POW/MIA Update: March 11, 2012

AMERICANS IDENTIFIED: There are still 1,677 Americans listed by the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. Most recently listed as accounted-for on the DPMO website was Lt Col Charles M. Walling, USAF, AZ, MIA in South Vietnam on 8/8/66. His remains were recovered on 4/13/10 and identified on 11/30/11. The number of Americans announced as returned and identified since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is now 906. (Five more Americans previously listed as KIA/BNR in Cambodia (4) and Laos (1) have been accounted-for, though not yet named/announced by DPMO.) Another 63 US personnel, recovered post-incident and identified before the end of the war, bring the officially listed total recovered and identified to 969. Of the 1,677 still missing or otherwise unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War, 90% were lost in Vietnam or in areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam’s wartime control: Vietnam–1,286 (VN-472, VS-814); Laos–326; Cambodia–58; Peoples Republic of China territorial waters–7; more than 450 were over-water losses.

HOUSE RESOLUTION 485: Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) introduced H. Res. 485, calling for several important steps by the Secretary of Defense and, most importantly, signaling the need for additional funding to ensure that priority on the accounting mission is sustained and expanded. As expected, it was not voted on before Congress recessed for the holidays; therefore, it is very important that additional House Members sign on to co-sponsor and register their support. Please contact your elected representative; ask him or her to contact Congressman Jones’ Staff Assistant Ray Celeste by email [email protected] or phone, 202-226-5241.

ACCOUNTING COOPERATION: Joint Field Activities (JFAs) are now underway in Vietnam, the largest such operations in some time, including six recovery teams and two investigation teams. Joint Advance Work took place from February 27th until March 8th, and full scale investigations and recoveries began at multiple sites on March 9th. Until now, the US had largely failed to respond to the Vietnamese government’s 2009 proposal to the League to increase the pace and scope of such operations. This pace must be continued and, where possible, further expanded to enable getting answers before witnesses are no longer available and remains have disintegrated even more due to the acidic soil in the region.

For the first time in years, DIA’s POW/MIA specialist in Laos, Dustin Roses, is participating in joint field operations, conducting interviews of sources with potentially useful information. While this is an important step toward fully utilizing this specialist and, though long overdue, the Lao government has yet to agree for him to conduct such interviews outside the timing of JPAC field operations. The Lao Government’s objections have continued despite the fact that all Stony Beach interviews would be fully coordinated with the Lao government, and trips outside Vientiane would be in the company of a designated Lao official. The League is hopeful that this initial step will demonstrate to skeptical Lao decision-makers that this highly qualified specialist is focused solely on POW/MIA matters and there is no viable rationale for limiting his ability to help locate information useful to the accounting mission.

A successful JFA was recently completed in Cambodia. Two JPAC recovery teams worked with Cambodian counterparts, the first such operation in Cambodia this year. It is hoped that more investigations and recoveries will be scheduled in FY12, instead of completing only one per year, as has been the norm in recent years. With only 54 US personnel still unaccounted for in Cambodia, and six or so incidents located and awaiting excavation, an all-out push by the US, ably assisted by Cambodian officials whose cooperation is the most highly praised, could actually achieve “fullest possible accounting” objectives in the near term. Expectations must be reasonable and tempered by knowledge of the horrors inflicted by the Khmer Rouge on the Cambodian people.

STATUS OF JPAC FUNDING & PERSONNEL: According to JPAC Commander MG Steve Tom, USAR, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs Bob Newberry, full funding for FY12 scheduled operations should not be a concern. According to Mr. Newberry’s letter to the League, dated January 4, 2012, “…the Department increased funding for JPAC beginning in 2012 to meet the statutory requirements to increase accounting for missing Americans from all past conflicts and will continue to support the program to meet the emergent North Korea requirement. There should be no effect on JPAC operations in Southeast Asia as a result of a lack of funding.” That assurance is welcome, but there are some aspects that raise questions; namely, what about 2013 and beyond in this era of budget cuts? And, though assured there is no funding obstacle to the pace of Vietnam War accounting operations, JPAC could change schedules, especially if the assured funding does not arrive in JPAC accounts before deadlines for making go/no-go decisions. This situation warrants very close monitoring. The League thanks each of you who wrote Members of Congress to urge full funding for POW/MIA accounting organizations to accomplish the mission.

JPAC PLANNING EXERCISE: Beginning this coming week, some officials within JPAC will meet to discuss long-term plans to fulfill their interpretation of the accounting mission. Again, though planning is always a good thing, including contingency planning, any expansion of operations to recover Korean War and WWII personnel known dead must not be the result of reducing Vietnam War accounting operations. As previously noted in League Updates, there are some advocating a “Super CIL” approach, with little to no consideration of conditions and circumstances. Momentum is building to resume recovery operations in Burma/Myanmar, offering the prospect of bilateral humanitarian cooperation, a prospect the League has advocated and welcomes, but NOT at the expense of reducing Vietnam War accounting effort. As above on funding and personnel concerns, this is something to closely monitor and to ensure that Members of Congress understand the need to simultaneously pursue accountability for personnel missing from all wars.

CHANGES COMING TO DPMO: There has long been the need for changes in DPMO and it is clear that there will shortly be a new Deputy Assistant Secretary replacing Bob Newberry. It is no secret that the League has strongly supported additional funding and personnel for JPAC to enable expansion of field operations. This entailed opposition to some DPMO initiatives that would have meant engaging in operations, rather than providing the policy guidance and support for which DPMO was established. A major factor that caused united action by the major national veteran organizations and the League was DPMO’s attempt, backed by DoD and others, to control the US-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs and subsume it under DoD-controlled working groups as part of a broader “reset” in US-Russian Federation relations. Whomever is selected as Mr. Newberry’s replacement, it is hoped that he/she will not fall victim to listening to those in DPMO whose vision was not shared or supported by those of us most directly affected, the POW/MIA families and our nation’s veterans.

2012 MEMBERSHIP DUES OF $25 PER PERSON WERE DUE ON JANUARY 1ST. If you received a reminder card recently, you need to pay your dues if you haven’t already. If you have questions, please call or email the League office.

43RD ANNUAL MEETING SCHEDULED FOR JUNE 14-17th. Call now for reservations, 1-800-HILTONS (1-800-445-8667), at the Hilton Crystal City Hotel, using Group Code “MIA” or use the Hilton website with the same code. Registration forms will be available on the League website and distributed in the League Newsletter later this month.

DONATION/REGISTRATION ALTERNATIVE: If so inclined, you can use your bank’s “bill-pay” program to make regular or one-time donations to the League or register for the 43rd Annual Meeting, thus saving check-writing, stamps and time.

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