Love Among the Ruins

“I was wounded during the morning sweep of the 8-March’69 LZ Grant battle—had my lower jaw blown off—and spent the next five years in and out of Fitzsimons Hospital. It was not all downtime, as I was able to finish college, get my fixed-wing licenses, and eventually returned to flying full-time.”

So begins a May 2023 email from Richard Magner, CW2, US Army Retired (Medical), call sign Tiger 38, assigned to D/229th, the Smiling Tigers, 1st Cav 68/69. Since his retirement from fifty years of flying helicopters (the last 40 as an air-medical pilot), and a subsequent month-long return to Vietnam, he has assisted the Vietnamese government in locating American dug mass graves of NVA and VC at over one hundred battle sites. He is currently researching LZ Ranch in Cambodia, overrun in June 1970 when Medic’s unit Delta 1/7 First Cav had perimeter guard.

In his unique countrywide scope Richard has partnered with two Americans and two Vietnamese civilians.

Nguyen Xuan Thang is an architect in Ho Chi Minh City. He is well respected in the grave search community and an expert in Google Earth layovers.

Lam Hong Tien is a civil engineer and friend of Thang’s. Thang, Tien and Richard collaborate online.

Bob Connor served in Air Force security police. On the night of Tet ’68, at the water tower in the center of Bien Hoa, he spotted, detected and located incoming fire. His mass grave work began with a granddaughter’s school project in 2016, when he noticed a mass grave comment on the Bien Hoa airbase location on Google Earth. He contacted retired NVA Colonel Trung Hiếu Chế, who had written the post. This led to Bob’s February 2017 return to Bien Hoa, as featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the eventual discovery of the grave site. In addition to many other battle sites, Bob concentrates on Bien Hoa Tet ’68, and is a mass grave identification advocate.

Bien Hoa encompasses several locations from the Tet ’68 assaults: Initial east inner perimeter 150 remains (discovered in 2017 by Bob Connor); outside east perimeter 424; Gate 2, 75-100; outside NW corner near the bomb dump 400 remains estimated to have been brought in from the City by truckloads; 101st south berm 673, south side of Rte 1 not far from Long Binh’s Base NW corner 900; Hoi Nai west edge of the village and north of Rt#1 200.

A grave of 900 NVA near the southern border of the base is rumored to be located in a private cemetery. Information provided by the 1st Division, 16th Infantry’s 1st and 2nd battalions 5-year VN Tour document gave detailed locations for 125-130 grave sites and approximately 1600 NVA/VC KIA.  As a result of this, and the teams other successes, the DOD contacted Bob asking if he, Richard Magner, Lam Hong Tien, Nguyen Xuan Thang and Bob March would assist in searching for US MIAs. Bob immediately accepted the invitation, and the team has since reported five probable US MIA locations.

Bob March manages his Delta 1/12 First Cavalry Division website. His broad research contributed to the 2022 excavation of LZ Bird, where a December 1966 battle resulted in US 27 KIA/ 67 WIA, and 267 NVA officially estimated KIA.

Utilizing Google Earth and other sources the team construct overlaying drawings, grid maps and aerial photos to locate potential mass graves. Equally as important is finding and corresponding with Vietnam vets who have knowledge of mass burials. Over the years Richard has developed an extensive library of United States Geological Survey (USGS) satellite images.

Prior to LZ Ranch he investigated LZ David and LZ Brown, each the site of a major battle in Cambodia. Though the number of NVA buried on LZ Ranch is relatively small, they and all NVA/VC MIA are of great importance to their families and loved ones. In Vietnamese culture, the spirit of the dead cannot rest until the body is made whole and properly buried

Richard noted several discrepancies in the recollections of survivors on Medic’s LZ Ranch page. Were there one or two mass graves? Were they in bomb craters or trenches dug by a bulldozer flown in by Chinook? Were the bodies doused in diesel fuel and burned, or covered by dirt and lime?

“Hey Doc,” emailed  Delta 1/7 Cav M79/ machine gunner Mike Derrig, “I specifically remember seeing that bomb crater on Ranch with the dead NVA soldiers in it. There were only a few bodies as I recall, and maybe a half-assed attempt to burn them. I wasn’t near the crater, but at one end of the LZ.  There were guys in a bunker, very, very close to the woodline, that was blown up by a sapper.”

Whatever the case, the Vietnamese desire to locate remains is undiminished.

Using data supplied by the Americans, Vietnamese teams excavate a grid of trenches six feet deep. A change in substrata indicates possible disturbance from the natural soil, leading to more precise trowelling. Richard and his online team hope to overcome the Vietnamese reluctance to use ground penetrating radar (GPR). He asked his Vietnamese counterparts their opinions about this unwillingness to use modern technology.

Thang felt there were many reasons. “The first is that senior management is not fully aware of the effectiveness of GPR equipment,” he said. “And subordinates do not have enough expertise to use them effectively. They are using it as a direct means of detecting anomalies at the scene locally. They don’t work systematically to survey the entire area, then analyze the results and draw 3D maps. Then only exploration and excavation. In short, they don’t have a process to work with GPR.

Tien responded, “I don’t really understand why. I don’t understand the thinking of military agencies. It is kind of like a taboo topic to discuss. I asked the commander of the search team in Binh Phuoc. His answer is very difficult to describe to you. I have discussed with a doctor of radar, very close to GPR, but he has not found the reason. The story of the use of GPR is long. We will definitely need your help in the near future!”

