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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 27, 2003

Dean hopes trip is last for brother

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

It could be four to eight months —the cusp of spring, perhaps, or midsummer — before Howard Dean finally reaches the end of what he and his family call their "long and emotional journey."

Remains thought to be Charles Dean were brought here yesterday from Laos.
Military forensic experts might be able to say with certainty by then that his brother Charlie is home. But in their hearts, his family feels he is back already.

Yesterday, at Hickam Air Force Base, amid a silence broken only by a military honor guard's crisp commands, the family watched the repatriation of remains thought to be Charlie Dean, who was killed by communists in Laos nearly 29 years ago.

Flanked by his mother and brothers, each as stoic as the other, Howard Dean put his presidential campaign on hold to attend the ceremony. It was closure, he said, for a "painful episode" in their lives.

The remains were contained in an aluminum transfer case draped with a U.S. flag. It was one of four flown from Laos to Hickam aboard a C-17 cargo jet that also brought remains thought to be Australian Neil Sharman, who was traveling with Charlie Dean when they were detained in 1974.

Also returned were the remains of two Air Force personnel.

Each case, draped in the national flag of the individual's country, was carried slowly off the jet by a white-gloved military honor guard. Every movement was solemn, from carrying the remains down the C-17 cargo ramp to closing the door of the weathered blue school bus that would transport them to an identification lab nearby.

A flag-draped coffin containing what may be the remains of Charles Dean, the lost brother of Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, is carried toward a hearse at Hickam Air Force Base.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Howard Dean stood with his hand over his heart during much of the 20-minute ceremony. He said nothing to the nearly 100 military personnel and civilians who attended, but made a brief statement to reporters before the ceremony.

"My brother was an extraordinary person," Dean said. "He was a person of deep principle who lived his life the way he thought it ought to be lived."

Charlie Dean and Sharman were in Southeast Asia when they were detained by the communist Pathet Lao on Sept. 4, 1974, on a trip down the Mekong River in Laos. They were suspected of being spies, although the U.S. and Australian governments said they were tourists and protested their detention.

The two men were held in a remote prison camp, Khamkuet, for three months before they were believed to have been executed on Dec. 14 while driving toward Vietnam with their captors.

The remains were recovered by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which runs the nation's premier identification laboratory on the far end of Hickam. Search teams have conducted seven investigations since 1994. The remains were found in a rice paddy about 120 feet north of a site where another team searched in August and September. That team might have found the remains if it had not been hampered by monsoon rains.

Dean said his family was extremely grateful for the work done by the military. By all accounts, he was very close to Charlie, who was just 16 months younger. He was joined on the tarmac by brothers Jim and Bill and their mother, Andree.

Howard Dean made only a brief, solemn announcement to reporters before the repatriation ceremony yesterday.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

"We are deeply comforted that this operation has allowed us to repatriate his remains and hopefully bring him home," Dean said.

In a separate written statement, Dean called the search for his brother "an extraordinary thing," saying it was rare to have recovered such a complete set of remains.

"Charlie was a great brother, and he touched the lives of everyone who knew him," Howard Dean said. "I miss him every single day, and I'll never stop being inspired by his passion and idealism. While we are saddened that he is not still with us, we are comforted by the fact that he is finally coming home."

After the ceremony, the family met privately with members of the recovery team. Then they left Hickam to return to the Mainland.

"It was an emotional experience to meet the family," said Army Capt. Grover Harms Jr., who led the recovery team to Laos.

Elizabeth Martinson, an anthropologist on the mission, said it was good to connect with the Deans. Like all mission personnel, they knew who they were searching for, she said. Even though they prepare for each search the same way, "and go out and do our job," that doesn't mean an attachment isn't formed, she said.

"We're always looking for a specific person," she said. "It becomes very personal."

Sharman's brother, Ian, who also attended the ceremony, called it "overwhelming."

"He wanted nothing more than to enjoy life to the max," Ian said of his brother.

Charlie Dean graduated from college in North Carolina in 1972 and went to work on the antiwar campaign of Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern. After McGovern lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon, Dean decided to travel around the world. He left New York to drive to Seattle with a friend in the spring of 1973, then traveled by freighter to

Japan. He later went on to Australia, where he lived on a ranch before he and Sharman traveled to Laos.

Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara, a spokesman for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawai'i, said identification could take years, but he expected this case could be resolved in four to eight months because a "good quantity of remains" were recovered.

"We have an encouraging amount of remains and personal effects," O'Hara said. "That may make this a quick identification, but it could still take several months."

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.