Remains found of Waterford native Holm; died in helicopter crash in Vietnam in 1972

Undated family photo of Army Capt. Arnold Holm Jr.
Undated family photo of Army Capt. Arnold Holm Jr.

It took nearly 39 years and countless hours of painstaking work, but it seems fitting that the news about the remains of Army Capt. Arnold E. Holm comes now, as Americans remember their war dead on  Memorial Day weekend.

The Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office said Friday that they have made a “group identification” of the remains of Holm, a Waterford native whose helicopter was shot down in Vietnam in 1972, and two of his crewmates.

According to spokesman Larry Greer, bone fragments from Holm and two others involved in the crash could not be individually certified. But Greer said there is enough biological material and bits of debris found at the crash site to deduce that the fragments belong to Holm and the others crew members, Pfc. Wayne Bibbs of Illinois and Spc. Robin Yeakley of Indiana.

“It’s as good as you can get,” Greer said.

Holm’s widow, Margarete Holm, who is retired and living Lebanon, Pa., had hoped more remains would be found.

“But one has to be realistic,” she said Friday in a telephone interview.
Greer said the “group identification” process is common during violent plane crashes and similar disasters.

The families of all three servicemen needed to approve of the group identification before the Defense POW Mission Personal Office released the information to the public.

On June 11, 1972, Holm’s Cayuse Scout helicopter came under fire while flying over Thua Thien-Hue province in northcentral Vietnam. The aircraft crashed to the ground, and the ordnance it carried exploded.

Greer said the helicopter was carrying phosphorus grenades, which give off intense heat when detonated.

“That’s one of the reasons it was difficult to find remains,” Greer said.
According to reports, a second helicopter sent to rescue Holm and his crewmates was also shot down.

Michael Austin, a retired helicopter pilot who was stationed at the same base in Vietnam as Holm, said in 2002 that “June 11 and June 12 were just a devastating couple of days for that platoon.”

Greer said the Defense Department launched six investigations since 1997 to locate the remains of the three servicemen and a number of factors plagued the search, which in addition to forensic evidence, included interviews with American military personnel and local villagers. 

Greer said that there were 20 reported crashes of the same type of helicopter Holm flew in a 15-kilometer radius of the suspected crash site.

“There were investigations into all 20 crashes,” Greer said, adding that some the information became muddled.

Greer said that wreckage from the crashes was heavily scavenged by people living near the site, further complicating the search.

The Vietnamese Office For Seeking Missing Persons, which acted as guides to the crash site and conducted searches on their own, assisted American teams.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) excavated the crash site during the summer of 2008 and recovered a small amount of remains. JPAC later said DNA tests were inconclusive.

In 2008, search teams found two dog tag fragments belonging to Yeakley.
“That nailed the fact,” Greer said.

Born in 1944 in New London, Holm grew up on Tiffany Avenue in Waterford and excelled at basketball, football and baseball at Waterford High School.
He enlisted in the Army in 1962, where he earned a commission. Holm was 28 when he died.

Austin said in 2002 that Holm “was the most exceptional scout (he) ever worked with.” 

“He was aggressive, but he was never careless,” Austin said. “He didn’t shy away from anything. He led by example.”

Margarete Holm said a burial service has been tentatively scheduled for October at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, but that she would also be holding a service at the Church of the Redeemer, in New London, the same church where she and Holm were married in 1966.

According to military protocol, the remains from the crash will be buried together and the names of Holm, Bibbs and Yeakley will be carved onto a single marker and join the rows of white gravestones in the nation’s most hallowed ground.

s.chupaska@theday.com

Undated family photo of Army Capt. Arnold Holm Jr.
Undated family photo of Army Capt. Arnold Holm Jr.

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