, and consultation.
Consultations were held with the appropriate congressional committees, veterans organizations, family organizations, and family members of nine unaccounted for individuals lost in the An Loc area of Vietnam during the period May through October, 1972.
Defense Department officials have recently discussed the findings and recommendation with members of all nine families.
Following the disinterment, the remains will be taken under military escort to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C., where forensic examination will begin.
Mitochondrial DNA testing will be conducted at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) at Rockville, Maryland.
There are three possible outcomes to this process of comparison: 1) the testing could conclusively identify the remains as the loved one of one of the nine families; 2) the testing could determine that the remains are not those of any of the nine Service members; or 3) the testing could be inconclusive.
Testing will continue sequentially until all possibilities are exhausted.
There is an established process for analysis, verifications and reviews to maintain scientific rigor and the integrity of the results.
Each case is different and those differences affect the time necessary to complete the process.
It typically requires about 20 working days to determine whether a set of partial remains has yielded usable DNA.
If usable DNA has been obtained, it normally requires about 25 more working days to determine the DNA sequence.
The process includes a review by the family of the results prior to submission to the Armed Forces Identification Review Board for final determination, and families vary in the time they require to complete their review.
The median time for completion of the entire process is 60 to 120 working days.