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Unknown soldier will represent all Americans who died in Vietnam

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- The remains of an unidentified military man who died in combat in Vietnam will be designated as the unknown serviceman to represent all the Americans who died in that war.

After today's ceremony the body will be taken to Arlington National Cemetery for burial on Memorial Day in the Tomb of the Unknowns.

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A 21-gun salute, prayers, commentary, an Hawaii Air National Guard flyover and other ceremonial honors were planned for the designation ceremony at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. The casket bearing the Unknown will be taken aboard the frigate USS Brewton for the voyage to California.

The body will arrive at Alameda Naval Air Station May 24, and be taken to the chapel at Travis Air Force Base for repose until the following morning. It then will be flown to Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., where it will be escorted to the Capitol to lie in state until Memorial Day, May 28.

The symbolic unknown soldier was selected from among the only four sets of remains not identified, among those so far recovered from the Southeast Asia war. A total of 2,489 servicemen remain missing.

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'We have only one set of remains which meets the requirements of public law for designation of the Unknown,' Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Stevenson, spokesman for Pacific Command headquarters, said Wednesday. 'The same selection criteria were used as for other wars.'

The law states the Unknown must be an American who was in combat, whose remains were recovered by American personnel. Sufficient remains must have been recovered for verification that the deceased was an American.

'In the past, we had several caskets from which to choose,' Stevenson said. 'Improved identification procedures leave us at this time only one set of remains which qualifies. It is that set which is being sent.'

Secretary of the Army John Marsh Jr. led a delegation to Hawaii in early 1982 to review case records at the Army's Central Identification Laboratory. Marsh's recommendations went to the Armed Forces Graves Registration Office in Washington, which picked the candidate most likely never to be identified.

Stevenson said all American women who went to Southeast Asia have been accounted for.

A crypt designated for the Unknown U.S. Serviceman of Vietnam sits alongside the Arlington tombs of the unknown soldiers from World War I, World War II and the Korean conflict.

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The first of the unknowns was buried on Armistice Day, 1921. The marble Tomb of the Unknowns was completed in 1931. The remains of the World War II and Korean War unknowns were placed in the tomb on Memorial Day of 1958.

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