Bob Connor’s journey to locate the remains of Vietnamese soldiers from the Vietnam War is a poignant tale of reconciliation, humanity, and the power of individual efforts.
Bob Connor, a U.S. Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War, embarked on an unexpected mission triggered by a seemingly casual Google search. While assisting his granddaughter with a school project, he stumbled upon a photo of Bien Hoa Airport from 1968. In a heartfelt post, he described a mass grave of approximately 150 Vietnamese soldiers who died during the Tet Offensive.
This post set off a chain of events that would lead to an unprecedented collaboration between American veterans and their Vietnamese counterparts. The response came in the form of an email from Che Trung Hieu and Colonel Mai Xuan Chien, seeking Connor’s help to locate the mass grave. Driven by a desire to rectify the past and facilitate reconciliation, Connor returned to Vietnam in March 2016. His meeting with Colonel Chien and the subsequent collaboration with Colonel Martin E. Strones led to the discovery of the mass grave at Bien Hoa Airport, marking a significant breakthrough in the search for missing soldiers.
Since then, Bob has made it his mission to crack cold cases in Vietnam, searching for and identifying remains on all sides, especially those rendered to mass graves. Once the location of a mass grave has been narrowed down, the results are turned over to the Vietnamese, who then conduct a complete excavation process that could take up to two years. The driving factor behind helping the Vietnamese find these remains is seeing the emotional impact of the situation on the families of the missing soldiers.
The Vietnamese government also helps locate American MIAs in cooperation with the Department of Defense Prisoner of War Accounting Agency. Right now, more that 1,200 US service members are still missing from the Vietnam War.
In 2023 so far, four US MIAs from Vietnam have been identified. Vietnam first approached the US about collaborating on remains searches in the 1980s. Those conversations were the first breakthrough that would eventually lead to the lifting of economic sanctions and trade embargoes with Vietnam and the normalization of relations.
Vietnam today is a prosperous trading partner and helpful ally in the search for Vietnam War remains.