Remains of Vietnam Soldiers Return Home
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Last month was the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, and the US government is continuing its search for those still missing in action in the war. Over the years, the remains of 748 servicemen have been recovered, although more than twice that remain officially missing. Recently another four servicemen were identified, and they will be honored today at Arlington National Cemetery 38 years to the day since they lost their lives. NPR's Audie Cornish spoke to family members and has this report.
AUDIE CORNISH reporting:
Irene Healea has dozens of photos of her little brother Heinz, but this one is her favorite.
Ms. IRENE HEALEA: Is he good looking or is he not? Yeah, he's just drop-dead good looking, blond-haired, blue-eyed and up on a big white horse with the sun shining behind his back, a solid blue background, and he's actually in the green cammos and blue jeans that are dirty on the knees.
CORNISH: She took the photo herself in 1967 when she lived on a Ohio farm.
Ms. HEALEA: And he looked like he was enjoying--just thoroughly eating up every moment of life and enjoying it thoroughly.
CORNISH: It was just months before she drove her brother to the airport for a tour of duty in Vietnam. Marine 2nd Lieutenant Heinz Ahlmeyer Jr. died May 10th, 1967. He was just days into his first mission when his reconnaissance patrol team fell under enemy fire near the border of Laos. As a rescue helicopter made its way out of the firefight, Ahlmeyer was one of the four servicemen whose bodies were left behind. Marine Sergeant James Neil Tycz was another.
Mr. PHILIP TYCZ (Brother of James Neil Tycz): He wasn't a strapping kid, but whatever he tried, whatever he attempted, he usually succeeded at.
CORNISH: That's Tycz's older brother Philip. Philip Tycz says his brother died trying to throw back a live grenade that had landed near the group. Just the day before, the Tycz family had received a letter from their son who is excited about his promotion to platoon sergeant. It was the last word they ever heard from him and the start of the search for his body.
Mr. TYCZ: When our troops were finally brought back from Vietnam and when we would see footage of prisoners of war coming home or remains being recovered, you know, there was always that gripping feeling in the heart that, `OK. This could be my brother,' and this went on for years.
CORNISH: Philip Tycz says he kept an eye on the POW-MIA newsletters from the missing personnel office. He turned over some of his own DNA when the Department of Defense said it would help with the search. By the time the Marine Corps casualty office flew an officer out to his Plano, Texas, home in February to say they had found his brother's remains, he felt he was ready, but Sandy Miller Kehely wasn't. She says she never stopped grieving for her brother, Navy Petty Office Malcolm T. Miller. Kehely says her brother was a proud Navy corpsman who served as a medic with the 3rd Marine Division and wanted to become a doctor.
Ms. SANDY MILLER KEHELY: When he finished his corpsman training, I had entered nursing school. So Mac used to throw it up to me that he could give shots and he could sew people up, and I wasn't, so he used to love to brag.
CORNISH: The brother Kehely remembers was bold enough to dangle down from a tree over a presidential motorcade through Tampa to shake hands with John F. Kennedy. Kehely says finding her brother's remains is both a final chapter and a new start.
Ms. KEHELY: I'm hoping that this will alleviate some of the grief that I have a brother and I have a place to go and I know he's on American soil.
CORNISH: In the end, the four caskets being buried today at Arlington National Cemetery will hold the few identifying remains investigators were able to find, but Irene Healea says that's more than enough.
Ms. HEALEA: It's not just so much a matter of bones or ashes or teeth or belt buckles or miraculous medals as St. Christopher's medals. It's a matter of bringing the spirit of my brother home would be these artifacts. You know, I don't know what else you'd call them. They--it's not my brother's body we're getting here. It's the spirit of my brother that's coming home.
CORNISH: These three servicemen will receive full military honors today along with a fourth, Marine Lance Corporal Samuel Sharp, who was buried last month in California. And maybe, Healea says, the burials will bring peace not just to these servicemen but to their families as well.
Audie Cornish, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
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