PARSONS, DONALD EUGENE Remains Returned 06/2002
Name: Donald Eugene Parsons Rank/Branch: O5/US Army Unit: Advisory Team 4, Senior Advisor to 2nd Regiment, 1st ARVN Infantry Division Date of Birth: 17 April 1929 (Marion IL) Home City of Record: Sparta IL Date of Loss: 06 February 1969 Country of Loss: South Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 162750N 1070238E (YD182212) Status (in 1973): Missing In Action Category: 4 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1H
Other Personnel In Incident: Charles I. Stanley; Ronald D. Briggs; David E. Padgett; Eugene F. Christiansen; Robert C. O'Hara (all missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 June 1990 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.
SYNOPSIS: On February 6, 1969, CW2 Charles I. Stanley, pilot; 1Lt. David E. Padgett, aircraft commander; SP5 Robert C. O'Hara, crew chief; PFC Eugene F. Christiansen, door gunner; LtCol. Donald E. Parsons, 1Lt. Ronald D. Briggs, and Maj. Vu Vanh Phao, ARVN, all passengers, were aboard a UH1H (serial #67-17499) on a resupply mission in Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.
While in route from Landing Zone Vandergrift to LZ Tornado, 1Lt. Padget contacted the LZ Tornado radio operator at about 1100 hours and stated that due to poor weather conditions and poor visibility, the flight was returning to LZ Vandergrift.
At that time, the radio operator at LZ Tornado could hear the helicopter northeast of his location, which sounded as if it were heading in a northerly direction. When the aircraft failed to return to LZ Vandergrift, a coordinated search and rescue operation was initiated and continued for seven consecutive days, finding nothing.
However, on the morning of February 7, Crown, an airborne control aircraft, reported receiving radio beeper signals several times from the general vicinity of where Lt. Padgett's aircraft was last reported. The beeper signals were estimated to emanate from that general direction. The source of the signals was never determined.
The area in which the aircraft was estimated to go down has been dubbed "Antenna Valley" and is located west of Cam Lo and on the backside of Camp Carrol. The area was occupied by NVA regulars, and was never cleared. On-site search was not possible at that time.
On September 4, 1969, an ARVN source reported that in August he had seen LTC Parsons, Maj. Phao, LT Briggs, and four other unidentified American POWs in a hospital in Laos. The U.S. Army determined that the four unidentified Americans could possibly be Christiansen, Stanley, Padgett and O'Hara.
On July 5, 1972, an NVA rallier reported seeing two caucasian POWs in the vicinity of a T-35 commo-liaison station on the 499th infiltration corridor in Laos. The two POWs were being taken to North Vietnam. This information was tentatively correlated to LT Padgett and PCF Christiansen.
In September 1970, LTC Parson's wife and friends identified him in a North Vietnamese film of a protestant service in a POW environment. CW2 Stanley's mother made a tentative identification of her son in the same film.
In December 1979, an alleged "gun-runner", Sean O'Toolis reported that he had the fingerprints of Robert O'Hara, and that O'Hara was at that time being held south of Hanoi near Bong Song. O'Toolis' information was summarily dismissed by the U.S. Government and he was thoroughly discredited, thus it is not clear how much credence can be given to his information.
The reports relating to the crew of the UH1H that went down on February 6, 1969 are typical of the over 10,000 reports received by the U.S. Government relating to Americans prisoner, missing or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. After reviewing "several million documents" and conducting "over 250,000 interviews" the USG has been unable to state categorically that Americans are still alive.
Many authorities, however, including a former Director of Defense Intelligence Agency, have reluctantly concluded that there are many Americans still held against their will in Southeast Asia.
Families who receive these reports are especially tortured. With no means to prove or disprove them, the tormen is indescribable. When they turn to their government, they are usually met with the "mindset to debunk" described by one high official in Congressional hearings. When they approach Vietnam, they are told the person they seek is unknown to them. Yet the reports continue to flow in, month after month, year after year. And year after year, families wait.
And year after year, American servicemen wait -- wondering if their country will ever bring them home.
