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Until They Are Home

Bringing Back the MIAs from Vietnam, a Personal Memoir

By Thomas T. Smith

Publication Year: 2011

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-5

I was a fifty-two-year-old U.S. Army lieutenant colonel returning to Vietnam thirty-one years after I had been there as a kid in the U.S. Navy during the war. I was beginning to feel ancient and a bit beat up but put on my uniform and boots every day with a grin, lucky to love my duty, unlike so many civilian friends I knew who were trudging uphill into their fifties carrying...

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1. To the Far Shore

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pp. 6-9

Rumpled and with a serious case of jet lag after the long flight from Car lisle, Pennsylvania, I drove my government-rate, rented roller skate through light Sunday traffic and parked under the breezy palms of the Waikiki Hilton, where I stayed for two days while in-processing with the headquarters in late June 2003. The last time I pushed my toes into the ivory sands of Waikiki...

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2. Taphonomics

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pp. 10-21

The long, shaded boulevards and French colonial architecture of Hanoi give it a languid character, one contradicted by the tide of honking motorbikes flooding the major streets. I know the streets of Berlin, Sydney, London, Prague, Florence, Manila, and even Beijing but had never been captured so quickly by a city...

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3. La Rue Sans Joie

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pp. 22-34

Closing out the seventy-fourth field activity, I gained my first true sense of the mature patience required not only to conduct the actual field science of an MIA recovery but also to endure the glacial pace of the very deliberate process of identification and family notification. Captain Shawn “Zeke” Zukowsky and Dr. “Hoss” Moore gave me a final overview of their...

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4. My Hometown: Hanoi

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pp. 35-46

For a few weeks I had the luxury of becoming an evening and weekend tourist. After carefully reading the guide books, I poked into the nooks and crannies of the city and visited Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, Hoa Lo Prison—the POW “Hanoi Hilton”—beautiful pagodas, Buddhist temples, thriving markets, and quiet parks. I even wandered in the warren of shops in the Hang...

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5. Politics

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pp. 47-61

In mid-August 2003 it was time to start the cycle of negotiations that would lead up to the next thirty-day joint field activity and series of recovery operations. The typical cycle began with a back-and-forth between the operations and intelligence shops at JTF-FA headquarters in Hawaii, who were developing a list of primary and alternate recovery and investigative sites, and...

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6. Crossing the River Styx

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pp. 62-72

A few days after we returned from Vinh, Mr. Tu called and said the Quang Tri officials had arranged a meeting with two witness from Lang Vei, who now claimed to have two sets of remains to turn over. He said we had permission to do the contingency mission and that we should all go immediately. It was a mad scramble to pack, order plane tickets, make vehicle arrangements...

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7. Vientiane and Phnom Penh

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pp. 73-79

I had to fly to Laos for a few days to do some business with Johnny Strain, the affable Special Forces lieutenant colonel who commanded Detachment 3 in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Since we were not supposed to fly Lao Air, I had Mrs. Hoa specifically book a ticket on Vietnam Air. I asked the counter agent whether the flight was Vietnam Air, and, of course, it was, just...

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8. Chasing Odysseus

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pp. 80-94

Going into the seventy-fifth joint field activity in October 2003 I was feeling confident and knowledgeable about operations, having had considerable success my first three months in command. On my first JFA we had four successful recoveries, which eventually led to identification and return to families, including Captain Carl Long, a fellow Texas Aggie, from the Vung...

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9. Christmas and Tet

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pp. 95-103

I had developed such a spiritual fondness for the city that I was giving strong consideration to retiring in Hanoi and living somewhere near Hoan Kiem Lake or the old Hang Gai district with its warren of twisting streets and shops. On my long walks on Hai Ba Trung Street or Le Thai To and in talking to my expat friends, I started keeping an eye out for apartments or houses that...

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10. “That Is Sooooo Vietnam”

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pp. 104-110

As Tet ended in mid-January 2004, we entered into a hectic schedule preparing for the seventy-sixth joint field activity, which would be conducted from mid-February to mid-March 2004. We held the provincial coordination meeting in Dalat, the famous French colonial mountain retreat developed in the 1920s. The charming town in the Central Highlands is perched above...

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11. Ông, Văn Phòng MIA–Hoa Kỳ

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pp. 111-120

When I came to take command of the detachment and run the MIA recovery mission in Vietnam, I was determined to approach the duty with objective professionalism. I was the colonel and the ông, Văn Phòng MIA–Hoa Kỳ, boss or chief, Office of MIA–USA. Midway through the previous joint field activity my son Miles deployed to Iraq as a lieutenant in 3rd Brigade...

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12. The Last Flight

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pp. 121-126

Returning to Hanoi, I had multiple messages and phone conversations with General Winfield over the ambassador’s concerns about the upcoming repatriation ceremony, that it was becoming more about the USAF C-141 aircraft “Hanoi Taxi” than about the mission and sending home remains. The ambassador specifically inquired about the military decision-making process...

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Afterword: November 2009

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pp. 127

After returning from Vietnam in 2004, I had a number of follow-on assignments: head, Military History Department, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College; director, Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; garrison commander, Fort Riley, Kansas; and deputy director, West Region, Installation Management Command. After military retirement as a...


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pp. 129-136

E-ISBN-13: 9781603442336
E-ISBN-10: 1603442332
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603442329
Print-ISBN-10: 1603442324

Page Count: 148
Illustrations: 71 b&w photos. Map. Index.
Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Missing in action -- United States.
  • Smith, Thomas T., 1950- -- Travel -- Vietnam.
  • Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (U.S.).
  • Vietnam -- Description and travel.
  • Vietnam -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Vietnam.
  • Smith, Thomas T., 1950- -- Career in the Army.
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