Long wait over for families of missing soldiers

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chief Warrant Officer Donald Wann of Shawnee, Oklahoma, and 1st Lt. Paul Magers of Billings, Montana, were a long time coming home.

Magers, who enlisted in Sidney, Nebraska, and Wann were in a helicopter gunship helping rescue an Army Ranger team in the Quang Tri Province on June 1, 1971, when, after the soldiers had been picked up, they were ordered to stay behind and destroy mines that were left in the area.

Tbeir AH-1 Cobra was hit by gunfire from the ground, crashed and exploded. Witnesses said no one could have survived, and American soldiers couldn't go back to search because enemy troops were active in the area.

U.S. and Vietnamese recovery teams searched the area in 1993 and 1998 and found remains of the helicopter, and excavated the site in 1999 but found no human remains.

Finally, in 2008 and 2009, a Vietnamese team excavated the site and found human remains and more evidence.

The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used forensic analysis, circumstantial evidence and the mitochondrial DNA match to the Magers and Wann families to confirm identification of the remains.

Both will be buried with full military honors; Magers on Aug. 27 in Laurel, Montana, and Wann on Aug. 21 in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma.

Wann's daughter, Shannon Wann Plaster, has been trying to find her father since the 1990s. She was 10 when he died, and remembers being a tomboy, shining her daddy's boots and wearing his helmet and canteen. She will fly to Hawaii on Sunday and escort her father's remains back to Oklahoma.

Life has gone on over the last 40 years, of course. Wann's wife remarried and is guarding her privacy.

Yet, according to her daughter, she is excited and somewhat overwhelmed to finally have her husband's remains on the way home.

Four decades is a lifetime to wait to finally find out what happened to your loved ones. Thankfully, modern DNA analysis is making it possible for more and more survivors to have the answers they deserve.

Their stories should be a constant reminder to our county's leadership of the human cost of war and the need to avoid it whenever possible.

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