PEN/Martha Albrand Award Finalist: The suspenseful, “poignant” true story of the search for an American military pilot’s remains in Southeast Asia (James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers).
Where They Lay is both an account of an elite military team’s high-tech, high-risk search for a Vietnam War pilot’s remains, and a moving retelling of his intense final hours.
In far-flung rain forests and its futuristic lab near Pearl Harbor, the Central Identification Laboratory (CILHI) strives to recover and identify the bodies of fighting men who never came home from America’s wars. Its mission combines old-fashioned bushwhacking and detective work with the latest in forensic technology. Earl Swift accompanies a CILHI team into the Laotian jungle on a search for the remains of Maj. Jack Barker and his three-man crew, whose chopper went down in a fireball more than thirty years ago. He interweaves the story of the recovery team’s work with a tense account of Barker’s fatal attempt to rescue trapped soldiers during the largest helicopter assault in history.
The first reporter ever allowed to follow a recovery mission—as these archaeological digs are called—in its entirety, Swift got his hands dirty, combing the jungle floor for clues amid vipers, monsoons, and unexploded bombs. In this “hands-on, thought-provoking” account, he reveals the dedication not only of the fallen servicemen but of the scientists who search for them, and explores questions about the cost of these missions and the corruption among native officials that may compromise them (Minneapolis Star-Tribune).
“Informative . . . He interweaves accounts of a generation’s worth of site sifting, involving everything from the most basic shovel work to satellite relaying of computer data, with the whole history of the remains-recovery project . . . He also paints a vivid portrait of deeply impoverished Laos, the sometimes helpful Laotians and the military professionals and technical specialists who make up the search teams.” —Publishers Weekly
“An unusual tale of war and remembrance.” —Kirkus Reviews
This solid and informative study by a seasoned military journalist offers the first full-scale account of the work of the Central Identification Laboratory. Dedicated to the location, recovery and identification of the remains of missing American soldiers, the lab has worked mainly with Vietnam MIAs. Swift focuses on the search for an army helicopter crew that went down in Laos in 1971. He interweaves accounts of a generation's worth of site sifting, involving everything from the most basic shovel work to satellite relaying of computer data, with the whole history of the remains-recovery project. He adds short biographies of the four lost airmen Jack Barker, John Dugan, Billy Dillender and John Chubb and the details of forensic and archeological techniques used over the last generation. He also paints a vivid portrait of deeply impoverished Laos, the sometimes helpful Laotians and the military professionals and technical specialists who make up the search teams. Neither antimilitary nor prowar, the book exhibits thorough research, intelligent assimilation of personal experience (including some of the shoveling) and what might be called a commitment to commitment as represented by the whole quest for the American MIA that is now entering its third generation.