- Smithville Marine s remains to come home after 36 years Missing man was killed during South Vietnam battle in 1968 By Dick Stanley AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFMessage 1 of 1 , Aug 10, 2004View Source
Smithville Marine's remains to come home after 36 years
Missing man was killed during South Vietnam battle in 1968
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF (Austin)
Sunday, August 8, 2004
More than 36 years after Marine 2nd Lt. Donald John Matocha of Smithville was killed in a firefight in Vietnam, and eight years after a former enemy told authorities where to find him, his nephew will be escorting some of his remains home.
Matocha died April 5, 1968, on a mountain called Dong Ma, in what was then the Republic of South Vietnam. Several members of his unit, the 3rd Marine Reconnaissance Battalion, were killed or wounded trying to recover his body. His family was notified that he was dead but missing in action.
The Pentagon found and identified some of Matocha's remains and plans to fly them home Sept. 16, accompanied by Matocha's nephew, Marine Maj. Stacy Eiben, who is stationed at Marine headquarters in Washington, D.C.
A public memorial service will be held at the Smithville Recreation Center two days later, to be attended by some of the lieutenant's former comrades in arms, followed by a private burial with full military honors.
The memorial services, which are expected to draw hundreds of people in the close-knit community where the Matocha (pronounced ma-TOKE-ah) family of Czech and German ancestry has a long-standing reputation for service in all branches of the military, would have been impossible without help from the former enemy.
The Defense Department's POW/MIA office had essentially given up the hunt for Matocha's remains in 1993, which his siblings did not find out until 2002, after their parents had died.
"Our mother and father had looked into our brother's case for many years until they grew older and despaired," said Loretta Eiben, one of Matocha's eight younger siblings, who teaches math in San Marcos public schools. "We had hoped the remains would be recovered before they passed away."
Hattie Johnson, a case officer with the Marine Corps casualty office in Washington, said the military had investigated but wasn't coming up with anything. "They had exhausted all means of looking," said Johnson, a retired Army 1st sergeant.
Then, in 1996, Nguyen Van Loc, a 58-year-old farmer who had been a young squad leader of the 320th Division of the People's Army of Vietnam, appeared at the American POW/MIA office in Hanoi, the capital city of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with memories to share. He told of finding a dead American on Dong Ma mountain in the spring of 1968, and helping to bury him in a bomb crater.
"He said that due to heavy fighting, they did not have time to search for personal effects," Johnson said.
It still took until last March to find the grave. Dental records established positive identification. There was also a green plastic canteen, a plastic bottle of insect repellent and the soles of a pair of American jungle boots, Johnson said.
And there was a stainless steel "dog tag" identification plate belonging to Stan Sellers, 57, of San Antonio, a Navy medic who had accompanied Matocha's eight-man patrol up the mountain. Their mission was to silence an enemy outpost that was directing artillery fire on a nearby Marine base. Matocha, who was 23, and a recent graduate of Texas A&M University, found his patrol outnumbered at least 5-to-1.
"Lieutenant Matocha was hit immediately," said Sellers, who was seriously wounded. "We couldn't get him out. A helicopter came in to get us. Its (rotor blade downwash) blew the lieutenant's body down a hill, right into the (enemy's) hands."
Sellers, who has become a friend of the Matocha family, marvels at the recovered dog tag he doesn't remember losing -- it's hardly aged at all.
"You can read every bit of it," he said. "I snagged the chain on something and didn't realize it. It was taped with green duct tape so it wouldn't rattle."
With Matocha's recovery, the number of Marines listed as unaccounted for in Southeast Asia is down to 233. The Pentagon still lists more than 88,000 American service members as missing in action worldwide, including 1,622 from the Vietnam War.
Loretta Eiben, who was 21 and the wife of another Marine in Vietnam when her brother was killed, said her family will always appreciate Nguyen Van Loc's assistance.
"We owe a debt of gratitude to him," she said, "and his willingness to make a repeat visit to the site."