POW/MIA Bulletin Update 22 October 2009

AMERICANS RECOVERED: There are now 1,728 US personnel 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 855, though another 63 US personnel were recovered post-incident and identified before the end of the war, bringing the total to 918. Since the League’s 40th Anniversary Annual Meeting in July, DPMO has released the names of the following personnel as now accounted for:

  • E4 Lawrence L. Aldrich, USA, SVN, MIA 5/5/68, RR 4/4/09, ID 5/4/09
  • WO2 Jesse D. Phelps, USA, ID, KIA/BNR 12/28-65, RR 4/4/09, ID 6/1/09
  • E5 Donald C. Grella, USA, NE, KIA/BNR, SVN, 12/28/65, RR 4/4/09, ID 6/1/09
  • E4 Thomas Rice, Jr., USA, SC, KIA/BNR 12//28/65, SVN, RR 4/4/09, ID 6/1/09
  • WO2 Kenneth L. Stancil, USA, TN, KIA/BNR, SVN, 12/28/65, RE 4/5/09, ID 6-1-09
  • CMSGT Melvin D. Rash, USAF, VA, MIA, SVN, 5/22/68, RR 5/29/02, ID 3/13/09

To each of the families, the League offers understanding and the hope that these concrete answers bring long-awaited peace of mind. Of the 1,728 men still missing, 90% were lost in Vietnam or in areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam’s wartime control.

ADM ROBERT WILLARD, USN, ASSUMES COMMAND OF PACOM: On October 19th, at headquarters U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), Camp Smith, Hawaii, Admiral Willard relieved Admiral Timothy Keating, USN, as PACOM Commander in an impressive ceremony. The support of the PACOM Commander for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) is fundamentally important to successful efforts on the POW/MIA effort, and ADM Keating has been a strong, reliable voice, providing reinforcement throughout his tenure. That support was recognized by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates during the Change of Command ceremony. The importance of the issue was among the litany of key PACOM accomplishments under the leadership of ADM Keating. This statement by the Secretary of Defense marked the highest level Obama Administration affirmation to date and was most welcome. League Executive Director Ann Mills Griffiths attended the Change of Command at ADM Keating’s invitation and maximized the four-day visit to represent the POW/MIA families’ interests. Such opportunities are not at all routine, and the ability to spend time at PACOM and JPAC getting updated on the ever-changing and improving accounting process was well-utilized.

VIETNAM’S PROPOSAL FOR EXPANDING JOINT OPERATIONS–FOLLOW-UP: 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, as well as funding necessary to meet Vietnam’s proposal and the possible need to “fence” relevant funding to guard against use on other issues, as has happened before. (Anyone wishing a copy of the testimony may contact the League.) RADM Crisp requested clarification and details from counterpart Vietnamese officials during technical discussions that followed shortly thereafter in Hanoi. Chairman of the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons (VNOSMP) Ambassador Dao gave RADM Crisp Vietnam’s reply during September 24th talks held in Danang.

That detailed proposal is now being given serious consideration by the Department of Defense (DoD), and relevant Congressional Committees have officially requested DoD projections on budget and personnel increases necessary to meet Vietnam’s proposed expansion. There is need for close coordination and cooperation between DPMO and JPAC to determine the appropriate levels required to ensure that there will be no reduction in efforts to obtain answers on US personnel missing from the Korean War and conduct remains recoveries of US losses there as well as the Cold War and WWII.

PRESIDENT ADDRESSES GULF WAR PILOT’S ACCOUNTING: The remains of Captain Michael Scott Speicher, USN, presumed KIA on January 17, 1991, the first day of Operation Desert Storm, and later listed as captured, were recently recovered in Anbar Province, Iraq, near the incident site. His remains were identified by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) at Dover AFB, Delaware. The Defense Department’s August 2nd announcement 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 Captain Speicher’s remains, the President 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.”

DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE (DASD) FOR POW/MIA AFFAIRS NAMED: On August 28th, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Integration Pete Verga notified the League that Mr. Robert J. “Bob” Newberry had been named to replace DASD Ambassador Charlie Ray who resigned July 31st. The League looks forward to working with Mr. Newberry, fully appreciating his wealth of experience in government service. His 26-year US Air Force career included flying F4 and A10 fighters with three tours in Southeast Asia, an exchange tour with the US Marine Corps and the US Army Command and General Staff College. After retiring from the Air Force, he worked briefly in the private sector before retuning to the Defense Department as a civilian employee in 1994. With a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from Texas A & M, and a Master of Science degree in Political Science from New Mexico State University, he accepted temporary assignment as Acting DASD for POW/MIA Affairs following the death of former DASD Jerry Jennings. This appointment, though technically political, appears to have been based more on ability, experience and willingness to serve than on political considerations, for which the League is grateful.

NATIONAL POW/MIA RECOGNITION DAY – SEPTEMBER 18, 2009: The national ceremony was held on the designated date at the Pentagon. Hosted by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the focus was again on honoring all POW/MIAs, and returned POW, former U.S. Senator RADM Jeremiah Denton, USN (Ret), was the featured speaker. Deserving of recognition as are Admiral Denton and other returned POWs from all wars, the League was hopeful that this first year of the Obama Administration might see a return to the primary reason this date was established in 1979: to renew our nation’s effort to account for America’s POW/MIAs, our unreturned veterans from the Vietnam War, later adding earlier wars and conflicts. Although Secretary of Defense Gates’ remarks reinforced the need to honor our returned POWs, it was Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright whose words of commitment were meaningful and helpful to the issue. (A copy can be obtained from the League office.) This year’s special poster was again more suitable for Memorial Day than for National POW/MIA Recognition Day, but the DPMO-published posters are available in small and large sizes for order by phone at (703) 699-1131 or by email on the DPMO website: www.dtic.mil/dpmo. Past years’ posters are reportedly also available.

JPAC ACTIVITIES & OPERATIONS: JPAC is current conducting Joint Field Activities (JFAs) in Laos and preparing to do the same in Vietnam, India and elsewhere. These field operations follow recent technical talks held by JPAC Commander RADM Crisp with all three Indochina countries. Talks were held in Danang, Vietnam, the Lao were hosted at JPAC headquarters in Hawaii, and Cambodia’s POW/MIA Committee met with US officials in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Operations around the world continue to improve in quality; however, there is urgent need for increased funding and personnel to meet requirements mandated by the Defense Authorization Act for FY2010, soon to be passed. Unfortunately Congress is mandating that JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) identify at least 200 remains per year by 2015, a significant increase that could adversely impact the scientific process and force excavations of large scale WWII, slow moving aircraft with large crews as easier to identify to reach that numerical requirement. Reaching that goal could mean reducing investigations and surveys, as well as excavations that are Vietnam War-related, the original reason for formation of JPAC and its predecessor organizations. For this reason, it is critical that funding and personnel be increased to meet the Congressional quota soon to be passed, without sacrificing the accounting principles the League has fought for decades to establish.

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