DICKENS, DELMA ERNEST
Remains Recovered in Crash Site Excavation - Positive ID Accepted

Name: Delma Ernest Dickens
Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force
Unit: 16th Special Operations Squadron, Ubon AB, Thailand
Date of Birth: 20 April 1947
Home City of Record: Omega GA
Date of Loss: 21 December 1972
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 152712N 1060048E (XC087086)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Category: 2
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: AC130A gunship

Other Personnel In Incident: Rollie Reaid; George D. MacDonald; John Winningham;
Francis Walsh; James R. Fuller; Robert T. Elliott; Robert L. Liles; Harry
Lagerwall; Paul Meder; Thomas T. Hart; Stanley Kroboth; Charles Fenter (all
missing/remains returned --see text); Joel R. Birch (remains returned); Richard
Williams, Carl E. Stevens (rescued).

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 1990 with the assistance of
one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources,
correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated
by the P.O.W. NETWORK,

REMARKS: I.R. #22370432 73 - DEAD

SYNOPSIS: An AC130A gunship, "Spectre 17", flown by Capt. Harry R. Lagerwall,
departed Ubon Airbase, Thailand on an interdiction mission to interrupt enemy
cargo movements along the Ho Chi Minh Trail on December 21, 1972. The crew
onboard numbered 16. During the flight to the target, the aircraft was hit by
ground fire and after 10 minutes of level flight, the fuel exploded. Two of the
crew, Richard Williams and Carl E. Stevens, bailed out safely and were
subsequently rescued hours later. The partial body of Joel Birch (an arm) was
later recovered some distance away from the crash site.

Heat-sensitive equipment which would pinpoint the location of human beings in
the jungles was used to search for the rest of the crew with no success. It was
assumed that the missing crewmen were either dead or were no longer in the area.

According to intelligence reports, several piles of bloody bandages and 5
deployed parachutes were seen and photographed at the crash site. Also, later
requests through the Freedom of Information Act revealed a photo of what
appeared to be the initials "TH" stomped in the tall elephant grass near the
crash site. A number of reports have been received which indicate Tom Hart, if
not others, was still alive as late as 1988.

In the early 1980's a delegation comprised in part of several POW/MIA family
members visited the site of the aircraft crash in Laos. Mrs. Anne Hart found
material on the ground in the area which she believed to be bone fragment. She
photographed the material and turned it over to the U.S. Government.

In February, 1985, a joint excavation of the crash site was done by the U.S. and
Laos from which a large number of small bone fragments were found. Analysis by
the U.S. Army's Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) in Hawaii reported the
positive identification of all 13 missing crewmembers. Some critics dubbed this
identificatin "Voodoo Forensics."

Mrs. Hart was immediately skeptical.  She was concerned that the positive
identification of all 13 missing men onboard the aircraft had seemed too
convenient. She was further concerned that among the remains said to be those of
her husband, she found the bone fragment which she had herself found at the
crash site location several years before. She believed this was too much of a
coincidence.

Anne Hart had an independent analysis of the seven tiny fragments of bone which
the government said constituted the remains of her husband. Dr. Michael Charney
of Colorado State University, an internationally respected Board Certified
Forensic Anthropologist with nearly 50 years of experience in anthropology,
conducted the study.

"It is impossible," Charney wrote in his report, "to determine whether these
fragments are from LTC Hart or any other individual, whether they are from one
individual or several, or whether they are even from any of the crew members of
the aircraft in study."  

Mrs. Hart refused to accept the remains and sued the government, challenging its
identification procedures. Her challenge produced additional criticism of CIL
and the techniques it uses in identifying remains. Some scientists, including
Charney, charged that CIL deliberately misinterpreted evidence in order to
identify remains. They said the Army consistently drew unwarranted conclusions
about height, weight, sex and age from tiny bone fragments. Eleven of the
"positive" identifications made on the AC130 crew were determined to be
scientifically impossible.

"These are conclusions just totally beyond the means of normal identification,
our normal limits and even our abnormal limits," said Dr. William Maples,
curator of physical anthropology at Florida State Museum.

Among the egregious errors cited by Charney was a piece of pelvic bone that the
laboratory mistakenly said was a part of a skull bone and was used to identify
Chief Master Sgt. James R. Fuller. The Reaid ID had been made based on bits of
upper arm and leg bones and a mangled POW bracelet said to be like one Reaid
wore. The MacDonald ID had been made based on the dental records for a single
tooth. 

Mrs. Hart won her suit against the government. Her husband's identification, as
well as that of George MacDonald, was rescinded. The Government no longer
claimed that the identifications were positive. However, these two men were
listed as "accounted for."

Mrs. Hart's suit on behalf of her husband made it U.S. Government policy for a
family to be given the opportunity to seek outside confirmation of any
identification of remains said to be their loved ones. Mrs. Hart also believed
that the suit was successful in keeping her husband's file open. Reports were
still being received related to him.

In 1988, the Air Force forwarded a live sighting report of Tom Hart to Mrs.
Hart. The Air Force had concluded the report was false or irrelevant because
Tom Hart was "accounted for." Mrs. Hart again went to court to try and ensure
that her husband was not abandoned if, indeed, he is still alive. She wanted him
put back on the "unaccounted for" list.

In early March, 1990, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower
court decision that had ruled the U.S. Government erred in identifying bone
fragments as being the remains of Thomas Hart. The appellate court ruled that
the government is free to use "its discretion" in handling the identification of
victims of war and that courts should not second-guess government decisions on
when to stop searching for soldiers believed to be killed in action.

The court also denied Mrs. Hart's request to have her husband returned to the
"unaccounted for" list. "The government must make a practical decision at some
point regarding when to discontinue the search for personnel," the court said in
its ruling.

Most Americans would make the practical decision to serve their country in war,
if asked to do so. Even though there is evidence that some of this crew did not
die in the crash of the aircraft, the U.S. Government has made the "practical
decision," and obtained the support of the Justice system, to quit looking for
them.

How can we allow our government to close the books on men who have not been
proven dead whose biggest crime is serving their country? If one or more of them
are among the hundreds many believe are still alive in captivity, what must they
be thinking of us?

Knowing one could be so callously abandoned, how many will serve when next asked
to do so?