Family announced Remains ID 07/25/09

Name: Thomas Rice Jr.
Rank/Branch: E4/US 7th Army Special Forces Group
Unit: Aviation Company, (Assault Helicopter) 299th Attack Helicopter
Battalion, assigned to 1st Cavalry Division
Aviation Company, 7th SFGA was withdrawn from the 7th SFGA and redesignated
as one of the four companies (A-D) of the 229th Aviation Battalion.
It would have been designated, for example, Co A, 229th Avn Bn (Aslt Hel). 
It was not uncommon for units and personnel to unofficially insist
on using their old designation when they were absorbed into another
unit and redsignated.  That appears to be the case here.
Date of Birth: 07 October 1942
Home City of Record: Spartanville SC
Date of Loss: 28 December 1965
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 135702N 1084955E (BR570450)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 4
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1D
Refno: 0224

Other Personnel In Incident: Jesse D. Phelps; Donald C. Grella; Kenneth L.
Stancil (all missing)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 October 1990 from one or more
of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources,
correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated
by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2009.


SYNOPSIS: The large influx of American combat and support battalions
arriving in Vietnam in the mid-1960's afforded the Army Special Forces a
wealth of potential military backup and engineer support. Airmobile infantry
promised quick and decisive response to CIDG patrolling opportunities or
adverse camp situations. The availability of engineers assured required camp
construction and defensive strengthening of existing sites.

In exchange, the Special Forces provided support, regional intelligence and
area indoctrination for the arriving Army formations. In mid to late
December 1965, Special Forces Major Brewington's B-22 Detachment helped the
1st Cavalry Division to settle into the An Khe area. Assisting, was the
299th Attack Helicopter Battalion of the Aviation Company of 7th Special
Forces Group (Assault Helicopter).

On December 28, 1965 a UH1D helicopter from the Aviation Company departed An
Khe on a supply mission to a combat unit in the early hours. Radio
transmissions revealed that flight was difficult because of weather and
darkness. The pilot, WO2 Jesse Phelps, radioed for weather reports. The
other crew of the aircraft consisted of SP5 Donald Grella, crewchief; WO3
Kenneth Stancil, co-pilot; and SP4 Thomas Rice, door gunner.

When the aircraft was about 10 minutes' flying time from An Khe, radio
contact was suspended, and no further word was received from the aircraft.
When the UH1D failed to return, an intensive search was conducted, with no
sign of either the lost aircraft or its crew. The crew was believed to be
all killed.

The crew of the UH1D are among nearly 2500 Americans missing in Southeast
Asia. In the 1950's Henry Kissinger predicted that "limited political
engagements" would result in nonrecoverable prisoners of war. This
prediction was fulfilled in Korea and Vietnam, where thousands of men and
women remain missing when ample evidence exists that many of them survived
(from both wars) and are alive today. For Americans, and particularly the
families of those who are missing, this abandonment of military personnel is
unacceptable and the policy that allows it must be changed before another
generation is left behind in some future war.


Remains of SC soldier recovered from Vietnam

The Associated Press
Posted : Saturday Jul 25, 2009 11:36:02 EDT

SPARTANBURG, S.C. - The sister of a South Carolina soldier who went missing in Vietnam four
decades ago says his remains have been recovered.

The Herald Journal of Spartanburg reported Saturday that remains found last March at a crash site in
south central Vietnam have been identified as Thomas Rice Jr.

His sister, Faye Smith, said he was identified through dental remains. She was 10 years old when her
brother went missing.

Rice and three other servicemen were conducting a mission in 1965 when their Huey helicopter went missing.
The 23-year-old Army specialist was later declared killed in action. A memorial service was held for him in
May 1967 in Spartanburg.

The newspaper reported that a recovery team with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command uncovered
the crash site.

Soldier coming home from Vietnam

After chopper went down in ’65 and Rice declared missing then killed, family finally can rest

Published: Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 3:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 12:56 a.m.

The last time Martha Mathis saw her brother, Thomas Rice Jr., they took a photo together.

Rice told Mathis to always keep the picture and remember him. He said he loved her. They embraced.

“He said, ‘I’ll be back some day,’ ” Mathis said.

She told him she would be waiting. She has waited almost 44 years.

Mathis and the rest of Rice’s family never lost hope the beloved young man, devoted to them and to his country, would return from Vietnam after the Huey helicopter he was aboard went missing on Dec. 28, 1965.

Rice, then 23 and a specialist in the U.S. Army, and three other servicemen were conducting a mission over South Vietnam. Rice was the door gunner. Also aboard were Donald Grella, Kenneth Stancil and Jesse Phelps. Their chopper never returned from the mission.

The military unsuccessfully searched for the crash site in the South Vietnamese jungle.

Thomas Rice Sr. and his wife, Jessie, were first notified by telegram that their oldest son was missing in action. He was declared killed in action on Dec. 29, 1966. A memorial service was held for him on May 28, 1967, even though his body had not been recovered.

Mathis prayed her brother would someday come walking through the door. The Rice family waited and wondered.

Had he perished in that crash? Been captured? Was he tortured and starved in a prison camp? If he were imprisoned, might he be released and return home alive?

Rice’s brother, James, also was in the Army. He asked to be sent to South Vietnam. Once stationed there, he spent months searching for his big brother.

The youngest Rice son, John Thomas, was drafted for the service just out of high school.

Jessie Rice went to the recruiting office and told the recruiter she already had one son that could not be found, another already serving in the military, and “she’d be doggone if they gone to get her last one,” John Thomas said.

“My mother told them they were not getting her last boy,” said Faye Smith, Rice’s sister.

