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Remains of missing soldier from La Habra found in Vietnam

Sgt. 1st Class William T. Brown and two other Americans died in a Viet Cong ambush in 1969. Investigators used DNA from the remains to identify the soldiers.

August 30, 2012|By Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class William T. Brown of La Habra disappeared in Vietnam in 1969. His remains will be buried at Arlington on Thursday along with the remains of two other soldiers who had vanished along with Brown.
Army Sgt. 1st Class William T. Brown of La Habra disappeared in Vietnam in… (Department of Defense )

The remains of a soldier from La Habra missing since he disappeared in Southeast Asia in 1969 with two other U.S. troops have been officially identified by the Department of Defense.

Army Sgt. 1st Class William T. Brown was part of a Special Forces unit patrolling in Vietnam's Quang Tri province in November 1969 when enemy forces ambushed the group, which consisted of three American soldiers and six Vietnamese soldiers, according to the Defense Department.

Witnesses said all three Americans were injured, with Brown suffering a gunshot wound to the side, but bad weather and the presence of enemy forces prevented a search team from reaching the site of the attack for eight days.

By the time the searchers arrived, the American soldiers were gone, though the rescue team found equipment belonging to one of them.

Starting in 1993, U.S. and Vietnamese investigators conducted numerous interviews in the area, which is near the border of Vietnam and Laos, and found former Vietnamese fighters who said they had ambushed an American team in the area in 1969.

In 2007, a Vietnamese man alerted investigators to human remains in the area.

Investigators found more remains after excavating a hilltop in 2010, along with Brown's military ID tag and a Zippo lighter belonging to one of the other missing soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class Donald M. Shue of Kannapolis, N.C.

Investigators used DNA from the remains to identify the missing soldiers, including Sgt. 1st Class Gunther H. Wald of Palisades Park, N.J.

Brown, a Green Beret, was the youngest of three brothers, unmarried, and left behind no children, said his cousin, Rocky Maggio, 67, of Waupaca, Wis.

Within the last decade, he said, Brown's brothers both died, as did Brown's parents, who had been active in the effort to find his body.

"We're glad, it brings some closure," Maggio said of the remains being identified. "It's a shame that his mother and dad and two brothers couldn't see this."

The soldiers will be buried in a single casket at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday.

christopher.goffard@latimes.com

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