FITTS, RICHARD ALLAN Remains Returned - ID Announced 03 January 1990 Name: Richard Allan Fitts Rank/Branch: E5/US Army Special Forces Unit: Command & Control North, MACV-SOG, 5th Special Forces Group Date of Birth: 23 February 1946 (Weymouth MA) Home City of Record: Abington MA 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; Michael H. Mein; Raymond Stacks; Samuel K. Toomey; Klaus Scholz; Arthur E. Bader (all missing) Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 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 2012. REMARKS: SYNOPSIS: SSgt Richard A. Fitts was born on February 23, 1946 in Weymouth, Massachussetts. He entered the Army in January,1966. In Vietnam, Fitts 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? ------------------------------------------------- U.S. Government Caught Robbing Grave of Vietnam Veteran to Hide Its Mistake in Identification of Remains For U.S. Veteran News and Report By Paul Warren Johnnie Parrish always wondered whether that was really his brother, Army Master Sgt. Frank C. Parrish, buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Cleburne, Texas. When the Army returned Sgt. Parrish's remains for burial in May, 1973, more than five years after he was reported captured in a Viet Cong ambush and summarily executed, Johnnie Parrish thought the forensic evidence a bit flimsy. The forensic "experts" had based their identification of Sgt. Parrish on three pieces of evidence: (1) the remains had been found near where Sgt. Parrish and his Vietnamese strike force had been ambushed; (2) photographs of Sgt. Parrish supposedly corresponded with X-rays of the skull, even though the skull had neither jawbone nor teeth; and medical equipment like that which Sgt. Parrish carried was found near the ambush site. "But my mother and dad and everybody else accepted," Johnnie Parrish told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Eventually, Johnnie Parrish also accepted it, however reluctantly. "The thing that hurt me is that in 1973, the Pentagon said to me, `You can accept or reject it, but this is final. This is concrete proof,' and I didn't like the attitude," Johnnie Parrish said. Then, in early January this year, Johnnie Parrish drove from his home in Joshua, Texas, to the Rose Hill Cemetery to attend a funeral ceremony for an old friend. After the ceremony, Parrish decided to visit the grave of his younger brother. What Johnnie Parrish discovered at his brother's gravesite shocked and angered him. His brother's grave had been opened and the remains removed. Johnnie Parrish had accidentally stumbled onto a government-endorsed grave robbery. The U.S. government was trying to hide a mistake it made 17 years earlier when it incorrectly identified the remains of Sgt. Parrish. They were trying to hide it from the Parrish family and hide it from the public. Without the proper permits, without telling anyone in the family, the government had come in and robbed Sgt. Parrish's grave and sent the remains to Hawaii. "Man, I am as mad as a wet toad," Johnnie Parrish said after viewing the desecrated grave, chastizing employees at the Crusier-Pearson-Mayfield Funeral Home in Cleburne, which handled Sgt. Parrish's burial and the exhumation of the remains. Johnnie Parrish had been warned by the funeral home in December, 1989, that the government may have made a mistake in identifying his brother's remains. Parrish requested that he be kept informed of the progress of the case and was promised by funeral home employees and an unidentified government official that he would be. But the next thing Johnnie Parrish heard about his brother's case was when he looked into the empty grave. The government began furiously backpedaling on the Parrish case when a Pentagon informant leaked information to the U.S. Veteran News and Report about the mixup of remains and subsequent attempts to cover up the mistake through grave robbery. According to information obtained by U.S. Veteran News and Report, the U.S. government obtained neither the permit required for exhumation of the remains originally believed to be those of Sgt. Parrish nor the permit necessary for transportation of the remains. "The Army is under the impression that all necessary state requirements would be met by the funeral home," said Major Lois Faires, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon. Officials at the Crusier-Pearson-Mayfield Funeral Home refused to comment on the case. But Johnson County Clerk Robby Goodnight confirmed that neither the exhumation permit nor the transportation permit had been obtained. Faires said the mixup in remains was unusual. "This is extremely rare that something of this nature occurred," she said. Faires told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that she knew of only one other case in which the wrong remains had been sent for