Vietnam pilot's remains returned after 45 years - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Vietnam pilot's remains returned after 45 years

Carol Sumner Carol Sumner
Tom Reitmann Tom Reitmann
Hieu Nguyen Hieu Nguyen
Paul Emanovski Paul Emanovski
Karen Mutobe Karen Mutobe

By Teri Okita

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two weeks ago Hawaii News Now viewer Carol Sumner was watching our story on the Central Identification Laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

It's the only place in the country where they ID the remains of American servicemembers missing in action.

Last month, the military informed Carol that her first husband's remains had been identified in Vietnam.

She wanted to personally thank the team that helped bring her husband back, so we called to set up a meeting.

It's a story more than four decades in the making.

Carol, her daughter and grandson praised the team that helped recover, identify and return the remains of Maj. Tom Reitmann.

Their story goes back to December 1965. Reitmann had been on a bombing raid north of Hanoi when his aircraft was shot down. He was never heard from again.

Carol, who was 28 at the time, was left with four children under the age of six. She kept the condolence letter from the chaplain and another from President Richard Nixon in 1973, assuring her the search would continue. However, for the next 45 years, Reitmann remained MIA.

"Okay, I'm going to be in limbo for the rest of my life from what happened, I thought," Carol said.

This past May, Carol received a most unexpected call. The military said a Vietnamese farmer found some remains in a rural cornfield back in the 1960's and for whatever reason, had kept them all these years. He recently turned them over to authorities.

Linguist Hieu Nguyen and forensic anthropologist Paul Emanovski -- investigators from JPAC, Hawaii's Joint POW MIA Accounting Command stepped in.

"I went in and did an examination at that time in Vietnam and did confirm that they were remains that could need information with some additional testing," Emanovski said.

DNA tests confirmed the remains were Tom Reitmann. His daughter, Karen, who was only five months old when her father died, was in disbelief. She, too, wanted to thank the team.

"Coming here today, I kind of had butterflies in my stomach. I was like, 'Ah, this is really real. It's really happening,'" daughter Karen Mutobe said.

Carol wrote more than 400 thank you notes, one for each JPAC employee.

"I feel very appreciated for what I've been doing. It's an honor to be in this organization," Nguyen said.

For Maj. Reitmann, it's a long-awaited homecoming.

On Sept. 8, Maj. Reitmann will finally be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Carol, his four children and their grandchildren -- plus other Vietnam pilots -- all plan to be in attendance.

 

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