Tuesday, September 13, 2011

MSG Ralph Reno Returns Home

From a Fayetteville Observer article received through the SF net.

Master Sgt. Ralph Reno's name is etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. It's listed on a monument at Fayetteville 's Freedom Memorial Park and on at least one memorial on Fort Bragg. But nearly a half century after his death, Reno 's name does not appear on any gravestone. That all changed on Sept 8, 2001 when Reno, a Green Beret with the 5th Special Forces Group who went missing in Vietnam in 1966, is memorialized at Arlington National Cemetery . The ceremony - a funeral with full military honors - marks the final chapter in a 45-year search for Reno that started on July 3, 1966.

On that day, in Vietnam 's central highlands, Reno, 38, and two other American soldiers were flying over a jungle covered mountain ridge along with a squad of South Vietnamese commandos. Reno and the other Americans were part of an unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout southeast Asia, according to Task Force Omega, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the full accounting and return of prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.

The helicopter, a UH-34 Seahorse, was flying from Kham Duc, a forward operating base near the South Vietnam-Laos border, to Kon Tum, a province approximately 70 miles to the southeast. En route, the Seahorse encountered severe air turbulence, according to officials. The pitching and tossing of the helicopter snapped a pin in the aircraft's tail, which swung into the helicopter and caused it to crash into the mountains of Quang Nam province. "It fell over 1,500 feet in a tight spiral," according to Task Force Omega's website, "ejecting its passengers, crew and debris over a large area."

Fayetteville family Later that day, on the other side of the world, the Reno family - wife Lois and three children, Nancy, Mary and Ralph "Trey" III - enjoyed a cookout at their Fayetteville home off Hope Mills Road. When visitors came to the door, Nancy Reno Philligin, then 8 years old, said the family thought they were guests returning to pick up leftovers they forgot to take with them. Instead, Army officials were there bearing the news of Reno 's disappearance and probable death. Philligin, now 53 and living in Greenville, said at first, the family didn't believe their father was gone.
"We held out hope," she said. "We were young then, so we didn't understand everything. Up to 20 years ago, I still hoped he was alive."

Mary Reno Grier, Reno 's oldest daughter, was 10 years old at the time of the crash. She said she remembers a commotion at the front door, then her mom breaking down into tears before the Army officials entered the house.
"It was a very sad and stressful time for all of us," said Grier, who is 55 and lives in Lucama. "I remember. I think you don't ever really forget about stuff like that."

In the coming days, the bodies of Staff Sgt. Donald Fawcett and Capt. Edwin MacNamara - the other Americans on Reno 's Seahorse - were found, as were a number of bodies of Vietnamese commandos. As for Reno , officials could find no definitive sign of the Special Forces soldier. Decades passed, and the family continued to live in Fayetteville.
Reno 's wife, Lois, had to learn to drive, Grier said. The family leaned on neighbors and friends for support. All the time, they didn't know if their patriarch would ever come home.

Extensive search

Military officials said they never forgot about Reno. In the days after the crash in 1966, three search-and-rescue missions were conducted in an attempt to recover the bodies of those killed, said Maj. Carie Parker, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office. During those missions, officials recovered the bodies of Reno 's two U.S. colleagues and seven Vietnamese. The next attempt to find Reno came years after the end of the Vietnam War, when between 1993 and 1997 a joint U.S.-Socialist Republic of Vietnam team tried to survey the crash site.
That team, led by the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, turned back because of the hazards of the steep mountainous terrain and dense foliage, Parker said.

Officials tried again in September 1999 and were successful in locating the wreckage. Excavation of the site began the next year, turning up human remains and military equipment, Parker said. Another team returned to the site in 2007 and, in 2010, the site was excavated for a second time, with more human remains and military equipment recovered. While officials searched for Reno in the mountainous jungles of Vietnam , Reno 's family was unaware. "For 35 years, we thought we were the only ones who remembered," Grier said. "We didn't know anyone was looking for him. We thought we would just never know. It was really hard for us. We felt so alone."

Lost in Vietnam, the Timeline

A time line of what happened to Master Sgt. Ralph Joseph Reno Jr.:
July 3, 1966: A UH-34 helicopter carrying Master Sgt. Ralph Joseph Reno Jr., Staff Sgt. Donald Fawcett and Capt. Edwin MacNamara, along with a squad of South Vietnamese commandos, crashes into the mountains of Quang Nam province. In the days after the crash, the bodies of Fawcett, MacNamarra and several South Vietnamese are recovered.
July 4, 1967: Reno is officially declared dead by the military.
1993 to 1997: A joint U.S.-Socialist Republic of Vietnam team tries to survey the crash site but turns back because of the hazardous terrain.
September 1999: Officials successfully locate wreckage from the UH-34 helicopter.
2000: An excavation of the site begins, with officials finding human remains and military equipment.
2007: Officials again return to the site.
2010: A second excavation begins, with more human remains and equipment recovered.
Sept. 8, 2011: The remains of Reno and 12 Vietnamese nationals laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

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