[r1372.97] PROJECT X SUMMARY SELECTION RATIONALE
NAMES: BRIGGS, Ronald D., lLT, USA
CHRISTIANSEN, Eugene F., PFC, USA
O'HARA, Robert C.,, SP5, USA
PARSONS, Donald E., LTC, USA
PADGETT,, David E., lLT, USA
STANLEY, Charles I., CW2, USA
OFFICIAL STATUS: BRIGGS: DEAD, BODY NOT RECOVERED
PARSONS: DEAD, BODY NOT RECOVERED
CASE SUMMARY: SEE ATTACHED
RATIONALE FOR SELECTION: All of these individuals were lost in one helicopter incident. There are two correlated intelligence reports describing four of them, and two of the individuals were identified by family and friends in a North Vietnamese film. There have been no confirmations of death on any of these men since the incident date.
REFNO: 1372 20 Apr 76
(U) CASE SUMMARY
1. On 6 February 1969 CW2 Charles I. Stanley, pilot, 1Lt. David E. Padgett, aircraft commander, LTC Donald E. Parsons, lLT Ronald D. Briggs, and Maj. Vu Vann Phao (ARVN), passengers, SP5 Robert C. O'Hara, crewchief, and PFC Eugene F. Christiansen, gunner, were aboard a UH1H helicopter, ( #67-17499), on a resupply mission in South Vietnam. At about 1100 hours, while enroute from Landing Zone ((LZ) Vandgrift to LZ Tornado, 1LT. Padgett contacted the LZ Tornado radio operator, and stated that due to poor weather conditions and Door visibility the flight was returning to LZ Vandgrift. At that time the radio operator at LZ Torando could hear the helicopter northeast of his location, which sounded as though it was heading- in a northerly direction. When the aircraft failed to return to LZ Vandgrift a coordinated search and rescue operation was initiated and continued for a period of seven consecutive days, finding nothing. However, on the morning, of 7 February, R-Crown, (an airborne control aircraft), reported receiving radio beeper signals several times from the -general vicinity of where lLT Padgett's aircraft was last reported. The beeper signals were estimated to eminate from a point-- near grid coordinates (GC) YD 170 300. (The incident coordinates are listed in JCRC files as YD 182 212). (Ref 1 & 3)
2. On 4 September 1969 an ARVN source reported that in August he had seen LTC Parsons, Maj. Phao, LT. Briggs, and four other unidentified American POW's at a hospital in Laos. (The four unidentified POW's possibly were PFC Christiansen, CW2 Stanley, 1LT. Padgett and SP5 O'Hara). (Ref 2)
3. On 5 July 1972 an NVA rallier reported seeing two Caucasian POW's in the vicinity of a T-35 Commo-Liaison station on the 599th Infiltration Corridor in Laos (UTM coordinates unknown). The two POW's were being taker to North Vietnam. (Information in this report possibly correlates -To LT. Padgett and PFC Christiansen). (Ref 3)
4. LTC Parsons' spouse and friends identified him in a North Vietnamese film of a Protestant Service in September 1970. CW2 Stanley's mother made a tentative identification of her son in the same film. (Ref 3)
5. During the existence of JCRC, the limited information available precluded any efforts toward the resolution of this case. These individuals' names and identifying data were turned over to the Four-Party Joint Military Team with a request for any information available. No response was forthcoming. lLT Briggs and LTC Parsons are currently carried in the presumptive status of Dead, Body Not Recovered. CW2 Stanley, lLT Padgett, PFC Christiansen and SP5 O'Hara are currently carried in the status of Missing.
