Phnom Penh: The remains of an American soldier who went missing in fighting near the Cambodian border during the Vietnam War have been identified and returned to his family, the US Embassy in Phnom Penh said Friday.
US Defense Department scientists were able to uncover the identity of Staff Sergeant James L. Van Bendegom using DNA analysis, 47-years after he disappeared when his patrol was overrun, the embassy said.
At the time of his capture, aged just 19, Van Bendegom was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.
His unit came under attack on July 12, 1967 and returning American POWs later stated that the soldier had died in Cambodia from wounds sustained during the battle.
In 1986 a Vietnamese national in a Thai refugee camp handed over what he claimed to be the remains of a former soldier to US officials.
"At the time, the information provided by the Vietnamese national did not correlate with any unaccounted-for American service members," a statement released by the embassy said.
However DNA tests were recently carried out and the results matched with Van Bendegom`s family members. His remains were returned to the US and were interred with full military honours at a ceremony on November 11 in Bendegom`s hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Throughout the Vietnam War Cambodia was used by North Vietnam`s communist forces as both a transit route and bolt hole for its fighters who took advantage of the long porous border.
During the decades-long war, US-backed South Vietnamese forces repeatedly crossed into Cambodia to attack North Vietnamese and communist Viet Cong bases, in a part of the war that largely remained concealed from the public.
According to the US embassy, there are 1,639 American service personnel still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, 52 of whom are thought to have disappeared in Cambodia.
Hanoi says about 300,000 North Vietnamese soldiers are still listed as missing from the war. The number of South Vietnamese MIAs remains unclear.