burial. But Ted Sampley, chairman of Homecoming II, said he knows of at least 10 cases in which it has been proven that the wrong remains were sent for burial. "And we don't know how many they have managed to hide," said Sampley. Perhaps the most infamous case of an incorrect burial involves Marine Sgt. Ronald Ridgeway, one of nine Marines the government thought it had buried in a mass grave in St. Louis in 1968. Ridgeway was a member of Company B, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, stationed at Khe Sanh on Feb. 25, 1968, when his unit was ambushed by North Vietnamese regulars while on patrol just outside the base. Although the ambush site was within view of the base, Ridgeway's unit was pinned down by heavy fire and attempts to reinforce it were driven back by the NVA. When the Marine units finally were able to break contact and return to base, they had to leave their dead behind. It was several days before the Marines could attempt to recover their dead because of heavy enemy activity. When they were finally able to get into the area, the Marines found that repeated harassment and interdiction fires had badly scrambled the remains of their fellow Marines. They recovered what they thought were the remains of nine dead Marines, none of whom could be individually identified. Among them, according to the government forensic experts, was Ridgeway. Those sets of remains were combined with the remains of nine Navy men who had died in a separate incident and were interred in a mass grave in St. Louis. But, on Jan. 28, 1973, nearly five years after he supposedly was buried, Ridgeway was repatriated from a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp. Ridgeway had come back from the dead, much to the chagrin of the U.S. government. Although the relatives of seven of those Marines believed buried in St. Louis found little hope in Ridgeway's return, the wife of one of them, Ruth Brellenthin, thought it entirely possible that her husband, Lance Corporal Michael Brellenthin, might have escaped with Ridgeway. For five years the government refused to give Mrs. Brellenthin information about Ridgeway's whereabouts so she could question him about the incident. When she finally found him on her own, it was 1978, 10 years after the ambush. Ridgeway told her he had not seen Michael Brellenthin during or after the ambush. But an intelligence report obtained by Mrs. Brellenthin indicated that in late February, 1968, approximately 20-30 U.S. POWs were sighted near Khe Sanh. According to the report: "Source observed several of the PWs wearing `strange caps.' He described this cap as olive drab in color and made of cloth. Caps described resemble the USMC fatigue cap." Yet, the U.S. government continued to state unequivocally that LCpl. Michael Brellenthin had been killed in action because Ruth Brellenthin could not prove otherwise. Although the government lacked evidence that Michael Brellenthin was dead, its assumption that he was dead outweighed Mrs. Brellenthin's assumption that he might be alive. "The attitude of the government on these cases," said Sampley, "is that if you can't prove that the remains are not of a particular individual, then they must belong to the individual the government says they belong to." Even if individuals are able to prove that remains can not be positively identified as belonging to a specific person, the government will not accept that as proof. The only opinion it values in forensic cases is its own. The case of Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Hart is a specific example of this. Hart's AC-130 aircraft was shot down in Laos in 1972 with 16 crew members aboard. In 1985, the government told his wife, Anne Hart, that it had found her husband's remains during a crash site excavation in which she had participated. Mrs. Hart was immediately skeptical, especially when the government said it had identified 13 of the 16 crewmen. Mrs. Hart decided to have her own analysis done on the seven tiny fragments of bone, which could be held in one hand, the government said constituted the remains of her husband. Dr. Michael Charney of Colorado State University, who has nearly 50 years of experience in anthropology, analyzed the bone fragments. "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 question." Mrs. Hart refused to accept the remains and sued the government, challenging its identification procedures. Mrs. Hart's challenge produced additional criticism of the Army's Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) in Hawaii and the the techniques it uses in identifying remains. Some scientists, including Charney, charged that CIL deliberately misinterpreted evidence in order to identify remains. They said that the Army consistently drew unwarranted conclusions about height, weight, sex and age from tiny bone