AMERICANS ACCOUNTED FOR: There are 1,737 US personnel still listed by the Defense POW/MIA Office (DPMO) as missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. The number of US personnel accounted for since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is now 847, though the official count is still 846. During the League’s 40th Anniversary Annual Meeting, a League member announced that she had just received confirmation from JPAC that remains recovered earlier had been identified as those of her brother, MSGT Donald C. Grella, USA, listed KIA/BNR on December 28, 1965. Of the 1,737 men still missing, 90% were lost in Vietnam or areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam’s wartime control.
GULF WAR PILOT’S REMAINS RECOVERED & IDENTIFIED: The remains of Captain Michael Scott Speicher, USN, presumed KIA on January 17, 1991, the first day of Operation Desert Storm, were recently recovered in Anbar Province, Iraq, and identified by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) at Dover AFB, Delaware. The announcement, made by the Defense Department on Sunday, August 2nd, came the day after Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead notified Captain Speicher’s family. The League is delighted for this family to have the long-awaited peace of mind that comes with concrete answers, and appreciates President Obama’s reaction to this news. After thanking the Marines who recovered Speicher’s remains, President Obama stated, “As with all our service men and women considered Missing in Action, we remain steadfast in our determination to bring our American heroes home.”
40TH ANNIVERSARY ANNUAL MEETING: On July 23-25th, the League celebrated 40 years of working to achieve POW/MIA accounting objectives. This year’s meeting, attended by over 500 League members, concerned citizens and government officials, was a great success.
This year, highlights were many, kicked off by the Keynote remarks of Admiral Tim Keating, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM). His unscripted reinforcement of the League, our commitment to upholding accounting principles and advocating for our missing were encouraging and uplifting to all. Also during the Opening Session, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Integration Pete Verga spelled out his thoughts, not only as a responsible senior official in the Obama Administration, but as a Vietnam Veteran who lost friends and colleagues. League Senior Policy Advisor Richard Childress delighted attendees with anecdotal stories from sessions with senior Vietnamese officials over the years in Hanoi and New York City, but also spelled out suggestions for policy and approach that warrant consideration by the Obama Administration. That afternoon, following the Executive Director’s assessment, Deputy DIA Director Bill Huntington reinforced his agency’s commitment to retaining a key role through their Stony Beach POW/MIA specialists.
Accompanied by her husband, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs W. Scott Gould, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy was the dinner speaker. It was gratifying to hear her demonstrate the knowledge and conviction central to effective U.S. Government efforts to pursue accountability. There were many other highlights, including a first-ever panel of senior intelligence analysts and collectors, moderated by League Advisor for Intelligence and Archival Research George “Jay” Veith. Many government officials provided updates and information on their respective roles in the POW/MIA accounting mission, including the Joint Personnel Accounting Command (JPAC), Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), the Joint Commission Support Directorate (JCSC), DIA’s POW/MIA Investigation Team (Stony Beach), the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL), the Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory (LSEL) and the CIA, State Department and Service Casualty offices. (Copies of the remarks can be obtained by contacting the League office.)
Notable among these reports was information on the recently concluded underwater survey by the USNS Heezen along Vietnam’s coastline. This search was the culmination of many years of hard work and negotiation, by the League and the U.S. Government. The joint US-SRV team aboard was rewarded with locating several high value targets that warrant closer inspection and possible recovery. This bilateral project set a positive standard for future efforts, hopefully including expanded access to sensitive in-country areas and unilateral provision by Vietnam of relevant archives.
JPAC OPERATIONS: JPAC Commander RADM Donna Crisp, USN, recently led a team from JPAC headquarters at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, to meet with Cambodia’s POW/MIA Committee in Siem Reap, Cambodia, near the historic location of Angkor Wat. The talks reinforced the already well-established view that, by any measure, the Kingdom of Cambodia provides the best all-round cooperation and sets the standard for other countries to follow.
The 110th Joint Field Activity (JFA) in Laos began on June 23rd and concluded on July 28th. Recovery Teams (RTs) conducted two excavations in Houaphan Province and two in Xieng Khoang Province. A fourth JFA in Vietnam (the 96th) was ongoing during the League’s annual meeting; a repatriation ceremony was held July 17th that included remains of one American turned over by a Vietnamese citizen. JPAC had a Recovery Team in Vanuatu excavating a WWII incident; Admiral Crisp was joined by the President and key leaders of Vanuatu who participated in another repatriation ceremony held late last week.
STATUS OF THE LEAGUE: The referendum sent to 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 were discussed May 1-2nd by the Board of Directors. The financial response has been significant, but inadequate to sustain the League in its current composition; however, the national office will continue to operate at least until March 1, 2010, and longer if donations increase. Recognizing the importance of the League’s role in the issue, many former and current US officials have also contributed generously. The League will continue to pursue every feasible avenue to continue our important mission. Family members are urged to be imaginative in trying to raise funds and to contribute to the extent possible to sustain League efforts, as some already are, though the number is too few.
2009-2011 BOARD OF DIRECTORS: As called for in the Bylaws, an election for the 2009-2011 Board of Directors was held, and the results (received and counted by a CPA firm) were announced at the League’s 40th Anniversary Annual Meeting. Those elected (and their election by the Board to officer positions) are Mark Stephensen, Chairman of the Board, Jo Anne Shirley, Vice Chairman, Sue Scott, Secretary, Pam Cain, Treasurer, Karoni Forrester, David Gray and Ann Mills Griffiths, who will also remain as League Executive Director.
FOLLOW-UP: VIETNAM’S PROPOSAL FOR EXPANDING JOINT OPERATIONS: During the League Delegation’s March 2009 trip to Vietnam, senior Vietnamese officials proposed an increase in the pace and scope of investigations and excavations. On April 2nd, the League Executive Director testified before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel advocating increases in the number of JPAC and Stony Beach personnel and funding to meet Vietnam’s proposal. She also noted the possible need to “fence” relevant budgets to protect them from use on other issues, as has happened before. This proposal warranted serious US consideration. Ambassador Charles Ray, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs, responded positively to a League follow-up letter, indicating interest in this proposal and willingness to work with JPAC to determine the levels of personnel and funding required to respond effectively to Vietnam’s proposal. Anyone wishing a copy of the oral and written testimonies can obtain them by contacting the League office.