NASHVILLE — Forty-five years to the day since Army Spc. 4 Marvin Phillips was killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam, his family will finally be able to bury his remains in his hometown in Palmer, Tenn., today.
Phillips was a 20-year-old door gunner on a UH-1B Huey helicopter that crashed into 9 feet of water off the coast of South Vietnam on Sept. 26, 1966, after the helicopter was struck by small arms fire.
James Phillips, Marvin’s younger brother, remembers the day a military officer came to his family’s home to tell them that the helicopter had been shot down and Marvin was considered missing in action. He said his brother had been due to come home from the war but volunteered for the mission.
One crew member survived the crash and was rescued. The remains of a second soldier were recovered, but after extensive searches there was no sign of the remaining two crewmembers, including Phillips, according to a news release from the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.
The family worried that if he had survived the crash, he could have been captured by enemy forces.
“It was very hard at the time,” said James Phillips, who is now 62 and lives in Morrison, Tenn. “We assumed that he was probably a prisoner of war. That was the hardest part, I think.”
But last year, the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons notified U.S. officials that a villager in Tra Vinh Province found human remains thought to be related to a U.S. aircraft crash. There had been three U.S. aircraft crashes in the water near the villager’s home.
Scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used dental comparisons and DNA that matched one of Phillips’ sisters in the identification of the remains.
James Phillips said he learned about four months ago that his brother’s remains had been found.
“It’ll be a lot of relief to the family,” he said Friday by phone from Hawaii where he was escorting the remains home to Tennessee. “We are going to bury him beside my mother and dad. It will be a lot of comfort to know he is back on American soil.”
The family is expecting a large crowd at the funeral Monday at the Grundy County High School. A visitation is also scheduled for Sunday at Layne Funeral Home.
Soldiers from Phillips’ unit, the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell, Ky., will provide full military honors for the funeral. The soldiers are from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, one of the division’s helicopter units.
Staff Sgt. Eduardo Duran, who is helping to coordinate the funeral detail, said soldiers have volunteered to serve as pallbearers and on a rifle team to provide the salute at his burial.
“He was one of our soldiers and we are ensuring that his family knows we always recover our own,” Duran said
Duran said now that the soldier’s remains have been positively identified, the military is determining whether Phillips is eligible for any retroactive awards or a posthumous promotion to the rank of sergeant. Duran said he felt personally honored to be able to pay his respects to a fellow Screaming Eagle soldier who sacrificed his life in combat.
“The soldiers of the 101st, we will always remember to keep each other safe,” he said. “We never leave a soldier behind.”