fragments. "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 a pelvic bone that the laboratory mistakenly said was part of a skull bone and was used to identify Chief Master Sgt. James Ray Fuller, who was on the same AC-130 aircraft as Hart. Procedures at CIL were revamped shortly after that, but there continues to be concern about the accuracy of its work. There are recurring charges that the U.S. government, in an effort hastily account for as many missing men as possible, is stretching the bounds of credibility when it comes to identifying remains. One such case involves Sgt. Richard Fitts. Fitts was a passenger on a Vietnamese Air Force CH-34 helicopter near Tchepone, Laos, on Nov. 30, 1968. The crew of the helicopter was Vietnamese. The American passengers were part of a team assigned to Command and Control North, MACV-SOG, U.S. Army Special Forces. The mission was classified then and remains classified. Other Americans aboard the aircraft included Sgt. Arthur E. Bader, Cpl. Gary R. LaBohn, SSgt. Klaus D. Scholz, Major Samuel K. Toomey, Cpl. Michael H. Mein and 1st Lt. Raymond C. Stacks. The helicopter was hit by 37mm anti-aircraft fire and crashed in flames near a stream in heavy jungle. No ground search was initiated because it was in a denied area. No survivors were seen. In March, 1988, the crash site was excavated by a joint Lao/U.S. technical team and human remains consisting of 17 teeth and 145 bone fragments, none measuring over two inches, were recovered. On Jan. 3, 1990, the U.S. government announced that the remains of Fitts had been identified and returned to his parents. That identification was determined by the government's conclusion that two of the 17 teeth belonged to Fitts. They were buried in a separate casket in Boston, Mass. The remaining 15 teeth and 145 bone fragments were said to be unidentifiable. But on Feb. 8, 1990, the Pentagon announced the remaining Americans had been identified and would be buried, along with the Vietnamese crew, in a mass grave in Arlington, Va. Fitts' name was included on that tombstone along with the other Americans because the Pentagon believed some of the bone fragments belonged to Fitts. "What it amounts to is a mass burial, sort of like what Stalin did," said Sampley. "If you can't prove it's a particular individual, just say the remains are unidentified. Don't just stick a name on it." But that's exactly what the government did in the case of Master Sgt. Frank Parrish in 1973. According to Faires, it was decided that the remains belonged to Parrish because they were of a Caucasian of about the same age and medical equipment was found nearby. "There was nothing forensically (proving) it wasn't Parrish," said Faires. Parrish had been accompanied on the fatal patrol by another Special Forces team member, Sgt. 1st Class Earl R. Biggs. The Pentagon says his remains were returned earlier. But the family of Sgt. Biggs must now be wondering, just as Johnnie Parrish wondered 17 years ago about his brother Frank, whether it was actually Sgt. Biggs it buried. As for the remains that were interred in Sgt. Parrish's grave, what little is known about them, according to government documents, is that they belonged to an individual who was held prisoner for several years before being executed. Was that Biggs? Was it Parrish? Or, was it one of the more than 2,000 men still unaccounted for in Southeast Asia? The government says it doesn't know and has sent the remains back to Hawaii for further identification. Who knows what unsuspecting family they will be sent to next for burial? Sgt. Frank Parrish was buried for the second time in Rose Hill Cemetery in January, 1990 in a simple ceremony. There was no honor guard this time to salute him, no grieving widow to accept the flag that covered the coffin. The Army says Sgt. Parrish's widow, who has since remarried, refuses to comment on the mixup, but that is an excuse the government conveniently hides behind when it is trying to avoid publicity about an embarrassing incident. The families of Biggs and Parrish bore their grief 17 years ago when they were told their men had died. Now, that grief has been compounded by inexcusable Army inefficiency. The families will forever be burdened with the question of whether or not the remains they buried actually were those of their loved ones. Paul Warren is a veteran journalist who has covered the POW/MIA issue extensively.
================================ The MIA Mystery Hoping Against Hope NEWSWEEK July 29, 1991 Tom Morganthau with Todd Barrett in Chicago, Clara Bingham in Washington, John Taliaferro in Los Angeles, Frank Washington in Detroit, Ginny Carroll in Houston, Debra Rosenberg in Boston and bureau reports A Generation After Vietnam, the Families Refuse to Give Up--Despite a Trail of Hoaxes and Broken Dreams.....
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