HART, THOMAS TRAMMELL III
Remains Recovered in Crash Site Excavation - Positive ID Rescinded -
yet his name remained on the "accounted for" list in 2017 due to a court decision.
|Name: Thomas Trammell Hart, III
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Unit: 16th Special Operations Squadron, Ubon AB, Thailand
Date of Birth: 25 March 1940
Home City of Record: Orlando FL
Date of Loss: 21 December 1972
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 152712N 1060048E (XC087086)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
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; Delma Dickens; 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 2020.
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
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?
Appeals Court Overturns Ruling in Hart Remains Case, 1990
For U.S. Veteran News and Report By U.S. Veteran News and Report Staff
In a decision that once again emphasized the federal courts' refusal to
address sensitive POW/MIA issues, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals on March 1 overturned a lower court decision that had ruled the
U.S. government erred in identifying bone fragments as being the
remains of Air Force Lt. Col. 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 killed in action. The ruling reversed
an earlier U.S. District Court decision in Florida which ordered the
government to pay Anne Hart of Pensacola, Fla., $632,814 in a dispute
over the fate of her husband, who was one of 16 crewmen aboard an
AC-130 aircraft shot down in Laos in 1972.
Mrs. Hart, who refused to accept the seven small bone fragments
recovered from the crash site in Laos as the remains of her husband,
sued the government, challenging its identification techniques after
independent analysis could not confirm the government findings.
Dr. Michael Charney of Colorado State University, an internationally
respected anthropologist, performed the analysis for Mrs. Hart and said
he could determine nothing from the fragments, all of which could be
held in one hand.
"It is impossible 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," Charney wrote in his report.
The court decision also denied Mrs. Hart's request to have her husband
returned to the "unaccounted for" list. She had argued that the
decision by the U.S. government to list him as killed in action without
substantive proof would doom him if he were being held in a prisoner of
The appellate court dismissed such arguments. "The government must make
a practical decision at some point regarding when to discontinue the
search for personnel," it said in its ruling.
The court also rejected Mrs. Hart's claim for intentional emotional
distress. The government, according to the ruling, "made its
identification as best it could, and when that proved to be
insufficient, it complied with every request made by the Harts except
their request that Lt. Col. Hart be returned to unaccounted-for
Mrs. Hart said she has not decided whether to appeal the decision to
the Supreme Court.
Historically, POW/MIA cases have fared poorly in federal courts, whose
members are political appointees, because of the politically sensitive
nature of the issue.
The courts generally have cited the Feres Doctrine -- a Supreme Court
ruling in the early 1950s which ruled the U.S. government is not liable
for deaths or injury that occur in a time of war, even if the
government is shown to have been negligent -- or, in the case of the
Supreme Court, have simply have refused to hear the cases.
THE UNTOLD STORY OF BARON 52 THEIR FLIGHT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A SECRET,
NOT THEIR FATE.
Philadelphia Inquirer (PI) - Sunday, January 11, 1998
By: Alfred Lubrano
Edition: D Section: FEATURES INQUIRER MAGAZINE Page: 24
Alfred Lubrano is an Inquirer staff writer.
The Vietnam War had been over for a week.....
In November 1972, Col. Thomas Hart was in a helicopter gunship shot down
over Pak Se, Laos. The Air Force sent Hart's wife, Ann, 12 pieces of
bone in July 1985, saying they belonged to him. If she didn't accept
them, they would be buried in a mass grave in Arlington National
Cemetery, they told her. Wanting to be sure, Hart had two private,
forensic anthropologists examine the fragments.....
The Bamboo Cage
The Full Story of the American Servicemen still held hostage in South-East
... When the remains excavated at the crash site were returned to the US in
1985, Mrs Hart found that, according to the documentation, these same two
fragments she had been shown in 1982 were identified as being part of her
husband. (15) But Mrs Hart had good reason to believe that he had survived the
shoot-down and has seen other Intelligence reports indicating that he was
still alive and in captivity. She refused to accept the remains. The Air Force
wrote to her in October, 1980, saying that unless she collected 'the remains
identified as your husband' they would bury him in Arlington Cemetery with
full military honours.
In all over 65,000 charred bone fragments were collected from the Pakse crash
site. They were divided up into piles and identified
as the thirteen missing individuals. One pile contained just twenty-eight
shards of bone. These were supposed to be the mortal remains of Master
Sergeant James Ray Fuller. Dr John K. Lundy of the Oregon Health Sciences
University examined them. He says that for the most part they are identifiable
as human, though one fragment later turned out to be non-human in origin. Some
fragments can be identified as to which part of the skeleton they belong to,
and a couple of the larger fragments suggest that the individual may have been
male, but that was as far as he could go.
Others who examined the remains found that one fragment identified by the
CIL-HI as part of the pubic region of the pelvis was, in fact, part of the
skull and that the pubic bone face which the CIL-HI had claimed they had used
to determine the victim's age was not present at all.
Dr Lundy concluded that not only was it impossible to make an identification
from such fragments, but it was impossible even to say that they all came from
a single individual. (16) Fuller's family consider the misidentification a
death sentence if Fuller is still alive and a PoW. (17) ....