ARLINGTON, Va. --
A throng of family members and Marine veterans gathered amidst the white grave markers of Arlington National Cemetery to remember the service and sacrifice of six Vietnam War casualties May 14.
After 41 years, the remains of the six Marines killed in Vietnam have been identified and repatriated.
Lance Cpls. Kurt LaPlant, Luis Palacios, Ralph L. Harper, Felix Flores and Pfcs. Catarino Morelos Jr. and Jose Ramon Sanchez died while serving in the Quang Tri Province of South Vietnam on June 6, 1968.
According to Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Affairs officials, a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter was attempting an emergency extraction of Marines with 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, then engaged with hostile forces. The aircraft was hit by enemy ground fire, crashed and rolled down a steep hillside, killing 12 of the 23 crewmen and passengers on board. Initially, the remains of eight Marines, including Morelos and Flores, were recovered and identified leaving only four Marines unaccounted for and presumed dead.
From June 20 to July 15, 2006, a joint U.S. and Vietnam investigation team began excavating the suspected crash site and recovered human remains, including an identification tag for LaPlant. While at the site, a Vietnamese national turned over human remains to the team that he claimed to have found amid the wreckage of a U.S. helicopter.
In May 2007, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Honolulu started the identification process of the recovered remains. During the analysis, teeth were matched to Flores and Morelos using their radiographs and bitewings. JPAC also identified remains of Palacios and LaPlant. However, they were unable to individually identify any of the remains belonging to Harper or Sanchez.
Honoring their service and commitment to their brothers in arms, the families of Morelos and Flores requested the unidentified remains be placed with them in a group burial. Honors were rendered and burial flags were presented to each family during the service as a final salute to the sacrifice made by each Marine.
Col. Daniel A. Pinedo, a nephew of Morelos who escorted the remains from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Honolulu, told family members how Morelos “was the youngest of the aunts and uncles and I was the oldest (at age 12) of the nieces and nephews, so naturally we had a bond.”
Some of the other individuals present at the ceremony also reflected on memories shared with the fallen.
The event gave them closure, because the family members know they're “with their fellow Marines here at home and in our hearts,” said Rev. Robert Finnamore who presided over the service.