Two Nations Grieve
Task Force on American MIAs
search for the remaining 1460 American MIAs and over 300,000 Vietnamese
MIAs is an emotional wound that has not yet healed. A striking dichotomy
exists between American and Vietnamese efforts and ability to recover
Task Force for Full Accountability on American MIAs (JTF)
Site Excavation of Case #0112 (Roscoe Fobair)
Fobair Family Reaction to JTF work
The Search for Vietnamese MIAs
A Vietnamese mother still searches for her son's remains
Vietnamese and Americans Help Each Other.
Vietnam Challenge, a 1200 mile bicycle journey, brings
In 1992, a Joint Task Force of Americans and Vietnamese was set up to search
for the 1565 Americans in Vietnam who were unaccounted for at the end of
the war. Their mission is "to coordinate and execute all U.S. Department
of Defense efforts in Vietnam to achieve the fullest possible accounting."
As of August, 1999 the JTF has conducted over 2000 investigations; undertaken
more than 300 excavations; and sent 271 remains to Hawaii for DNA identification.
105 identifications have been completed and the families notified.
Task Force Case #0112
a full partner with the United States in the search for U.S. MIAs.
It has provided archival access and turned over 28,000 documents
to helping locate crash and burial sites. Vietnam even secretly
let U.S. searchers into Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum when rumors surfaced
that American prisoners were being held there in underground caves.
And it has allowed U.S. teams into cemeteries under the cover of
darkness to dig up bodies that reports indicated might be those
"The Vietnamese military has let us
do things that the American military would never allow a foreign
country to do. We've gone into their prisons, gone into their defense
headquarters. Can you imagine us letting a bunch of Vietnamese into
the Pentagon to run around under similar circumstances?" Senator
John McCain, (R-Ariz.)
Captain Roscoe Fobair's case number is #0112. Work at his crash site was
one of 30 field excavations conducted in Vietnam in 1998, and the second
of two crash sites visited by Ambassador Peterson in Assignment Hanoi.
Here is some additional background on the case.
July 24th, 1965, the F-4 carrying Captain Ross Fobair and Captain Paul Kiern
was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Captain Kiern successfully ejected
from the burning plane. He was later captured and held as a POW. Fobair
apparently was unable to eject. The plane crashed into the side of a mountain
80 miles west of Hanoi. No search effort was possible due to the crash site's
location in hostile North Vietnam.
From the minute any pilot
is downed, the Air Force starts a file that contains all information collected
on the missing individual. In the case of Fobair, there was a great deal
of reliable information. The plane was the first to be shot down by a Soviet
supplied surface-to-air missile. Both Radio Hanoi and Van Nghe, a
Vietnamese newspaper, reported the incident identifying Fobair by name.
After his release in 1973, Capt. Kiern reported that a Vietnamese had told
him that a body had been recovered from the aircraft.
With over 1400 MIA cases
to resolve, the JTF must weigh the feasibility of being able to locate a
body. The accessibility to the site, the validity of the evidence and supporting
research obtained are all evaluated. In case #0112, it was decided that
chances of recovery of Captain Fobair's body were good and further investigation
In 1993, members
of JTF visited Vo Mieu village and interviewed three eyewitnesses to the
crash. Two witnesses said they found a badly burned body lying near the
wreckage and buried it. But after nearly 30 years they were only able
to narrow the location of the grave to an area of several hundred meters
on the side of a hill. The team surveyed the area, but saw no evidence
of a crash site or a grave. After a subsequent interview of the same witnesses,
four years later, JTF investigators recommended that both the probable
crash and burial sites be excavated.
The crash site was first excavated in November, 1997. A crew of 20 military
personnel and 90 Vietnamese laborers spent three weeks clearing 381 square
meters of the mountainside. Standard archeological methods were used:
a grid was established; earth was removed in layers and put through a
sieve. A forensic anthropologist reviewed all materials believed to be
remains. The team recovered one tooth fragment, two .38-caliber rounds
of ammunition, a U.S. penny, a piece of helmet shell and a F-4 aircraft
data plate (which did not correlate exclusively to Fobair's plane.) No
grave was located. The tooth was sent to Hawaii for DNA analysis. Two
subsequent excavations revealed little more. No burial site was ever found.
The project area was closed on September 19, 1998. No further excavation
Captain Roscoe Fobair
was posthumously promoted to Lt. Colonel.
Bruce Giffin, Fobair's nephew, came to Vietnam to visit the site while
the JTF team was searching for his uncle's remains in November, 1997.
It was an emotional time. "Ross" was like a big brother to Giffin
and his uncle's loss had deeply affected him. Giffin and producer Sandy
Northrop met several times during his visit and often discussed the costs
and ramifications of the JTF effort. Giffin later wrote her this letter
to clarify his thoughts.
journey to Vietnam in search of Ross has changed my life. I've given
numerous presentations on Ross, the search for all the MIAs, how that's
impacted what our two countries are doing and how our family is coming
to terms with Ross' loss. I've often asked myself, 'Why Ross? Why was
he the first pilot to be shot down by a SAM (surface-to-air missile)?
And why on his last scheduled mission? I've thought about... the question
you posed...Is this exercise worth the 5 million dollars per tooth found?
Could our money be spent in better ways?.. I've (tried) to figure out
for myself how to justify the expense and commitment of resources...
Vietnam, I asked a lot of the troops why they felt the recovery of MIAs
was an important issue. The reply I most often got was that 'As a soldier,
I want to know that if I too were to pay the ultimate price for my country,
that my country would make every effort to bring me home...'
