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Vietnam War MIAs identified

9/30/2003 - WASHINGTON (AFPN)  -- The remains of four servicemen missing in action from the Vietnam War have been identified and are being returned to their families for burial with full military honors, defense officials announced Sept. 29.

Three are airmen, and one is a Coast Guardsman. They are Staff Sgt. Elmer L. Holden from Oklahoma City; Sgt. James D. Locker from Sidney, Ohio; Capt. Richard C. Yeend Jr. from Mobile, Ala.; and Coast Guard Lt. Jack C. Rittichier from Barberton, Ohio.

On June 9, 1968, Rittichier and Yeend were pilot and co-pilot, respectively, of an HH-3E Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopter that departed Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam, on a search and rescue mission for a downed U.S. pilot. At the rescue site, Rittichier reported his aircraft had been struck by enemy fire. Before he could safely land, his aircraft stalled and exploded. There were no survivors.

From 1989 through 1992, U.S. officials received information about the crash site from various Southeast Asian sources, including refugees seeking resettlement in the United States. The reports suggested that some of the individuals may have seen or had access to materials collected from the crash site. Throughout the 1990s, joint U.S.-Vietnamese teams led by the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting investigated the crash at many locations in Vietnam, all with negative results.

But in May 2002, a joint team operating in Laos received information about the crash of a large helicopter at a site near Ban Kaboui, Laos, about 15 kilometers from the reported wartime-loss location. In late 2002, another team surveyed the suspected site and uncovered wreckage and crew-related items that correlated to a Jolly Green Giant helicopter. Then in January and February, officials with the Armys central identification laboratory in Hawaii conducted an excavation where human remains were recovered and later identified as those of the crew.

Rittichier, on a pilot exchange program with the Air Force, was the only Coast Guardsman missing in action from the Vietnam War. About 1,800 Americans are unaccounted for from Vietnam, with 88,000 missing from all conflicts. Achieving the fullest possible accounting of Americans missing in action is a top national priority, according to defense officials. For more details, visit http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo .