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POSTED ON 5.29.2006




Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday 28 May 2006

The new war was just starting up, and the old one was long over but hardly forgotten on the day the jungle team found the tooth.

It was not a whole tooth, just a fragment, a piece of a piece of a man.

That is what you would expect, after all. You wouldn't think, three decades after the war, that the bones of Billy Dillender and Jack Barker and John Dugan and John Chubb would come home whole.

You wouldn't imagine in your wildest dreams that a search team in the remote mountains of Laos would be able to reach down into the caked, yellow dirt and pull up a whole tooth, shiny and perfect.

No, a fragment, a shard, a piece of tooth or bone. This is all you hope for when you are searching. Or waiting.

It was 20 March 1971, when the Huey went down in a fireball over Savannakhet Province.

It was 23 November 2002, when investigators found the tooth.

And it was two years after that, in the autumn of 2004, that a search team revisited the site and found the evidence that meant it finally had it right.

A bit of bone. Eight more teeth. An insignia patch from the 101st Airborne Division.

A blue sock.

Yes, this is where Major Barker and his crew went down.

Billy Dillender of Florida served as crew chief.

His mother, Ann, still remembers the day he came to her and said he wanted to sign up for the U.S. Army ­ at age 17.

She said no.

He begged.

She said no again.

Then he turned 18. She said yes.

By 19, he was dead, frozen in time.

Ann couldn't, or wouldn't, believe it.

" I always thought that one day Billy would just come walking in my front door," she said when it was all over, her son found and flown home and buried in the sweet green grass at Arlington National Cemetery.

" Every day, I thought he might come back. If I saw a uniform anywhere near my house, I would just freeze up, thinking it might be Billy.

" I did that for 35 years, and now I'm not going to do it anymore.

" I've closed it."

The boys are coming home. That is how the papers wrote it, but this wasn't entirely accurate.

You can't go to Vietnam, sign up for a risky rescue mission, get shot down in the jungle over Laos, crash to your death in a flaming chopper, then lie bone-still in the jungle for 31 years before anybody finds the first clue to your remains and still be called a boy.

You have to be a man by that point.

Jack Barker was 31, a serious, straight-arrow major from Georgia, the one who said We're going in. He was the commanding officer and, it would later be rumored, generous enough to climb atop a chopper and announce that anybody who turned the mission down would not be thought less well of.

Captain John Dugan was 23, a redheaded Catholic high school graduate from New Jersey who liked to alphabetize his rock 'n' roll records. On his first tour, the Army mistakenly classified him as MIA, but after that got straightened out, he went back for his second.

Private First Class John Chubb, 20, from California, slightly built, dyslexic and protective of his friends, had just come over and was still getting used to things when he went up as a door gunner. It was his third day in the air.

And then there's Billy Dillender, the kid from Naples, so eager to get himself into the Army and off to war. At 6 feet 2 inches, he stood so ramrod straight his friends can still recall all these years later the precise backward tilt of his shoulders.

" I have a picture of him in our hooch," says Rich Ginosky, who served with him. " He looks like he's the tallest guy in the world. It sounds corny, but he always stood up so straight, like he was proud. I told his brother later, and he just laughed. He said that was from their dad being in the military."

Bill Dillender, who died two years ago, came from a long line of military men and fought in World War II himself. He was brilliant and irascible. But he loved his boys.

His oldest, Billy, had not excelled in school. He was a cutup. He was also immensely likable. And determined.

" At first, Bill was a grunt, out in the jungle all the time," Ginosky says. " Then he came into the flight platoon as a door gunner. Everybody liked him. He progressed. He would help the crew chief work on the aircraft, and he developed enough knowledge where he became a crew chief himself.

" They said, ' OK, you're good enough now so that you can do this.' So he got his own aircraft."

Dan Dillender remembers his older brother's first jump at Fort Benning, Georgia.

" Something happened before the jump, and he got really mad and punched something. He got several stitches in his hand, and it almost cost him his jump. But then he jumped and he did fine."

