- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

When Army Sgt. Glenn E. Miller was listed as missing in action after a fierce gunbattle in Vietnam in May 1968, his girlfriend figured he had been killed — even though there was never any proof.

Thirty-seven years later, the remains of Sgt. Miller, a Green Beret, and the 11 Marines who died alongside him have been identified and returned to the United States. It’s the largest single group of MIAs identified since the Vietnam War, the Defense Department said Tuesday.

All the men’s families have met with representatives of the Marines and Army, said Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s missing-personnel office. Five of the troops will be buried by their families; the others will be buried as a group in Arlington National Cemetery in October.

The troops were killed May 9, 1968, during a 10-hour battle on a football-field-size area along the Laotian border in South Vietnam, Mr. Greer said. They were part of an artillery platoon airlifted in to support a unit that was at risk of an attack from nearby North Vietnamese forces.

For Carol Fordahl, Sgt. Miller’s old girlfriend, the news brought back a flood of memories. There was the evening that Sgt. Miller serenaded her with his guitar from on top of her roof, the fresh cherries he mailed across the country for her birthday, the pearl ring and charm bracelet she still keeps.

“I still miss him to this day,” said Miss Fordahl of Livermore, Calif.

The last time Margaret Coplen heard from her brother, Marine Pfc. Robert Lopez of Albuquerque, N.M., was in a letter that arrived a few days after the military informed the family about what happened to him. In it, he described being able to squeeze in a bath in a river.

“He said he at least felt he was halfway clean,” Mrs. Coplen said. “It was in a river, so he said when he came out, he was covered with leeches. I was just crying when I had read that.”

Steven Fritsch of Cromwell, Conn., said the confirmation of the death of his older brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Thomas Fritsch, was “bittersweet” for his parents.

“Now we don’t have to wonder anymore,” Mr. Fritsch said, adding that his brother would be buried Sunday in Cromwell.

Brenda Scott, the sister of Lance Cpl. Donald W. Mitchell, of Princeton, Ky., who was among the recovered MIAs, said her family feels fortunate that Cpl. Mitchell’s remains will come home.

Cpl. Mitchell’s father, Herman Mitchell, died in 1998 without knowing his son’s fate. His mother, Marjorie Mitchell, is now 80 and “feels finally at peace,” Mrs. Scott said.

The other eight MIAs were identified as Cpl. Gerald E. King of Knoxville, Tenn.; Lance Cpls. Joseph F. Cook of Foxboro, Mass., James R. Sargent of Anawalt, W.Va., and Raymond T. Heyne of Mason, Wis.; and Pfcs. Thomas J. Blackman of Racine, Wis., Paul S. Czerwonka of Stoughton, Mass., Barry L. Hempel of Garden Grove, Calif., and William D. McGonigle, of Wichita, Kan.

There are more than 1,800 U.S. servicemen still unaccounted for. About 300,000 North Vietnamese soldiers are still listed as missing in action. An estimated 58,000 Americans and 3 million Vietnamese were killed.

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