WASHINGTON, June 29, 2005 – The families of three U.S. servicemen missing in action from the Vietnam and Korean conflicts will lay their loved ones' remains to rest in early July.
The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office reported finding and identifying the servicemen in separate announcements in recent days.
Two of them, Air Force Lt. Col. Darel D. Leetun of Hettinger, N.D., and Air Force Capt. David J. Phillips Jr. of Miami Beach, Fla., served in Vietnam. The third, Army Cpl. John O. Strom of Fergus Falls, Minn., fought in Korea.
Leetun was lost when his F-105D Thunderchief fighter jet was shot down over North Vietnam on Sept. 17, 1966. At the time, Leetun was leading a mission over Lang Son province. No emergency signals were received from the aircraft, and other pilots on the mission observed no parachute.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command conducted three separate investigations of the crash site between 1991 and 1995, and two more in 1999 and 2004, by a Vietnam team and a JPAC team, respectively. While human remains were recovered during one of the earlier investigations, JPAC scientists and Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory specialists only recently identified them using mitochondria DNA.
Leetun's remains are being returned to his family. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery on July 8 with full military honors.
Philips, another pilot whose aircraft was downed by enemy fire, was attacking enemy targets over Kien Gian province in South Vietnam when his F-5 Freedom Fighter jet was hit. He was unable to eject, and heavy enemy fire at the time prevented a search on the ground.
Four investigations into Phillips' disappearance were conducted by joint U.S.-Vietnamese teams from 1993-2000, and 10 villagers were interviewed over the seven-year period. Two subsequent investigations by JPAC teams in 2003 and 2004 uncovered human remains, various artifacts, and personal effects. Laboratory analysis of the remains by JPAC forensic scientists, including comparisons of mitochondrial DNA, led to the positive identification. His remains have been returned to his family for burial July 3 in Savannah, Ga.
Strom was reported missing in action after his unit, the 1st Battalion, 8th Calvary Regiment, came under attack by Chinese communist forces near Unsan, North Korea, in a battle that lasted several days. In addition to Strom, more than 380 soldiers of 8th Calvary were unaccounted for.
Acting on information from a villager who had reportedly buried the remains of a U.S. serviceman found in another location, a team of U.S. and North Korean specialists excavated both sites in July and August 2002. They discovered human remains as well as some nonbiological material. They also were given an identification tag belonging to Strom that was found by the villager. Laboratory analysis, including comparisons of mitochrondrial DNA, led to the positive identification of Strom.
Strom will be buried in Fergus Falls, Minn., on July 6.
(Note: See my previous post on Cpl. Strom here)
About 8,100 personnel from the conflict in Korea and more than 1,800 from the Vietnam War remain unaccounted for. But that does not mean the U.S. military is not looking. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, located at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, conducts 10 on-the-ground missions in Southeast Asia every year - four in Vietnam, five in Laos and one in Cambodia.
The command's investigations, team members say, are painstaking processes to recover and identify human remains and artifacts of the war, and its Central Identification Laboratory, the largest forensic anthropology lab in the world.
At a June 17 gathering of the families of servicemen still missing in Southeast Asia, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. government is dedicated to the fullest possible accounting of the fallen and missing.
"This is a quest that we must pursue relentlessly, wherever it takes us, for as long as it takes us, until all are accounted for," he said.
Related Sites:DoD POW/Missing Personnel Office Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command
Related Article:General Promises Families DoD Will Continue Searching for MIAs