LABOHN, GARY RUSSELL
Remains Returned - ID Announced 8 February 1990 FAMILY DISPUTES
Name: Gary Russell LaBohn
Rank/Branch: E4/US Army Special Forces
Unit: Command & Control North, MACV-SOG, 5th Special Forces
Date of Birth: 28 December 1942 (Madison WI)
Home City of Record: Wixon MI
Date of Loss: 30 November 1968
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 163852N 1062514E (XD515410)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Other Personnel In Incident: Michael H. Mein; Klaus D. Scholz; Raymond
Stacks; Samuel K. Toomey; Arthur E. Bader (all missing); Richard A. Fitts
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 2020.
SYNOPSIS: SFC Gary LaBohn was born in Madison, Wisconsin on December 28,
1942. He joined the Army in Detroit in December 1966. In Vietnam, Gary 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 information 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 released 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
In March 1989, 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?
These remains were recovered from a joint U.S./LAO excavation that took place
in March of 1989. The report describing the recovery operation, 01/CIL/89
(Laos) can be found in this case file.
Upon arriving at USA-CILHI, the dental remains were assigned the accession
number CILHI 0070-89 and the post cranial or non-dental remains assigned
CILHI 0071-89. Two teeth were segregated from CILHI 0070-89 and were
radiographically identified as belonging to an individual from the REFNO 1333
incident. The Dental Summary Report for CILHI 0070-89A is covered in a
separate report. Refer to the Dental Summary Report for CILHI 0070-89 which
is included in this case file.
After the systematic excavation of the skeletal and dental remains, and
associated personal effects, these materials were taken to the U.S. Army
Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (USA-CILHI). The remains were
placed in plastic bags with the grid locations marked on the outside of each
bag. So as not to comingle the remains, the remains from each bag were
washed with water and allowed to air dry. Once dry, the grid location from
provenience would not be lost.
The bone fragments from one grid location were compared to bone fragments
from another grid location in an attempt to make an anatomical determinations
of the type of bone that was recovered. Only two bone fragments could be
articulated with each other. A possible shaft fragments from N4 E2 could be
reconstructed with a fragment from N6 W2.
Condition of Remains
These remains are very incomplete and in poor condition. There was a total
of 145 bone fragments recovered. The largest fragment measures 1.7cm
(1.9 x .7). Perimortem burning is evident on the majority (91 percent) of
bone fragments. Color variations on the fragments vary from dark black to
white. Transverse fracture lines, warping, and longitudinal cracking can be
observed on the burned fragments that are present. The non-dental remains
that were recovered are shown in Photographs 1-8 at tghe end of this report.
A table showing the overall relationship of the dental and skeletal remains
is on page 3.
Race could not be determined from the bone fragments that are present. The
skeletal fragments are too incomplete to permit an assessment of race.
Sex could not be determined from the bone fragments that are present. The
skeletal material was too incomplete to permit a reliable assessment of sex.
The incomplete skeletal material prevented any accurate estimations of age.
From the few bone fragments that could be identified, they appear to be
Stature and Muscularity
Stature and muscularity could not be determined due to the lack of an intact
long bone. No estimations of stature could be made since none of the
skeletal material recovered could be assigned to a specific race and sex.
Healed Fractures, Pathologies and Anomalies
A number of the bone fragments displayed signs of possible or probable
perimortem fractures. These breaks had sharp and diagonal edges. No
skeletal anomalies were observed.
Due to the condition and paucity of skeletal remains that were recovered from
01/CIL/89 (Laos), no determinations can be made from the post cranial
Jason I. Ota, B.A. 1 Nov 89
PROPOSED IDENTIFICATION: CILHI GROUP REMAINS 5-89
Analysis of all the remains recovered from the REFNO 1333 crash
site in Savannakhet Province, Laos, has now been completed. The
excavation was a joint US/Lao project 18-26 March 1989. One of
the nine (7 US Army, 2 VNAF) manifested personnel on board this
helicopter has been individually identified, based solely on
dentition (see case file CILHI 0070-89A). No other individual
identifications can be accomplished, due in large part to the
amount (145 skeletal fragments and 17 teeth or portions of teeth)
and nature (calcined fragments) of the recovered remains. No
dental radiographs are available for two of the US passengers nor
for the two VNAF crew members. The exact number of persons
represented by the remains cannot be determined from the remains.
The unidentified dental material is designated CILHI 0070-89, and
the skeletal material is CILHI 0071-89. Dental, anthropological,
casualty and field reports are enclosed.
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
The crash and subsequent explosion were witnessed at close range,
the site was aerially inspected, and no evidence of survivors was
seen. Reports indicate scavenging of wreckage and removal of
remains in the years since the incident. After seven days of
excavation, it is believed that these are the only recoverable
remains from the site. Owing to their condition and paucity, they
cannot be segregated further nor identified as individuals.
In view of the commingled, fragmented, incomplete and
unidentifiable nature of these remains, it is recommended that
they be declared the only recoverable remains (other than the
dentition identified as SP/5 FITTS) of the nine occupants of the
CH-34 helicopter associated with the REFNO 1333 incident.
