At Long Last, Honors for 12 Fallen Men: Identified 37 Years After Deadly Battle in Vietnam

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They had waited 37 years for this moment, but family members of 12 U.S. servicemen honored yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery approached the grave site cautiously, under a shield of umbrellas. Behind them, 12 soldiers stood in the rain, each holding a flag folded just so, the blue stars just visible.

For years, relatives never knew exactly what happened that day in 1968 at Ngok Tavak, a remote hill in Vietnam, after the North Vietnamese closed in. Some got out, led by a wild Australian Army captain on a trail blazed by napalm. Others weren't so lucky.

For years, their families heard conflicting stories about what happened to them. They were missing. Out on a search party. Or dead.

Official documents listed Marine Lance Cpl. Raymond T. Heyne of Mason, Wis., with a string of inconclusive letters after his name -- KIA, MIA, POW -- his sister, Janice Kostello, said yesterday.

But after a 12-year investigation that included interviews with Vietnamese and U.S. soldiers and three excavations of the jungle site near the border with Laos, the Department of Defense recently was able to identify the remains of five servicemen who died during the 10-hour battle, as well as the remains of seven others who were interred in a single coffin yesterday. Heyne was buried privately in a separate grave yesterday, and four others were to be buried in their home states.

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