Green Berets Finally Together In Arlington
by Sean Kimmons, Defense Media Activity-Army
February 5, 2019
Holding back tears, Judi Boyer-Bouchard gently rubbed her fingers
across her brother's name etched into a white marble headstone.
Judi Boyer-Bouchard touches the
headstone for her brother, Sgt. 1st Class Alan Boyer, during
a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, VA on June 20, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
With two bundles of flowers in her other hand, she leaned over
and placed one against the headstone. It was the first time she had
seen the solemn marker for Sgt. 1st Class Alan Boyer, a 22-year-old
Special Forces Soldier who disappeared in 1968 during a covert
mission in Laos.
Decades later, Boyer's remains would be
recovered by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or DPAA, and
later buried with full military honors here. Judi visited the
cemetery in late June to mark the second anniversary of his funeral,
or what she called his homecoming.
Five rows directly behind
it, another headstone with a dark gold inscription -- signifying a
Medal of Honor recipient --- drew her closer to the back of the
cemetery's Section 28. There, she laid the rest of the flowers for
1st Lt. Doug Hagen, her brother's best friend who joined the Army on
a sole mission to find his friend.
Boyer and Hagen, who was
posthumously awarded the medal for his actions in the Vietnam War,
were inseparable after they first met in high school in Decatur,
Sgt. 1st Class Alan Boyer, left,
and 1st Lt. Doug Hagen, who were high school classmates and
served in Vietnam. (Courtesy photos by the Boyer and Hagen
Both were outgoing and leaders of their peers. In their senior
year, Doug served as the class president and Boyer as the vice
"So brave, so smart, so much potential," she said.
"But, both of them, doing what they wanted to do to make the world a
better place. It's a miracle that Alan is by Doug today."
Since 1973, the remains of more than 1,000 Americans who went
missing in the Vietnam War have been recovered, identified and
returned to their families. Just under 1,600 are still unaccounted
for from the war.
Those who have yet to be found are all part
of DPAA's enduring mission, which began during the war and has since
expanded around the world in search of Americans from past conflicts
since World War II.
Each year, Soldiers and, on occasion,
Army veterans participate in the dozens of recovery and
investigation missions conducted by the agency's joint teams.
"We are still inherently fulfilling our promise made that when
we send a service member off to war, that should they become
missing, that it's our responsibility as a nation to bring them back
home," said Kelly McKeague, director of DPAA.
Once Hagen heard Boyer had gone missing during his secretive
mission, which was to install a wiretap along the Ho Chi Minh trail
in Laos, he left college and signed up for the Army.
later learned Hagen had joined in hopes of discovering what had
happened to her brother.
While in, Hagen was able to get
assigned to the same unit as Boyer, called the Military Assistance
Command, Vietnam Studies and Observations Group, or MACV-SOG. The
special operations unit conducted unconventional warfare missions
behind enemy lines.
At the time, Judi was a 19-year-old
college student struggling with the recent news of her brother.
Years of frustration followed, she said, due to the lack of details
surrounding his disappearance.
"You can't really explain what
that loss is like. That not knowing what happened," she said. "Did
they die that day, were they taken prisoner, did they live for
Hagen went on to deploy to South Vietnam,
where he served as the team leader of a reconnaissance team. During
that time, the unit was no longer allowed to execute missions in
In the early morning of Aug. 7, 1971, his team came
under a fierce enemy attack while on a mission in northern South
Vietnam near the former U.S. Marine Corps base at Khe Sanh.
Vastly outnumbered, the 25-year-old officer led his small team's
defense and repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire, according to
his Medal of Honor award citation.
After he witnessed an
enemy rocket hit a nearby bunker and then be overrun by the enemy,
Hagen moved toward it to help his team members. In his desperate
attempt to save others, he was fatally wounded.
remains were subsequently returned to the U.S. and buried in
Arlington. His close friend, however, was still unaccounted for.
MISSING IN ACTION
A few years before, during Boyer's mission, a helicopter had
been called out to extract him, two other Special Forces Soldiers
and seven Vietnamese soldiers from the Laotian jungle.
enemy had them surrounded.
