Search for MIAs in Vietnam

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Reservist on team that combs steaming jungle hoping to resolve cases of missing servicemen
by David Madrid

Villagers joined Tech. Sgt Joe Baker a reservist who was in Vietnam looking for clues about missing U.S. servicemen who served in the war. He said the Vietnamese people were “very, very accommodating and will to help.”

Baker, 41, is a life-support craftsman with the 944th Fighter Wing, 302nd Fighter Squadron, stationed at Luke Air Force Base. The 944th is an Air Force Reserve Wing.

Baker volunteered to help the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command search for and recover evidence, part of a summer expedition.

More than 30 years after the Vietnam War ended more than 1,800 service members are still missing.

Baker said the jungle, mountains, rain, humidity and heat made him realize the sacrifice of Vietnam veterans who fought in such conditions…

     

“The first day we went out to the first site, we landed on a landing zone and I got off that chopper and looked around, and all you can see is this green, lush jungle canopy and huge hills,” Baker said.

“I cannot imagine getting off a helicopter, being under fire with a 50-pound pack on my back and to have to fight my way down through the jungle to an objective that somebody who hadn’t been there told me to get to.”

He called the experience “very humbling.”

Baker, who served in the Persian Gulf War, said he was awed at the thought of Vietnam combat veterans – some of whom were drafted and didn’t want to be in Vietnam – fighting in such conditions.

A second surprise, Baker said, was the people of Vietnam.

“I was very apprehensive about it, and I wasn’t sure how they would react,” said Baker, about being in an American military unit. “I found the Vietnamese people to be very, very accommodating and willing to help. They are hard workers.”

Baker said that about 30 Vietnamese villagers helped the American team. They found evidence previously missed, remnants embedded in the ground found by using sifting screens.

Baker’s crew found enough evidence to close one MIA case.

“There was a trail of expended ammunition and (ammunition) magazines and things like that,” he said. “We were able to determine that, yes, there was a large firefight on this site. And two individuals were able to fight their way down the hill and get picked up, and one individual was hit and fell at a certain point.”

A monsoon prevented the American crew from closing another case.

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