View Full Version : "The Fanning Case"

01-17-03, 09:05 AM
The Fanning Case:
More Misinformation
Summary: This is a short article on the case of a Marine Corps aviator who died when his aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam. This case is a favorite of the "MIA activists." Search the web for "Major Hugh Fanning" and read the articles there. Read this one. Make up your own mind.

Summary of loss
On October 31, 1967, Capt. Hugh M. Fanning and bombardier/navigator Capt. Stephen J. Kott were on a mission over North Vietnam as number two in a flight of two aircraft on a night electronics support mission. At about 1:50 a.m., Fanning indicated he was approaching the target. At 2:02 a.m., the flight leader observed a bright orange flash in the vicinity of the target area and in the estimated position of Fanning's aircraft which he estimated to be about 15 miles east of Hanoi at an altitude of 100-500 feet. No distress calls or beepers were heard. Nothing further was heard from either Fanning or Kott; they were never observed or heard from in the Vietnamese prison system; and, neither of them returned at Operation Homecoming in spring, 1973.

Whose remains are these?
In August 1984, the Vietnamese returned remains that they claimed were of Fanning and Kott. (See this article for information on Vietnamese collection of US remains and this article for a completed study of the topic.) The remains were "co-mingled" -- that is, remains of the two men were returned in the same container. US forensic specialists were able to separate the remains; while a fair amount of skeletal remains were present for one man, only a few bones were present for the other. The greater quantity of remains was determined to be Capt. Kott and eventually the remaining small quantity of bones were determined to be the remains of Capt. Fanning. In 1984, Capt. Fanning's remains were buried.

Then, in 1985, the saga began anew. Capt. Fanning's wife, upon reviewing his forensic file, felt that he could not have been identified from such a small quantity of remains. The remains were exhumed and examined by an individual selected by Mrs. Fanning who stated that the remains could not be scientifically linked to anyone, including Capt. Fanning.

The Fanning case became something of a major cause among the MIA activists who cited this case as an attempt by the government to force an identification. I will not go into details of the who-did-or-said-what during this period -- you can find that on any number of MIA activist web sites. However, this abbreviated chronology will give readers the flavor of what has happened in this case.

July 1985: Mrs. Fanning viewed her husband's casualty file at USMC HQ.

September 1985: Mrs. Fanning had the remains disinterred and examined by a civilian anthropologist.

July 1986: Mrs. Fanning requested a review of her husband's case.

October 1987: The Central Identification Laboratory - Hawaii (CIL-HI) determined there was insufficient evidence to support the original identification and agreed to re-evaluate.

November 1989: After re-evaluating the case, CIL-HI affirms the remains as those of Major Fanning (he was promoted to Major in absentia).

December 1990: The Armed Forces Identification Review Board (AFIRB), after reviewing the CIL-HI file and information provided by anthropologists retained by Mrs. Fanning, approved the identification.

18 June 1991: Mrs. Fanning indicated non-acceptance of the identification.

28 June 1991: Major Fanning's mother accepted the AFIRB identification and directed burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

12 July 1991: At the request of Senator Bob Smith, the Commandant of the Marine Corps delayed the burial.

15 July 1991: Bone samples were taken from the remains for mitochondrial DNA testing. (Why had mtDNA testing not been used before? Because prior to this time, mtDNA testing was still in the test stages. By mid-1991, procedures, equipment, databases, and processes were in place to use mtDNA testing as a method of confirming identification.)

16 July 1991: DNA samples were obtained from Major Fanning's mother, father, and two sisters. Read this article for background on mtDNA testing and the association of mtDNA with the maternal parent.

16 August 1991: The Armed Forces Medical Examiner's office released a preliminary report on the DNA testing. Read that report at this link.

6 September 1991: The Armed Forces Medical Examiner's office released the final results of the mtDNA testing: DNA samples from Major Fanning's mother and two sisters "exactly matched" mtDNA obtained from the seven bones previously identified as Major Fanning. (mtDNA from the bones all matched, proving that these bones were all from the same person.) I have posted the 6 September 1991 memorandum from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner to the Commandant, US Marine Corps at this link -- I recommend readers read the memorandum for themselves. The memo is three pages and each page is a jpeg file -- may take a minute or two to load -- also, the copy quality is not the best.