AMERICANS ACCOUNTED FOR: There are still 1,742 US personnel listed by the Defense POW/MIA Office (DPMO) as missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. There have been no recent announcements of Vietnam War personnel identified since December 15th. The number of US personnel accounted for since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is 841. 90% of the 1,742 still missing were lost in Vietnam or areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam’s wartime control.
LEAGUE DELEGATION VISITS LAOS, CAMBODIA & VIETNAM: Executive Director Ann Mills Griffiths, Senior Policy Advisor Richard Childress and Vice Chairman of the Board Mark Stephensen just returned from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, having met with senior officials in each country. All three US Ambassadors, JPAC, Stony Beach, the Defense Attaché and other US officials participated, thus demonstrating the unified effort by the families and the US Government. As promised, the letters received from family members were delivered to designated officials. In the order visited, following are brief summaries; however, a full Trip Report will be issued shortly and sent to League members, plus posted on the League’s website.
Thailand: The morning after arriving in Bangkok, the delegation received a Country Team briefing at the US Embassy, hosted by Ambassador Eric John, and appreciated the current information that was presented. A good session was held with retiring JPAC Detachment 1 Commander LtCol Pete Huddle, USAF, incoming Commander LTC Craig Tippins, and Deputy Commander Major Marc Geller, USAF. The scope of their responsibilities is large, including primary logistics support for all Vietnam War-related joint field operations, plus command responsibility for operations in Cambodia and WWII operations in India and Burma. All were especially helpful in last-minute preparations for departure the next day for Laos.
Laos: The delegation was met on arrival by Ambassador Ravic Huso, Detachment 3 Commander LTC Brandt Deck, USA Special Forces, and other Detachment 2 personnel who facilitated customs requirements. The Ambassador hosted a Country Team briefing, followed by a session at Detachment 3 before the delegation and Ambassador Huso were guests at a dinner hosted by Minister in the President’s Office Soubanh Srithirath, a pioneer in US-Lao cooperation since 1981. We met with Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Somsavat, DPM/Foreign Minister Thongloun and Deputy Minister of Defense Major General Somphet and many other Lao officials. Ambassador Huso hosted a dinner in the delegation’s honor at his residence. Changes in Lao leadership attitudes and receptiveness to engagement and cooperation were visible and welcome. The evolving bilateral relationship – including the long-sought exchange of Defense Attachés – is very positive for broader bilateral cooperation and POW/MIA accounting, central to the relationship since the early 1980s. A small increase in airlift funding would likely go a long way to expedite field operations in Laos.
Cambodia: After being met by Defense Attaché Frank Matheson and the two Stony Beach specialists permanently assigned in Phnom Penh, Pete Loverde and Mary Dinh, a lot was scheduled into the two days in-country. US Ambassador Carol Rodley participated in high level meetings and hosted a small dinner at her residence honoring the League delegation. Importantly, General Pol Saroeun, Chief of the Royal Cambodian Army, has retained his position as Chairman of the Cambodian POW/MIA Committee. He was joined at the dinner by Secretary of State for Interior Sieng Lapresse and Major General Kem Chan Nee. Discussions at the dinner, plus meetings with DPM/Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong, DPM/Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, Secretary of State, Ministry of Defense, General Neang Phat and others reinforced Cambodia’s already outstanding cooperation and provided insights into the current political and economic conditions. The delegation also met with a group of university students, sponsored by Sar Sithan, former Royal Cambodian Air Force and head of a nonprofit organization working to provide educational assistance to Cambodians.
Vietnam: JPAC Detachment 2 Commander LTC Todd Emoto, USA Special Forces, and some of his staff met the delegation at the airport and took us to the hotel where we were greeted by Stony Beach Vietnam Specialist Mike Najim. Following a JPAC briefing the next morning, we met with the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons and senior officials in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense and Public Security. US Ambassador Mike Michalak participated in all senior level meetings, as did the Defense Attaché, Detachment 3 Commander and Stony Beach specialist.