More than fine.

He made choppers.

" They needed door gunners," Dan says, " and he decided to get himself up off the ground and into the air ­ where he could help people."

They got themselves a good soldier, the Kingsmen of B Company, 101st Aviation Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, when they got Dillender.

Which is not to say he was perfect.

Not to say he wasn't occasionally over the top.

" Oh, my," his mother says, sighing. " Where should I even start ?"

With the time Billy got shot with rock salt for stealing a watermelon from a patch ?

The time he tried to sell a " stray " dog at the stock barn, a deal that might have gone through if the dog's actual owner hadn't shown up ?

Or how about the time he agreed to jump into a car trunk and ride around town with his ( ketchup-soaked ) arm dangling out ?

" The police thought they had a dead body," Ann Dillender says. " But when they opened the trunk, Billy popped out.

" They were shocked, but that was just Billy."


It is not easy to find a tooth in a jungle.

The search took 12 years, if you count every false lead and dead end, and there were plenty.

This is not your typical missing-persons case, where police put out bulletins and phone all available witnesses to arrange interviews, then stop for coffee on the way.

This is Laos.

The poorest, least developed country in Southeast Asia.

The case files read like a can of alphabet soup.

The search mission fell under the auspices of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command­JPAC for short ­ which was created in 2003 after the merger of the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA) and the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CILHI).

The newer command has responsibility for finding the remains of fallen soldiers around the world, and though it concentrates on bringing home those lost in World War II or later, it occasionally finds itself involved in an old World War I case, or even one from the War of 1812.

It seems an utterly impossible task, this business of bringing the bones back ­ 78,000 servicemen are missing from World War II alone ( and some fell into the ocean ).

Still, JPAC is intent on trying, and more times than you might think, it succeeds.

" At any given time, we have several hundred ' X-marks-the-spots ' all over the world," JPAC spokeswoman Major Rumi Nielson-Green says. " We go all over the place. We've conducted investigations in Tibet, in Papua New Guinea, in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, in urban areas in the continental U.S. and on farms in Europe ­ you name it, we've probably been there.

" We have investigators on the ground. Just finding the right spot can take years."

The families know this.

Major Barker's family knows.

Captain Dugan's knows.

Sergeant Dillender's certainly does.

And so does the family of PFC Chubb, who had been in Vietnam only 28 days when the chopper went down.

The " Jack Barker Case ", as it is informally known, carried the official tag of Case 1731, and this meant that out in the field, as search teams dug for the bones, helped along by a ragtag freelance crew of Laotian villagers, the conversation went something like this:

When are we going to have any luck with 1731 ?

Meaning ... When the hell are we going to find the bones ?

In military documents, the crux of the case is laid out in a single, painful paragraph:

" This aircraft was one of seventeen participating in the rescue effort in support of Operation Lam Son 719, an attempt by the ARVN to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail in eastern Laos. Specifically, they were attempting to extract troops of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) who were surrounded by a superior enemy force in the vicinity of the Landing Zone (LZ) Brown ... "

If you ask some of the people who were around that day, they will boil the jargon down considerably:

Great guys on a suicide mission.

Lam Son was a nightmare. The U.S. choppers flew in support of the South Vietnamese army, flying troops in and out as they attempted to cut off the enemy along the tangle of secret pathways nicknamed " The Trail."

The choppers flew like magic through the jungle, depositing troops and pulling them out. The guys in the Hueys even delivered the mail. They'd land in a jungle patch, and a grunt would come running from the undergrowth, holding out an envelope for his ma back home.

But the choppers, big, ungainly, vulnerable, took huge hits.

" The Helicopter War," Newsweek magazine called it, in 1971: " Daring young American pilots have scooped up their Silver Stars, Distinguished Flying Crosses and Air Medals by the bushel ­ along with Purple Hearts."

The numbers tell just part of the story: hundreds of choppers destroyed and damaged, dozens of crewmen killed. Many more wounded and missing.

The men themselves tell the rest.

