|Name:||William Aaron Berry|
|Rank/Branch:||Corporal/US Marine Corps|
3rd Marine Division
|Date of Birth:||18 December 1947|
|Home of Record:||Yreka, CA|
|Date of Loss:||21 September 1967|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Killed in Action/Body Recovered|
|Other Personnel in Incident:||Kenneth L. Plumadore (missing); Mark W. Judge and W. Aaron Berry (not on official list)|
SYNOPSIS: On 21 September 1967, LCpl. Kenneth L. Plumadore, Cpl. W. Aaron Berry and PFC Mark W. Judge were riflemen whose unit was participating in Operation Kingfisher, the purpose of which was to seek out and destroy enemy troops operating around Con Thien Firebase, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.
As the Marines were sweeping through an area near a Buddhist pagoda in jungle covered mountains approximately 4 miles northeast of the South Vietnamese/Lao border, 4 miles due north of the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp and 6 miles west of Khe Sanh, a sizable North Vietnamese Army (NVA) force ambushed the Marines with point-blank machine gun fire, artillery and/or mortar fire. In the initial minutes of combat, 31 Marines were cut down and either killed or wounded. The assault was so savage that the withdrawing Americans were forced to leave 15 fellow Marines on the battlefield. According to the official report, LCpl. Plumadore "received gunshot rounds thru and thru the chest." Airstrikes were called in to cover the surviving Marines' withdrawal, and later bombed again to destroy enemy personnel remaining in the area.
On 10 October 1967, 19 days later, a search and recovery (SAR) detachment along with a security detail returned to the cratered battlefield. They recovered 14 badly decomposing fragmentary remains of those men left behind and only the helmet worn by the 15th Marine. Later Mortuary Affairs personnel in DaNang positively identified 12 of the 14 sets of recovered remains using dental records. The remaining 2 sets of remains were subsequently also identified by using "the best anthropological and forensic evidence available at the time." Those Marines were Cpl. W. Aaron Berry and PFC Mark W. Judge. LCpl. Kenneth Plumadore, the only man not recovered and identified, was declared Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered. Also on 10 October 1967, the SAR detachment recovered a 15th set of remains of an aviator clothed in a full flight suit that they initially identified as a Marine pilot who was in fact shot down near Vinh, North Vietnam. Because of the location of loss of all concerned, that identification was later rescinded.
Once the other remains had been identified and returned to their families, the Plumadore family was told that LCpl. Plumadore's body probably had been totally destroyed before the SAR team could get into the battle site. He was listed KIA/BNR in spite of the fact that a declassified US military intelligence report received shortly after the incident stated: "DIA reporting from a highly reliable source indicated a seriously wounded American was captured on 21 September 1967 and his North Vietnamese captors were moving him to Kinh Mon hamlet that evening. Reportedly, that individual died during an escape attempt on 27 September 1967 in a field hospital."
During the 18th JTFFA (Joint Task Force for Full Accounting) field investigation of the Con Thien battle site, US personnel interviewed Vietnamese residents of the area who were there in 1967. One of those Vietnamese, Mr. Thuong, told them that "he visited the wounded American detained in a tunnel complex in Vinh Thuy Village. He heard the American was captured near Con Thien in October 1967, escaped, was recaptured and subsequently died." Mr. Thuong's information was supported by a hearsay report by Lt. Col. Bien who had heard about that same incident and the captured American during the war. Neither Vietnamese could provide information on how, when and under what circumstances that American died.
The third Vietnamese, Mr. Vinh, provided firsthand information of his observations of "a wounded American being treated at a medical facility - Hospital #48 - around Vinh Thuy Village in September 1967." He heard the American died and was buried in the hospital cemetery. He added that Mr. Son supervised the burial. In interviewing Mr. Son, the JTFFA learned that he did "supervise the American POW's burial at Military Hospital #48" and "in around 1984 guided government officials to the site location where they exhumed the remains."
In April 1986, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam returned to the US remains of an individual allegedly captured in Con Thien who died on 27 September 1967 in Vinh Linh. The remains were designated "CILHI 0048-86."
