Veterans Advantage Cover Story: Jim Webb’s Honoring South Vietnamese Soldiers

Jim Webb

Jim Webb, a Vietnam War Veteran, former Secretary of the Navy and Senator from Virginia, continues to lead a life of service. Thanks to Jim’s great efforts, 81 deceased South Vietnamese soldiers were interned nearly 55 years after their deaths.

In late 1965 an American C-123 was shot down in a contested area during the Vietnam War, killing all four American crew members and 81 unidentified South Vietnamese (ARVN) Airborne soldiers. In 1986 their remains were finally sent to Hawaii but remained unclaimed. The American crew's remains were identified through DNA testing, and were given proper interment, but the crew's ARVN allies were not.

Webb first discovered this situation in late 2017 and has been quietly working with the State Department, Department of Defense, U.S. diplomats in Vietnam, and through them with the Vietnamese to resolve the situation. 

"My sole motivation in this endeavor has been to properly honor the dignity of service and to bring respect to all of those who did serve, on whichever side," he wrote in a letter to friends announcing the news.

"They have indeed become 'Men Without a Country,' after having given their lives on behalf of a country that no longer exists," Webb adds.

Webb and Gino Castagnetti, a fellow Marine with whom he served in Vietnam, arranged for the transfer of the remains from Hawaii to California for interment.

"To my fellow Vietnam Veterans, I would say that this is about a lot more than our memories of the war. It is also about how history should fairly be judging the contributions of our ARVN allies and why many of them fought," Webb told Veterans Advantage in an exclusive interview.

"I decided that given my experience of working with both sides among the Vietnamese, and having served in many different government roles, including Secretary of the Navy and in the Senate as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee's East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee, I had a moral obligation to use those experiences in order to get this done," he added.
  
To raise an estimated $100,000 to complete the interment, Webb created a 501(c) 3 called The Lost Soldiers Foundation, with the pro bono assistance of Jeff McFadden, a Navy veteran, and attorney. Fred Smith, a fellow Marine and the founder of FedEx, provided the foundation $50,000 to start.

“We will never know the names of the men we honor today,” said current Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who joined Webb at the interment ceremony at Freedom Park in Westminster, California on October 26. “We’ll never know their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations, or their stories. We’ll never know the loved ones that they left behind – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives and children – who never learned of their fate, and never had the opportunity to say goodbye.”

The ceremony drew a crowd of over 2,000 at Freedom Park. After that, the remains of the 81 received their final resting home at the nearby Westminster Cemetery. The casket was interred next to the memorial for boat people who fled communist Vietnam and came to the United States.  

“I think it’s a good choice,” Vuong Pham, a South Vietnamese veteran, told the Los Angeles Times about the final resting place. “We’re very happy with what Jim Webb did for our soldiers.”

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