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25 years after Vietnam, stronger cooperation on MIAs

rice field
The United States and Vietnam have teamed up to search for Americans listed as missing in action in Southeast Asia  

April 26, 2000
Web posted at: 4:32 a.m. EDT (0832 GMT)

In this story:

The mystery of Richard Rich

Pentagon reopens Rich case

Hanoi's search for western investment


DONG PHO, Vietnam (CNN) -- As the world marks 25 years since the end of the Vietnam War, the search to find more than 2,000 Americans listed as missing in action in Southeast Asia is changing former enemies, the U.S. and Vietnamese military, into partners.

That partnership is evident in the rice paddies and other remote areas of Vietnam. There, U.S. military personnel work shoulder to shoulder with Vietnamese, painstakingly searching for clues to the fate of American servicemen who disappeared during the war.


About 20 miles from Hanoi lies the village of Dong Pho, where hundreds of villagers recently joined a group of Americans in a muddy rice field. There, they painstakingly sifted through the mud, hoping it will reveal any evidence of U.S. Navy Commander Richard Rich.

The mystery of Richard Rich

Rich disappeared after his F-4 Phantom aircraft was shot down in 1967. There was never any confirmation of his death, nor any proof that perhaps, Rich somehow survived.

U.S. Navy Commader Richard Rich disappeared after his F-4 Phantom aircraft was shot down in 1967  

"In 1997, my dad's case was closed," said Chris Rich, son of the missing aviator. "They interviewed the witnesses (to the plane crash) and said 'We don't have to do anything more."

Statistics may account for part of the reason more has not been done in the past to uncover physical proof that individual MIAs had died in action. Since the Vietnam peace accord with the United States in 1973, more than 550 Americans listed as MIA have been accounted for. None has been found alive.

Pentagon reopens Rich case

Rich's case was reopened after a high profile visit to the Dong Pho excavation site last month by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen.

"That was quite surprising," Chris Rich said, describing Cohen's visit. "I just thought at the time it was a P.R. thing for them ... But it turned out on the other side that it's helped us."


So far, the Dong Pho excavation site has yielded several bags of wreckage from the same type of plane Rich piloted. But perhaps more importantly, bone fragments have been unearthed, which DNA testing may prove to be Rich's remains.

Such a revelation would solve a 33 year mystery for Rich, who was just four years old when his father went missing.

Hanoi's search for western investment

It's only in recent years that Hanoi has become a willing partner in resolving unsolved MIA cases, in part because the government is eager to open channels for more western investment. Now, the partnership to account for MIAs forms the backbone of the current U.S.-Vietnamese military relationship.

In addition, recent closer cooperation between Hanoi and Washington may sow seeds for other peaceful partnerships in the future.

"It is excellent cooperation," said anthropologist Dennis Danielson of the Central Identification Lab in Hawaii. "It is a different culture, and we have our ways of doing things differently. But it's excellent cooperation."

Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

A look back at the Vietnam War
April 25, 2000
AsiaWeek Special Report: War And Peace
April 14, 2000
Cohen says visit goes far to improve U.S. ties with Vietnam
March 14, 2000
Images of Vietnam remembered
March 9, 2000

National Alliance of POW/MIA Families
U.S. Department of Defense
Vietnam government information
Vietnam Veterans Home Page
Embassy of Vietnam - Washington, D.C.

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