This film grew out of the search for Sfc. Samuel J. Padgett

Julia LeDoux
May 23, 2020 - 12:57 pm

Courtesy photo

Army Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Padgett boarded a CH-34 helicopter on a mission to Kham Duc, South Vietnam along with three other soldiers on April 10, 1968.

It was the Tulsa, Oklahoma native’s 31st birthday.

It would also be the day he died.

During the fateful flight, the chopper lost power unexpectedly and descended rapidly, crashing into the jungle. According to Army records, a rescue team was sent out immediately, but because of the intense heat of the flames at the crash site they could only watch as the bodies of those aboard were burned while inside the helicopter.

Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

After the flames were doused, three of the four bodies were found and identified. Padgett, however, was missing. Two platoons of soldiers searched the surrounding jungle for Padgett the days following the crash but could not find him. They thought that Padgett could have fallen from the chopper before it went down.  

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That’s where the story stood in January of 2017 when a team of archaeologists and service members with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency returned to the crash site in the hopes of bringing Padgett home to his family.

At the time of the search, Staff Sgt. Jose Rodriquez was assigned to the DPAA as a filmmaker and photographer.  He was later urged by fellow soldier and combat cameraman Joe Day to use the footage to create a film about the search.

“We were on the ground for 30 days and I video recorded and photographed everything,” Rodriquez said. “I started recording from beginning to end.”

Out of those recordings grew the documentary “Remains: The Search For SFC Samuel J. Padgett.”

The 41-minute film focuses on the DPAA hunt for anything that could be connected to Padgett at the crash site, Rodriguez said.

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The soldiers who were part of the team were there to be “the muscle,”  and followed directions given by the archaeologists when it came to the search and sifting through dirt at the location, he explained.

“The archaeologists know how to read the dirt,” Rodriguez said. “I grew up in the city, so this was a hard labor experience for me. There was a learning curve for me.”

The team carefully sifted through all the dirt that archaeologists thought looked promising with one goal in mind.

“What we were hoping to find was the location of Padgett or the wreckage he was in,” Rodriguez noted.

While the search was ultimately unsuccessful, the effort to bring Padgett home will never end, he said.

The mission of the DPAA is to find the fullest possible accounting for America’s missing service members and prisoners of war. Rodriguez said his time with the agency has so far been the highlight of his military career. 

“We don’t know much about Padgett, but look at what he’s created,” Rodrigez said. “Look at the bonds created by someone who is not alive.” 

The film is being streamed throughout the weekend on the Archaeology Channel.

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