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 Category: 4 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: CH34
Other Personnel In Incident: Michael H. Mein; Klaus D. Scholz; Raymond Stacks; Samuel K. Toomey; Arthur E.Bader (all missing); Richard A. Fitts (remains returned)
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 2004.
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 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 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 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?
Anthropoligical Summary CILHI 0071-89
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 skeletally adult.
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 material.
Jason I. Ota, B.A. 1 Nov 89 Anthropologist
CILHI 0070-89 CILHI 0071-89
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
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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 action.
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 crashed".
"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 the crash.
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 grave-side service.
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 POWs.
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 Sungenis.
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 identified?"
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."