article last year in Military Review, an Army publication.
On his second tour in Vietnam in 1965, assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group, Thorne was involved in the secret war in Laos. On October 18, 1965, he was on a covert mission into Laos, riding in a South Vietnamese Air Force H-34 helicopter. In thick clouds near the Laotian border, the helicopter crashed into a mountaintop. Also on board were three South Vietnamese crew members: Lieutenant Bao Tung Nguyen, First Lieutenant The Long Phan and Sergeant Vam Lanh Bui.
Searches of the rugged terrain found nothing. Thorne was declared killed in action by the Army in 1966. In America, posthumous fame arrived when he was portrayed by Wayne in the 1968 film "The Green Berets."
A joint U.S.-Socialist Republic of Vietnam team found the wreckage in 1997, and the site was excavated in 1999. The remains were subsequently identified by the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.
The three Vietnamese service members were eligible for burial at Arlington because their remains were commingled with those of an American serviceman, according to a spokeswoman for Arlington Cemetery.
Now the three lie together with Thorne in America's most hallowed ground, a unique ending to a unique story.
Army Air Crew Returned Home - Arlington National Cemetery
An Army honor guard escorts the casket carrying the remains of seven soldiers,
including a Major in the South Vietnamese Army, killed in Vietnam February 6, 1969,
during funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
Friday, November 8, 2002. The group died when their UH-1H Huey helicopter crashed
in bad weather. The group includes Major David Padgett of Washington, Indiana, Captain
Ronald Briggs of Philadelphia, Sergeant 1st Class Robert O'Hara of Lost Nation, Iowa,
Lieutenant Colonel Donald Parsons, Chief Warrant Officer Charles Stanley, Sergeant 1st
Class Eugene Christiansen and Maj. Vu Vann Phao.
An Army honor guard places down the remains of seven soldiers, including a Major in
the South Vietnamese Army, killed in Vietnam February 6, 1969, during funeral services
at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, Friday, Nov. 8, 2002.
Sep 2, 2011 - military honors. Army Master Sgt. Ralph J. Reno, 36, of Chicago, will be buried on Sept. 8 in Arlington. National Cemetery near Washington ???
While members of the Reno family may have thought they were alone, the name of Master Sgt. Ralph Reno was spoken each year by various groups dedicated to remembering MIA troops and committed to the full accounting of U.S. service members killed at war. Groups like Rolling Thunder, a prisoner of war/missing in action awareness group with chapters across the nation, hold annual programs aimed at remembering local service members lost at war. This year, at a ceremony held days before Reno's funeral at Arlington, the local chapter of Rolling Thunder was able to shorten its list of MIA Vietnam soldiers by one name, thanks to Reno's identification. "It's always good to be able to do that," said chapter president Jim Hollister. Even without Reno, the names of 41 North Carolinians listed as MIA from the Vietnam War were read at a ceremony at Fayetteville's Freedom Memorial Park on Saturday, Hollister said. The ceremony, which recognized missing service members from all parts of the military, came at the end of the second annual We Ride for Those Who Can't Remembrance Run, which raises money to send local ex-POWs to a national conference in Georgia. "There are still a lot of guys who haven't made it home," Hollister said. "We ride for those who can't. Those who can't are the MIAs." "The goal is to make sure we don't forget them," he said. The Reno family doesn't know how it will react Thursday, when Ralph Reno's remains and those of 12 Vietnamese citizens will be buried together in a single casket. "I've never been involved in anything like this," Bill Reno said. "There won't be closure. It's an attempt. Each of us are dealing with it in different ways." Grier agrees but said her father's gravestone will push them closer to finding closure on his loss. "It's going to mean a lot," she said. "I feel at peace. Just because of the fact there will be something at Arlington with his name on it."
And despite their doubts, the family is thankful for the work of the military in bringing Reno home. "I was amazed they looked for so long," said Grier. "They've done everything they could to bring him home."
Lost in Vietnam
A time line of what happened to Master Sgt. Ralph Joseph Reno Jr.:
July 3, 1966: A UH-34 helicopter carrying Master Sgt. Ralph Joseph Reno Jr., Staff Sgt. Donald Fawcett and Capt. Edwin MacNamara, along with a squad of South Vietnamese commandos, crashes into the mountains of Quang Nam province. In the days after the crash, the bodies of Fawcett, MacNamarra and several South Vietnamese are recovered.
