The remains of an El Reno Air Force officer missing for 44 years have been identified and will be returned to Oklahoma for burial with full military honors on Saturday.
Lt. Col. Clarence F. Blanton, 46, was among 11 Americans who went missing after North Vietnamese commandos overran a tactical air navigation radar site on a Laotian mountaintop March 11, 1968.
Blanton was U.S. commander at the site known as Lima Site 85, and is the second of the 11 missing servicemen to be identified, according to U.S. Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.
Blanton and 18 other men were assigned to the radar site on a 5,600-foot mountain peak known as Phao Pha Thi in Houaphan province, Laos, when it was overrun. Eight of the men were rescued that day by U.S. helicopters.
A joint recovery operation was instigated by the United States and Lao People's Democratic Republic in 1994 with no results. A second operation in 2003 resulted in the discovery of one of the missing servicemen, but logistics and safety concerns precluded further recovery attempts, the department said in a press released issued Tuesday.
“From 1994 to 2009 ... teams pursued multiple leads from dozens of witnesses interviewed, including those involved with the attack,” the release reads. “In 2005, a Laotian citizen provided U.S. officials an identification card bearing Blanton's name and human remains purportedly found at the base of Phou Pha Thi.”
Circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools — including mitochondrial DNA which matched that of Blanton's sister — convinced scientists the remains belong to Blanton.
Blanton's family now lives in Hot Springs, Ark., according to the department.
Since 1973, nearly 1,000 servicemen killed in the Vietnam War have been accounted for and returned to their families for burial. More than 1,660 Americans remain unaccounted for from the conflict.