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by Earl Swift
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2003
Cover Price: $17.95
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|Where They Lay
Searching for America's Lost Soldiers
On 20 March 1971 Huey helicopter
185 with four American crewmen on board took off from Khe Sanh to extract
the border in Laos. It had all the appearance of a suicide mission.
The enemy was waiting for them, deliberately holding back from assaulting
the ARVN position, baiting the helicopters into the range of their
gunfire. Forty Hueys would be destroyed or damaged that day in some
of the heaviest fighting of the war as the battle was taken across
the Vietnam border into Laos. Jack Barker’s 185 would be one
This book is about that incident and it’s aftermath, the operation in 2001 to find, identify and bring home the remains of the four lost men. As you read the book you learn a great deal about the four men who fell from the sky, not just names on a monument or bracelet. You also learn much about the process of finding the remains, you learn of CILHI (Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii) and of how it’s teams work under the most trying of conditions.
Earl Swift was the first journalist assigned to a CILHI mission and so for the first time we get a suitably detached perspective from the inside by an outsider. It is a perspective with a distinct human touch and enables Swift to immerse himself into the story and to bring his own skills to bear on the case. These skills ultimately prove to be the most critical and show that much research work is still to be done on these cases.
Associated with the main story we learn a great deal about CILHI and the nature of their work and also of some previous investigations including the unearthing of the Makin Island raiders. What clearly emerges is not so much the importance of how a site is investigated but the critical importance of research into the event in order to identify the correct site. Most digs occur in a very limited area so you want to be sure you are in the right place. Swift explains how the proper use of witness testimony associated with correct mapping for the time period was the key to the rediscovery of the Makin raiders burial site.
CILHI has worked on a number of the planes listed on Pacific Wrecks and Justin Taylan helped the author of this book. There is a short but intimate account by Swift of seeing his first significant Pacific Wreck, B-17E “Naughty but Nice” 41-2430 inland of Rabaul. Any of you who have seen such significant wrecks in situ will understand his experience.
I recommend this book to anyone who understands that the impact of war does not stop when the firing stops. It must be comforting to any who serve to know that they will not be left behind.
Review by Phil Bradley
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