July 4, 1967: Reno is officially declared dead by the military.
1993 to 1997: A joint U.S.-Socialist Republic of Vietnam team tries to survey the crash site but turns back because of the hazardous terrain.
September 1999: Officials successfully locate wreckage from the UH-34 helicopter.
2000: An excavation of the site begins, with officials finding human remains and military equipment.
2007: Officials again return to the site.
2010: A second excavation begins, with more human remains and equipment recovered.
Sept. 8, 2011: The remains of Reno and 12 Vietnamese nationals will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
****Sept. 2, 2011
SOLDIER MISSING FROM VIETNAM WAR IDENTIFIED
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains a U.S. serviceman and 12 Vietnamese citizens, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and are being returned to their families for burial with full military honors.
Army Master Sgt. Ralph J. Reno, 36, of Chicago, will be buried on Sept. 8 in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., along with 12 Vietnamese citizens. The remains representing the group will be buried together, in a single casket. On July 3, 1966, with three U.S. soldiers from 5th Special Forces Group, three Vietnamese aircrew and nine Vietnamese passengers took off from Kham Duc, South Vietnam, on board an H-34 helicopter. The aircraft crashed in the mountains of Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam, after they encountered severe air turbulence. Three search and rescue missions conducted in the days after the crash recovered the remains of two U.S. soldiers and seven Vietnamese.
Image is scaled. Click image to open at full size.MSGT Ralph Reno USA
Arlington National Cemetery
Section 60 Site 9768
|Last Known Activity|
|Comments/Citation03 Jul 66; Edwin J McNamara, Cpt 0-3, USASF RT Nevada, Tm Leader (One-Zero) and Donald J Fawcett, SSG E-6, USASF Team Radio Operator (One-Two) were KIA-RR, Ralph Joseph Reno, MSG E-8, USASF Team Assistant Team Leader (One-One), Fayetteville, NC, MIA; and Nine Vietnamese Soldiers
(names and Ranks unknown) were KIA (These 12 men were assigned to FOB
#2, OPS 35, KONTUM, SOG) and a CH-34 Vietnamese Helicopter crew
consisting the VN Pilot, (Cpt [Dau Uy Nguyen Van Hoagn aka "Mustachio,
"Co-pilot and Door Gunner-names and ranks unknown were also KIA. The
aircraft was returning from Kham Duc [after a mission] to Kontum, FOB 2
(flying at 5,000 feet) when it hit a severe air turbulence resulting in
the aircraft "falling apart" loss of the rear tail rotor (the tail ,
designed to pivot for storage on aircraft carriers, had come loose,
swung around and chewed the helicopter to pieces in mid air) causing the
aircraft to rotate rapidly, falling some (1,500 ?) feet in a tight
spiral, throwing individuals and debris over a large area. impacting the
ground nose first. Remains of 2 Americans and 5 Vietnamese were
recovered. MSG Reno and 4 Vietnamese soldiers remains were not found
after a 5 day aerial and ground search. [Filed by William "Billy" Waugh:
on or about 02 Jul 66 SSG Donald Fawcett was en route to Kam Duc, SVN,
with other Americans, aboard an H-34 rescue helicopter. Due to poor
visibility and suspected ground fire, one of the H-34 helicopter clipped
the blades of the chopper in which Fawcett, et.al., were pax. All
aboard were killed by the crash, and I am not certain if their bodies
were ever rescued or not]. (See pg 105-106, SOG A Photo History of the
Secret Wars by John Plaster.|
United States Army Aircrew
Lost In Laos, 5 March 1971
************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.
************On 15 May 1966, then Major George W. Jensen, pilot; Captain Marshall Tapp, co-pilot; First Lieutenant George Thompson, navigator; SSgt. James Preston, load master; Sgt. James Williams, flight engineer; A2C Kenneth McKenney, aerial gunner; SSgt. William Madison, aerial gunner; Major Lavern Reilly, observer; and two unidentified South Vietnamese crewman comprised the crew of an AC47D gunship (tail # 43-49546), call sign "Spooky 10."