Remains Of Army Aviators – Buried In Arlington March 25, 1990

As a military band played ”The Ballad of the Green Berets,” the Army conducted a group burial of remains thought to belong to seven Army soldiers and two Vietnamese pilots shot down over Laos in 1968.

The burial took place Friday, March 23, 1990, at Arlington National Cemetery. Only one of the nine individuals had been positively identified from the bone shards and teeth recovered last year from the crash site.

But Army officials said they were able to account for those aboard the CH-34 helicopter that was shot down by anti-aircraft fire over Laos in 1968 because of other evidence recovered at the site and eyewitness accounts of the event.

The burial ”went very well,” said an Army spokeswoman, Shari Lawrence. ”Either family members or representatives of the families were there to accept the flags.”

Remains of the one crew member who was identified, Staff Sergeant Richard A. Fitts, of Abingdon, Massachusetts, were buried in his hometown earlier this year. But his name is listed with the six other Green Berets on the group's grave marker. That is because of the possibility that some of his remains might be mixed with those buried on Friday, Lawrence said.

Besides Fitts, those interred were: Major Samuel K. Toomey III, Independence, Missouri; Sergeant 1st Class Arthur C. Bader, Jr., Atlantic City, New Jersey; Sergeant 1st Class Gary R. LaBohn, Wixom, Michigan; Sergeant 1st Class Michael H. Mein, Cape Vincent, New York; Sergeant 1st Class Klaus D. Scholz, Amarillo, Texas; and Captain Raymond C. Stacks, Memphis, Tennessee.

The names of the two Vietnamese pilots were unavailable.

Samuel K. Toomey III
Major, United States Army

From a contemporary press report: March 26, 1990

The Army believes that the remains of Major Samuel K.  Toomey III were among those laid to rest Friday in a group burial at Arlington National Cemetery. But Toomey's parents still have not given up hope of seeing their son alive again.

”Until we see a body, it will be difficult to convince us that he's really dead,” said Samuel K. Toomey Jr., a retired Army colonel who lived in Independence, Missouri., for years before moving to Sun City, Arizona.

”As a parent you always have hope. I can't give up that stand. Neither can my wife.”

Samuel Toomey III disappeared in 1968 when his helicopter was shot down over Laos. Last year, searchers returned with evidence from the crash site, and experts were able to identify the remains of one of the nine crew members. The rest of the evidence was inconclusive, so the Army and relatives agreed to have a group burial.

The burial ”was one of the most beautiful experiences we've ever had,” Samuel Toomey Jr. said Sunday night. ”We're very pleased with what the Army did.”

Toomey's refusal to abandon hope stems partly from his experience during the Korean War, where he commanded a battalion. After the Chinese attacked his soldiers, he declared one of his company commanders killed in action. Searchers found nothing on the battlefield except the commanders's dog tags and watch.

But about five years later, Toomey ran into the commander while walking down a hallway in the Pentagon. The soldier had been captured by the Chinese and later was released.

”I was shocked,” Toomey said. ”I told him, ‘You're supposed to be dead.' ”

Arthur C. Bader, Jr.
Sergeant First Class, United States Army

Gary R. LaBohn
Sergeant First Class, United States Army

July 15, 1991:  Lou Anne LaBohn won minor victory recently when Pentagon agreed to take brother's name off stone in Arlington National Cemetery. But she still has not won peace of mind. Has been negotiating with Pentagon since November to have name of Sergeant Gary R.LaBohn removed from memorial over a group burial at the cemetery.

The Pentagon claims her brother's body, or at lease bits of teeth and bones that could have been her brother, are buried beneath the stone. She is not convinced. Her story is similar to tales of many anguished people who have battled mountains of Pentagon red tape to find out what happened to loved ones missing in action in Vietnam War. Last year, the Pentagon collected 17 teeth and 145 bone fragments from helicopter crash site in Laos. Gary is believed to have been in helicopter. Using fragments, Pentagon was satisfied that seven US soldiers and two Vietnamese pilots had been accounted for, and they buried remains in a common grave at Arlington.

Only one of the nine men was positively identified from remains. An antropological study of fragments concluded that not even the race or sex of the people could be determined, let alone their identity. The Army claims it was able to account for the rest based on evidence at the site and witness accounts. Was declared officially accounted for, and name was removed from the list of missing. For years, Lou Anne tried to find out more about crash, and held our hope that her brother was still alive. The helicopter carried special operations team on a secret mission in Laos, but the nature and purpose of that mission remains classified, further complicating her efforts. Even though there was no evidence to prove that he was dead, she consented to have his name put on the stone last year. Said she felt pressured by the Army, eager to close the books on as many POW-MIA cases as it can.

