POW/MIA Update: January 24, 2011

AMERICANS IDENTIFIED: There are now 1,702 Americans listed by the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. DPMO recently posted the news that the remains of Warrant Officer 3rd Class George A. Howes, USAR, and two US Air Force officers Colonel James E. Dennany and Major Robert L. Tucci, have been recovered and identified. WO3 Howes was listed as MIA January 10, 1970. Col Dennany and Maj Tucci were both listed as MIA in Laos on November 12, 1969. Several others have been identified, but not yet announced by DPMO as they are awaiting family notification by the Service Casualty Offices.

The number of Americans returned and identified since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is now 881; another 63 US personnel, recovered post-incident and identified before the end of the war, bring the total to 944. Of the 1,702 American POW/MIAs from the Vietnam War, our unreturned veterans, 90% were lost in Vietnam or in areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam’s wartime control: Vietnam – 1,304 (VN-478, VS-826); Laos – 332; Cambodia – 59; Peoples Republic of China territorial waters – 7. Over 450 are considered over-water losses.

ACCOUNTING COOPERATION: The 117th Joint Field Activities were to have begun in Laos on January 14th; however, the operations were cancelled due to inability to get helicopters certified as approved transport for US DoD personnel, a time-consuming, lengthy process, or to get a waiver to temporarily allow such transport. Appeals to the Lao Government just before the start date to permit ground transportation to the scheduled excavation sites were denied, thus forcing the cancellation.

MG Stephen Tom, USAR, Commander of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC)went to Laos and Vietnam just before Christmas to discuss continuing and increased concerns over problems that have not been resolved to allow resumption of helicopter transportation for teams to get to remote sites for investigations and excavations. Counterparts in both governments discussed the complex problems and agreed to be flexible in implementing schedules, but this issue continues to seriously jeopardize JPAC’s ability to conduct field operations.

Since the Lao had indicated willingness to be flexible in seeking solutions that would allow cooperation to proceed, the reasons for their decision are as yet unclear. Regardless of such bureaucratic obstacles on both sides, it is again the families who lose, and any loss of time at this point in history is bad; we have no time to lose. While all are optimistic that the waiver will come shortly, it was cost-prohibitive for US team-members to be in a holding pattern at great expense, especially in a time of fiscal stress and uncertainty.

Also, most unfortunately, the Lao Government is still refusing to allow the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Stony Beach Lao specialist to participate in in-country operations, a disappointing position on their part that also requires further, timely attention.

FUTURE OF US-RUSSIA JOINT COMMISSION (USRJC) ON POW/MIA AFFAIRS IN DOUBT: After sending letters to the President and senior Obama Administration officials, the League, VFW, DAV, JWV and American Legion were invited, along with other family group representatives to a January 12thmeeting, hosted by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs (DPMO) Bob Newberry, with National Security Council staff Director for Russian Affairs Leslie Hayden participating. Proposals raised by Hayden and Newberry were unanimously opposed by all veteran and family representatives, as they would dramatically alter the USRJC’s structure and undercut or destroy its effectiveness by putting DPMO in a position to control, rather than support, the USRJC’s work. Even maintaining the “status quo” is untenable as DPMO has consistently taken personnel and funding designated for USRJC support.

The January 12th meeting was a disaster on all fronts and, most likely as a direct result, the NSC staff member working this issue has been reassigned. Although no further decisions have yet been announced, it is good to know that all of the major national veteran organizations, the League and all other family representatives from past wars are in full agreement on the need to sustain and reinforce the USRJC’s independence.

An immediate, public outcry from POW/MIA families and our nation’s veterans can help, but you must act now. DPMO leadership seems intent on becoming operational, instead of the policy control and oversight organization intended when formed. Speak out NOW to the highest levels, or don’t complain when the USRJC is subsumed into the DoD bureaucracy at the bottom of its priority list.

You should also know that the POW/MIA issue is not even mentioned in the official letter between the US Secretary of Defense and the Russian Minister of Defense reaching agreement on Defense Working Groups of the Obama Administration’s US-Russia Bilateral Commission.

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