Vietnam to open three sites to US remains recovery
Vietnamese Defense Minister Gen. Phung Quang Thanh salutes as he and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta review Vietnamese troops before a meeting at the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense on June 4, 21012.
HANOI, Vietnam – The Vietnamese government will open three previously restricted sites to allow U.S. teams to recover the remains of two airmen, a soldier and a Marine who have been missing since the Vietnam War, the top American and Vietnamese defense officials announced Monday.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Vietnamese Defense Minister Gen. Phung Quang Thanh met at the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense on Monday morning to discuss strengthening ties between the two countries.
In a joint press conference after the meeting, Thanh said through an interpreter that both men see the potential for mutually beneficial cooperation.
The U.S. and Vietnam in 2010 signed a memorandum of understanding that outlines five key areas for cooperation: high-level dialogues, maritime security, search-and-rescue operations, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The two countries also work together to locate and identify the remains of servicemembers missing from the war. The remains of 1,284 Americans are still unaccounted for in Vietnam.
Ron Ward, a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command casualty resolution specialist, said teams are working to identify and return as many Americans as possible and as soon as possible, while immediate family members are still alive.
Vietnam’s acidic soil breaks down human remains more quickly than soil in other parts of the world, Ward said, sometimes leaving only teeth.
Accounting for missing servicemembers from the Vietnam War sends an important message to today’s servicemembers, Panetta said: The U.S. will not stop working to fulfill the promise of never leaving a man behind.
The three sites that will be opened to U.S. teams have been identified as the probable locations of four servicemembers. One, in Quang Binh province, is believed to be the site where an Air Force plane was shot down in 1967, Ward said.
The second, in Kon Tum province near the border with Laos, was the site of a 1968 battle in which an Army private first class was lost, Ward said. The third is just north of the DMZ, where a Marine Corps plane was shot down during a surface-to-air mission, Ward said. One of the Marines in the plane ejected and was rescued, but the other remains missing.
Panetta arrived in Vietnam on Sunday and traveled to Cam Ranh Bay, becoming the first U.S. secretary of defense to visit the area since the war. While there, he visited the USNS Richard E. Byrd and spoke to Americans aboard the supply ship, which is being repaired by Vietnamese workers.