1. RPT (U), HQ USARV W w/inclosures, 7 Apr 69.
2. RPT- (U), HQ 3rd Army (Information from Mrs Patrick A. Parsons) 15 Sep 70.
3. RPT (U), MIA SEA.- Page 16, 31 Mar 73.
1. Ronald D. Briggs 1372-0-01
2. Eugene F. Christiansen 1372-0-02
3. Robert C. O'Hara 1372-0-03
4. Donald E. Parsons 1372-0-04
5. David E. Padgett 1372-0-05
6. Charles I. Stanley 1372-0-06
* National Alliance of Families Home Page
Years After Vietnam, Father Rests in Peace
Daughters Bury Remains of Long-Missing Soldier By Susan Levine Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 13, 2002; Page GZ14
After more than three decades of waiting, of wondering what and where and how, his daughters buried Lt. Col. Donald E. Parsons on Friday with full military honors. They walked behind a horse-drawn caisson for the final journey to his gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. They stood for the sharp report of 21 gunshots and the moving simplicity of taps. They received from a commanding officer the American flag that had been draped over their father's casket, now folded into a sharp, taut triangle of mourning. The casket contained little, though: A green Army uniform with all the appropriate bars of rank. And underneath the uniform, placed carefully within an Army blanket, two teeth.....
Be All That DNA Can Be By Danit Lidor 2:00 a.m. Sep. 3, 2002 PDT
Nearly 2,500 U.S. service members were listed as MIA/POW at the end of the Vietnam War. In its commitment to bringing home and identifying all lost soldiers, the Army has pioneered the use of a DNA technology that has quietly changed the scope of forensic science.
Mitochondrial DNA testing, a little-understood and somewhat controversial technique, was instrumental in the identification of three servicemen: Lt. Col. Donald E. Parsons, Chief Warrant Officer Charles I. Stanley and Sgt. 1st Class Eugene F. Christiansen, who earlier this month were returned to their families.
The men had been missing since Feb. 6, 1969, when their UH-1H Huey helicopter went down in the Vietnam jungle (along with Robert C. O'Hara, Ronald D. Briggs and Vu Vanh Phao (ARVN) -- all still missing).
The technique has caused quite a stir in the POW/MIA community and has also wrought significant changes in America's relationship to its war dead. Some activists claim the Army uses the science too liberally, but the mtDNA test has already become de facto in more than just identifying unknown soldiers.
The most well-known case regarding mtDNA identification involved the 1998 disinterment of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Blassie from the Vietnam Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Air Force Reserve Capt. Pat Blassie, Lt. Blassie's sister, said her family was granted immeasurable comfort by the outcome of the test.
"For 26 years my mother wondered where her son was," Blassie said. "DNA testing was very important. No one has questioned the results."
The mtDNA test, though, is the last stage in a painstaking process that combines the efforts of the Army's Central Identification Lab in Hawaii and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Maryland.
The Hawaii lab's forensic anthropologists and odontologists are responsible for collecting and identifying remains, Ginger Couden, Central Identification Lab public affairs spokeswoman, said.
Once it has been determined that mtDNA is necessary for a positive identification, a sample is cut from the remains -- "only 5 grams are necessary," Couden said -- and sent to the Maryland-based DNA lab for the actual mtDNA testing, she said.
The mitochondrial DNA is extracted from the sample by crushing a part of it into an emulsifying solution that extracts the mtDNA. Then the mixture is put into a centrifuge. The resulting DNA is passed through a filter, amplified and examined through a sequencing process.
Forensic mitochondrial DNA testing is often confused with the more common nuclear DNA test. Cell nuclei contain the full 46 chromosomes that identify unique individuals (except for identical twins), and proper testing provides irrefutable identification.
However, nuclear DNA can only be isolated in the recently deceased. In cases of long-dead unknown soldiers, where cell nuclei have decomposed, identification was deemed impossible until the development of mtDNA testing.
The crucial difference is that mitochondrial DNA doesn't provide one specific individual's DNA. The sequence is inherited from one's mother. In other words, Lt. Blassie and other lost servicemen have been identified not by their own DNA sample, but through comparison samples from one of their maternal relatives.
The lack of specificity has raised some eyebrows, said John Tonkyn, the assistant lab director at the California Department of Justice Lab.
"There are some common types of sequences. They are not unique," he said. "MtDNA should only be used as corroborative evidence."
Because of the "vanishingly small" and degraded samples that the DNA lab and the approximately 10 other non-military mtDNA labs in the country work with, there is also a risk of contamination from technician handling, Tonkyn said.
