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Chief Petty Officer Mark Kane holds a photo of Petty Officer 3rd Class Manuel Denton, who was killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam in 1963.

Chief Petty Officer Mark Kane holds a photo of Petty Officer 3rd Class Manuel Denton, who was killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam in 1963. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — Chief Petty Officer Mark Kane this week closed a chapter in his life that began more than 20 years ago.

As a young sailor in 1983 at the Hospital Corps “A” School at Great Lakes, Ill., he wanted to remember fellow corpsmen who didn’t come home from the Vietnam War. He got the opportunity when he saw a stand set up with bracelets naming missing servicemembers. Kane, born in Corpus Christi, decided to take a bracelet identifying a fellow Texan and corpsman, Petty Officer 3rd Class Manuel Denton.

Denton was killed in October 1963 when two helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 361 went down about 40 miles west of Da Nang. In all, nine Marines and three sailors died. The remains of all but Denton and Lance Cpl. Luther Ritchey were recovered.

Kane wore Denton’s bracelet for about six months, but he said he doesn’t like wearing any type of jewelry, so it ended up in a knick-knack box filled with military gear.

Nineteen years later, fate would reconnect Kane with Denton.

It happened in April 2002, when Kane was in Vietnam with the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting to find remains of servicemembers. He was helping to “sift sand” at one of six sites members were searching when they came across human remains.

Kane had just helped repatriate the remains of Denton and Ritchey.

He didn’t immediately make the connection with his own past, though, thinking only that the name Denton was familiar to him.

“I came back home to Okinawa in May [2002] and looked through my box,” said Kane, now assigned to Marine Air Control Group 18 on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. “I saw the name Denton on my bracelet and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ It was kind of freaky.”

Even though he thought the remains could be Denton, Kane wasn’t sure until he received word about six months ago that positive DNA matches were made, and it was in fact Denton.

Kane said he feels like it “was meant to be” that he picked Denton’s bracelet out of all those available back in 1983.

Another connection was made recently when Kane saw the names of Denton and two other sailors killed in the crash engraved in a plaque at the clinic on MCAS Futenma, from where members of HMM-361 were sent to Vietnam.

“A friend of mine said it’s like he is trying to talk through me,” said Kane, who was only 6 months old when Denton died.

On Tuesday, Kane honored the fallen sailor as guest speaker at a ceremony for the removal of Denton’s photograph from the Corpsman POW/MIA wall of remembrance at the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.

“It’s an absolute honor” to pay tribute to Denton, Kane said. “I feel lucky.”

Though Denton finally has returned home after 40 years, Kane has one more thing to do to complete his own personal journey. He hopes to give the POW/MIA bracelet he wore for Denton — a memento Kane mounted on a cobblestone he took from the crash site — to Denton’s family.

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