At each meeting, a proposal was made to increase the pace and scope of investigations and excavations, based on the stated need to avoid destruction of incident sites being lost to increasing construction of development projects. This proposal warrants serious consideration by the US Government and serves as the basis for increasing JPAC and Stony Beach funding and personnel.
The need for increased funding and personnel was raised at the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee and is being brought to the attention of executive branch officials. The League is not suggesting the number of additional personnel required, but recognizes the need for 4-5 more field teams to prevent an adverse impact on recovery of losses from earlier wars. JPAC funding is not adequate in the current FY09 budget, nor does it include funding for operations in North Korea, if it happens to open up as hoped. An increase of at least $20+ million would likely be needed, with a plus-up of forensic anthropologists and other scientific staff. More linguists and trained Stony Beach specialists would also be needed to expedite in-country research and investigations.
Vietnam has repeatedly announced agreement that a USN ship could be used for underwater surveys and recoveries, a decision most visibly announced by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung during his visit to Washington in June, 2008. The League had hoped that the announcement by the Prime Minister would overcome any remaining obstacles, but the mission was planned for March, 2009, and again postponed due to regulatory problems raised by Hanoi. It is now scheduled for June/July of this year. The League is cautiously optimistic that this time it will go forward, but there is no guarantee, and problems continue to come up. As always, we’ll have to wait and see.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR TESTIFIES ON CAPITOL HILL: The need for additional JPAC and Stony Beach funding was raised by the Executive Director, as was the need to “fence” the funds to protect them from use on other issues, as before. Also raised was the League’s opposition to centralized control of the issue by DPMO, a concept being advocated by some that would be very destructive at this critical juncture. Anyone wishing to have a copy of the oral and written testimonies can obtain them by contacting the League office.
JPAC OPERATIONS: The 108th JFA in Laos concluded on April 7th. It was ongoing in Houa Phan and Xieng Khoang Provinces during the League visit; thus, the delegation was privileged to again visit JPAC excavations and witness firsthand the professionalism, dedication and commitment of all involved, led by JPAC Detachment 2 Commander LTC Deck and his Lao counterparts, some of whom have worked the POW/MIA accounting effort for nearly three decades. Though joint operations were ongoing in Vietnam, they were all well outside the Hanoi area and, thus, the delegation was unable to get to them within time constraints. There was one underwater effort along the coast of northern Vietnam, though not using a US Navy ship, but a Vietnamese platform and divers as before. That, too is now concluded.
STATUS OF THE LEAGUE: The referendum to all League members – family and associate – to determine the level of interest in and commitment to the League’s continuation was distributed during the last two weeks of March, with the March 12, 2009 League Newsletter. The results will be tabulated before the next meeting of the Board of Directors, scheduled for May 1-3rd. At that time, the Board will decide whether an election will be held to seat a new Board for 2009 – 2011. Every possibility is being exhausted to ensure the League’s continuation, despite the worldwide economic recession. In addition to family members and veterans, many former and current US officials have contributed generously, recognizing the importance of the League’s role to advocate continuing priority on accounting efforts. Members and supporters are urged to be imaginative in trying to raise funds and to contribute to the extent possible to sustain League efforts.
40TH ANNIVERSARY ANNUAL MEETING JULY 22-25, 2009: This year’s annual meeting promises to be special, including commemoration of over 35 years since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and 40 years since the League was formed, then incorporated on May 28, 1970. Governmental transitions are taking place, and there will be much to discuss and decide in terms of the League’s and the issue’s future in this first year of the Obama Administration. Plan to attend, arriving early if you wish to call on Members of Congress and visit meaningful sites in our nation’s capital before Opening Session begins on Thursday, July 23rd, at 9:00 a.m. ADM Tim Keating, USN, Commander, US Pacific Command, has agreed to Keynote. The Secretary of Defense is again expected to authorize COIN Assist travel. Reservations can now be made at the Hilton Crystal City Hotel. Call 1-800-HILTONS (800-445-8667), noting affiliation with the League’s 40th Anniversary Annual Meeting, or go to www.hilton.com, and use Group Code “POW” to get the special rate of $149 per room night, single/double. Deadline to secure the special rate is June 19th.