The are the following:
MAJ SAMUEL K. TOOMEY, III US ARMY
1LT RAYMOND C. STACKS US ARMY
SSG KLAUS D. SCHOLZ US ARMY
SP5 RICHARD A. FITTS US ARMY
SGT ARTHUR E. BADER, JR. US ARMY
SP4 MICHAEL H. MEIN US ARMY
SP4 GARY R. LABOHN US ARMY
2 UNKNOWN VIETNAMESE CREWMEMBERS VN AIR FORCE
SISTER WINS BATTLE AGAINST STATUS SYMBOL CHANGE
Green Beret remains 'Missing' on the Wall
By Donna Long - U.S. Veterans News and Report
It has been a long and painful 23 years for Lou Ann LaBohn - an
emotional upheaval of years filled with raised and dashed hopes about
the fate of her brother, Green Beret Sgt. Gary Russell LaBohn, missing
in Laos since November 30, 1968.
There has been times, especially after the loss of both of her parents,
that she had felt totally alone and just plain tired of fighting what
some told her was "reality" - that her brother was dead, his body would
probably never be recovered, and she should get on with her life.
But as the slender, pretty blond stood at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
on October 7, to make sure that the symbol next to her brother's name
would not be changed from missing to dead, all the past doubts as to
what she should do had been swept away and replaced with an unyielding
determination that her brother's symbol would not be changed unless
there was reasonable proof that he was indeed dead.
"Excuse me, but you are giving out misinformation... not all of the men
whose status is changed from missing to dead have had their remains
returned and identified... some of it is just paperwork and your
statement should be corrected," Lou Ann told Jan Scruggs, president of
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
Scruggs, who was speaking at a news conference prior to the addition of
eight names on the Wall and the changing of 49 status symbols from
missing to dead, appeared taken back by Lou Ann's polite, but forceful
interruption of his presentation.
"I may need to change my words next time," stammered Scruggs, who had
already been caught off guard earlier, when asked to confirm that Sgt.
Gary LaBohn's name had been removed from the original list of 50 names
scheduled for status changes.
"There is a special symbol next to Gary's name in the Department of
Defense computer... its the only one of its kind... as long as I have my
job, his status (on the Wall) will never be changed unless you agree to
the change," J.R. Sungenis, Director for Information Operations and
Reports in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, told Lou Ann after
the news conference.
Lou Ann's successful removal of Gary's name from the October 7 list of
names to be changed from missing to dead on the Vietnam Memorial was
just one more small, but important victory, in an 11-month battle with
the Army to try and rectify an earlier decision made under the kind of
tremendous emotional stress that can break down even some of the
strongest of the POW/MIA family members.
On November 30, 1968, a Vietnamese helicopter, reportedly carrying Gary
and six other Green Berets, was shot down during a classified mission
over Laos. There were conflicting eyewitness accounts as to what
position the helicopter was in when it crashed and when it exploded.
Because of heavy enemy fire, a ground search for bodies and survivors
was impossible, and all seven Green Berets were listed as missing in
Over the next 21 years, the families of the seven Green Berets also
received conflicting reports about the incident from the Army, and one
family member was told by a high ranking military officer familiar with
the case that "some of the men had survived". There were also
unconfirmed reports and rumors that Gary and at least one other member
of his team, were seen in POW camps.
Then in February 1990, Lou Ann was informed that her years of living
with the anguish and pain of not knowing were over. They had found and
searched the area of the helicopter crash sit. Her brother had been
accounted for. Gary was coming home.
Only those who have lived the hell of not knowing if a loved one is dead
or alive can begin to know the relief that comes when there is finally
an answer, even when the answer is not the one you longed to hear.
But when the Army presented their "evidence" to Lou Ann and tried to
convince her that because they had found and identified "two teeth" as
belonging to one member of Gary's team, the remaining 147 bone fragments
and 15 teeth (all unidentifiable as to race, sex, or age) was the
remains of her brother, the five other Green Berets, and two unknown
South Vietnamese soldiers, she publicly disputed the Army's claim that
her brother has been "accounted for" and refused to go along with a
planned mass burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
It wasn't until she received a telephone call that Lou Ann broke down
and agreed to the burial. The caller convinced her that he had been
Gary's "very best friend" in the Army and that although he had not
personally witnessed the incident, he know from others who had, that
everyone, including Gary, had been killed "instantly and without
suffering" when the helicopter they were all aboard had "exploded and
"I was emotionally exhausted," she later said, adding that all the other
families had agreed to the mass burial and that she felt pressured by
the Army - like she was standing in the way of ending the grief of the
other families involved.
Lou Ann was also being hit on both sides from well-meaning close
friends - with some urging her to accept the "accounting" for her own
peace of mind and others telling her that the phone call was a "set up"
to break her down because the Army knew that the only way she would go
along with the burial was if she was convinced Gary had been killed in
And then there was Col. Jim Cole, her casualty officer, a man she had
trusted for years. Cole, a man who cared about her and her brother, had
"checked out" the caller for her.
