AIR Force seeks combat gear to help identify MIA remains from Korea, Vietnam

Thursday, July 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) _ Terri Bise didn't hesitate after hearing the Air Force needed uniforms and equipment from the Korean and Vietnam wars to help identify the remains of missing U.S. soldiers.

She promptly donated a pair of fatigues worn by her husband, a 26-year Air Force veteran who served in a medical unit in both wars and died a year ago.

``During the Vietnam War, he was really interested in identifying the MIAs,'' said Bise, 65. ``I know my husband would have really appreciated me doing this for him. It's an honor for me.''

It is the first time the Air Force clothing office, based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, has asked for such donations from the public.

The items that are collected at Air Force bases will be compared with clothing and equipment found at aircraft crash sites in Vietnam and Korea to help in investigations of U.S. soldiers missing in action. Matches can help date a crash and determine if Americans were among the victims.

``This stuff is so rare it's unbelievably hard to find,'' said Elton Hudgins, chief of the Life Sciences Laboratory at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where MIA material is examined.

The lab especially needs helmets, flight suits, survival vests, gloves and boots.

Hudgins said the Air Force did not keep the gear because the material is continually updated and officials did not know it might eventually be needed. Flight suits, for example, have been modified at least 30 times since 1966, he said.

Hudgins said the idea for the public appeal came after several veterans offered to donate their clothing when they realized it could help in MIA investigations.

Clothing and equipment found at the site can help show what happened _ whether the victims were injured in the crash or there was an explosion, for example, Hudgins said.

When remains cannot be found, the clothing and equipment can be used to build a circumstantial case of what probably happened.

``In a lot of cases, this is the only closure a family will have,'' Hudgins said.