MEIN, MICHAEL HOWARD Remains Returned - ID Announced 08 February 1990 Name: Michael Howard Mein Rank/Branch: E4/US Army Special Forces Unit: Command & Control North, MACV-SOG, 5th Special Forces Group Date of Birth: 13 March 1945 (Oneida NY) Home City of Record: Cape Vincent NY Date of Loss: 30 November 1968 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 163852N 1062514E (XD515410) Status (in 1973): Missing In Action Category: 4 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: CH34 Refno: 1333 Other Personnel In Incident: Gary R. LaBohn; Klaus D. Scholz; Raymond Stacks; Samuel K. Toomey; Arthur E.Bader (all missing); Richard A. Fitts (remains returned) Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1990 with the assistance of from 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 1998. REMARKS: SYNOPSIS: Corporal Michael Howard Mein was born in Oneida, New York on March 13, 1945. When he joined the Army and went to Vietnam, Mein was part of Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG) which was a joint service high command unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (though it was not a Special Forces group) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA) which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. These teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction missions in Laos and Cambodia which were called, depending on the country and time frame, "Shining Brass" or "Prairie Fire" missions. On November 30, 1968, Sgt. Richard A. Fitts, Sgt. Arthur E. Bader, Cpl. Gary R. LaBohn, SSgt. Klaus D. Scholz, Maj. Samuel K. Toomey, Cpl. Michael H. Mein, 1Lt. Raymond C. Stacks were passengers aboard a Vietnamese Air Force CH34 helicopter (serial #14-4653) as their team was being transported to their reconnaissance mission area in Laos. Details of their mission was classified at that time, and remains classified in early 1990. However, information received from some of the family members indicates that the mission was related to disarming an enemy munitions store. This same account includes the informaton that Maj. Toomey was a chemical warfare expert. Other information states that he was a communications officer. Toomey's family identified his job as one that he could not talk about, but that he was an "Advisor to the Special Forces." The helicopter was flying at 4,000 feet when it was struck by 37mm anti-aircraft fire, went into a spin, crashed in a mass of flames and exploded. The helicopter crashed about 10 miles northwest of Khe Sanh, just into Laos east of Tchepone. The crash site is in heavy jungle, near a stream. From the time the aircraft was hit until the time it impacted out of view, the helicopter was under observation and no one was seen to leave the aircraft during its descent. No ground search was initiated because the location was in a denied area. Later visual search indicated that the pilot's hatch was open, and his helmet was seen 25-30 feet from the helicopter, but no survivors or bodies were seen. All the personnel aboard the aircraft, however, were not declared dead, but were were declared Missing in Action, which was procedure when no proof of death existed. When the war ended, and 591 Americans were releaesed from prison camps in Southeast Asia, not one man who had been held in Laos was released. Although the Pathet Lao stated publicly that they held "tens of tens" of Americans, no negotiations occurred which would free them at that time, nor have any occurred since. In March 1988, the area in which the helicopter crashed was excavated by a joint Lao/US technical team. Human remains consisting of 17 teeth and 145 bone fragments, none measuring over two inches, were recovered. The remains were returned to the U.S. Army Central Identification (CIL) in Hawaii. On January 3, 1990, it was announced that the remains of Richard Fitts had been positively identified from the material recovered at the crash site. That identification was determined by the government's conclusion that two of the 17 teeth belonged to Fitts. Fitts' parents, after having an independent analysis conducted on the teeth, felt assured that the teeth belonged to their son, and subsequently buried them in Boston, Massachusetts. The remaining 15 teeth and 145 bone fragments were said to be unidentifiable. Barely a month later, on February 8, 1990, the Department of Defense announced that the remainder of the crew had been positively identified and would be buried, along with the Vietnamese crew, in a mass grave in Arlington National Cemetery. Fitts' name was included on that tombstone along with the other Americans because the Pentagon believed some of the bone fragments belonged to Fitts. Thus, even though the remains were scientifically unidentifiable, the cases were closed on these individuals. Critics of the U.S. Government's identification of the entire crew of the helicopter point to a similar incident some years ago. In 1968, unidentifiable remains attributed to a group of U.S. Marines killed near Khe Sanh on February 25, 1968 were buried in a mass grave in St. Louis. One of the deceased was identified as being Marine Sgt. Ronald Ridgeway. Five years later, Ridgeway was released from a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, giving rise to considerable speculation as to the validity of the positive identification of the other remains buried in St. Louis. There are still over 2300 Americans who remain prisoner, missing, or otherwise unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. Nearly 600 of them were lost in Laos. The U.S. Government, by early 1990, had received nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing in Southeast Aisa. Many authorities believe there are hundreds of Americans still alive today, held captive. In recent years, the numbers of remains returned from Vietnam and excavated in Laos has increased dramatically. Government strategists happily point to this as "progress" on the POW/MIA issue, although most of these remains are still unidentified. Indeed, many families, having had independent studies of the remains to assure accurate identification, now have answers to long-awaited concerns about their loved ones. However, when remains are positively identified, the U.S. Government closes the books and the search for that missing man ends. Can we afford to close the books on an American who may be alive waiting for his country to bring him home? How many will serve in the next war knowing they may be abandoned?