Remains of MIA Pilots Identified

Chief Warrant Officer Bobby L. McKain of Garden City, Kan.
Chief Warrant Officer Bobby L. McKain of Garden City, Kan. (Family Photo)
By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 19, 2008

When the phone call came five weeks ago to his Colorado home, Gilbert "Gib" McKain was in disbelief. A U.S. government official wanted to share his latest findings about McKain's only brother, who had been shot down while flying a helicopter during the Vietnam War: Bobby McKain's remains, after 40 years of mystery and government sleuthing along the Vietnam-Laos border, had been identified.

Gib McKain felt elated but also skeptical, hardened after so many years of having "MIA" in his vocabulary and still unsure how investigators matched his brother's remains to his family's DNA.

"I had totally forgotten about doing the swab kit" for the DNA test, said McKain 61, a retired federal worker. "Then they flew out and showed me the kit, and I remembered. I thought they were never going to find anything."

The Defense Department announced this week that investigators had identified the remains of Army Chief Warrant Officer Bobby L. McKain of Garden City, Kan., and his co-pilot, Warrant Officer Arthur F. Chaney of Vienna, who were killed when their helicopter gunship was hit by anti-aircraft fire and exploded in midair in Vietnam on May 3, 1968.

Their remains were believed to be scattered west of Khe Sanh in South Vietnam, near the border with Laos. Now, four decades after the men were listed as missing in action, their remains are being returned for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Remains of 890 people who served in the Vietnam War and were once listed as missing in action have been identified through forensic investigations, a Defense spokesman said.

Chaney's family could not be reached for comment.

For Gib McKain, the ordeal began when he was in the Army, based at Fort Monmouth, N.J., and realized one day that he had stopped receiving mail. "So I went to the mailroom, and they said it had been put on hold, that 'your mother did it,' " McKain recalled. "I said, 'You can't hold my mail.' I started going through the letters, and there was one from a girl. It said, 'Sorry to hear about your brother.' "

McKain immediately dialed his mother in Kansas. "She said, 'I was afraid you would go AWOL if you found out,' and I said, 'I wouldn't have done that,' " McKain said. "I thought, he's still alive."

McKain felt optimistic. It was Bobby, after all, who took pilot lessons first and persuaded Gib to follow suit. McKain recalled how the two just talked, flying from one Kansas town to the next, accumulating conversations, forging a bond.

But Bobby McKain did not survive. The military said that he and Chaney, flying an AH-1G Cobra gunship, were shot down as they escorted a reconnaissance team.

Immediately after the crash, other U.S. aircraft surveyed the scene and saw no survivors.


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