Remains of three soldiers who had been aboard a UH-1H “Huey” Iroquois that crashed June 30, 1970, in Vietnam, were laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, July 2, 2013.
During a funeral at the cemetery, a single casket was interred. That casket contained remains of 1st Lt. Richard Dyer, Sgt. 1st Class Juan Colon-Diaz, and Spc. 5 John L. Burgess.
The crash happened as a result of enemy fire in Binh Phuoc Province in Southern Vietnam. Of the five soldiers aboard the craft, only one survived.
Burgess, the 21-year-old crew chief, was among those killed. His remains were not found until recently. The remains of 36-year-old Colon-Diaz, a passenger aboard the aircraft, and those of 27-year-old Dyer, were partially recovered after the crash. 1st Lt. Leslie F. Douglas’s remains were completely recovered after the crash. He had been 25 years old.
The fifth soldier aboard the aircraft, then 19-year-old Pfc. John Goosman, survived the crash.
Goosman recently traveled from Southern California to attend the memorial service and funeral for his fellow Soldiers.
“It’s a somber, bitter-sweet closure for the families,” Goosman said. “Four families were involved in this service. It’s these families that are the heroes.”
He said he was grateful for the opportunity to bring his own family to the memorial service and funeral.
“I wasn’t emotionally there for my daughter. I was physically present, but more emotionally detached,” Goosman said. “This service is also for my family. It is so that they will understand where I’ve been coming from.”
Bringing them home
It took 43 years to bury the remains of the soldiers killed in the crash. The Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command, or JPAC, was instrumental in that process.
JPAC recovery leader, Dr. Laural Freas, and her team of specialists, first arrived at the crash site, March 9, 2012.
By observing how the wreckage of the aircraft was distributed, she was able to get a sense of where the mass of the wreckage was located, which is also most often where casualties from a crash are found. Freas and her team laid down an archeological grid at the site.
Next, she located a tree which a previous JPAC team had used, along with a measuring tape and compass, to mark the spot where they had found a United States Marine Corps insignia ring with the name “Dyer” engraved on it.
After locating the exact spot the ring was found, Freas’s team began digging. About two hours into the dig, a few of the team members began showing Freas fragments of materials they had collected.
Freas thought the first fragment could be bone, but when she saw the second fragment, she immediately recognized it as bone. She gathered her team to show them what the fragments looked like and what they should keep looking out for. As it turned out, many of the other team members had found similar-looking materials.
“It was amazing. We knew we were right where we wanted to be. It was terrific. Everyone was really, really excited that we were finding remains and it’s such an amazing feeling of success,” Freas said.
At the site, Freas and her team located other remains, including teeth and bone fragments.
“As a forensic anthropologist, I can look at bones, even fragmentary bones, and reconstruct a person’s sex, age at death, ancestry or race and stature,” she said. “And what that does is narrows down our huge pool of missing individuals.”
There are still 84,000 soldiers who
are unaccounted for from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War, Freas said.
“We are still looking and we’re not going to give up. We are going to keep looking as long as it takes, as long as we need, to find all of them,” Freas said. “We’re not giving up. I hope that [families] would have hope that we will be able to find their loved one and return them to them.”