Four Marines

Earnest Ray Byars

Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps
29 April 1948 – 30 July 1967

David Addison Frederick

Captain, United States Marine Corps
22 June 1942 – 30 July 1967

Craig Houston Waterman

First Lieutenant, United States Marine Corps
14 October 1943 – 30 July 1967

Robert Lynn Biscailuz

Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps
24 July 1946 – 30 July 1967

Lance Cpl. Robert Biscailuz Jr. was buried Friday with full military honors, a horse-drawn caisson pulling his flag-draped coffin to a place in the nation's most-hallowed ground at Arlington National Cemetery.

For 26 years, the Marine from Midway City had lain in a tomb of another kind – a burned out Marine helicopter grown over with thick vines and grass, forgotten except for his family and a parade of Pentagon insiders whose job was to track the missing-in-action list.

For parts of four decades, enemy fire, a morass of jungle and, finally, years of political animosity between Vietnam and the United States had stopped anyone one from bringing Biscailuz back from Southeast Asia.

“We had given up all hope that he would ever get home,” said Robert Biscailuz Sr., who still lives in Midway City.

But with a thaw in U.S. Vietnamese relations, efforts began last year to find Biscailuz and more than 2,000 other Americans believed dead in Indochina. Last month, the helicopter was found.

On Friday, the younger Biscailuz and three fellow crewmen were buried. A Marine rifle team in dress-blue uniforms and white caps fired a volley in salute, and Biscailuz's mother, Virginia, was handed an American flag that her son had traveled so far from home to die for.

“Now it's finally over,” his father said.

The Vietnam War already was grabbing headlines when Biscailuz graduated from Westminster High School in 1965. It was still widely seen as a patriotic campaign against communism in Southeast Asia.

Biscailuz kicked around Orange County for a year after high school. One day he visited a recruiter who told him about “the buddy program.” Friends were guaranteed they would train and serve together.

Biscailuz thought it was a great idea to go to war with three friends from the neighborhood. One quick tour of duty, maybe a medal or two, then back to Midway City to settle down with his girlfriend, Marlene Gunlogson.
He never made it back. On July 24, 1967, Biscailuz celebrated his 21st birthday. Six days later, on a medical evacuation flight outside Dong Ha, his helicopter came under fire and crashed into the jungle.

“We had letter's from people who saw the flight go down,” his father said. “His commanding officer said a team went into the crash site, but there was nothing they could do. Enemy fire drove them away.”

Because their bodies were never recovered, the crew – Biscailuz, Capt. David Frederick, 25, of Columbus, Ohio; First Lt. Craig Waterman, 24, of Reheboth, Mass.; and Lance Cpl. Earnest R. Byars, 18, of Houston – were listed as missing in action.

The family didn't harbor real hope that Biscailuz had been captured.

“For the first time,” his father said. “we know for sure.”

The searches will continue. The Pentagon believes that 2,255 Americans remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia.”

From a Press Report: June 9, 1993

Ethel Byars of Houston grieved for months when the helicopter carrying her son and three other Marines crashed in Vietnam in July 1967, leaving the foursome's fate in doubt. Now, 26 years later, the heartache has returned with the Pentagon's announcement that the remains of Byars' son, Lance Cpl. Earnest Ray Byars, has been identified.

The Marine, who died three months before his 19th birthday, will be buried at Arlington Natioal Cemetery beside his fellow Marines killed in the crash. While his brother and three sisters are planning to attend, Ethel Byars said her heart ”couldn't stand it” to go.

“It tore me up real bad when he first got killed and they had a ceremony at Veterans Memorial Cemetery,” said Byars, 74. “I felt like I give him up then.”

According to the Pentagon, Byars' remains were found last July during a joint field search by US and Vietnamese search teams. The other Marines have been identified as Captain David Frederick, 23, of Columbus, Ohio; First Lieutenant Craig Waterman, 24, of Reheboth, Massachusetts, and Lance Corporal Robert Biscailuz, 21, of Midway City, California.

The Marines were flying over the Quang Tri province when the helicopter apparently was hit by ground fire and crashed. A villager had taken the remains of the Marines and buried them in a Russian feed sack about 50 kilometers from the crash site, said the Marine's brother, Donald Byars, who obtained previously classified military documents about the crash.

“They (Pentagon) informed me they had gone back and excavated the crash site for several aircraft known to go down in that area,” said Byars, 32, who led his family's attempts to find their relative, whose name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The news they received three weeks ago brought mixed emotions, Donald Byars said. “It was a big shock. “I was stunned,” he said. “The first thing I thought was, ‘Oh, my God, they've found him. He's alive.' But now I'm relieved to a point. I always thought he could be in one of those (prison) camps.”

The recently declassified military reports include photographs of the terrain and details about the excavation done at the site.

Earnest Byars' remains were identified through bone and dental remains.

Donald Byars, a resident of Humble, said he refused to give up trying to find his brother, an All-Star shortstop in high school before joining the Marine Corps at age 18. “I was pursuing it for a year and a half, calling the military all the time, but I had run into a dead end,” Byars said. “I wasn't going to to stop. I wanted to find out what was going on. I wanted to know the truth.”

While poignant, the Byarses' case is not unusual, said Joe Jordan, executive director of the Houston-based National Vietnam POW Strike Force. The strike force estimates there are 144 Texans listed as missing in action in Southeast Asia, and 2,267 MIAs nationwide. The organization also claims that Americans taken prisoner during the war are still alive, although that claim has not been substantiated by numerous inquiries made by US officials.

“We know Hanoi is holding 853 live prisoners,” Jordan claimed. “We can tell from satellite photos how many there are in the camps. There's 20 camps spread throughout Indochina, and the Vietnam-controlled areas of Laos.”

Families suffer the most, Jordan said, when they believe their loved ones are still alive and possibly being tortured in prison camps. Jordan said his organization has information about 130 Houston-area military personnel believed to be alive. “And our government has done very little,” he said. “They resolve, let's say, 5 to 20 cases a year. But there's too much focus on bones, and not enough on live prisoners who are known to exist.”

Donald Byers was 7 years old when his brother, Lance Corporal Ernest Byars of Houston, was declared missing in action in Vietnam in 1967. Byers keeps a photo of his brother, along with medals the Marine was awarded.

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