OKLAHOMA CITY — The remains of two U.S. Army soldiers, one from Oklahoma and one from Montana, who had been missing in Vietnam for nearly 40 years, have been identified, the U.S. Department of Defense announced Wednesday.
The bodies Chief Warrant Officer Donald Wann of Shawnee and 1st Lt. Paul Magers of Billings, Mont., were identified through DNA testing by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Hawaii. Magers enlisted in the Army in Sidney, Neb., in 1969.
Wann and Magers were killed June 1, 1971, when the AH-1 Cobra helicopter they were flying as part of a rescue mission was shot down in Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam, the military said.
Wann's daughter, Shannon Wann Plaster, said she has been trying since the early 1990s to find her father, and had known since July 2008 that human remains found near the suspected crash site could include his.
Plaster, 49, of Yukon, said she was told of the confirmation in March, while attending a National League of POW/MIA Families conference in San Antonio, Texas.
"It was just emotional — joy, happiness and just relief," she said. "It felt like a million pounds off my chest and off my back."
She had always hoped to have his remains returned home, she said.
Plaster, who was 10 when her father was shot down, said she remembers him as a larger than life figure.
"I was a daddy's girl, a little tomboy. He taught me how to shine his boots and I'd wear his helmet and his canteen."
She recalled a fishing trip off the coast of Rhode Island when her father and a friend took her in a two-person boat and caught a 25-pound striped bass.
"I was sitting there freezing my butt off, the boat was so small and the fish was so big. That fish was as big as me," she said.
Attempts to find a phone number for Magers' relatives in Montana were unsuccessful, but the Montana National Guard issued a statement on their behalf.
"The Magers family is extremely grateful and honored by the outpouring of support and condolences from across the state and the nation in response to their loss. Paul was proud and honored to serve his country and chose to do so as a member of the aviation community within the United States Army. He served with great pride, dignity and honor. We welcome Paul home," said Maj. Tim Crowe, public affairs officer.
Magers lived in Billings from 1948 to 1952 and returned in 1958. He graduated from Billings Central Catholic High in 1963, the Guard said.
Wann also was survived by another daughter, Michelle Wann, 47, and his wife, who Plaster said has remarried and doesn't want to be identified. Her mother, Plaster said, is overwhelmed.
"She was just so excited, she didn't think we'd find anything. I think she was just trying not to get my hopes up," she said.
Plaster will fly Sunday to Hawaii and serve as a special escort, accompanying her father's remains back to Oklahoma.
A funeral service for Wann will be Aug. 21 in Muskogee with burial to follow at Fort Gibson National Cemetery, Wann said.
A funeral service for Magers will be Aug. 27 in Billings, Mont., with burial to follow at the Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery in Laurel, Mont.