POW/MIA Update: February 23, 2013

AMERICANS ACCOUNTED-FOR: There are still 1,654 personnel listed by the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. On January 23rd, DPMO posted the accounting for LT Richard L. Laws, USN, listed as KIA/BNR April 3, 1966, over North Vietnam. His remains were recovered November 23, 1995, and identified December 3, 2012. The number of Americans announced by DPMO as returned and identified since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is now 929. Another 63 US personnel, recovered by the US and ID’d before the end of the war, bring the official total of remains repatriated from the Vietnam War to 992. Of the 1,654 missing and unaccounted-for personnel, 90% were lost in Vietnam or areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam’s wartime control: Vietnam–1,279 (VN-469, VS-810); Laos–314; Cambodia–54; PRC territorial waters–7; 450+ over-water losses are among 630 DPMO lists as No Further Pursuit (NFP).

U.S. ARMY LEADER VISITS LAOS: The Commander of US Army Pacific Command (USARPAC), LTG Francis “Frank” Wiercenski, USA, recently held talks with the Lao Vice Minister of Defense, an important step in the evolving military-to-military relationship. He was joined in these meetings by US Ambassador to Laos Karen Stewart and Defense Attaché LTC Matthew Kent, USA. In addition to a wider range of bilateral interests, including counternarcotics and demining cooperation, there also was significant discussion on POW/MIA accounting matters. It is always important for senior US officials – political, military and economic – to raise US interest in increasing future accounting cooperation, as well as recognizing and stating appreciation for past efforts. This is true in Laos and Vietnam, where incrementally-expanding POW/MIA cooperation since 1982 has played such a central role in the bilateral relationships, as has also been the case in Cambodia, though a bit later due to other issues.

JPAC COMMANDER VISITS LAOS: Major General Kelly McKeague, USAF, will hold consultations with Lao counterparts in Vientiane on February 26th. Logistics issues are posing challenges in Laos; however, the Lao Government is finally permitting travel by road (a longstanding request), but lack of reliable helicopter support is still a very serious concern. They also agreed to consider and permit base-camping near excavation sites when requested as necessary. Despite these recent agreements showing improved Lao flexibility, the scale of operations in Laos has dropped significantly.

The Joint Field Activity (JFA) conducted January 16 – February 19 consisted of only one Recovery Team (RT) and one Investigation Team (IT), augmented by the Det. 3 Casualty Resolution Specialist and DIA’s Stony Beach Lao specialist. The reasons for JPAC’s decision to reduce the scope of the JFA is unclear, but was not due to a lack of Lao Government cooperation; however, significant increases in the pace and scope of Lao operations will be tough unless and until the Lao Government takes steps to facilitate helicopter support for access to remote sites. (This requires a decision to grant a business license to an outside foreign company which supplies small-scale helicopters that meet US safety requirements.) Even with additional Lao Government support, the JFA scheduled from March 12 – April 14, planned to consist of three RTs and one IT, may also be in danger due to lack of funding.

CAMBODIA FIELD OPERATIONS POSTPONED: Unfortunately, JPAC postponed the Cambodia JFA that was scheduled to begin in early February. The JFA would have consisted of two RTs and one Underwater Recovery Team (URT). JPAC leaders anticipate this will be a relatively short post-ponement in order to resolve some contracting and budget issues, but rescheduling has not yet been announced. As feared, budget issues are affecting planned JFAs worldwide, and JPAC is working hard to minimize adverse impacts and reschedule 2013 operations.

OPERATIONS IN VIETNAM: No JFAs took place over the Christmas/New Year holidays, but the level of operations had been relatively high in SEA. With the impetus provided by high level visits and resulting commitments, the League was hopeful that the pace and scope of US efforts in Vietnam would be sustained or continue to expand. Time is growing short for getting answers before witnesses are no longer available, remains have disintegrated completely due to acidic soil in the region, or development has destroyed incident sites. Priority investigations on Last Known Alive (LKA) cases are conducted primarily by the Research Investigation Team (URT), comprised of JPAC Detachment 2 specialists in Hanoi, augmented by DIA’s Stony Beach specialists. The next JFA in Vietnam, planned for March 12 – April 14, will include the five RTs initially scheduled, but the IT and RIT were canceled due to lack of funding. Of the funding dedicated for FY13 JPAC operations in the 2nd quarter, little has been released by PACOM.

WORLDWIDE OPERATIONS: A delegation led by Maj Gen McKeague was recently in Beijing, discussing with People’s Republic of China (PRC) officials the need for greater cooperation, primarily on the accounting for Korean War losses, but also some losses related to WWII and specific Vietnam War incidents, as well as archival document support and cooperation. Like Russia, the PRC was actively engaged in Vietnam and Laos during the Vietnam War. Maj Gen McKeague went on to Seoul for meetings with Republic of Korea (ROK) and United Nations Military Assistance Command (UNCMAC) officials. He also met with those directly in charge of JPAC’s counterpart organization in Seoul, MAKRI, and toured their facility, built with advisory support from JPAC’s Deputy to the Commander for External Affairs Johnie Webb, himself a former Commander of the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL).

JPAC regularly deploys teams worldwide and continues to expand into more countries, recovering increasing numbers of US personnel who served and sacrificed for our country from WWII, Korean War and Cold War. At present, in addition to the above, JPAC has teams deployed to the Philippines, Republic of Korea (ROK-South Korea), the Solomon Islands, was recently in Burma (Myanmar), and shortly will return to Papua New Guinea (PNG). The League is pleased and grateful that our work since 1970 has resulted in the enormous effort now being made and strongly supports such efforts, so long as achieving the fullest possible accounting for missing Vietnam War personnel is not reduced or jeopardized.

NO WORD FROM WHITE HOUSE ON USRJC CHARTER: There is still no news from the White House on any movement to approve the formal charter for the US-Russia Joint Commission (USRJC) on POW/MIAs. In the interim, however, major changes in Russia since the re-election of President Vladimir Putin resulted in removal of the Russian Chairwoman and several named Russian Commissioners. Additional information will be provided when available, but the Obama National Security Council Staff has been more than slow in moving this action forward.

Now that former Senator John Kerry has been confirmed as US Secretary of State, his seat on the USRJC as the Senate Democrat is vacated, though in reality he never participated in any way, not as a member of a USRJC delegation nor in plenary sessions held in Moscow or in Washington, DC. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had repeatedly been requested to replace Senator Kerry with someone more willing to be actively involved, so perhaps he will finally take action. The other USRJC Congressional members are Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Representative Tim Walz (D-MN). We appreciate the patience that these Commissioners and General Robert Foglesong, USAF (Ret) have shown throughout the unwarranted White House delay in approving the charter so that the Commission can move forward.

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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