Now, her feelings have changed. “To grant the military the power to make several identifications on so little data would set a terrible precedent,” she said. When she asked The Army to remove his name, officials said it could not be done without defacing the stone. If she wanted a marker without his name, she would have to pay $1,810.25 for it, the Army said. She said she would have to save for a while to raise the money, but she would do it. Then the Army changed its mind and said Department of Veterans Affairs would pay for the new stone.

With the Bush Administration moving closer to normalized relations with Vietnam, families of missing are putting Pentagon under pressure to account for bodies that were never returned after war from either Vietnam or Laos. The Army denies it is in a hurry to close cases, but some POW activists contend administration is trying to sweep the issue under the carpet for political reasons. One easy way to do that is to gather random bones and teeth and considered cases closed. But The Army justifies the group burials as best way to put families' minds at ease.

July 12, 1991: When they said her brother was finally found and sent some scant remains home in a box, Lou Ann LaBohn donned her best pink suit and bade him a teary good-bye on a sunny March day in 1990. Buried with him at Arlington National Cemetery, she figured, were 21 years of hope and fear. The grave, holding 17 teeth and 145 splinters of bone, was covered by an eight-inch-thick, 3-by-4-foot slab of gray granite. Etched on it were the names of Sgt. Gary LaBohn of Wixom and the five other soldiers lost with him when a helicopter crashed on a secret mission over Laos in 1968.

But Lou Ann LaBohn can't let it rest. Her doubts won't go away. Last October, she was shaken by a Senate staff report that the Defense Department had a policy of discrediting accounts of US prisoners being held in Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War. She knew that the Pentagon's conclusion that her brother had been found was based on a match of the yellowed teeth against the dental records of just one of the six men reported aboard the chopper, and it wasn't Gary. “All we really know was that there was a crash and it was severe enough for at least one person to be killed,” LaBohn, a Washington DC, paralegal, said in a telephone interview this week. “For them to say he was ID'd when he's not, I just couldn't go along with that. “I felt I was playing along with a cover-up. They just want to close the book on these guys.” So along with living once again with the uncertainty, LaBohn decided to get her brother's name taken off that tombstone. “I could live a lot easier not knowing what happened than I could live with his name on a headstone and not knowing if it was him,” she said.

In November, she asked the Army to remove it. In February, the Army said no, unless she paid the $1,810.25 cost of a new tombstone. Then in April, the Department of Veterans Affairs reconsidered and said the tombstone would be replaced at no charge to her. This week, the new tombstone –without Gary LaBohn's name –arrived at Arlington. It should be up by this weekend, cemetery spokeswoman Patty Heard said Wednesday.

LaBohn won't be there to see it. She'll be attending the Washington convention of the 3,700-member National League of Families of POWs and MIAs in Southeast Asia. She and others will be pushing the league to take a stand against the military policy of closing the books on entire missing crews based on only one identification. “I want to let the other families know they can do something about this,” LaBohn said. “They don't have to be railroaded into accepting an ID when one really can't be made.”

Mar 23, 1990: Flags over the state Capitol in Lansing and elsewhere across Michigan will fly at half-staff today to mark the burial of Wixom's Gary LaBohn, more than 20 years after he was reported missing in action during the Vietnam War. LaBohn's remains were among those of six servicemen returned to the United States last month. The remains, 17 teeth and 145 splinters of bone, will be buried together in a service this afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery. A headstone with all six names will be erected later over the plot. LaBohn was killed in a helicopter crash over Laos. The identification of his remains leaves 72 Michigan men among 2,302 U.S. military personnel still missing from the southeast Asian conflict. Saturday in Lansing, the first meeting will be held of a state commission created by law on July 7, 1988, to finance, design and build a monument to Michigan's Vietnam War veterans. Roosevelt Scruggs, a regional director for the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund, which is helping the commission get started, said the monument is to be erected in the capital, but “one of the locations that evidently has been ruled out is the Capitol grounds — the block where the Capitol sits.” The nine-member Michigan Vietnam Veterans Memorial Monument Fund Commission is to meet at noon in the Michigan Library and Historical Center, 717 W. Allegan St., Lansing. The four-hour session, which is open to the public, is scheduled in the third-floor Lake Ontario Room. The trust fund, which started after World War II, also is accepting donations, to the Vietnam Monument Fund, 611 W. Ottawa, P.O. Box 30026, Lansing 48909.

Michael H. Mein
Sergeant First Class, United States Army

Klaus D. Scholz
Sergeant First Class, United States Army

Raymond C. Stacks
Captain, United States Army

Richard A. Fitts
Staff Sergeant, United States Army


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