MISSOULA — It took 48 years, but Judi Bouchard and America were finally able to give Alan Boyer a proper salute.
On Wednesday, Bouchard walked beside the horse-drawn caisson that carried her big brother’s remains to his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Bouchard, of Leesburg, Fla., is the last direct relative of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alan Boyer. She followed him from their home in Illinois to the University of Montana in the 1960s, but he left school early to join the Army.
Boyer disappeared on March 28, 1968, during a classified reconnaissance mission in Laos when his 11-man reconnaissance team was attacked by enemy forces. A U.S. Air Force extraction helicopter rescued seven of the men, all South Vietnamese, but the three Americans and one Vietnamese commando didn’t make it.
Bouchard was a student living in UM’s Jesse Hall when she got the news her brother disappeared, and she lived in Missoula for nine years after graduating. For decades she and her family waited for word of what had happened to Alan. Their father, Charles, died in 1995 not knowing. For decades their mother Dorothy was active in the National League of POW-MIA Families, but she died in 2013 without learning of Alan's fate. Her obituary listed him as a survivor.
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On March 7, the eve of what would have been Boyer’s 70th birthday, the Army called Bouchard at her home in Florida. The caller said remains recovered in Laos had been identified as her brother. According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), in a 1992 investigation two Laotians who saw three men fall from the helicopter's ladder in 1968 said militia in the area buried the bodies in nearby graves.
“Multiple subsequent investigations and three excavations of reported burial areas failed to yield the remains of Boyer,” the agency said in a news release last week.
Recently the DPAA received unidentified remains, including a shard of a long leg bone, from an American citizen, a woman whom Bouchard said was an activist in Laos. The woman said she received them from unnamed Lao “remains traders.”
Bouchard and Dorothy Boyer had provided DNA samples years ago. When the samples were compared with the leg bone using mitochondrial analysis, forensics anthropologists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory determined it was Boyer's. They reportedly called it the most specific matched set they’d seen.
Bouchard in March called the match “truly amazing.”
“Alan arrived in (Washington) D.C. on a commercial flight from Hawaii on Friday,” Bouchard said in an email to the Missoulian on Tuesday. “Met by color guard (and) escorted off plane while passengers waited.”
She went to the funeral home to see him in the casket. And on Wednesday she walked him home, next to the casket and ahead of an Army marching band and a riderless horse, a powerful military symbol that ranks among the highest honors for the fallen.
“Another miracle,” Bouchard wrote. “They moved mountains and Alan will be buried near his best friend Loren Douglas Hagen.”
Hagen and Boyer met when both were new to MacArthur High School in Decatur, Illinois, their junior year.
Bouchard said after her brother’s death, Doug Hagen enlisted in the same special Army operations unit Boyer had been in, with a “sole mission to find Alan.”
On Aug. 7, 1971, Hagen was mortally wounded while attempting to assist a wounded colleague in South Vietnam, near the Laotian border. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.