Forty years to the day since a Massachusetts man died in a helicopter crash in Vietnam while searching for a downed US airman, he will be buried with honors Friday at the nation’s hallowed ground for servicemen and women, Arlington National Cemetery.
Air Force Technical Sergeant Allen J. Avery was a member of a six-person search-and-rescue unit traveling in a HH-53C “Super Jolly Green Giant’’ helicopter on April 6, 1972, when the massive chopper was struck by ground fire and crashed in Quang Tri Province in what was then South Vietnam.
All six men were killed on impact. Their remains were not recovered nor confirmed as belonging to the helicopter’s crew until 1997. Avery and his crewmates were given a joint burial at Arlington that year.
But with advances in DNA testing, the Pentagon developed the capacity to allow an individual identification of Avery’s remains, leading to the service Friday.
Avery had ties to both Auburn and Arlington, Mass., before leaving the area to join the Air Force in the 1960s.
He served three tours in Vietnam and had already earned one of the nation’s highest honors for bravery, a Silver Star, when he was sent to find the missing airman.
Avery was a para-rescueman assigned to the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron when he was killed, according to the Department of Defense. He was 29 years old.
Their helicopter was shot down during the multiday rescue effort for then-Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Iceal Hambleton. Hambleton and Lieutenant Mark Clark - who was shot down after Hambleton - were eventually saved by Navy SEAL Thomas R. Norris and a South Vietnamese naval commando, Nguyen Van Kiet.
Avery and his helicopter crew were part of a search that became the subject of the popular 1988 movie “Bat 21’’ - named after Hambleton’s call sign - starring Gene Hackman and Danny Glover.
In a letter read at the 1997 service, Hambleton said how much he appreciated the sacrifice of the rescue crew.
“It was the most terrible day I had ever lived,’’ Hambleton wrote. “I had to stand by and watch six young men die trying to save my life. Heroes? You bet they were.’’