Joe Kline:

" We loved what we were doing. The folks on helicopters were all volunteers. At the time, you didn't even realize how close you were. No false pretenses. Lots of time in everyday life, people wear a facade.

" This strips it down."

Dave Whiteley:

" The bond between us and the grunts was tremendous. It was a gratifying mission at the time the war was ­ well, you knew it was going to end, and it wasn't going to be like World War II. But we had pretty good morale. Those guys in the bush need you every day, and that's what motivated you.

" You know the saying ' Nobody left behind ' ? That came from Vietnam. If there's any chance of getting in there and bringing people out, you take it.

" That's what happened that day."

Much of what we know about that day comes from a book by journalist Earl Swift called Where They Lay.

He published it in 2003 ­ before the remains were found, which was too bad, because Swift himself in 2001 had joined one of the search teams in Laos. He spent an awful lot of time thinking about who the four men were, why they flew, where the bones might be ­ and what happened on 20 March 1971.

Lam Son, Swift wrote, " was the largest airborne assault ever attempted, eclipsing all others in what was largely an airborne war. Thanks to the courage of the crews aboard the choppers, it may well rank as the finest hour in the history of U.S. Army aviation.

" It was undoubtedly also the darkest ... "

On 20 March, two sorties went out, one in the morning, one in the afternoon.

The morning went badly. Very.

Just to sum up: The Kingsmen of Company B flew in to save South Vietnamese troops stranded amid heavy groundfire. Barker and Dugan took heavy hits.

Rich Ginosky got shot down, blacked out, came to in a bomb crater.

A Kingsman named Al Fischer went down, too. Dillender and Chubb flew in to save him.

Eventually, though it's hard to believe, everybody came back alive.

And then ?

What happened ?

Some would rather not talk about it. "It's just too painful," Whiteley says.

But this we know: Barker called for volunteers to go back in. Some men said yes, and some thought he was nuts, that it was a death mission. Only one chopper after the morning mission was flyable, the one with No. 185 on the tail.

Ginosky, still dazed, was sitting on his cot when he heard the urgent call for volunteers. He got up, went out, found 185 and started getting it ready.

" Then Dillender walks up," Ginosky recalls. " He says, ' I'll go.' I said, ' No big deal, I'll go.' But then he says, ' No, it's my bird, so I should do it.'

" And he was right, it was his bird, so he went ­ and I've thought about it every day since."

Investigators dug in triple-digit heat in a jungle crawling with unexploded mines and poisonous snakes to bring home the bones, the teeth, the insignia patch, the humble remains of war.

Case 1731 with all its ups and downs is cataloged, analyzed, prioritized and summarized in meticulous reports by military and civilian personnel.

In 1986, something surprising but not totally unprecedented happened: A refugee in Thailand told an interviewer he had found an ID tag that once belonged to a certain PFC John Chubb. If so, investigators thought, it had certainly traveled far.

Stranger things have occurred, so they documented the find and went back to work.

In 1989, with Laos now officially open for excavation, a team dug at a particularly promising site and came up with a serial number plate from a chopper ­ the wrong one.

In 2001, the same thing happened.

Frustration set in.

Investigators felt like those bones were calling out.

In November 2002, the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting returned to Laos to interview 13 witnesses in four villages about eight crash sites and homed in on the most likely.

And they found something.

The tooth.

The remains, not just of that day, but those found when a team returned two years later, were repatriated to the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, the world's biggest forensic anthropology lab.

And there, science reached its conclusion:

The teeth matched the men.

Certain things, the paperwork does not say.

It does not say, for instance, that Chubb was a whiz with a toolbox who loved cars and motorcycles and basically anything that could be taken apart and put back together again. He stripped down his first car, a 1948 Oldsmobile, " to the bolts," Swift reports, then got hold of a cherry-red Chevy Nomad and refitted it with Cadillac seats.

