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Remains of American MIAs to be returned to U.S.

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Remains of two U.S. servicemen killed in Vietnam have been identified
  • Paul Magers and Donald Wann died when their helicoper was hit by gunfire and crashed
  • They were on a mission was to get Army Rangers out of an area taking heavy fire
  • Their remains will be buried with full military honors

(CNN) -- Thirty-nine years after they disappeared in Vietnam, two U.S. servicemen have been identified, and their remains will be returned to the United States, the Department of Defense announced Wednesday.

Army 1st Lt. Paul G. Magers of Sidney, Nebraska, will be buried on August 27 in Laurel, Montana. Army Chief Warrant Officer Donald L. Wann of Shawnee, Oklahoma, will be buried on August 21 in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, the Defense Department's POW/Missing Personnel Office said.

On June 1, 1971, the soldiers were in a helicoper gunship, on an emergency mission to rescue an Army Ranger team from Quang Tri Province in South Vietnam. After the Rangers were picked up, their helicopter was ordered to stay behind and destroy mines that were left in the area. Their gunship was hit by gunfire from the ground, crashed and exploded, the Department of Defense said.

Pilots who saw the crash said no one could have survived. And because enemy troops were active in the area, American soldiers couldn't go back to search for their fallen comrades, according to the Defense Department statement.

Almost 20 years later, in 1990, U.S. analysts and investigators interviewed American and Vietnamese witnesses. A joint U.S.-Vietnamese team looked at the area in 1993 and 1998 and found what appeared to be fragments of a gunship. Another joint team excavated the site in 1999, but found no remains. However the team did find wreckage associated with the specific crash it was investigating.

Then, in 2008, a Vietnamese team excavated the site and found human remains, the Department of Defense said. In 2009, they found more remains and more evidence.

At that point, the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory got to work. Forensic analysis, circumstantial evidence and the mitochondrial DNA match to the Magers and Wann families confirmed the identification of the remains.

Wann's daughter told the Tulsa World that her father was killed the day after his 34th birthday. She said Wann first joined the Navy, then the Army, where he became a helicopter pilot. Among his military awards are the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Tulsa World reported.

Maj. Tim Crowe, public affairs chief for the Montana Army National Guard, told the Billings Gazette: "Even after 39 years in the jungles of Vietnam, the two men were identified by teams of military personnel who specialize on finding remains of soldiers missing in action. We do everything we can to bring MIA soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines back home," Crowe said.

Both men will be buried with full military honors, the Department of Defense said.