POW/MIA Update: August 12, 2012

AMERICANS ACCOUNTED-FOR: There are now 1,661 personnel listed by the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. Most recently announced is Lt Col Clarence Finley “Bill” Blanton, USAF, listed as KIA/BNR in Laos on March 11, 1968 when the TACAN radar installation (Lima Site 85) on atop a mountain in Houaphan Province was overrun by Vietnamese forces. His remains were recovered January 18, 2008 and identified July 12, 2012. The identification of PFC James Rickey Maxwell, USMC and PFC Richard William Rivenburgh, USMC, was posted on DPMO’s website on July 20th. PFC Maxwell and PFC Rivenburgh were killed on May 15, 1975 during an attempted rescue of the SS Mayaguez crew when their HH53 helicopter crashed near Koh Tang, Cambodia. Their remains were recovered December 6, 1995 and identified January 23, 2012. The number of Americans announced as returned and identified since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is now 922. Another 63 US personnel, recovered post-incident by the US and identified before the end of the war, bring the official total recovered and identified from the Vietnam War to 985. Of the unaccounted-for 1,661 personnel, 90% were lost in Vietnam or in areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam’s wartime control: Vietnam–1,282 (VN-470, VS-812); Laos–317; Cambodia–55; PRC territorial waters–7; more than 450 were over-water losses.

SECRETARY CLINTON VISITS LAOS, VIETNAM & CAMBODIA: For the first time in 57 years, a US Secretary of State recently visited Laos. Bilateral US-Lao relations were not severed during the war and have steadily improved since 1982, after a hiatus of about seven years during which there was little dialogue and no cooperation. During discussions with the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister, the Secretary welcomed Lao agreement to permit base-camping in proximity to excavation sites and ground transportation to sites accessible by road. These were two specific areas of concern to US officials seeking to conduct field operations in Laos as efficiently, effectively and safely as possible. These are welcome steps, but fall short of what is necessary to sustain a viable pace of accounting operations in Laos. To enable resumption of safe, reliable and cost-efficient helicopter support, we urge the Lao Government to reissue a license to Helicopters-New Zealand to do business in Laos.

Comment: The League extends sincere appreciation to senior Lao officials for their favorable decisions and to Secretary of State Clinton for advocating these reasonable, necessary steps to enable greater accounting cooperation. Department of State has been most helpful over the last two-three years in advancing the POW/MIA accounting agenda, advocated in large measure by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, his Principle Deputy Joseph Yun, keynote speaker at the League’s 43rd Annual Meeting, and the professional staff at the Department of State’s Mainland Southeast Asia Office.

The visit to Laos was especially important as it has been a long time coming and drew significant attention to Laos and to the issue. Since our US Ambassadors to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are all very engaged and strongly support accounting objectives, the League is confident that the Secretary raised the issue in ways helpful to increasing the pace and scope of the overall effort. Secretary Clinton had already been to Vietnam on two occasions and was just in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum (ASEAN Regional Forum or ARF) and related ministerial and post-ministerial conferences.

MOVEMENT ON ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTS: During Technical Talks held May 4th in Hanoi, Vietnam turned over long-requested archival documents. This has been a League and US Government priority for decades during which appeals have been made for unilateral provision of such archival records. Lists prepared and updated by DPMO’s Research Analysis Directorate (RA) and JPAC’s Intelligence Directorate (J2) were repeatedly raised by the US and by League Delegations to Vietnamese officials at the highest level. This welcome responsiveness is encouraging and reflects a decision by Vietnam’s leaders that is deeply appreciated. The current political and regional security environment is prompting expanded military-to-military relations between the US and Vietnam, with increases in cooperation on all matters pertaining to bilateral interests. Vietnam has long recognized the important role that the POW/MIA issue played as their “bridge” to expanding and broadening bilateral relations.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE VISITS CAM RANH BAY: In mid-June, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met with SRV Minister of Defense General Phung Quang Thanh, another significant step to expand bilateral military ties. During their discussions, Vietnam announced agreement to longstanding US requests to permit US personnel into previously restricted areas to conduct excavations. Just prior to the Secretary’s visit and, most importantly, Vietnam turned over long-requested archival documents that are still being analyzed for usefulness to achieving accounting objectives. Military exchange visits are increasing in regularity between the US and Vietnam, including a delegation of senior Vietnamese military historians visiting Washington, DC, this week, and a recent visit by Vietnamese military medical personnel to PACOM, a visit that included briefings at JPAC.

CHANGES IN DPMO: Major General W. Montague “Q” Winfield, USA (Ret) arrived in the office on May 21st as the new Deputy Assistant Secretary (DASD) for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs and Director of the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO). He replaced former DASD Bob Newberry. Also no longer in the DPMO front office are former Principal Director Edward Frothingham and former Acting Chief of Staff Colleen Getz. They have now been replaced by Ms. Alisa Stack, Principal Director, and COL John Potts, USA, Chief of Staff. The League looks forward to working with DASD Winfield, Ms. Stack and COL Potts and will consult, cooperate and assist in every reasonable, appropriate way toward achieving ever greater success

FIELD OPERATIONS: Joint Field Activities (JFAs) just concluded in Laos and are now taking place in Vietnam. With the impetus provided by high level visits and the resulting commitments, the League is hopeful that the pace and scope of US efforts to account for Vietnam War missing personnel will continue to expand. Time is growing short to enable getting answers before witnesses are no longer available and remains have disintegrated even more due to acidic soil in the region. Near the conclusion of the JFA in Laos, the Lao permitted travel by road (a longstanding request, when feasible) when the helicopter in which the teams were being transported was grounded due to adverse weather. This prompt, flexible decision by the Lao was the first implementation of one of the commitments made to Secretary Clinton during her visit to Vientiane. Earlier this year, JPAC conducted a successful JFA in Cambodia, though with only one Recovery Team and one trilateral Investigation Team, working with Cambodian and Vietnamese counterparts. Field operations in Cambodia must be more frequent.

RECOGNITION DAY- SEPTEMBER 21, 2012: National, local and state ceremonies will be held once again to honor returned POWs and MIAs, but most importantly for the issue, to renew national commitment to accounting for America’s veterans not yet home from war. Look for announcements that will be coming soon on countless ceremonies to be held at military bases, posts and stations, cities, counties and at the Pentagon, 11:00 a.m. for the national ceremony.

Check the League’s website, www.pow-miafamilies.org, Facebook page, or call the League office for more information. Emails can be sent to [email protected]

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