Two airmen missing in action from the Vietnam War have been identified and returned to their families for burial. They are Maj. Richard W. Cooper, Jr., of Salisbury, Md.; and Chief Master Sgt. Charlie S. Poole, of Gibsland, La.
On December 19, 1972, Cooper and Poole were crewmembers aboard a B-52D Stratofortress bomber participating in the Linebacker II bombing of Hanoi, North Vietnam. Cooper was the navigator and Poole was the aerial gunner. At the completion of their bombing run, their bomber was struck by an enemy surface-to-air missile and crashed about six miles southwest of Hanoi. No other aircraft on the mission were able to establish emergency radio contact with the crew, and no parachutes were sighted. There was no search and rescue attempt mounted due to enemy control of the area.
It was subsequently learned that four of the crew had been captured and were being held as prisoners of war. Upon their release in 1973, they reported that Cooper had been unable to eject from the aircraft. Each of the surviving crewmen reported having seen only three other parachutes, thus accounting for all four survivors.
In 1993 and 1994, U.S. investigators of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command found photographs, records and artifacts in a Vietnamese military museum that correlated to the crashed B-52. Later in 1994, another U.S. team interviewed Vietnamese informants, visited a purported crash site, and determined that it was most likely the site of the B-52 loss. In the fall of 1995, a joint U.S.-Vietnamese team excavated the site where they found B-52 wreckage, crew-related items, personal effects and human remains. The crash site was so large that a second excavation was conducted in early 1996 when additional remains and personal effects were discovered.
Anthropological analysis of the remains by the Central Identification Laboratory, as well as mitochondrial DNA matches, confirmed the identification of these two men. Of the more than 88,000 Americans missing in action from all conflicts, more than 1,800 are from the Vietnam War.