Unable to land, a rope ladder was
dropped down from the helicopter. After the Vietnamese soldiers made
it onto the ladder, Boyer, Sgt. 1st Class George Brown and Sgt.
Charles Huston tried to get onto it when enemy gunfire cut the
ladder, stranding all three men on the ground.
A few days
afterward, a search and rescue team went out to the location but no
sign of the men could be found.
When that information finally
trickled down to the Boyer family years later, Judi still grasped at
some hope that her brother may still be alive.
"To me, that
indicated that they were probably taken prisoner because the enemy
was right there," she said. "But again, we didn't know anything."
Several investigations and excavations followed, including one
that discovered a tooth that led to the identification of Brown. The
case for Huston is still open.
While Judi received regular
updates from DPAA or its predecessor over the years, she said
officials informed her no further pursuit would be made in her
brother's case. She was told that witnesses to the incident, which
occurred in the dense jungle, were no longer alive or could not be
Many recovery missions can take years to complete and
are extremely difficult to conduct in Southeast Asia, where the
acidity of the soil eats away at human bones. As the years pass,
verifiable witness accounts are also harder to obtain.
is our biggest enemy," McKeague said in a separate interview.
"Witnesses are dying. Often times, our biggest attempt to be able to
find an individual is to have a firsthand witness."
Understanding of the situation, the decision still left Judi
"I was very depressed," she said, "thinking I
would truly never know."
On March 7, 2016, the day before what would have been her
brother's 70th birthday, Judi received a phone call.
picked up, a man with a deep voice began to speak on the other end.
He informed her that he was an Army service casualty officer.
"My legs literally went out from under me," she recalled. "I
said, 'You found Alan.' And he said, 'We did.' I could barely
As Boyer's only sibling, with both of her parents
deceased, Judi became the main point of contact.
A few days
later, DPAA officials and the casualty officer visited Judi at her
home in Florida and provided a report on the forensics and
investigations into her brother's case. The funeral service was also
She was told some Laotian people had found his
remains, which eventually made it to the agency's lab. Through her
DNA sample, she said, a piece of femur bone was linked to her
"From that tiny piece of bone, they identified
Alan," she said.
During the visit, Judi reconnected with Jack
Kull, a policy officer at the agency who had befriended her and her
family years before. Kull previously researched Boyer's team and had
provided the Boyer family with details of its fateful mission.
He said Judi asked the former agency director, retired Army Lt.
Gen. Michael Linnington, if there was a possibility that her brother
could be buried close to his friend.
Soon after, a plot in
Section 28 was reserved for Boyer.
"The stars were aligning,"
Kull said. "Al was going to be able to be buried near Doug. For
Judi, I'm sure it was very bittersweet."
Before the funeral
on June 22, 2016, she was invited to see her brother's casket. As
she walked up to it, she noticed it was half open. She looked inside
and admired the care given to her brother's uniform that proudly
displayed his decorations and medals, including a Silver Star he had
earned in his last mission.
"There was his Army uniform there
with his remains tucked inside," she said. "That was truly an
emotional and overwhelming moment. I had no idea that he would be
buried in a uniform."
The casket was then put onto a caisson
and wheeled out by horses to his gravesite, just 15 feet from his
friend's final resting place. There, a customary ceremony with
military precision took place with the playing of Taps, a gun salute
and a folded U.S. flag presented to Judi. His engraved headstone
would be placed at the site later.
A large contingent of
family, friends, and Special Forces Soldiers and DPAA officials
attended the ceremony to share in Judi's joy for the return of her
She asked Kull to deliver the eulogy.
a funeral, but in one sense it was a celebration," Kull said. "He
was back home on American soil and he's going to be buried with
heroes and literally feet from his high school buddy who went to
Vietnam to look for him and was lost as well."
the service "a true homecoming." It was a homecoming that would not
have happened, she said, if not for the dedication of those at the
"That was 48 years of hoping, grieving and
looking for answers," she said. "The men and women of DPAA are
dedicated to finding [those] answers. I am one of the very fortunate
who have an answer now."
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