AMERICANS ACCOUNTED FOR: There are now 1,741 US personnel listed by the Defense POW/MIA Office (DPMO) as missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. The remains of Major Harmon Polster, USAF, listed as MIA in Laos on July 15, 1969, were jointly recovered April 21, 2007 and identified March 30, 2009. The number of US personnel accounted for since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is 841. 90% of the 1,741 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 recently returned from meetings with senior officials in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. All three US Ambassadors, JPAC, Stony Beach, the Defense Attaché and other US officials participated, thus demonstrating a unified effort by the families and the US Government. As promised, letters received from family members were delivered to designated officials. Following is a brief summary of highlights on the issue; however, a full Trip Report will be issued shortly and sent to League members, plus posted on the League’s website.
Laos: The delegation was met on arrival by Ambassador Ravic Huso and JPAC Detachment 3 Commander and others. The Ambassador hosted a Country Team briefing, followed by a session at Detachment 3 before a dinner hosted by Minister Soubanh Srithirath. Meetings were held with Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Somsavat, DPM/Foreign Minister Thongloun, 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 US-Lao cooperation and POW/MIA accounting.
Cambodia: Met on arrival by the Defense Attaché and both permanently assigned Stony Beach specialists, a lot was scheduled into two in-country days. US Ambassador Carol Rodley participated in high level meetings and hosted a dinner honoring the League delegation that included General Pol Saroeun, Chief of the Royal Cambodian Army, who has retained his position as Chairman of the Cambodia POW/MIA Committee. He was joined by Secretary of State for Interior Sieng Lapresse and Major General Kem Chan Nee. Discussions over dinner, plus meetings with DPM/Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong, DPM/Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Defense, General Neang Phat and others reinforced Cambodia’s already outstanding cooperation. The delegation also met with university students, sponsored by Sar Sithan, former Royal Cambodian Air Force and head of a nonprofit working to provide educational assistance to Cambodians.
Vietnam: JPAC Detachment 2 Commander met the delegation upon late evening arrival, plus worked quickly to rearrange the schedule to enable an early morning JPAC briefing prior to meeting with Vietnamese officials. Stony Beach Vietnam Specialist Mike Najim briefed the delegation that evening. Immediately following the morning JPAC briefing, the delegation met with the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons (VNOSMP) 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 Casualty Resolution Specialist, and Stony Beach. At each meeting, the Vietnamese made a proposal 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 development projects. This proposal warrants serious consideration by the US Government.
Comments: The need for increased funding and personnel was raised by the Executive Director on April 1st at the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee hearing and being brought to the attention of executive branch officials. The League is not in a position to suggest 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 obstacles raised by Vietnam. It is now tentatively scheduled for June/July of this year. The League is cautiously optimistic that it will go forward, but there is no guarantee, and obstacles continue to be raised by Vietnam. 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, 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. Joint operations were also ongoing in Vietnam, but well outside the Hanoi area; the delegation was unable to get to them within time constraints. There was also one underwater effort along the northern coast of Vietnam, though using US divers from a Vietnamese platform, not a US Navy ship. No SEA operations are now ongoing, but the JPAC Commander led technical talks this week in Hanoi.
STATUS OF THE LEAGUE: The referendum sent 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 League Newsletter. The results have been tabulated and will be discussed this week at the Board of Directors meeting, scheduled for May 1-3rd. The Board will then decide whether an election will be held to seat a new Board for 2009 – 2011. 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 continue advocating priority on accounting efforts. The League is exhausting every possible avenue to sustain operations, but the worldwide economic recession is adversely impacting nonprofits, as it is all Americans and worldwide. Members are urged to be imaginative in trying to raise funds and to contribute to the extent possible to sustain League efforts, as some of you already do; you know who you are.
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. ADM Tim Keating, USN, Commander, US Pacific Command (PACOM), has agreed to Keynote. The Deputy Secretary of Defense has again authorized 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.
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. Registration to attend the 40th Anniversary Annual Meeting, at which USG briefings are given, will take place on Wednesday, July 22nd, 3:30 – 5:30 p.m., continuing from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. in the Admiralty Ballroom Foyer. Visits to Congress are strongly encouraged and are again part of an organized effort, chaired by Tami Taber Keays. An organization session will be held on Wednesday morning, July 22nd, 8:00 – 9:30 a.m. in the Commodore Barry Room, off the Admiralty Ballroom Foyer, Plaza Level, Metro or taxi must be used for transportation to Capitol Hill.