Vietnam MIA Navy Crew to be Buried Together

Vietnam War Memorial courtesy of bigreadblog.arts.gov

Vietnam War Memorial courtesy of bigreadblog.arts.gov

On July 19, 1967, the four servicemen took off from the USS Hornet aboard an SH-3A Sea King helicopter, on a search and rescue mission looking for a downed pilot in Ha Nam Province, North Vietnam according to a Department of Defense release.

During the mission, the helicopter was hit anti-aircraft gunfire, causing the aircraft to lose control, catch fire and crash, killing all four servicemen.

The Crew

Navy Lt. Dennis W. Peterson of Huntington Park, Calif., was the pilot of a SH-3A helicopter.  Peterson was accounted for on March 30, 2012.  Also, aboard the aircraft was Ensign Donald P. Frye of Los Angeles, Calif.; Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Technicians William B. Jackson of Stockdale, Texas; and Donald P. McGrane of Waverly, Iowa. 

The crew will be buried, as a group, on May 2, 2013, Thursday, at Arlington National Cemetery.  

Solving the MIA Mystery

Finding and identifying their remains reads somewhat like a mystery according to the DoD news release.

  • In October 1982, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) repatriated five boxes of remains to U.S. officials.  In 2009, the remains within the boxes were identified as Frye, Jackson, and McGrane.
  • In 1993, a joint U.S./S.R.V. team, investigated a loss in Ha Nam Province.  The team interviewed local villagers who identified possible burial sites linked to the loss.  One local claimed to have buried two of the crewmen near the wreckage, but indicated that both graves had subsequently been exhumed.  
  • Between 1994 and 2000, three joint U.S./S.R.V. teams excavated the previous site and recovered human remains and aircraft wreckage that correlated to the crew’s SH-3A helicopter.  In 2000, U.S. personnel excavated the crash site recovering additional remains.  Analysis from the Joint POW/MIA Command Central Identification Laboratory subsequently designated these additional remains as the co-mingled remains of all four crewmen, including Peterson. 

Defense Department scientists used forensics and circumstantial evidence to identify the missing crew’s remains.

American POWs Released from North Vietnam 40 Years Ago

Photo credit: Freedom Star Media

Photo credit: Freedom Star Media

On Feb. 12, 1973, more than 140 American prisoners of war were set free.

One of them was Lee Ellis, a retired Air Force colonel, a fighter pilot, who was shot down over Vietnam and spent more than five years as a POW in the downtown prison nicknamed – the “Hanoi Hilton.”

“It’s a French prison built in the early 1900s. It occupies an entire downtown block,” Ellis said. “The walls are 15 feet high, 5 or 6 feet thick, guard towers at all the corners so impossible to escape from.”

Likening their prison to a “hotel” was part of the gallows humor that Ellis said got him and others through their captivity and torture. Ellis turned the experience into a book: “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hotel.”

Ellis said his fellow POWs and the military leaders at the Hanoi Hilton like the senior ranking officer, Lt. Col. Robbie Risner, helped him recover and learn to deal with the torture.

taps-on-the-walls_custom-9849ed78ea79f780d11f6dcb5812fa93223db8af-s2“He said we just need to bounce back. He said be a good American, live by the code of conduct. Take torture to resist only up to the point of where you don’t lose physical or mental damage,” Ellis said. “Then, go ahead and give in, give as little as possible and ready to bounce back.”

Another among the men to start the long journey back home that day was John Borling.

An Air Force fighter pilot, Borling was shot down on his 97th mission over Vietnam. He spent the next six years and eight months in the “Hanoi Hilton,” a place of torture, deprivation and often solitary confinement.

Borling spent much of his time there just trying to survive. He also composed poetry — in his head, without benefit of pencil or paper.

NPR interviewed him about his book of poems written and memorized during those years, Taps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi Hilton. It’s a tribute, as he told NPR, to the “power of the unwritten word.”

A list of Florida POW/MIAs is available here.

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