Airman Missing From Vietnam War Accounted For (Cooper)

Release No: 15-015 April 15, 2015
PRINT | E-MAIL

The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that the remains of a serviceman, missing from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

Air Force Col. William E. Cooper, 45, of Dothan, Ala., will be buried April 23, in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. On April 24, 1966, Cooper was the pilot of an F-105D Thunderchief conducting a daytime strike mission on a railroad bridge near the Thai Nguyen Industrial Complex in Vietnam, when his aircraft was struck by an enemy surface-to-air missile causing it to crash. Another pilot on the mission reported seeing Cooper eject from the aircraft before impact. He was initially carried in the status of missing in action. A military review board later amended his status to presumed killed in action.

On July 31, 1989, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) repatriated a box of remains to the U.S. that allegedly contained the remains of Cooper. Due to the state of technology at that time, the remains could not be identified.

On Oct. 31, 1993, a joint U.S./S.R.V. team surveyed a site associated with Cooper’s loss, but found no evidence of an aircraft; however, one local villager recalled seeing an American F-105 crash on April 24, 1966, about nine miles from the current site. The villager also reported that after the aircraft crashed, he went to the scene, where he helped bury the pilot’s remains and after the war helped a Vietnamese military official exhume the remains. The joint team then surveyed the purported crash site.

From April to November 1997, multiple joint U.S./S.R.V. teams excavated the purported crash site and possible burial site of Cooper. The team recovered human remains, as well as aircraft wreckage and crew-related materials. The support from Vietnam was vital to this recovery operation.

Between October 1995 and April 2013, samples of the remains were sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) for analysis; however, due to state of technology, the remains could not be identified at that time. With the advances in technology, DPAA and AFDIL scientists re-examined the remains and were able to make an identification.

In the identification of Cooper, scientists from DPAA and AFDIL used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, including mitochondrial DNA, which matched his sisters’ DNA.

Today there are 1,628 American service members that are still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans, who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at www.dpaa.mil or call (703) 699-1420.