Marine's remains brought home after 25 years

EL PASO, Texas - Twenty-five years after Lance Cpl. Andres Garcia's helicopter was shot down as it approached a Cambodian island - making him one of the last American casualties in Southeast Asia - his remains were brought home Wednesday by his younger sister.

''Andy's home. He's home, guys,'' Sara G. Neff said as she embraced her tearful brothers and sisters in an outdoor airport cargo area.

''We've been in denial for 25 years,'' said Neff, 39, who accompanied her brother's casket from an Army laboratory in Hawaii to El Paso, which has the closest major airport to their hometown of Carlsbad, N.M. ''It's good to be able to move on.''

Three brothers and two sisters awaited Neff, who arrived wearing her dark blue Navy uniform. She joined the military at age 20 in honor of Garcia, who was a 20-year-old Marine when he was killed.

The siblings, along with several nieces and nephews, friends and veterans lined up on both sides of a Chevrolet Suburban and watched as the wooden casket was loaded into the back. One relative held a pole with a U.S. flag and a black flag reading ''POW-MIA.'' The veterans saluted.

Tears streamed down the cheeks of the relatives, and a few sobbed.

The family left El Paso in a caravan of 12 cars and trucks for the 139-mile drive to Carlsbad. They were met at the New Mexico state line by Garcia's parents, who joined the procession along with several police officers and veterans.

Once in Carlsbad, the caravan was greeted by residents lining the town's main street. Some waved American flags and signs reading ''Welcome Home Andy.''

Hundreds are expected to attend a church service on Saturday that will be followed by burial with full military honors.

Garcia died in the Mayaguez Incident on May 15, 1975, two weeks after the official end of the Vietnam War.

Garcia was among about 200 Marines dispatched on a mission to save the 39 American crewmen of the merchant ship Mayaguez, which had been captured by Khmer Rouge patrol boats in the Gulf of Thailand. The Marines were unaware that the U.S. crewmen already had been released by the Cambodian communists.

Thirteen U.S. servicemen, including Garcia, were killed or lost when their helicopter was hit by a rocket from Khmer Rouge troops. Five others also died or were missing after the battle.

Over the past several years, remains have been recovered and brought to the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu. Garcia's family got word just two months ago that his remains had been identified.

''We never knew if he was alive,'' said sister Anita Garcia Ybaben, 40. ''We never knew if he was going to walk in the door and say 'I'm here.'''

Now, she said, ''He can rest.''

On the Net:

For more on the Mayaguez Incident:

USMC/Vietnam Helicopter Association:


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