Vietnam specialist’s family receives closure after nearly four decades

| October 6, 2011 | 0 Comments
Laurel Freas (left), forensic anthropologist, JPAC, and the lead forensic investigator for the remains of Spc. Marvin Foster Phillips, explains the process of identification to James Phillips (middle), and Sgt. Maj. Jason Geier, sergeant major, intelligence section, 8th TSC, at JBPHH, recently.

Laurel Freas (left), forensic anthropologist, JPAC, and the lead forensic investigator for the remains of Spc. Marvin Foster Phillips, explains the process of identification to James Phillips (middle), and Sgt. Maj. Jason Geier, sergeant major, intelligence section, 8th TSC, at JBPHH, recently.

Sgt. Gaelen Lowers
8th Theater Sustainment Command Public Affairs

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — Spc. Marvin Foster Phillips was laid to rest in his hometown of Gruetli-Laager, Tenn., Sept. 26.

However, full military honors had been a long time coming — exactly 45 years to the day after he was listed as missing in action when his helicopter was shot down near the Mekong Delta in 1966.

Phillips’ remains were finally recovered earlier this year.

After more than four decades of heartache, friends and family of this Soldier now have closure.

About 1,684 Soldiers are still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, and more than 83,000 service members are unaccounted for from all of America’s past conflicts, according to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office.

The mission of the Joint POW/MIA Accountable Command, or JPAC, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, is to achieve the fullest possible accounting of all Americans missing as a result of the nation’s past conflicts.

The laboratory portion of JPAC, referred to as the Central Identification Laboratory, or CIL, identifies an MIA service member about every four days, on average. The CIL has identified more than 1,800 remains since the accounting effort began in the 1970s.

Phillips had just graduated high school when he joined the Army. After six weeks of basic training, he was flown to Vietnam. While out on a combat assault mission, Sept. 26, 1966, 20-year-old Phillips, along with Maj. Norman Dupre, Capt. Henry Mosburg and Spc. Richard Pystor, were shot down by enemy ground fire while flying off the coast of South Vietnam.

The UH-1B Iroquois Huey helicopter that transported them crashed in nine feet of water.

Pystor survived the impact and was rescued; the body of Dupre was also recovered at that time. The bodies of

Mosburg and Phillips were never located and were presumed dead after extensive searches. Sept. 26, 1966, was Phillips’ first day in country.

“Knowing the steps that must happen for a body to be recovered and identified, and for those groups to not give up after 45-plus years … it is quite a unique and humbling experience to be a part of,” said Sgt. Maj. Jason Geier, intelligence section, 8th Theater Sustainment Command. “It really demonstrates our warrior ethos: ‘Never leave a fallen comrade.’”

Geier is from the same hometown as Phillips and was chosen to be the special escort for his remains because his half-sister is the niece of the deceased.

Geier knows more than most about the process of bringing someone’s loved one back from the unknown. He has searched for the remains of Soldiers that have been lost, and he has been a part of recovery and excavation teams. This time, he was part of the final step.

“For me, it has really come full circle,” he said. “I had a great interest in doing my Soldier responsibility for him, and because I had a personal tie to the family, I felt it would be an honor for me to bring their loved one back home to our hometown.”

Throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, U.S. recovery teams had investigated, but had been unable to find any clues as to Phillips’ whereabouts.

Then, a villager in the Tra Vinh province contacted the Vietnam office for missing persons, April 27, 2010. He let them know that he was in possession of human remains that possibly represented an American service member.

“There is a lot of relief knowing that he is finally going home,” said James Philips, younger brother of Philips. “This brings me and my family a lot of closure.”

Many times, Vietnamese villagers recover and take care of remains, said Laurel Freas, forensic anthropologist, JPAC, and the lead forensic investigator of Phillips’ remains.

With this recent disclosure, another service member is now resting peacefully.

 

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