Missing in Action

The final name inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is that of Richard Vandegeer. The "V" in Vandegeer placed the 27-year old Air Force Lieutenant at the bottom of the
casualty list for May 15, 1975, the date of the official end to U.S. involvement in the Southeast Asian conflict. Vandegeer's name follows seventeen other servicemen lost on the shores of an obscure Cambodian island called Koh Tang during the final battle of the war.
For more than two decades, Vandegeer's remains lay trapped inside the sunken hulk of a Sikorsky HH-53 helicopter, which he was piloting when it was shot down off the island's east beach. Recently, U.S. investigators have been permitted to retrieve the remains from the helicopter and from surrounding sites on the island. Using a relatively new technique called mitochondria DNA analysis, which compares the genetic makeup of recovered bone fragments with that of blood or tissue samples taken from the living relatives of missing servicemen, technicians have been able to begin putting names to the remains of the soldiers who lost their lives in the battle of Koh Tang.

Excerpt from Popular Science, August, 1998.