From Richard’s lengthy list of bases, more than a dozen have no significant overgrowth or development, making them candidates for GPR. There are rumors USAID may fund GPRs and tech training but progress is slow. LIDAR, (Light Detection and Ranging), an even more advanced method used to examine the Earth’s surface, may also be applicable to mass grave detection. Richard is presently exploring the use of cadaver dogs to assist in locating NVA/VC remains.

Of the 125 sites Richard and his colleagues have worked on only a few excavations succeeded in finding remains. Many require additional details from American vets. Successes include Bien Hoa AFB (approximately 100 remains), the Special Forces base at Kam Duc (approximately 30 remains), and secondary finds at bases in Ba Long and Duc Lap.

Tien relates that from March 23 to May 21, 2021, after a 17 year search, the Martyrs’ Grave Gathering Team of Division 968 excavated 40 sets of remains in Tan Xa village, Ba Long commune, Dakrong district, Quang Tri province. At present all 40 remains cannot be identified. In addition, due to various American and Vietnamese records of multiple large and small battles in the area, it’s uncertain if the bodies are those of the 6th Regiment of Tri Thien Military Region. The excavators also uncovered a photo of a young girl, and an open vase with the word “Trung” on it. These items may be helpful in the identification process, leading to informing next-of-kin that a loved one has been identified.

There is a feeling among the team that the Vietnamese are less concerned about VC graves. Even with NVA burials, without sufficient data there may be reluctance to initiate a search, as in the case of FSB Crook, where the 3rd/22nd Infantry and 7th Bn 11th Field Artillery battled the NVA in June 5-8 1969. Until word reached NVA survivors that Richard’s team had located a probable burial site, the Vietnamese showed little interest in the base. In June 2020 the northern rim of a 500lb bomb crater near the possible grave site was discovered on private property. The area is supposedly awaiting government reimbursement prior to excavation.

In May and June 2023, via Medic in the Green Time, Richard contacted several LZ Ranch survivors in hopes of pinning down where on the base NVA sappers were buried. He conveyed their information to Nguyen Xuan Thang, who in June 2023 told Richard that Binh Phouc province army Lieutenant Colonel Dinh would very soon conduct a field survey of LZ Ranch. Colonel Dinh expressed his gratitude to the Vietnam vets who provided valuable information. He asks all Vietnam vets to help locate mass war graves throughout Vietnam.

If you have knowledge of the LZ Ranch graves or have aerial photos of the base, or know of other NVA/VC graves sites on American bases, you can contact Richard Magner at

As Richard has said, “Time has long passed for these soldiers, our former enemy, to be recovered, they’re spirits laid to rest, and solace given to their families and loved ones.”


Below, a list of NVA burial sites with US official or veteran’s estimated body counts. Links indicate satellite images or excavation photos. Maps locations are team estimates to within 200 meters, much less so in several instances where GPR would be most helpful.

Key:  *minor digging, **numerous digs, ***located but not excavated due to minor development

LZ Ranch
Duc Lap SF runway  60
LZ Jay  74
LZ David  60*
LZ Brown  53**
LZ Jamie  83*
Pali Wali Lake   58*, there may be additional grave sites
FSB Mahone II/Kiến  70*           ”      ”        ”
Caisson IV  143*
LZ Bird   30-80, ongoing excavation
Dau Tieng   110**
Frontier City
Diamond II  70*
LZ Illingworth  88*
LZ George-Ấp Gù  560*
LZ Crook  389***
Ba Long  94**  though possibly much more


Top image: In 2020, two relatives pray for the dead at Patrol Base Frontier City, 25 clicks southeast of Tay Ninh. During excavation, many personal belongings, rubber sandals, burnt clothes, bullets, a few human bones were found among the ruins. On the night of 25 April 1969 the base was attacked by the NVA’s 271st Regiment. Spooky and Puff were called in. The NVA charged across open ground to the concertina wire, only to be met by Claymore’s and direct fire artillery. NVA losses were 214 KIA and 6 POW. The 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry had 1 WIA. The following month the base was abandoned.

American Vets Aid Mass Graves Searching (video): Vietnam’s VTV4 reporter Lina Pham interviews four LZ Bird veterans who helped excavate NVA mass graves.

The National League of POW/MIA Families seeks the release of all  US POWs and the full  accounting  and repatriation of US MIA from the American war in Vietnam.

The Veterans Initiative of Vietnam Veterans of America seeks to identify possible Vietnamese missing in Southeast Asia through the reclamation of personal effects taken during the war, personal statements and eyewitness accounts, and the identification of unmarked grave sites.

Medic is aware that the path to US MIA/POW recovery has not always been smooth. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency was formed in 2015 as a result of the scandal plagued Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO). From Wikipedia:


“JPAC admits to phony ceremonies honoring ‘returning’ remains”. Stars and Stripes. 10 October 2013.



“SENATE COMMITTEE REVIEWS DEFENSE DEPARTMENT’S MISSING PERSONNEL OFFICES”. C-SPAN. 1 August 2013. Archived from the original on 24 August 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2013.

“New Combined POW/MIA Agency Becomes Operational”. Stars and Stripes. 2 February 2015.

“Hawaii’s JPAC Folds”. Honolulu Star Advertiser. 31 January 2015.

Past Conflicts, Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), 9 July 2021, retrieved 9 July 2021.