In Vietnam, Undersea Robots Aid the Pentagon’s Search for War Dead
Allowing Americans to bring advanced underwater robots into Vietnamese-controlled areas of the South China Sea – equipment that could have military applications for both governments – is also diplomatically sensitive. Mr. Pietruszka said that obtaining clearances for the recent expedition was “a heavy burden on all parties”.
But US-Vietnamese relations have steadily warmed since the two countries normalized relations in 1995. And for Vietnam, allowing such projects is a way to build trust with its former enemy, said Le Van Cuong, a retired Vietnamese major general.
“The outstanding characteristic of the Vietnamese people is the desire to help others,” he added.
“Fireball” in the sky
Paul Andrew Avolese, whose family declined to be interviewed, was born on June 12, 1932, according to archival military documents. He was originally from New York and served in the Air Force 4133d Bomb Wing in Vietnam.
On July 7, 1967, he and his crew were flying from a US base in Guam alongside other B-52s to bomb a target in South Vietnam, according to documents. As two of the bombers settled into place about 65 miles southeast of what was then Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital, they collided, triggering a “fireball”. One person aboard Major Avolese’s plane, Major General William J. Crumm, was the first of several American generals killed during the war.
Eight days after the crash, Air Force Col. Mitchell A. Cobeaga told Major Avolese’s parents in a letter that the exact cause of the collision was unknown. “Every man here in the 4133d Bomb Wing shares your anxiety for your son,” he added.
Major Avolese, who was 35 at the time of the crash, was pronounced dead within days of writing the letter. The US military subsequently classified his remains, along with those of the other five missing, as “unrecoverable.” Still, investigators have searched for potential leads on the wreckage of the two B-52s for decades.
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