Their late mother, Jessie, told the Herald-Journal in 1985, “They told me to write him letters. If they returned my letters, it was a bad sign; if they kept them, that meant they had captured him … every letter I wrote came back. Every day I’d come home looking for a letter from him.”

Rice loved his mother. His dream was to buy her a house.

“We didn’t have that much, but we had plenty of love,” said Queenie Floyd, Rice’s sister.

Rice would wake up early in the morning to chop wood and build a fire so the house was warm when other family members awoke.

The Christmas before he went missing in action, Rice sent home money orders as gifts to family members.

He saw to it that his little sister, Faye, received a present — be it a bicycle, doll or pair of skates.

Smith was only 10 years old when her brother went missing.

For years, she searched for his likeness in the faces of homeless men. What if torture had left him mentally challenged or impaired his memory?

Rice was the only serviceman from Spartanburg unaccounted for in the Vietnam War. He was among 29 soldiers from South Carolina missing in action.

The search for Rice’s crash site was renewed in 1993, said Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO).

In April 2006, two Vietnamese villagers claimed that in 1966 they shot down the helicopter believed to be the one Rice was aboard, Greer said in a phone interview. The villagers were interviewed again and later stated the chopper was shot down in 1965.

Greer said several factors made the crash site difficult to find.

It’s tough to see through the jungle canopy from above. At the time the men went missing, soldiers had to search for their comrades during combat.

The technology then available only allowed for visual searches, Greer explained. Men with binoculars stared out of helicopters along the route they thought the helicopter would have taken, he said.

A villager led a team with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) to the crash site in 2006. The site, near the edge of the highlands of Vietnam, was uncovered and excavated from March 4 to March 22.

Some factors that led officials to believe it was Rice’s crash site: the helicopter was the exact type as the one the men were aboard; the dog tag of one of the servicemen was found; and unspecified items worn by aviation Army crew members circa 1965 were recovered, along with dental remains, Greer said.

Dental remains recovered at the site were sent to JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.

The mystery is now laid to rest. Rice will be, too.

Remains from the crash site were positively identified June 1, Greer said, and they will stay in Hawaii until a burial date is set.

The soldiers’ remains — fragments too small to individually identify but that clearly belong to the servicemen — will be buried in a single casket at Arlington National Cemetery on a date agreeable to their respective families, Greer said. Individual remains will be buried at the location of the family’s choosing.

Thomas Rice’s daughter, who lives in Washington state, wants her father to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Greer said the servicemen will receive full honors and all funeral expenses will be covered by the Army.

A military memorial tribute for Rice will be held at noon Sept. 19 in John Stinson Woodward Memorial Chapel, beside The J.W. Woodward Funeral Home at 594 Howard St.

Rice joined the Army soon after he graduated from Carver High School. His mother did not want him to enlist.

“It just broke her heart when he come back and told her he had really enlisted. She didn’t think he was going to do it,” Floyd said.

Their mother wept.

Rice later re-enlisted.

Mathis said Rice told her he wanted to make a career of the military. He served six years in the Army.

His re-enlistment, the family says, showed his dedication.

At the time he went missing, Rice was in the 1st Calvary Division.

Floyd was by her late mother’s side “up until the end.” Jessie had her daughter promise they would always remember Thomas.

Floyd said she hasn’t missed a Veteran’s Day or Memorial parade. She’s there with an American flag and a photo of Thomas.

“I asked God, just let me live to see the day that I would know for sure,” Floyd said. She’s now 65 years old and says she can kind of accept it.

“I’m just relieved now to know that he’s not in the prison camp — not going through the torture, not being starved,” Smith said.

Rice’s family recalls his kind heart, giving spirit and friendliness. But they want him to be remembered for so much more — for the way he lived, and for the way he died.

As a hero.

Missing in action

There are 1,737 unaccounted-for Americans lost in the Vietnam War as of Aug. 19, according to the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO). That total includes Americans lost in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and China.
“Of the remaining 1,332 Americans still unaccounted for in the country of Vietnam, 614 are in a ‘no further pursuit’ status, meaning that as a result of rigorous investigation we have conclusive evidence the individual perished, but do not believe it possible to recover his remains,” reads the DPMO’s Web site.


April 08, 2010

U.S. Soldiers MIA from Vietnam War Identified

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced today that the remains of four U.S. servicemen, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors.

A group burial for U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Kenneth L. Stancil, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Chief Warrant Officer Jesse D. Phelps, Boise, Idaho; Spc. Thomas Rice, Jr., Spartanburg, S.C.; and Spc. Donald C. Grella, Laurel, Neb., as well as Rice's individual remains burial will be tomorrow at Arlington National Cemetery. Stancil, Phelps and Grella were buried individually last year.

The four men were aboard a UH-1D Huey helicopter which failed to return from a mission over Gia Lai Province, South Vietnam to pick up special forces soldiers on Dec. 28, 1965. The exact location of the crash site was not determined during the war, and search and rescue operations were suspended after failing to locate the men after four days.

From 1993-2005, joint U.S.-Socialist Republic of Vietnam teams led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command attempted unsuccessfully to locate the site. But in April 2006, a joint team interviewed two local villagers, one of whom said he had shot down a U.S. helicopter in 1965. The villagers escorted the team to the crash site where wreckage was found. In March 2009, another joint team excavated the area and recovered human remains and other artifacts including an identification tag from Grella.

JPAC's scientists employed traditional forensic techniques in making these identifications, including comparisons of dental records with the remains found at the site.

For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO web site at www.dtic.mil/dpmo or call 703-699-1169.