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Roberto T. Cast
05-01-03, 02:45 AM
Simmons finds new MIA evidence

By ADAM BOWLES
Norwich Bulletin; abowles@norwichbuletin.com

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NORWICH -- Citing new promise for long-sought closure, U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons Monday recapped his visit to Vietnam, where he oversaw efforts to recover the remains of a Waterford native who is missing in action.

The six-day mission last week was the most successful of the three trips into the country's central highlands to find evidence of a downed helicopter flown by Army Capt. Arnold Holm in 1972, said Simmons, R-2nd District.

"The professionals for the first time have a good feeling about the case," he said at his downtown office, pictures and a map of the trip adorning his wall. "It's been difficult. This is the closest they've ever been. It's promising."

In terrain so hilly that helicopter wheels had to be secured to the ground before passengers exited, and in jungle so thick machetes were used to clear paths, an investigative team found a Seiko watch, an Army penlight, boots and electrical parts that may be linked to the crash site.

The findings may be enough to convince the Department of Defense to spend some $500,000 on a dig led by a U.S. archaeologist. Already, the recovered items triggered an increase in the number of Vietnamese foresters at the site, from 12 to 50.

"We found a sufficient amount of evidence of a U.S. Army presence in the area," Simmons said.

News of the discoveries heartened Holm's widow, Margarete, who lives in Pennsylvania. When Simmons contacted her by phone from a hotel in Vietnam, she made him promise to hug all the soldiers for her. To the embarrassment of the recipients, Simmons did just that after he hung up.

Connecticut MIAs

Holm is one of 38 Connecticut natives listed as missing in action in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and one of 2,500 Americans missing in those countries.

The Joint Task Force-Full Accountability, which investigates the whereabouts of missing American soldiers, recovers an average of 10 sets of remains each year. But the success rate is expected to decline as searches move to more difficult-to-access sites.

Last year, the remains of Air Force Major Peter Cleary, a Colchester native, were recovered in the mountains of North Vietnam. Simmons attended his emotional memorial service. He said Monday that it is important for Margarete Holm to get the same closure.

The trip also had personal interest for Simmons, who returned to Vietnam for the first time in three decades. He served there during the war, earning two Bronze Star medals from the Army.

"It brought back memories, but a least they weren't shooting at me," he said with a smile.

At her own expense, Simmons' wife, Heidi, accompanied him to Vietnam, where she toured a school that will be a sister to a magnet school in Waterford.

Simmons said the United States should have helped rebuild Vietnam after the war and was glad to see ties strengthening between both countries.

Originally published Tuesday, April 29, 2003



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