But even though Lou Ann agreed to the burial, she did not attend the
March 23, 1990 Chapel Service at Arlington for her brother and the other
Green Berets. She did, however, greet friends who had traveled from
Michigan (her home state) outside of the chapel after the service. "I
do not believe any of by brother is in that coffin... but I believe in
time I can accept this," Lou Ann told news reporters after the
But sever months later, after reading an interim report on POW/MIAs
released on October 29, 1990 by the Republican Staff of the Senate
Foreign relations Committee, Lou Ann LeBohn know she could never accept
the U.S. Government's "accounting" of her brother.
Among one of the initial findings of the interim report was that DOD had
concluded in April 1974 "beyond a doubt" that "several hundred"
American servicemen were still being held captive in Southeast Asia -
this was one full year after DOD was publicly saying there were no more
Lou Ann said that after she read the report, she realized that it had
been a mistake to allow the military to claim they had accounted for
Gary and she informed the Army that she wanted her brother's name
removed from the headstone marking the mass grave in Arlington.
"It sets a terrible precedent," she said, explaining that it was wrong
to allow the military to "account for" several men based on the
identification of the remains of one man.
In January 1991, the Army answered Lou Ann's request. It was short and
to the point: Gary's name could not be removed without defacing the
stone, if she wanted a new marker erected without her brother's name,
she would have to pay $1,810.25 for it, but irregardless, as far as the
Army was concerned, her brother had been accounted for.
In February, copies of all the correspondence between Lou Ann and the
Army concerning the removal of Gary's name from the headstone were sent
to U.S. Senators Jesse Helms (NC) and Bob Smith (NH). Two months later,
Lou Ann received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs
informing her that a new headstone, without her brother's name, would be
erected at no cost to her.
ON July 12, sixteen months after the mass burial, the headstone was
removed, and a replacement, without Gary's name, was installed.
But that was just part of the battle.
Unaware of the procedure for changing status symbols on the Wall, Lou
Ann has assumed that since 16 months had passed since the burial, Gary's
status had been changed on the memorial. When she learned in
mid-September that the symbol had not yet been changed, she immediately
wrote to Lt. Col Harry Mamaux, in the Office of the Assistant Secretary
of Defense (Force Management and Personnel) asking that the missing
symbol next to Gary's name not be changed.
"This does not mean that I believe he is alive, it just means that proof
of his death has never been found. To allow this change to take place
would open doors for future alterations that may not be based in fact,"
she wrote in September 16 letter Mamaux.
On September 27, Mamaux recommended to Sungenis that Lou Ann's request
be complied with. Then three days later, Lou Ann learned that the
company that makes status changes on the Wall was scheduled to be at the
memorial on October 3 or 4.
Lou Ann immediately called Mamaux, who after confirming that status
changes were scheduled for the first week in October, contacted
Afraid that the letter recommending that Gary's name not be changed
would arrive after the deed had already been done, Sungenis faxed a copy
of his recommendation on October 2 to Arnold Goldstein, Superintendent
of the National Capital Parks Central.
The following is a portion of the October 2 letter:
"We ask that you recind out earlier request of June 11, 1990 to change
the symbol on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and in the Directory of
Names, for LaBohn, Gary Russell from "missing" to identified". The
Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Directory of Names should continue to show
SFC LaBohn's status as "missing". Furthermore, this change had been made
to the official Department of Defense Southeast Asia Casualty Database".
In the June 11, 1190 letter directing the Parks superintendent to change
the status symbols of Gary and 10 other servicemen (including five
members of his team), it was stated that the remains of all eleven
servicemen had been "identified" and Sungenis' office had received
"confirmation" of their identification.
"I was shocked," said Lou Ann. "How could the Army tell DOD that Gary's
remains and the remains of the other five members of his team had been
But that wasn't the only shock in store for Lou Ann.
It seems that when her trusted friend, Col. Jim Cold, learned that the
symbol next to Gary's name had not been changed from missing to dead as
planned, he became upset and called Lt. Col. Mamaux.
"He told Mamaux that the Army isn't going to go along with it - that
Gary's case is closed," Lou Ann said.
But Lou Ann said Mamaux told her that he informed Cole he was not going
to change the symbol next to Gary's name and pointed out to Cole that
his department and Cole's were "not the same agency".
"I am very grateful to him (Manaux)," Lou Ann said, still shaken by
Cole's reaction to Gary's status not being changed on the Wall.
As for the future, Lou Ann said she will continue to fight to reopen the
books the Army has closed on her brother.
"I know that getting the headstone changed and keeping the missing
symbol next to Gary's name on the Wall hasn't helped determine by
brother's fate, but I feel they were important because it calls
attention to the prospect that U.S. officials may be confirming, as
dead, American servicemen who could conceivably be alive in Southeast
Asia," Lou Ann said. She paused and then added, "Something is very
wrong when the military will accept two teeth of one man as proof that
nine men are dead, but won't accept a photograph of three men as proof
they are alive."