It does not say that Barker was two days shy of his 32nd birthday and had just called home before he went up that day. Or that his youngest son, Michael, would grow up to consider his father a hero but always refers to him ( in the past tense ) as " Jack " ­ because he never really got the chance to know him.

It does not say that Dugan had a cute, snaggletoothed smile and that it was he who padded out into the jungle night to hold a flashlight while a buddy tried to repair a messed-up helicopter.

The paperwork does not say, cannot say, that during the visitation, seven weeks ago at Murphy Funeral Home in Arlington, the Dillender family set out all the pictures it still has of Billy, the ones that survived after a house fire years ago, where everything was lost, including the gorgeous reel-to-reel player Billy took over to Vietnam.

Billy in uniform. Billy in an artsy shot, with a whisper of a mustache. Billy in a grainy, handsome close-up.

And, finally, a formal, Leave It to Beaver-like family portrait in which everybody is smiling ­ Billy broadest of all.

The paperwork does not say that in this last photo, Billy's little brother Dan has an untied shoelace.

It does not say that Dan still misses him.

That night at the funeral home, at a formal remembrance for the four lost men, somebody from Jack Barker's family stood up in a room full of people to try to describe how it felt to have the bones home, at last.

It's like a door closing, she finally said.

Not with a slam.


Ann Dillender fainted.

It is true she doesn't do so well at funerals. It is true she has fainted before.

But on the April day her son was buried 35 years after he was lost, she fainted clear away on the long green grass at Arlington, where sparkling white squares stand upright to mark the graves.

The whole family came. The families of the other men, too.

A casket arrived on horse-drawn caisson, and at the final resting place, the coffins topped the grass, waiting to go down and in.

Taps played.

Ann Dillender's family carried her to the car after she went down.

Her grandson, Austin, Dan's boy, said, " It's OK, Grandma, I've gotcha."

Somebody sent for an ambulance, and that's when people saw it, the second sign.

The first sign came a few moments earlier, in the form of four gray geese that flew over the cemetery in perfect formation. People looked up and exclaimed.

The second accompanied the arrival of the county fire-rescue truck.

The truck was red, as usual, and on its side you could plainly see the number:


As in 101st Aviation Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army.

The crowd gasped, then murmured: If only the boys were looking down to see it.

It was a beautiful day in Virginia, the day the bones were buried.

Spring had announced itself, and the flowers were peeking out.

People said it was good, the way the search team found a bit of bone, and the families found a bit of peace.

Find this article at:



Transcribed by


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POSTED ON 2.16.2006
POSTED BY: Jeremy Mayfield

GIs’ remains from Laos ID’d

The following article appeared in the 15 February 2006 online edition of the Los Angeles Times:

GIs’ remains from Laos ID’d

(AP) The remains of four U.S. servicemen missing in action since the Vietnam War have been identified and will be returned to their families for burial, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

All from the Army's 101st Airborne Division, they are Major Jack L. Barker of Waycross, Georgia.; Captain John F. Dugan of Roselle, New Jersey; Sergeant William E. Dillender of Naples, Florida; and Pfc. John J. Chubb of Gardena, California.

Chubb will be buried in Inglewood, California, this week. Barker, Dugan and Dillender will be buried in April in Arlington National Cemetery, said the Pentagon's POW/Missing Personnel Office.

Their helicopter was shot down March 20, 1971, the office said in a statement.

Barker and Dugan were piloting a UH-1H Huey with Dillender and Chubb on board on a troop extraction mission in Savannakhet province of Laos.

Officials said that as the helicopter approached the landing zone, it was hit by heavy ground fire and exploded.

The remains were identified by forensic anthropologists using medical and dental records, the Pentagon said.

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POSTED ON 2.14.2006


Saturday 29 November 2003



In the fall of 1969, Bill and Ann Dillender said goodbye to their son, Billy, who quit school to join the Army.

It was their final goodbye.

On 20 March 1971, the 19-year-old private, who spent several years of his childhood in Cookeville and whose parents live there today, was a crew chief aboard a UH-1H Huey helicopter that was blown from the sky by a deadly shot from a North Vietnamese missile.

