On the tarmac, Clinton attends ceremony for Americans MIA in Vietnam
HANOI -- On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hailed the growing ties between the United States and Vietnam, praising the Vietnamese people for looking forward and building a bright future.
But on Friday, there was no avoiding the past. At a solemn airport ceremony as she ended her two-day trip here, Clinton was presented with the remains of three American soldiers from the Vietnam War.
As she stood in the stifling runway heat, blasted with the noise and exhaust of commercial takeoffs and landings, a silent ritual was conducted.
Two tables sat on the tarmac, one set with three black metal boxes the size of small suitcases, the other with three folded American flags. Behind them, three tripods holding metal caskets waited before the open cargo bay of an American military C-17 transport plane from Hickham Air Force base in Hawaii.
One by one, members of an honor guard from Hickham lifted the boxes and carried them to the waiting caskets. Moving in synchronized slow motion, they secured the boxes and closed the casket lids. They covered each with a flag and carried them onto the plane.
The remains will not be officially identified until forensic experts in Hawaii examine them and compare them with family DNA. Most of the remains -- bones and teeth sifted from the ground that has held them for more than a quarter century -- come from downed aircraft found in the jungle and on mountainsides.
Sometimes, as in this case, some of the aircraft itself is identifiable, making identification of the men easier. But although more than 1,700 service members are still listed as missing in action in Vietnam, fewer and fewer are found as the years pass.
When the caskets were all in place, the honor guard, one of them a Vietnamese-American, saluted. Clinton walked up and shook their hands. Then they, and she, got aboard their separate aircraft and headed home.
| July 23, 2010; 1:27 PM ET
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