The remains of a U.S. Marine missing in action for a quarter-century were identified yesterday as Lance Cpl. Gregory S. Copenhaver of Port Deposit, the Defense Department said.
Copenhaver's helicopter was gunned down during the rescue of the American merchant ship, the SS Mayaguez, in the Gulf of Thailand on May 14, 1975. His remains were identified along with five other servicemen officially listed as missing since the incident.
"It's a painful time" for the families, said Larry Greer, a Defense Department spokesman. "But for most of them, it's the closing of a chapter, one way to move on. They didn't know the story. Now they know the story."
Greer said the other 12 servicemen missing from the Mayaguez incident may be identified soon.
The families of the six military men whose names were released yesterday are expected to receive the remains of their loved ones in several days, Greer said.
In all, more than 250 troops took part in the helicopter rescue of the Mayaguez, which had been captured by the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia on May 12, 1975.
When the six American choppers arrived two days later, the crew of the Mayaguez had escaped.
The helicopters were fired on by the Khmer Rouge and 18 American soldiers died with another 18 -- including Copenhaver -- unaccounted for.
Over the past decade, DNA tests have been performed on remains recovered from the Gulf of Thailand, where the battle took place. Some fragments used to identify victims have been as small as a fingernail.
The men identified yesterday were among 26 aboard a helicopter that plummeted into the Gulf of Thailand off the coast of Koh Tang, an island where the Mayaguez was taken by the Khmer Rouge after its capture.
As of yesterday, the U.S. government has identified the remains of 561 soldiers, Marines and airmen missing since the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia ended, and returned them to family members.
An additional 2,022 Americans are considered missing in action from the war. The government is also working to identify missing soldiers from the Korean War and World War II.