That's why mtDNA laboratories are subject to frequent audits, and they are required to keep records, show duplication of results and impose intensive contamination-control regulations.
"No lab would risk losing its reputation by not following the strictest of policies," Tonkyn said.
The lab's mtDNA policy is absolutely categorical, Couden wrote in an e-mail. "DNA analysis is used for identification in conjunction with other forms of analysis. Identifications are based on the combination of all analytical techniques available."
Mitchell Holland, the high-profile former director of the DNA lab who developed the mtDNA program and identified Lt. Blassie, concurred. "MtDNA has to be used in cases with other evidence present," he said. "There can be no positive ID without circumstantial and vicinity evidence."
National Alliance of Families co-founder Lynn O'Shea is not convinced of mtDNA's veracity or that the Army is entirely true to its own policy. "MtDNA was originally misrepresented as more accurate than it really is. It is not a good enough science," she said.
POW/MIA activists also charge that the Army passes off animal or non-American remains and accepts forged dog tags from Vietnamese bone traders as circumstantial evidence.
"The Army is in violation of its circumstantial evidence policy on a daily basis," O'Shea said.
Couden rejected these claims. "The Central Identification Lab never pays for remains," she said.
When asked if families dispute the results of mtDNA identifications, she replied, "Very rarely."
Blassie said she could understand O'Shea's position. "The war was very hard on people. When you see things (that were so painful), you can become very distrustful."
Debate about the validity of forensic mtDNA testing has created highly unlikely bedfellows of prison inmates who have petitioned (PDF) to get mtDNA evidence dismissed and creationists who dispute the efficacy of mtDNA early hominid dating in their battle against Darwinian science.
Tonkyn said the Army's DNA lab is the acknowledged leader in the highly specialized field of mtDNA forensic science. "The lab is highly respected, its personnel deeply care, and their results generally stand up to repeat analysis," he said.
Since the Central Identification Laboratory's inception in 1973, 1,055 service members "from all wars" have been identified. As of 1992, with the DNA lab's help, "about 50 percent" of all cases have been resolved using mtDNA technology, Couden said.
About 100 unknowns are identified every year, she added.
There are still 1,907 (PDF) unaccounted-for soldiers from the Vietnam War.
Although the top priority of the identification lab and the DNA lab will always be identifying unknown soldiers, both labs' mtDNA expertise have been instrumental in anthropological and historical dating, trial evidence and most recently in identifying victims of the Sept. 11 Pentagon and Flight 93 tragedies, Holland said.
The forensic community is still actively researching advances that can make mtDNA testing faster and easier, protect against sample contamination, and create more discriminating methodologies of sequencing, Tonkyn said.
Meanwhile, the identification lab runs dozens of yearly repatriation (PDF) missions in Southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea, Europe and (recently opened) North Korea.
Currently, there are an estimated 200 remains in some stage of the identification process, which can take anywhere from several months to several years, Couden said.
The Department of Defense, having vowed to identify all war remains, has ruled that the Tomb of the Vietnam Unknown Soldier will remain empty.
Before 1991, no one could have predicted that mtDNA would prove to be so useful in identifying the unknowns at the Central ID lab, Couden said. "Even for the ones that can't be identified at this time, (we will wait until) technology grows to a place where we can identify them."
"We will never give up," she said.
Still, the loss of the Tomb is painful for some.
Staff Sergeant Tim Reed, former sentinel of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, said, "The Tomb ... symbolized the sacrifice of all of the soldiers who died during America's wars.
"The fact that (the soldiers) were unknown meant that they could be any one of them. (Identifying) the Vietnam unknown has denied veterans and family of veterans a place to mourn, and the symbol of their sacrifice has been destroyed."
But Blassie emphasized the peace that the technology has brought to grieving families.
"When I watched the footage of the burial of the Unknown Soldier -- not knowing it was Michael - I thought that of all those hundreds of people (who were present for the ceremony), hardly one of them would choose to go to their grave with no identification," she said.