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Digging in the Jungle: The Search Continues For Vietnam Missing

May 11, 1996

A task force of more than 180 investigators, analysts and other experts conducts regular search missions for the remains of Americans unaccounted for from the war in Southeast Asia.

The Joint Task Force Full Accounting, established in 1992, sends investigative and recovery teams of medics, mortuary specialists, linguists, anthropologists, explosives experts and others to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, to examine crash and grave sites, excavate the soil and interview villagers.

Many of the 2,153 men who remain missing from the Vietnam War were pilots or crew members whose aircraft crashed or were shot down.

Since the formation of the Hawaii-based task force in 1992, 114 sets of remains have been identified, according to Petty Officer Patrick Schuetz. That task is performed by the Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii; it takes, on average, two years to complete an identification.

Schuetz said 355 sets of remains had been recovered as of the end of April.

Some of the teams’ biggest obstacles are the rugged terrain, the primitive jungle conditions that pose a risk of snake bites and disease, the scavenging of wreckage _ and the passage of time.

``The longer we can go on with the mission, the more difficult the cases become,″ Lt. Col. Roger King said. ``It’s a detective story that’s 25 to 30 years old.″

Teams will make five trips this year to Vietnam and Laos and three to Cambodia. The largest contingents _ more than 100 members _ go to Vietnam.

Most team members are in the military, though there are civilian experts, and host countries also participate.

The task force’s annual budget exceeds $19 million.

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