On 8 May 1989, the US Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CIL-HI) "compared the dental remains of CILHI 0048-86 to the available records of all individuals involved in the incident 0n 21 September 1967 during Operation Kingfisher at Con Thien, South Vietnam. That examination revealed that the remains were not those of LCpl. Plumadore and were possibly those of either Cpl. Berry or PFC Judge" - the two Marines whose remains were not positively identified by dental records in 1967. That report went on to state the "dental records of Cpl. W. Aaron Berry were not in his wartime file. PFC Mark W. Judge's records are not inconsistent with the remains of CILHI 0048-86, but are not sufficient for a positive identification."
In 1992, Kenneth Plumadore's family received a declassified sighting report of "a very tall, thin, dark haired American who was captured on 21 September 1967" and was seen being lead away from the battlefield by NVA soldiers. The report added that "he suffered a bad leg wound." The description of the captured Marine fit only LCpl. Plumadore who stood 6 foot 3 inches tall and was slight of build for a man of that height.
Also since 1992, declassified documents indicate there were at least 42 Marines and 5 Navy Corpsmen killed/missing in the Con Thien action on 21 September 1967. Additionally, documents surfaced showing that Operation Buffalo was conducted in this same area in July 1967 with as many as 53 killed/missing and at least one of those remaining unaccounted for.
In 1994, US government concluded publicly the remains returned by the Vietnamese in 1986 were those of Mark Judge. They further conveniently concluded that somehow Aaron Berry's and Kenneth Plumadore's remains were accidentally buried in the wrong caskets in such a way that Cpl. Berry's remains were buried under a headstone bearing PFC Judge's name, and LCpl. Plumadore's remains were buried under one bearing Cpl. Berry's name. Under the circumstances of loss, original identification/misidentification of remains, and only the US government's determination that CILHI 0048-86 are the mortal remains of her son's, Mary Jellison, Mark Judge's mother, requested independent mt-DNA analysis done to confirm or disprove CIL-HI's findings before she accepts CILHI 0048-86 as being her son.
In April 1996, the remains buried under Mark Judge's headstone were exhumed. In its headlong rush to account for each of these three Marines, CILHI experts now identify Aaron Berry as the man buried under Mark Judge's headstone based on one tooth!
In June 1996, the remains originally buried as William Berry were exhumed. Those skeletal remains are of a person who stood only 5 foot 8 inches tall with a very heavy, muscular bone structure; which arrived at the DaNang Mortuary on 1 November 1967 - long after the rest of the recovered remains from the Con Thien battle site. There was only part a jaw in the casket containing two teeth, with one being a wisdom tooth. Interestingly, Kenneth Plumadore had all his wisdom teeth extracted before going to Vietnam. Further, in spite of the fact that those remains were virtually in tact and being held together by "tissue and cartilage," CILHI concluded the remains in that casket were co-mingled with the portion of the jaw belonging to Kenneth Plumadore and the rest of the remains belonging to someone else. Those unidentified individual remains represent the 16tth body recovered from Operation Kingfisher.
In 1994 and again in 1997, CIL-HI performed mt-DNA tests on remains CILHI 0048-86 using blood samples from Mrs. Jellison and her daughter. According to CIL-HI documents, the first set of tests confirmed the identification of those remains as Mark Judge based on "the unique DNA sequences of the mother and son." However, the tests conducted 3 years later are not so conclusive. According to the second set of test result findings, "the DNA sample CILHI 0048-86 matched 64 other DNA samples in CIL-HI's database."
Our government continues to speculate over who was buried where, and the families continue to wonder if the intelligence reports received in 1967 by our government actually document more than one Marine being captured by the NVA after the battle near Con Thien on that September morning in 1967. Likewise, the government is faced with the reality that more men were killed/missing than previously acknowledged. The fact that probably two Marines were captured, if not more than two, from that action is an additional problem for them they have yet to find a solution to.
The remains originally identified as Mark Judge in 1967 were accepted without question by the Berry family and reburied in his gravesite. The remains identified as CILHI 0048-86 and given only a 1 in 64 chance of actually being Mark Judge were reburied on 20 November 1999 in the Judge family plot. According to Mrs. Jellison who always believed the remains she buried in 1967 were those of her son, when the time came and all avenues had been exhausted with no further alternatives available to seek out the truth, she would give the CIL-HI remains a home because "this poor boy never had a funeral. He deserves the honor."
As for the remains exhumed from Aaron Berry's grave, they reside at the CIL-HI facility in Hawaii labeled "unknown." Kenneth Plumadore's fate, like that of many other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, continues to be unknown.
Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Military personnel in Vietnam were called upon to fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.