The remains of three people believed to be American soldiers missing in action for more than 40 years were repatriated to the U.S. on Wednesday under the watch of a U.S. honor guard after being recovered in Kompong Cham province this week.
It is unknown at this stage how or when the possible soldiers came to Cambodia. In 1970, U.S. forces staged a brief ground incursion into the lowlands of the Mekong River in eastern Cambodia, including Kompong Cham province.
“We repatriate the remains of what may be U.S. citizens who died in service to our nation more than 40 years ago,” U.S Ambassador William Todd told an audience of U.S. and Cambodian officials during the official handover ceremony at the VIP Terminal at Phnom Penh International Airport.
“As the son of a combat helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam twice, I am truly privileged to be a part of this important ceremony.”
“During every phase of the operations, Americans and Cambodians worked side-by-side to achieve our goal: the fullest possible accounting of all Americans missing from past conflicts,” he added.
One by one, the boxes were carefully sealed in three separate containers for transfer. In the presence of officers from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy, they were draped in crisp U.S. flags before being carried into the yawning mouth of a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane.
Joint recovery operations have been formally conducted here by the U.S., with Cambodian assistance, since 1992. Mr. Todd said the most recent mission, during which the remains were recovered, wrapped up a few days ago.
After signing the handover papers, Sieng Lapresse, first vice-chairman of the Cambodia Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Committee said Cambodia assisted with the recovery of the remains, and that recovery operations aren’t necessarily centered around any particular provinces.
“There are no particular provinces, it depends on the American team; they know better, they have maps, they know where [the remains] are supposed to be, then they ask us to assist them,” he said.
“We only assist to secure the remains—they do the work of technical and scientific recovery.”
The remains are now bound for Oahu in Hawaii, where the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command will conduct forensic skeletal tests to attempt to identify the recovered remains.
If identities are verified, the servicemen’s next of kin will then be contacted and the remains will be buried with military honors.