But, here's what I believe to be the most important reason of all...and
that's what I've taken to be the meaning of Ross's death... Ross was
a part of the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign, a half thought-out strategy
formulated by politicians and their advisors....Get engaged in a civil,
nationalistic war for causes that are not clear to us. Muddy the waters
with the specter of communism. Send over our young and best and brightest.
Commit them to killing, fighting and dying. But only let them fight
with one hand with the other tied behind their back. (Don't allow them
to attack SAM sites.) Use strategic bombing to minimize your casualties.
Sit back and wait for the enemy to come crawling to the peace table,
begging for relief. Of course, it was a complete failure. Strategic
bombing has never won wars... it usually pulls the people together to
defend their homeland. In an agrarian country like Vietnam, bombing
buildings didn't mean much. And that's the lesson: Understand the true
dynamics of the conflict before you commit your young people to go fight,
kill, and die.
me, that's the meaning of each of the teeth we find today. And if our
search costs the equivalent of five million dollars per tooth, that's
money well spent. It reminds us, time and again, that these teeth represent
the human cost of implementing a flawed foreign policy. And that as
a country, we cannot afford to make that mistake again."
and Americans Help Each Other.
American veterans have begun returning to Vietnam. Many come to revisit
a moment in their lives they have not been able to understand. Some,
however, are returning with the intent of helping Vietnamese (like
Mrs. Hy) try to locate their loved ones. Since
1994 the Vietnam Veterans of America organization has supplied information
on the fates of about 8,000 Vietnamese MIAs. In 1998, the organization
provided key maps of mass graves that U.S. troops dug with bulldozers;
a video tape of the battle of Kham Duv near DaNang; and identification
papers and photographs that GIs had taken from corpses as mementos.
So far Americans have helped recover over 850 Vietnamese MIA remains.
Vietnamese searching for their MIAs have in turn been able to provide
new clues to the identities of American soldiers by handing over dog
tags and other identifying information they have found.
January, 1998, World TEAM (The Exceptional Athlete Matters) Sports,
a non-profit organization in Charlotte, North Carolina, brought
American and Vietnamese veterans, many disabled, together on a 16-day,
1,200-mile bicycle trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. Three blind
veterans rode tandem bikes with American partners, and seven partially
paralyzed vets used specially designed three-wheeled hand cycles.
The event was a defining moment for many American veterans who were
returning to Vietnam for the first time. To learn more about the
event and the reactions of the veterans visit the World TEAM web
Challenge at AskAsia.com
search for Vietnamese MIAs
Vietnam's losses were catastrophic and in effect wiped out an entire generation.
As many as 3.8 million Vietnamese, North and South, soldiers and civilians,
were killed. Another 300,000 are listed as MIA. The North Vietnamese Army
did not have sophisticated medical and dental records, or even metal dog
tags for its soldiers. It is unlikely many Vietnamese MIAs will ever be
found or identified. But the Vietnamese have not given up.
Every Sunday night,
Vietnam National Television broadcasts a program in which people ask for
help in finding their still-missing loved ones from the war. It is one
of the nation's most watched TV shows. The Vietnamese "People's Army
Newspaper" has featured a column called "Comrades Whereabouts"
containing information related to Vietnamese MIAs. Families are invited
to send in information. Thanks to these programs and columns, people have
been able to network with others who have information pertaining to MIAs.
Vietnamese mother still searches for her son's remains
Pham Kim Hy, featured in Assignment Hanoi, is one of many Vietnamese
mothers who lost a son. Dung his name means "brave" was only
20 years old when his letters stopped. Mrs. Hy had a box with his mementos,
but mementos were not enough.
When the war ended
in 1975 Mrs. Hy set out to find her son's remains. Finding Dung's remains even
finding out where and how he had died would, she knew, be a formidable
undertaking. The Vietnamese Army had no computerized records, so she sought
out veterans. From her inquiries, Hy pieced together information on Dung's
unit, the Baza Brigade, and learned it had led an attack on the Dak To
A year later, Mrs.
Hy and her husband, Trinh, set out for Dak To, 1,000 miles to the south,
armed with maps. It was the first of four trips to the southern battlefields
she would make. The four trips spanned 21 years and often depleted the
family's $100 monthly pensions. The couple scoured battlefields, climbed
mountains, struggled through jungle so thick it required a machete to
hack a pathway. Hy approached each unmarked grave with the hope that it
would contain the remains of her only son.
|In the Buddhist
religion, a soul cannot find peace until it has been properly buried.
For the Vietnamese, their unaccounted-for soldiers are destined to
wander aimlessly, forever lost. "Pity
the souls of those lost thousands," Vietnamese poet
Nguyen Du wrote, "They are the ones
for whom no incense burns."
each grave site Mrs. Hy took a vial of earth. Eventually she realized the
futility of continuing her effort. She chose a grave site at a military
cemetery outside Hanoi and poured the vials of dirt she had collected into
an empty concrete slab, creating a permanent place of homage to her son.
Mrs. Hy visits Dung's grave each week bringing offerings of incense, fruit
and flowers. Recently, Mrs. Hy, now 68, was told by workers clearing the
area near Dak To, that a new grave had been uncovered. She plans to set
off on her fifth trip in Fall of '99.
time before I dig, I would burn incense in the Vietnamese tradition
to ask that I might find my son's remains. I said, 'Son, help us to
find your remains.' In some holes, we found a grenade, a soldier's canteen,
a piece of rotten hammock, or a rotten plastic bag which was used to
rap the soldier's body. We searched in 14 different localities, and
dug up 45 graves, but this was all we found (indicates nothing)."