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Army Identifies Officer Missing In Action From Vietnam WarTim King Salem-News.com
Reports during the war indicated that the crew survived and were in captivity.
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - The return of the remains of a U.S. Army aviator missing from the Vietnam War will bring closure to an American family who has waited 38 years for his identification and recovery.
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced today that the remains of Maj. Perry H. Jefferson, U.S. Air Force, of Denver, Colorado, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
He will be buried April 3rd 2008 in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
The return of this American officer comes at a time when relations with the Communist Republic of Vietnam continue to improve, and the level of cooperation in the joint recovery of the remains of missing servicemen seems to be running smoothly.
But this particular story is different. It did not involve the recovery of remains at a crash site as many cases do. Contrary to what the government reported today, this story is haunted with the possibility that both men were actually captured and held prisoner for an indefinite period of time. They were the subject of reported sightings after their aircraft crashed.
The two men were lost on April 3rd 1969. Major Perry Jefferson was an aerial observer on board an O-1G Bird Dog aircraft on a visual reconnaissance mission over a mountainous region in Ninh Thuan Province, Vietnam.
The pilot of the aircraft, then U.S. Army 1st Lt. Arthur G. Ecklund, radioed Phan Rang airbase at 0730 hours giving their location, destination and information concerning a convoy they were going to check out. No further communication was heard, except for a signal "beeper" which helps search crews locate downed airmen.
Extensive search efforts began at 0950 hours that day with all available aircraft, and continued for three days without success. The aircraft crash is believed to have occurred in an area occupied by enemy forces, thus preventing a ground search.
Then twelve days later, on April 15th 1969, a Vietnamese source reported that he had been in contact with a communist Montagnard who claimed the Viet Cong had shot down an aircraft with two Americans in it, and the Americans had been wounded, but were alive, and being held in captivity.
The source said the aircraft was shot down between Phan Rang and Cam Ranh City. More reports came in stating that the VC shot down an aircraft with two Americans in it between Phan Rang and Cam Ranh City. The reports also provided information indicating both men had been wounded, but were alive and being held captive by the VC at a secret base near the area of loss.
No Other Pilots Missing
This report was of great interest to both men’s units since no other Americans were lost in that region during this time frame. Based on this timely and detailed intelligence, the commander of the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing requested the US Army and Republic of Korea combat troops stationed in this region to attempt to rescue the American POWs.
Two separate rescue attempts were initiated to recover the two aviators by ground units, one on April 17th and the second on April 18th, but both were unsuccessful, in spite of the overwhelming weight of the evidence that both crewmen of the aircraft "Seahorse 78" were actually captured by VC forces and held at the location.
The U.S. Defense Department list Jefferson's loss coordinates near the coastline of Vietnam, about 20 miles south of Cam Ranh, while Ecklund's loss coordinates are listed about 10 miles southwest of Cam Ranh and about 15 miles northwest of those of Jefferson.
Both men were listed as lost in Ninh Thuan Province, South Vietnam.
In 1984, a former member of the Vietnamese Air Force turned over to a U.S. official human remains that he said represented one of two U.S. pilots whose aircraft was shot down.
The witnesses reportedly told them the aircraft crashed on a mountainside, and that the pilots died and were buried at the site. They said two other men were sent to the site a few days later to bury the pilots. The team excavated the crash site described by the witnesses and found aircraft wreckage, but no human remains were found.
Then in 2000, six years after the remains turned over in 1984 by the former member of the Vietnamese Air Force, they were positively identified as those of Lt. Arthur G. Ecklund.
In 2001, a Vietnamese national living in California turned over to U.S. officials human remains that he said were recovered at a site where the two U.S. pilots crashed. These remains were identified in 2007 as Major Jefferson's. The Department of Defense did not explain how the man came into possession of the remains, or if he actually transported them to California.
The government says that among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA and dental comparisons in identifying Major Jefferson's remains.
But advocates for Vietnam prisoners of war say the presence of the reports of captivity and the emergency radio "beeper" lends weight to the fact that the two men were captured.
The Virtual Wall suggests that there can be no question that the Vietnamese know the fate of the two men. A quick review of history reminds us that the United States left behind many reported prisoners of war.
It is a painful notion to consider that these men may have been captured, held as prisoners, and then later killed in Vietnam. The circumstances with their remains turning up at different times on different continents under what appear to be highly unusual conditions, leaves many questions.
But they apparently don't leave too many questions for the family of Major Jefferson. The Denver News Channel reports that in spite of the fact that Maj. Perry H. Jefferson's family worried he had ended up a prisoner of war, his brother Michael Jefferson in Colorado sees closure in the story. In an interview with the station, he stated that he understood his brother's remains were recovered from the site where Jefferson's plane went down.
"The best part of the whole thing was to know he actually died in the crash," Michael Jefferson told the station.
Jefferson appears to believe that his brother's remains were recovered near the crash site, though the government stated that an excavation of the site turned up "no remains" and that it was the Vietnamese national in California in 2001 who turned over the remains that now, in 2007, are being identified as those of Perry Jefferson.
Special thanks to The Denver Post, Wikipedia, The Virtual Wall and Task Force Omega for information in this article
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