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.


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

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,

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

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

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

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

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,

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

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

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


                            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 
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