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The remains of three U.S. servicemembers missing in action from the Vietnam and Korean wars have been identified and returned to their families, the Defense Department announced this week.

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, and Army Cpl. John O. Strom of Fergus Falls, Minn., fought in Korea.

Strom, who was 17 when he died, was to be buried Wednesday with full military honors after a funeral in Fergus Falls, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He was reported missing in action officially in 1953, after Chinese communist forces near Unsan in North Korea attacked his unit in late 1950, the 1st Battalion, 8th Calvary Regiment. The battle lasted several days.

“I never thought we’d ever hear what really happened to him,” Strom’s sister, Dorothy Friskop, told the Star Tribune. “It’s sad. But it’s better, too, because he’ll be beside our mother and dad in the cemetery.”

The Defense Department’s POW investigation unit, working with North Korean specialists in 2002, inspected a site near Unsan where a villager reportedly had dug up and reburied remains thought to be those of a U.S. soldier, according to the Star Tribune. The villager also turned over Strom’s dog tags, the Defense Department said.

Phillips, 32 when he died, is to be buried Sunday in Savannah, Ga. He was attacking enemy targets over Kien Giang province in South Vietnam on July 3, 1966, when his F-5 Freedom Fighter jet was hit by ground fire and crashed, according to the Defense Department. He was unable to eject, and heavy enemy fire at the time prevented a ground search. Joint U.S.-Vietnamese teams searched for Phillips’ remains over a seven-year period and interviewed 10 villagers.

“It’s mixed emotions. But we finally know exactly what happened,” Phillips’ daughter, Linda Robbins, told the Orlando Sentinel.

Leetun, 33 at the time, was lost when his F-105D Thunderchief fighter jet was shot down over North Vietnam on Sept. 17, 1966, while leading a mission over Lang Son province. No emergency signals were received from the aircraft, and other pilots on the mission observed no parachute, according to the Defense Department. He’s scheduled to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery on July 8 with full military honors.

Forensic scientists identified all three remains through mitochondrial DNA comparison.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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