Vietnam on Thursday turned over to an American delegation remains believed to be those of 21 U.S. servicemen missing in action during the Vietnam War.
The transfer of the bodies and some dog tags and identification cards was the third largest since the war ended in 1975.
“The U.S. government and the families (of MIAs) in particular are very pleased with this effort,” said Lt. Col. Paul Mather, who led a 20-member military delegation from all four service branches.
“We hope this is a sign of continuing effort to resolve this humanitarian issue,” said Mather, a member of the Joint Casualty Resolution Center in Hawaii, which spearheads the MIA search.
The repatriation, under humid, hazy skies, brought to 54 the number of remains returned to the United States since July, 1985, when Vietnam announced plans to resolve the fate of as many MIAs as possible by the end of 1987.
Still 1,792 Missing
There are still 1,792 American servicemen listed as missing in action in Vietnam--out of a total of 2,436 in Indochina--but officials from both sides say it will be impossible to resolve many of the cases.
During a solemn 30-minute airport ceremony, the remains, handed over by the Vietnamese in 21 numbered plywood boxes, were placed in U.S. military aluminum cases with American flags folded on top.
The cases were loaded aboard a C-141 Starlifter jet transport as the crew of the aircraft and U.S. delegation members stood at attention and saluted.
The Starlifter then left for Guam, where it will refuel before going on to Hawaii today. The remains will be taken to the Army Central Identification Laboratory.
The recovery was aided by U.S. military documents given to the Vietnamese to help their program to resolve the fate of the MIAs.
“Lab evidence shows that most of them were buried in the countryside during the war and dug back up by the people for handover to the government,” said Dr. Vu Ngoc Thu.
16 Found in North
Sixteen of the 21 remains were recovered in northern Vietnam in recent months; five came from Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, in the south, Thu said.
Senior Foreign Ministry official Nguyen Can also gave the American team six dog tags and a small stack of dirty, yellowed identification cards.
The largest transfer of remains came last August when 26 bodies were returned. Twenty-four were later identified as Americans; the other two were Asians who were returned to Vietnam on Thursday. Twenty-two bodies were returned in September, 1977.
The latest repatriation shows Vietnam’s “good will,” said Can, chief of the ministry’s North American section. “This demonstrates that although we are very busy with our national reconstruction and defense, we are very interested in settlement of the MIA issue.”