Vets take on Knife 31 IDs: Semper Fidelis

Randall Austin, who commanded the 2nd Battalion of the 9th Marine Regiment during the Mayaguez rescue, described the four-year effort to recover and identify the crew and passengers of the Air Force helicopter shot down during the rescue as living up to the spirit of the Marine Corps motto Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful.

Austin, now retired and living in Charlotte, N.C., verbally saluted those men, telling FCW in a telephone interview that he has "tremendous respect for their bravery." Austin added that the fact that those men—lost for 24 years—will finally go home should "provide closure for the families."

Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti, commander of Fleet Marine Forces Pacific, interviewed at the force's headquarters in Honolulu, echoed Austin's comments, saying "Semper Fidelis is our ethos.... We owe this to the families."

The fact that the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii has identified the "last people on The Wall [is] gripping," said Jan Scruggs, an Army Vietnam veteran whose determination to honor his comrades resulted in the building of the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., "It provides a certain sense of finality to the war."

Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Memorial Foundation, added that the news of the rescue-mission identifications also "brings with it a sense of sadness of the events of almost 25 years ago.... The [Mayaguez] operation was a tragedy and a debacle" driven by the political pressure the capture of the ship put on President Gerald Ford who ordered the operation.

Although the Mayaguez identifications and the chance to start quickly identifying the Korean War unidentified remains in the Punchbowl cemetery in Hawaii provides the lab staff with satisfaction, they look at their work as incomplete.

The fact that the lab has identified nine of the last 13 names on the Vietnam War memorial is "historically interesting and would be significant if there were not gaps between the first and the last," said Thomas Holland, an anthropologist and the lab's scientific director, said. "Until then, the job is not done."

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