TORONTO - Additional remains of a city son killed during the waning days of the Vietnam War will be coming home Saturday after remains were recently identified by Navy officials.
City native Ronald Manning was a 21-year-old Navy corpsman killed in 1975 during an attempt to rescue the crew of the SS Mayaguez, a merchant ship hijacked by Khmer Rouge naval forces in the Gulf of Thailand.
Manning's fate at the time was unknown, and he was officially listed as missing in action until remains were identified by the Navy in 2000. His remains were returned to the Gem City to a hero's welcome at the time and buried in the Toronto Union Cemetery. Ron Manning was the son of Donna and James Manning Sr. of Toronto.
James "Bo" Manning Jr., said advancements in DNA technology enabled the Navy to positively identify more of Ron Manning's remains, and they will be returned to Toronto Saturday with ceremonies honoring him set for Sunday.
"All the remains went to Hawaii to be identified. The DNA (technology) has gotten better over the years," said James Manning Jr., adding the remains will be flown to the Pittsburgh Airport Saturday morning. "A Navy corpsman will be with the remains the entire time. The Navy will provide transportation to the airport as well."
The City Police and Mayor John Geddis will escort the family and remains into the city as well, according to Geddis.
"The family will call us as they (approach Toronto), and we will escort them into the city," Geddis said.
A memorial gathering open to the public will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday at J.E. Foster's Funeral Home, 701 Findley St. They then will proceed to Toronto Union Cemetery for formal military services and burial performed by the Navy, said James Jr.
"A lot of this is going to be spontaneous," he added.
According to Task Force Omega's website, an advocacy organization that tracks American military personnel killed or missing in action, Ronald Manning was killed during the attempt to rescue the civilian crew of 39 captured by the Cambodians after so ordered by then-President Gerald Ford.
"President Ford ordered a carrier battle group, comprised of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Coral Sea with guided missile destroyer escorts U.S.S. Harold E. Holt and the U.S.S. Henry B. Wilson into the Gulf of Thailand," the website's synopsis of the incident reads. "In addition, the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines deployed to Utapao, Thailand, as part of a 1,100-Marine assault force. The Air Force also prepared aircraft for a possible strike/rescue mission.
When three days of intense negotiations between the two governments completely broke down, President Ford ordered a military rescue operation. At the time the rescue plan was initiated, U.S. intelligence personnel believed some or all of the Mayaguez crew had been taken back to Koh Tang Island. Intelligence personnel also estimated there were only 20 to 40 lightly armed Khmer troops on the island."
Instead of a light resistance, the troops ran into a large, heavily armed Cambodian force on the island, which also were dug into trenches and tunnels at the beachhead, according to the report. The American forces were hit hard and were unaware the crew already had been released by the Cambodians on another island. According to the synopsis, 18 Marines and Navy personnel were listed as missing in action during the battle, and their bodies declared unrecoverable.
It wasn't until 1995 the first of three teams from the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting was allowed onto Koh Tang Island to search for the remains of the 18 Americans who lost their lives during the battle. During excavations near the battle, human remains of nine of those Americans were found and subsequently identified, according to the website.
James Manning Jr. said the family was aware although some of the remains recovered were returned to Toronto in 2000, they also believed the possibility more remains might one day be positively identified as Ron Manning's.
"I always though there would be more remains found," he said. "We're not surprised.
"The stress on mom and dad is tremendous," continued James. "Mom is really under a lot of stress."
The parents have invited the public to both the gathering at Foster's and Union Cemetery.
"Toronto's son, H.N. Ronald J. Manning, home to rest for good," read a statement released by Donna and James Manning Sr. "A gathering of memories will be at the J.E. Foster's Funeral Home from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday with committal service immediately following at Toronto Union Cemetery accompanied by full military honors." Ron Manning's name also appears on the Vietnam War Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.