TERAN, REFUGIO THOMAS "TOM"

Remains Recovered 13 June 1996; Identified 28 February 2002
Name: Refugio Thomas "Tom" Teran 
Rank/Branch: Staff Sergeant/US Army 
Unit: 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry, 
101st Airborne Division
Henderson Hill Fire Support Base,                         
South Vietnam 
Date of Birth: 08 May 1949 (Detroit, MI)
Home of Record: Westland, MI
Date of Loss: 06 May 1970 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 163840N 1065600E (YD081411)
Click coordinates to view maps
Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel In Incident: Larry G. Kier (missing) 

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  On May 6, 1970, then PFC Larry G. Kier, rifleman, was assigned to Company A; and PFC Refugio T. "Tom" Teran, rifleman, assigned to different company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. Likewise, both companies were assigned to defend an ammunition storage area near Henderson Hill Artillery Fire Support Base located in the forested hills on the north side of Highway 9 approximately 10 miles east-northeast of Khe Sanh and the same distance northeast of the South Vietnamese/Lao border. It was also roughly 11 miles south-southwest of Firebase Vandergrift, 16 miles west-southwest of Quang Tri City, and 18 miles south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.

At roughly 0500 hours, North Vietnamese regulars (NVA) using flamethrowers overran a guard station and American defensive positions at the ammunition storage facility. As soon as the alarm sounded, US troops stationed in the main part of the base, were loaded onto helicopters and transported to the ammo dump to aid in its defense. During the brutal battle that began in the pre-dawn hours and continued for hours, the napalm stores and over 1000 rounds of 155mm artillery shells "cooked off." Larry Kier and Tom Teran were last seen running toward a barricade close to the storage area and both men were believed to safely reach different firing positions behind it.

PFC Kier moved from the barricade to a bunker with two other soldiers. Shortly thereafter NVA soldiers threw a satchel charge against the bunker. When it exploded, one of the Americans was killed and the second soldier wounded. The ammunition storage area itself was located within 20 meters of the bunker. It was hit by enemy ground fire, exploded and began to burn furiously. The wounded soldier was rescued, but he was unable to accurately report what happened to Larry Kier.

Meanwhile the barricade itself was hit by at least one enemy rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) in the area where PFC Teran was believed to be fighting. Napalm canisters stored nearby ignited and leaked their blazing fluid into American firing positions along the barricade. Everything in the path of the napalm was decimated.

Later that day, American forces regained control over Henderson Hill and the adjacent ammunition storage dump. The next day a search and recovery (SAR) team from Graves Registration began the grizzly task of collecting bodies of the dead and separating the American bodies from the enemy's. While the team found no trace of Larry Kier and Tom Teran anywhere in the fire support base, they did find 5 other soldiers who were believed killed during the fierce fighting, but who were very much alive. All five men had been severely wounded during the attack.

In addition to finding the wounded soldiers, the graves registration team recovered the remains of 33 soldiers killed in the fierce battle. The remains were transported to a US mortuary facility where they were subsequently identified. Each man's remains were returned to his family for burial with full military honors. After a thorough search of the battle site was completed the search effort was terminated. At that time Larry Kier and Tom Teran were reported as Missing in Action.

One of the wounded survivors was a friend of Tom Teran's. His parents found the soldier in a VA hospital. During a visit with him, the Teran family learned that the alarm sounded and the helicopters scooped up all the soldiers on the base to defend the ammo bunker. He gave them horrific details of the battle in which he and PFC Teran fought back-to-back until they lost track of each other in the fighting. The last anyone knew of Tom Teran, he was glimpsed running toward a barricade.

After Operation Homecoming in 1973, all returned POWs were debriefed about other prisoners they had knowledge of while in captivity. One of the returnees reported that he thought Larry Kier was the prisoner he saw the day prior to release. That man was being held in isolation in Building 33 at the Hoa Lo Prison Camp, better known as the Hanoi Hilton. The prisoner did not know the hand signals developed by other POWs to communicate surreptitiously with each other.

In August 1991, a Vietnamese national living in Vietnam contacted US officials to say that he had information and remains from a missing US serviceman. He showed the US officials a partially melted identity card belonging to PFC Kier that he claimed to have recovered from the wreckage of an American aircraft. He also turned over remains that consisted of a human tooth and two small possible bone fragments. The fragments were transported to the US Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CIL-HI) for examination and possible identification.

On 11 September 1993 a joint US/Vietnamese team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to Quang Tri Province to investigate the loss of PFC Kier and PFC Teran. The team interviewed three local Vietnamese who stated they had found human remains while hunting for scrap metal and that they had buried the remain near where they had been found. The men led the team to a secondary burial site approximately 200 meters from what had been Henderson Hill Fire Support Base. Those remains were subsequently transported to CIL-HI for examination.

On 29 January 1996, another JTFFA team interviewed three additional Vietnamese nationals in Quang Tri Province. The Vietnamese turned over human remains including teeth that the men indicated had first been recovered in 1979 from an abandoned foxhole near the former base. Further, the men told team members that the remains had been buried and exhumed several times over the years. The numerous artifacts turned over to US personnel included two identification tags for Larry Kier, a Zippo lighter, a toothbrush, a razor with 3 razor blades and 6 military 4-hole uniform buttons.

On 27 January 1998, a total of 7 bone samples were submitted to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) for DNA analysis. Of the 7 bones, 2 femur sections matched the DNA sample provided by the Teran family and 2 other femur sections matched the sample provided by the Kier family.

In addition to positively identifying bone fragments through DNA analysis, the 8 teeth/parts of teeth that were recovered/turned over by the Vietnamese were correlated to PFC Kier. All of the teeth show no signs of restoration. Larry Kier's dental records document he had perfect teeth. In comparison, Tom Teran's dental records show many of his teeth were restored and other teeth had been extracted. Because there were no dental radiographs available for either man, there was no way to conclusively prove they belonged to Larry Kier.

For the families and friends of Larry Kier and Tom Teran, they finally have the peace of mind of knowing where their loved ones lie. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different. 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 America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

American military men 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.

On 19 April 2002, Tom Teran was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.