By: Julie Watson
SAN DIEGO – On a wind-swept bluff overlooking the Pacific, Robert Rivenburgh sobbed like he never had in the nearly four decades since his older brother went missing during the Vietnam War.
The remains of Marine Pfc. Richard W. Rivenburgh had finally come home, and he was buried Monday at Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.
“I wasn’t expecting it to impact me as much as it did,” Robert Rivenburgh said after the service. “It just kind of all came back. We had the service in 1975, and the tombstone has been here for more than 30 years but now when we visit we know he’s there. We know where he’s at. We know he’s home. Everything’s good now.”
Richard Rivenburgh was one of four Marines who remained missing for 37 years after a helicopter carrying them was shot down in 1975 off the Cambodian coast. Their remains were recovered from Southeast Asia in 2008 after U.S. military officials received word that scavengers had buried them and local people knew the location of the sites, the Marine Corps said.
The remains were positively identified in January.
Robert Rivenburgh was 8 when his 21-year-old brother disappeared. He said he was crushed when he heard the brother he had looked up to was missing, and all that pain came rushing back to him during the Monday funeral service with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute.
Robert Rivenburgh, 46, was one of two siblings who attended the service with a handful of nieces, nephews and other relatives, and about two dozen veterans, mostly from the Vietnam conflict who belong to the group Patriot Riders. Rivenburgh’s parents are deceased.
The veterans stood in line, holding flags as the wooden, flag-draped casket carried by six Marines in dress blues passed on the sunny afternoon. The hum of Naval aircraft was heard in the background, doing training exercises for today’s wars. Family members wore dog tags with Richard Rivenburgh’s picture.
More than 83,000 Americans are still missing from past conflicts, according to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. At any given time, there are more than 1,000 files under investigation. The recovered remains of more than 1,800 Americans have been identified since the accounting effort began in the 1970s.
Richard Rivenburgh went missing after Khmer Rouge gunboats captured the S.S. Mayaguez in May 1975 in the Gulf of Thailand, about 60 miles off the coast of Cambodia. The vessel was taken to Koh Tang Island, and on May 15, 1975, the Air Force sent in 11 helicopters with troops to secure the island and rescue the Mayaguez crew.
As the helicopter carrying Rivenburgh neared the island, it was shot down with 26 men on board. Half were rescued at sea, leaving 13 missing. In 1995, all but four of the missing were recovered.
Lt. Col. Thad Trapp, who commanded the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment — the unit that Rivenburgh was assigned to — said it’s important for troops fighting in current wars to see the U.S. military will do all it can to not abandon them.
“This instills an incredible level of confidence in the institution,” he said after the service. “When we say we will never leave a Marine behind, this just proves that.”