A sense of closure is now possible for a family that has awaited news for decades about the fate of one of America’s warriors. The mortal remains of Special Forces Sgt. Alan Boyer have been found, thousands of miles away from his home in Illinois and 40 years since the day he and two other Green Berets were abandoned by a chopper in the tangled jungles of Southeast Asia. The news came on March 7, which would have been Boyer’s 70th birthday.
Sgt. Alan Lee Boyer
Forensic anthropologists were able to identify the fallen soldier from a fragment of a leg bone that an activist in Laos, where Boyer fell, had delivered to U.S. authorities. The bone shard was given to the activist by Laotians that a government report called “remains traders.”
Based on DNA samples provided by family members, a DNA match with the bone fragment was made. According to an official with the National league of POW-MIA Families, the forensic anthropologists said is was the most specific matched set of DNA that had examined.
Alan Boyer moved to Missoula in the mid-1960s to take forestry courses at the University of Montana. Hearing the call of duty, he dropped out of the university to enlist in the Army. His excellence as an infantryman earned him a place among the elite Green Berets, who specialize in counter-insurgency operations in concert with local populations.
Until March 7, when his surviving family members were informed, Boyer was one of some 18 service members from Montana who remain unaccounted in the aftermath of the war in Southeast Asia. Michael Bouchard, Anthony Cadwell. Michael Havranek and James Hunt all remain on the list of missing compiled by the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), as do Victor Pirker and Edward Letchworth. See: dppa.mil
In was on March 28, 1968, that Boyer was on a reconnaissance mission inside Laos, close to the border with Vietnam. Among his companions were Green Berets rifleman Charles Huston of Ohio, intelligence Sgt. George Brown of Florida, well as seven South Vietnamese soldiers. It was in the rugged jungle environment that the soldiers came under fire from enemy forces. When a helicopter came to rescue them, it could not land because of the dense forest canopy. Six Vietnamese soldiers were able to climb a rope ladder to safety in the chopper, when ground fire intensified as a seventh Vietnamese scrambled upwards. The helicopter was forced to evacuate.
Boyer had begun to climb the ladder, but tumbled to the ground when it broke. The two other American soldiers appeared to be unhurt. However, when a six-hour search on the ground was conducted, no sign of them was found. Boyer was reported missing in action.
According to the National League of POW-MIA Families, there remain 300 service members missing and still unaccounted for in Laos. At the time, the U.S. military claimed it had no assets in Laos even though it conducted incursions into the country from Vietnam in an effort to stem the flow of North Vietnamese personnel and materiel along the Ho Chi Minh Trail that passed through the area. Most appear to air crew and special operators who were conducting reconnaissance and rescue missions in Laos.
Boyer’s family had lived in the hope that he had been taken prisoner. But when POWs were released after the end of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, he was not among them. His family back in Illinois did not know that he had fallen in what has become known as the Secret War in Laos. It was in 1997, 22 years afterwards, that the U.S. government finally acknowledged its involvement.
Boyer earned several decorations during his service, including a Silver Star: the third-highest military in the U.S. Armed Forces. While Department of Defense officials provided surviving sister, Dorothy Bouchard, with a copy of the report on finding her brother’s remains, some aspects of their discovery and recovery remain classified.
Boyer’s remains will be laid to rest in June with full military honors in Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. In his honor, the Alan Lee Boyer scholarship still gives at least two $1,000 scholarships each year to good but needy students at the University of Montana
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