US officials on Monday transferred the possible remains of a US serviceman, who died in Cambodia’s Mondolkiri province during the war in Vietnam, for testing in Hawaii.
During a ceremony at Phnom Penh International Airport, US soldiers carried a white coffin draped in a US flag onto a waiting C-130 military cargo plane. If the remains prove to be a US serviceman, 26 of an estimated 81 US soldiers lost in Cambodia will have been found, said US Embassy spokesman David Gainer.
In Hawaii, the remains will undergo DNA tests, dental analysis and other tests to determine their origin, said Lieutenant Colonel Michael Jaje, a US soldier stationed in Thailand.
When recovering remains, the US first sends an investigative team to interview witnesses of former battle sites to determine where the slain soldiers might be. After a battle site is found, a recovery team stakes out the area using standard archaeological procedures, Jaje said.
The 26-member US recovery team came here on Jan 16 and worked with Cambodian officials to search former battle sites in Kratie and Mondolkiri provinces. US officials declined to comment on the nature of the remains the team found.
In 1969, the US began a secret bombing campaign of suspected communist bases along the Cambodian-Vietnam border, despite Phnom Penh’s decision to remain neutral during the war in Vietnam. Soon after, the US ordered ground troops into the country.
“Very few soldiers will risk their lives for an abstract concept,” said US Ambassador Charles Ray, who served two tours of duty in Vietnam. “The only reason you fight is the guy to your right and left. You do it for your buddies, and we make it a high priority to bring them back.”
Two US missions last year recovered no remains. The US is planning to conduct a remains recovery mission here again next year, Jaje said.