The aircraft was part of what was, at the time, the largest airborne assault ever attempted.

The goal was to close the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a supply route for the North Vietnamese.

The 101st Airborne Division soldier was declared dead.

His body, and the bodies of other crew members, were eventually consumed by the thick jungle of Laos.

But the lanky kid with a mischievous smile wasn't forgotten, not by his parents, nor by the American government.

In 2001, a team of civilian and military anthropologists entered Laos, hoping to find the remains of Dillender and his crewmates, two officers and another enlisted man.

Accompanying the scientific recovery team was Earl Swift, a reporter for the Virginian Pilot-Ledger, who has written a book about the expedition.

His book, Where They Lay, details the excruciatingly demanding work of reclaiming lost remains after three decades, and is interwoven with portraits of Dillender and the three other servicemen on that chopper who died far from home.

Unfortunately for the Dillender family, the final resting place of their son will probably never be found.

" We were really hoping they would find something. I just need a closing, especially at times," Ann Dillender said.

PFC Dillender and his crewmates are but four of about 2,500 American soldiers whose place of final rest is a jungle in Southeast Asia.

In the 1980s the U.S. government began sending teams of scientists to the area to look for remains.

Supervising the work is the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, one of the largest forensic facilities in the world.

In addition to the physical nature of the work, it's dangerous.

Before Swift left for his dig, seven recovery workers had died in the line of duty.

Among the dangers: vipers, monsoons and land mines.

The work is also expensive, up to $100 million a year, paid for by the Department of Defense.

But for the families of the lost, the work is invaluable.

Recently the result of such anthropological efforts was in the news when remains believed to be those of Charlie Dean, late brother of former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean, were located.

Charlie Dean went missing while on a backpacking trip in Laos in 1974.

In Dillender's case, however, the expedition was a crapshoot from the beginning.

" Imagine mountains drawn by a kid," Swift said, describing the terrain. "They look like gumdrops, no sloping foothills, just sheer rises.

" It's a place that in many ways is still in the Iron Age," said Swift, who has made three trips to Southeast Asia during his research.

" There's no electricity, no running water, no phone and no modern amenities. The people there eat what they can grow and what they can kill with a crossbow. It's a mean existence."

According to the author, the team spent 25 days trying to find the remains
of those on the same chopper with Dillender. ''It was immensely frustrating.
Everybody wanted to find something,'' he said.

No one more than Ann Dillender in Cookeville.

" Billy was a good son, full of life. He was always up to something, but not in a bad way, just kind of always looking to liven things up," she recalled.

" When he joined the Army, we thought it would be good for him. I don't know if he knew what he was getting into."

The mother said she enjoyed the long talks with Swift, recalling events from her son's past so that the book could adequately portray him.

"I think it's a great book. I really enjoyed it," she added.

All the events of the war in Iraq have brought back many bitter memories of times when waiting for news, any news, was unbearable, Dillender said.

Surprisingly, the recent decision of a grandson, son of Billy's younger brother, has helped her cope.

" He went into the Army. He's got a few more weeks in training," she said. "He said he did it to honor his uncle."

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POSTED ON 3.20.2004
POSTED BY: Judy Cherbonneau


You are not forgotten.
May God be with you wherever you are.
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POSTED ON 2.14.2003
POSTED BY: Candace Lokey

Not Forgotten

I have not forgotten you. I chair the Adoption Committee for The National League of Families of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action in Southeast Asia. We will always remember the 1,889 Americans still unaccounted for in Southeast Asia and the thousands of others that lost their lives. We will not stop our efforts until all of you are home where you belong.

We need to reach the next generation so that they will carry on when our generation is no longer able. To do so, we are attempting to locate photographs of all the missing. If you are reading this remembrance and have a photo and/or memory of this missing American that you would like to share for our project, please contact me at:

Candace Lokey
PO Box 206
Freeport, PA 16229
[email protected]

If you are not familiar with our organization, please visit our web site at :

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