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Remains of Six Americans Killed in Vietnam War

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The men were aboard a C-130 Hercules that was shot down in 1968.

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the group remains of six U.S. servicemen, missing from the Vietnam War, are soon to be buried with full military honors.

They are Major Bernard L. Bucher, of Eureka, Illinois; Maj. John L. McElroy, of Eminence, Kentucky; 1st Lieutenant Stephen C. Moreland, of Los Angeles; and Staff Sergeant Frank M. Hepler, of Glenside, Pennsylvania, all U.S. Air Force. These men will be buried as a group on December 18th in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

C-130 in Vietnam

Two other servicemen, who were individually identified in October 2007, are also represented in this group. They are Capt. Warren R. Orr Jr., U.S. Army, of Kewanee, Illinois, and Airman 1st Class George W. Long, U.S. Air Force, of Medicine, Kansas.

Representatives from the Air Force and the Army mortuary offices met with the next-of-kin of these men to explain the recovery and identification process and to coordinate interment with military honors on behalf of the secretary of the Air Force and the secretary of the Army.

On May 12, 1968, these men were on board a C-130 Hercules evacuating Vietnamese citizens from the Kham Duc Special Forces Camp near Da Nang, South Vietnam. While taking off, the crew reported taking heavy enemy ground fire. A forward air controller flying in the area reported seeing the plane explode in mid-air soon after leaving the runway.

According to taskforceomegainc.org, on May 12th 1968, shortly after 1200 hours, the decision was made to immediately extract all personnel from the beleaguered camp. This evacuation was disorderly and, at times, on the verge of complete panic.

To aid in the evacuation of US military personnel, along with South Vietnamese troops and their families, the Air Force assigned a C130B (serial #60-0297) from Mactan Airbase, Phillippines to Kham Duc.

The aircrew was comprised of Maj. Bernard Bucher, pilot; 1st Lt. Stephen Moreland, co-pilot; Maj. John McElroy, navigator; SSgt. Frank Hepler, flight engineer; and Airman George Long, loadmaster.

Also aboard the aircraft was Capt. Warren Orr, Jr., a Special Forces civil affairs officer whose job it was to assist in getting as many of the civilians out of Kham Duc as possible. The C130B landed at the Special Forces Camp amidst the chaos of battle and immediately began taking on as many passengers as it could hold.

Maj. Bucher reportedly took off while under an intense enemy mortar and small arms attack. A Forward Air Controller (FAC) in the area watched the Hercules as it lumbered into the air, then reported seeing the aircraft explode in a fireball in mid-air approximately 1 mile from the end of the airstrip and crash into the jungle below.

It was believed that all crew and passengers aboard perished as the aircraft was quickly consumed by fire destroying everything but the tail boom. Because of the intense enemy presence in the area, no ground search of the area was possible. All Air Force members of the flight crew were listed Killed in Action/ Body Not Recovered.

The question was raised later if Capt. Warren Orr actually boarded the aircraft prior to its departure. A Vietnamese soldier reported he saw Capt. Orr board the aircraft after everyone else was aboard and before the tailgate closed. However, because no American could actually place Capt. Orr on the C130B, he was listed Missing in Action.

Between July 18th-21th 1970 and again from August 17th-20th 1970, search and recovery teams returned to Kham Duc to search for the remains of those Americans who were missing and unaccounted for.

During these trips, personnel from Graves Registration were unable to locate the wreckage of the C130B to search for remains. This was in part due to the fact that the surrounding area is covered with double and triple canopy growth and finding the crash site after this period of time without the aid of modern technology was extremely difficult. Another factor was the Vietnam War was still in full swing and much of the territory around Kham Duc was controlled by the Communists.

For the aircrew of the Hercules, there is no doubt of their fate. However, they have the right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country. For Warren Orr and many other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Indochina, their fate could be quite different.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document live America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia today.

In 1986 and 1991, U.S. officials received remains and identification tags from sources claiming they belonged to men from this incident. Scientific analysis revealed they were not American remains, but it was believed the Vietnamese sources knew where the crash site was located.

In 1993, a joint/U.S.-Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) team, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), traveled to Kham Duc and interviewed four local citizens concerning the incident. They led the team to the crash site and turned over remains and identification tags they had recovered in 1983 while looking for scrap metal. During this visit, the team recovered human remains and aircraft wreckage at the site. In 1994, another joint team excavated the crash site and recovered remains, pieces of life-support equipment, crew-related gear and personal effects.

JPAC scientists used forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence in the identification of the remains.

This story appeared in 2008-12-15 and is reproduced here with permission

SY 2017-09-08 Permission sought

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Last Modified: 08 September 2017, 13:32