POW/MIA Update: October 12, 2011

AMERICANS IDENTIFIED: There are now 1,682 Americans listed by the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. Today, DPMO announced the name of Sgt. 1st Class Marvin F. Phillips, USAF, listed as KIA/BNR in SVN on 9/26/66. His remains were recovered on 6/24/10 and identified on 7/29/11. On August 29th, DPMO posted the names of Col Gilbert S. Palmer, Jr, USAF, listed MIA in Laos 2/27/68, and Lt Col Edward D. Silver, USAF, listed MIA in North Vietnam 7/5/68, as accounted-for. Col Palmer’s remains were jointly recovered on 11/17/09 and identified 5/19/11. Lt Col Silver’s remains were repatriated 6/26/98 and identified 5/31/11. DPMO also recently posted the news that Major Thomas E. Clark, USAF, PA, listed as MIA in Laos on 2/8/69, and Major Bruce E. Lawrence, USAF, NJ, listed as MIA in North Vietnam 7/5/68, are now accounted-for. Major Clark’s remains were jointly recovered on 11/16/05 and identified 6/3/11. Major Lawrence’s remains were recovered 6/26/98 and identified 6/3/11. The number of Americans returned and identified since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is now 901; another 63 US personnel, recovered post-incident and identified before the end of the war, bring the total to 964. Of the 1,682 unreturned American veterans from the Vietnam War, our POW/MIAs, 90% were lost in Vietnam or in areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam’s wartime control: Vietnam–1,291 (VN-473, VS-818); Laos–326; Cambodia–58; Peoples Republic of China territorial waters–7; over 450 were over-water losses.

ACCOUNTING COOPERATION: On September 9th, JPAC hosted a military Arrival Ceremony at the flight line on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to honor remains of fallen U.S. personnel from the Vietnam War whose identities remain unknown. The remains were recovered is Laos and Vietnam during joint recovery missions. JPAC’s Underwater Recovery Team (URT) recently suspended operations off the coast of Vietnam and redeployed to Hawaii. Some 35 US personnel concluded field operations in Vietnam, testing a new recovery process. Vietnamese Recovery Teams (VRTs) handle all logistics requirements and advance preparation, before being joined by a smaller number of US personnel. This new recovery construct is viewed as a way to expand the pace and scope of recovery operations, called for by Vietnam since the League Delegation in March 2009. Initial reports indicate the process is working well; however, increased accountability will be the key to determining success. JPAC-led technical talks were held September 28th in Hanoi. The prior technical talks were held in Hanoi April 27th, the first such discussions since the League Delegation in March, 2011. Despite League provision of an archival research concept paper and coordination in advance with US officials, the April working-level talks were poorly planned and badly implemented. Predictably, the response was equally mediocre. The recent talks were better planned and, hopefully, remedied some of the earlier confusion. Agreement was reached on working-level exchanges that may finally achieve results long sought, with specialists engaging in conversations with counterpart Vietnamese officials to explore ways to renew multi-lateral technical-level access to relevant archival documents. Such documents, primarily from Vietnam,could expedite joint operations to account for missing US personnel, especially along Vietnam’s borders with Laos and Cambodia.

Semi-annual POW/MIA Consultations between the US and Laos took place September 14th in Hawaii, hosted by MG Stephen Tom, USAR, JPAC Commander. League Chairman of the board Ann mills-Griffiths and Senior Policy Advisor Richard t. Childress, joined the US and Lao delegations for athe concluding dinner. JPAC-led consultations with the Cambodian POW/MIA Committee took place June 15th in Phnom Penh. Hopefully, all of the upcoming technical talks will focus intelligently on working-level archival research cooperation, a critical requirement for mission success.

Recent Vietnam War field operations have had far fewer US personnel than allowed for each 30-day Joint Field Activity (JFA). The field operations were cut back drastically until passage of the FY2011 budget was confirmed, at which point some of the previously dropped operations were restored to the schedule. Also importantly in Vietnam, the USNS Bowditch conducted an underwater survey along the coastline of Vietnam, though not yet along the northern provinces, a step that would be most welcome due to the number of overwater losses near the coast of what was North Vietnam. Hopefully, increasing bilateral military-to-military relations and cooperation will allow this to occur in the near future. Recently, USN ships were also again docked in Vietnamese ports. The next JPAC field operations in Laos will be October 20 – November 22nd, and operations in Vietnam will occur October 28 – November 30th.

Korean War Accounting: It was recently announced that the US and North Korea will enter into talks to re-start remains recovery operations that were halted in 2005. Recently, there were again two Recovery Teams (RTs) in South Korea; the reality is that there have been no successful field recoveries there to date. Heavy population reduces chances for successful excavations. Korean War/Cold War briefings, hosted by DPMO, are currently ongoing in the Metro DC area.

Until field recoveries are again approved in North Korea, the best hope for Korean War accounting lies in identifying remains previously returned unilaterally by North Korea and those disinterred from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) that were buried post-war as unknowns. The identification process has advanced dramatically, now enabling such IDs to be made, but more forensic anthropologists are needed. Ironically, qualified forensic anthropologists are frequently assigned to lead field excavations, instead of utilizing skilled forensic archeologists, thus diverting time and attention from remains identifications.

WWII Accounting: JPAC also recently had two Phase Two Testing Teams (P2Ts) and one RT on Wake Island, three RTs in Germany, one Investigation Team (IT) in Micronesia, all focused on WWII incidents, as was one operation in England..

NATIONAL POW/MIA RECOGNITION DAY: The President issued a proclamation designating September 16th as this year’s date to honor America’s POW/MIAs from all wars and to commemorate their sacrifices and those of their families. Ceremonies were held across the country and around the world as the League’s POW/MIA Flag was again raised, as required by law, over the White House, the US Capitol, the Departments of State, Defense and Veterans Affairs, all offices of the US Postal service, all VA Cemeteries nationwide, and military bases, posts and stations as designated by the Secretary of Defense. Posters were designed and distributed by the Defense POW/MIA Office (DPMO); however, they ran out of both sizes before the middle of August. The poster can be accessed and downloaded for printing at the DPMO website, www.dtic.mil/dpmo.

LEAGUE ORGANIZATIONAL MATTERS: Results from the election of the 2011-2013 Board of Directors and election of the Board’s officers were announced at Opening Session of the 42nd Annual Meeting, as follows: Chairman of the Board Ann Mills-Griffiths, Vice Chairman David Gray, Secretary Pam Cain, Treasurer Mark Stephensen, Sue Scott, Karoni Forrester and Susie Stephens-Harvey. (The eligibility of one elected Board member has been questioned and is being addressed by the Board.) The proposed Bylaw changes passed overwhelmingly. Resolutions passed by members present for the Business Session are now posted on the League’s website, and an in-depth report of the 42nd Annual Meeting will be distributed in the upcoming League Newsletter, as well as posted on the website. Copies of important, timely remarks from the League’s Senior Policy Advisor Richard Childress, DIA Director LTG Ronald Burgess, USA, and JPAC’s Detachment Two Casualty Resolution specialist Ron Ward are also available on the League website or by request. Call National Coordinator Lacy Rourke at the League office, 703-465-7432, or email her at [email protected].