VietnamFor years it has been the job of soldiers and civilian specialists of the Army's premier forensic laboratory to console families who have lost loved ones from past wars.
pain to the isle
Family members, soldiersU.S. victims return Friday By Gregg K. Kakesako
and civilians recall lost loved
ones and colleagues
The U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory also provides them with answers about missing servicemen and finally brings the remains back, if possible, so they would have a grave to visit.
Now the reality of that mission strikes home for 177 soldiers and civilian specialists at the Central Identification Laboratory.
They have lost one of their own.
"It's always been very difficult to lose someone, especially someone who has been very close," said Johnie Webb, the lab's deputy director.
Webb was referring to Army Sgt. 1st Class Tommy James Murphy, a mortuary affairs specialist with the Central Identification Laboratory who was killed Saturday along with six other Americans and nine Vietnamese.
The 16 were part of a Joint Task Force-Full Accounting advance team that was completing the logistics needed to begin another MIA recovery mission in Vietnam on May 3. Now that mission -- the third of four planned for this year -- has been postponed indefinitely.
Webb said Murphy, 38, was "doing something he wanted to do. We all know the dangers and the risks, but he wanted to help the families and to help them find some sort of resolution."
This was Murphy's second tour with the Army laboratory. He came to Hawaii in 1991 and served at the Hickam Air Force Base facility until 1994. He returned in July 1997 and made numerous trips to Asia, Vietnam and the Korea peninsula.
"He was an individual who loved his job," Webb said, "and he was always on a deployment." Webb described the Dawson, Ga., native as "easygoing and caring. A guy who was always there."
A bodybuilder, Murphy worked out a lot, Webb said.
Webb said Murphy was married with two young children.
The other victim, Air Force Master Sgt. Steven L. Moser of San Diego, was stationed in Hawaii at Joint Task Force-Full Accounting's Camp Smith headquarters. He was a Vietnamese linguist and not married.
This was the second tour for Moser, 38, who belonged to a highly specialized section of the military with his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, said Lt. Col. Franklin Childress, a Joint Task Force spokesman.
Also killed Saturday was Lt. Col. George D. "Marty" Martin III, 40, of Hopkins, S.C., who was to take over command of the Hanoi detachment of the MIA task force in July. Martin, a battalion commander based in Fort Drum, N.Y., was a 17-year veteran. The Pentagon listed the hometown of the unit's current commander, Army Lt. Col. Rennie Cory Jr., 43, as Oklahoma City, but his wife, Andrea, told the Fayetteville Observer he was from Fayetteville, N.C.
The Hanoi detachment is one of five JTF-FAs in the region.
The other victims were Air Force Maj. Charles E. Lewis of Las Cruces, N.M.; Tech. Sgt. Robert M. Flynn of Huntsville, Ala.; and Navy Chief Petty Officer Pedro Juan Gonzalez of Buckeye, Ariz.
Their bodies will be flown to Hawaii later in the week.
"He said it was the best job he ever had," said Cory's wife, Andrea. "He talked about what all those guys must have felt. He felt it was a real mission."
In addition to his wife, he is survived by four children: 19-year-old Natalie, 17-year-old Caroline, 15-year-old Rennie III and 10-year-old Madelyn.
Until last year Cory was the commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, S.C.
Officials were still investigating the cause of the accident, in Quang Binh province, about 280 miles south of Hanoi. The Vietnamese military helicopter exploded on impact into a mountainside Saturday.
The team had canceled a stop in Dong Hoi, the provincial capital, because of bad weather. The helicopter was on its way instead to Hue, Vietnam's ancient capital, when it smashed into the mountain.
The Camp Smith-based JTF-FA has searched for MIA remains from the Vietnam War in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and southern China since 1992. Volunteers from the military serve one-year stints with the search team.
This year, five operations are planned in Laos, four in Vietnam and one in Cambodia.
Since the Army Identification Laboratory was established in Thailand in 1973, it has identified the remains of 933 servicemen -- 658 from the Southeast Asia conflict, 20 from the Korean War, 240 from World War II and 15 from the Cold War. It moved its Hickam location in 1976.
Its experts in forensic technology are now working on trying to resolve more than 400 cases from the Korean and Southeast Asian conflicts.
Joint Task Force-Full Accounting was created in 1992 to account for MIAs from the Vietnam war. Its military cadre of 161 investigators, linguists and analysts is drawn from all services. Besides its command operations at Camp Smith, it has three detachments located in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
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The seven U.S. victims of the Vietnam helicopter crash will be returning to Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, on Friday at 1:30 p.m., it was announced at a news conference this afternoon.
Crash victims return
to Honolulu Friday
The remains will be taken to the Army's Central Identification Laboratory for processing.
Following that, the bodies will be returned to their respective home towns for burial.