American and Vietnamese officials joined together today in the Pentagon to remember 16 service members who were killed 20 years ago while searching for the remains of American troops lost during the Vietnam War.
Seven American and nine Vietnamese officials were lost when an Mi-7 helicopter crashed into a mountain in Quang Binh province. The combined team was scouting sites that might contain the remains of Americans killed and not recovered.
Twenty years to the day, officials from both nations remembered the shared sacrifice during a ceremony in the Pentagon’s POW/MIA hallway. “Today we gather to pay tribute to our teammates — three soldiers, three airman, one sailor — whose lives were tragically lost on this day 20 years ago, while they themselves pursued a sacred obligation to their comrades who had fallen over three decades before then,” Kelly McKeague, the director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and the host of the ceremony, said. “It is a painful chapter in our history, but a chapter we must always remember. These men made the ultimate sacrifice, endeavoring to find fellow Americans they had never met, who themselves made the last full measure of devotion. These seven men also strove to bring long sought answers to families. And in doing so, they left their own families with questions.”
The ceremony also remembered the nine Vietnamese who died in the crash. McKeague called them “partners in a noble cause.”
“The devastating crash and loss of life could have tested the mettle of both nations to continue searching for American MIAs, but instead, it steeled the resolve of both nations,” McKeague said. “Finding, recovering and identifying our unreturned veterans, has progressed in earnest.”
Even as U.S. teams were unable to deploy this past year because of COVID-19, three U.S.-trained Vietnamese teams conducted nine excavations. Today, four American and two Vietnamese teams are carrying out the mission, McKeague said.
“Everyone carries the pain of an enduring loss, and that loss, no matter what we say, can never be filled by words or ceremonies, and they — the families — will keep the memories of why their loved one served, and the cause for which they sacrificed,” Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and friend of one of the officers lost in the crash, said. “That’s our responsibility as well — the responsibility of the living — to remember the cause for which they died.”
Vietnam’s Ambassador to the United States Ha Kim Ngoc said the partnership with the United States to locate and recover the remains of U.S. service members has done much to bridge the distrust the nations felt toward each other following the fall of Saigon in 1975. “The way to build the Vietnam-U.S. comprehensive partnership from a bitter past – working together to address war legacies – has helped build trust between the two nations,” the ambassador said. “Among other efforts, both countries have tried to make the fullest possible accounting for U.S. servicemen and Vietnamese soldiers. After all, we cannot have achieved tangible results without the determination by both sides to leave the past behind and look forward to the future.”
The Americans killed were Army Lt. Col. Rennie M. Cory, Jr.; Army Lt. Col. George D. Martin III, Air Force Maj. Charles E. Lewis, Army Sgt. 1st Class Tommy J. Murphy, Air Force MSgt. Steven L. Moser, TSgt. Robert M. Flynn and Navy Chief Petty Officer Pedro J. Gonzalez.
The Vietnamese killed were: Mr. Nguyen Than Ha, Senior Colonel Tran Van Bien, Lt. Col. Nguyen Van Ha, Lt. Col. Nguyen Thanh Son, Maj. Nguyen Huu Nham, Maj. Vu Pham the Kien, Lt. Giap Thanh Ngan, Lt. Pham Duy Dung and Lt. Dang Ngoc.