WASHINGTON -- The only member of the U.S. Coast Guard missing in action from the Vietnam War -- a pilot lost in a 1968 crash -- has had his remains positively identified and returned to his family.
The remains of Lt. Jack C. Rittichier, of Barberton, Ohio, were among those of four U.S. servicemen recovered from the crash site near Ban Kaboui, Laos, and positively identified, the Pentagon announced Monday.
The other three were Air Force Capt. Richard C. Yeend Jr., of Mobile, Ala.; Air Force Staff Sgt. Elmer L. Holden, of Oklahoma City, Okla., and Air Force Sgt. James D. Locker, of Sidney, Ohio.
Rittichier was flying with the Air Force on a pilot exchange program. Larry Greer, spokesman for the Pentagon office in charge of POW and MIA issues, said Rittichier was the only Coast Guardsman in the Vietnam War listed as missing in action.
About 1,800 American servicemen are still unaccounted for.
Rittichier and Yeend were pilot and co-pilot, respectively, of an HH-3E helicopter that had departed from Da Nang Air Base in South Vietnam on June 9, 1968, on a search and rescue mission for a downed U.S. pilot. At the rescue site, Rittichier reported his aircraft had been struck by enemy fire. The Pentagon said the chopper exploded in a huge fireball and there were no survivors.
Holden and Locker were crew members on the helicopter.
Following up on information about the crash site received from Southeast Asian refugees seeking resettlement in the United States, joint U.S.-Vietnamese teams investigated the crash at many locations in Vietnam, but came up empty each time.
In May 2002 a joint team operating in Laos received information about a crash near Ban Kaboui, Laos, about nine miles from the reported wartime loss location. Later in 2002, a team surveyed the site and uncovered wreckage that suggested a correlation to the HH-3E helicopter.
In January and February of this year, the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii conducted an excavation at the site and recovered human remains. The remains were then positively identified as those of the pilots and crew.