Fallen warriors honored 38 years after deaths

Thirteen fallen soldiers were laid to rest 38 years after they died. (WTOP/John Aaron)

WASHINGTON — It took nearly four decades, but 13 fallen service members involved in one of the last engagements in Southeast Asia following the Vietnam War have finally been laid to rest.

The burial service at Arlington National Cemetery came 38 years, to the day, after the service members’ helicopter was shot down off the coast of the Cambodian island of Koh Tang.

U.S. forces attacked the island in response to the capture of the American merchant ship Mayaguez by Cambodian Khmer Rouge forces.

During the offensive, a CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter crashed after coming under heavy fire on May 15, 1975. Thirteen aboard were rescued at sea and 13 others were declared missing.

Remains of 12 of those missing had been accounted for following a series of searches off the coast of Cambodia. Then, this year, the Pentagon said it accounted for the final missing serviceman using “circumstantial evidence and DNA process of elimination.”

Wednesday’s ceremonies at Arlington began with a flyover by an EC-130J. The remains of the 13 service members were placed in a single casket, which was taken near the grave site on a horse-drawn caisson.

After the firing of three rifle volleys and the playing of “Taps,” 13 flags were presented to family members of the fallen service members, who were from the Marines, Navy, and Air Force.

The Mayaguez incident is considered the last U.S. military engagement in Southeast Asia after the long war in Vietnam.

It turned out that all 40 crew members had already been released safely by Cambodia. About 40 U.S. servicemen were killed in the operation.

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