POW/MIA UPDATE: July 26, 2006 PRESIDENT AFFIRMS COMMITMENT: In a June 21st letter to the families attending the League's 37th Annual Meeting, President Bush affirmed his commitment "to continuing the search for all military members missing in the line of duty" ... and provided assurance that "this is an issue I will raise when I travel to Vietnam this Fall." He also expressed appreciation to the League for our efforts over many years. The President's scheduled visit to Vietnam in November, in conjunction with the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) is the culmination of a crucial year in US-Vietnam relations and is critical to continued focus and priority on POW/MIA accounting. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PRESSES VIETNAM ON POW/MIA ISSUE: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Vietnam June 3-6th and urged his counterpart, Defense Minister Pham Van Tra, and Prime Minister Pham Van Khai to increase their cooperation. According to media reports, the Secretary’s focus adhered to the criteria established by President Bush in 2002, reinforced by Secretaries of State Powell and Rice in 2004 and 2005, respectively. He called for unilateral provision of relevant archival records, and again suggested using US Navy technology for underwater recovery operations. Vietnamese leaders were cited as agreeing to the Secretary’s requests to expand cooperation and support for the accounting effort. With worldwide coverage of his visit, the Secretary signaled the importance of the issue by spending two hours at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) Detachment II headquarters that included a briefing on current operations in Vietnam. The League provided input to the DoD leadership prior to this important visit and deeply appreciates the Secretary’s emphasis on POW/MIA accounting during bilateral discussions that clearly included much broader national security and military issues. PACOM COMMANDER VISITS VIETNAM & LAOS: Admiral William F. Fallon, USN, Commander, US Pacific Command (PACOM), recently concluded his visits. Discussions with senior officials in Vietnam were held on the heels of the port call by two US Navy ships, one a mine sweeper and the other, the USS Salvor, a survey and rescue ship with dive capability. Details are sketchy, but media coverage suggests there was some discussion of joint recovery efforts, though reportedly focused on recovering Vietnamese fishermen lost at sea during a recent typhoon. Hopefully, ADM Fallon pressed for joint underwater surveys and recoveries on missing US personnel and unilateral Vietnamese actions in accord with the President's criteria. In Laos, ADM Fallon met with senior officials and visited a field recovery site, usefully reinforcing the joint US-Lao accounting process. SECRETARY RICE POSTPONES VISIT TO VIETNAM: Citing the crisis in the Middle East, Secretary of State Rice's planned visit to Vietnam before the end of July was postponed until late this year. Her trip was to have been another in the very high level series of visits preceding the President's visit in November, begun by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert in late April. VIETNAMESE LEADERSHIP CHANGES: Vietnam's new Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, was confirmed by the recently concluded Party Congress. He assumed third ranking in the Vietnamese Politburo and is young in terms of senior Vietnamese leaders. PM Dung is familiar with the POW/MIA issue, having met with US Government, League and major veterans officials for several years. Nong Duc Manh, 65, remains as General Secretary of the Communist Party, serving a second five-year term. The newly named President is Nguyen Minh Triet, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, also a Politburo member and Deputy Prime Minister, is Pham Gia Khiem. The new leadership has demonstrated commitment to economic reform, the highest priority of the Vietnamese government this year, in anticipation of Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with the US and accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). REPORT ON THE 37TH ANNUAL MEETING: Held again at the Hilton Crystal City Hotel, this year’s annual meeting was a positive example of what can be accomplished with cooperation, determination and genuine focus on the mission. Unlike the chaotic division and disunity of 2005, the 37th Annual Meeting was held with support and cooperation from the Defense POW/MIA Office (DPMO) and all US officials, organizations and agencies invited to participate. Despite some glitches in pre-annual meeting distribution of registration and other materials from the Service Casualty Offices, the unity and cohesion evident this year was most welcome. One of the highlights was the keynote address by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England at the Opening Session. His remarks brought welcome insight and commitment, stating in part: "One thing that I have learned to appreciate during this year is that the League is a true force for good. You have helped turn the lessons learned from Vietnam into better processes, policies, and actions, so that we can return our military home with honor. Your voices have been heard - and are still being heard … You have set a new standard, with your persuasiveness, your passion and your persistence. What makes the League’s efforts so powerful is its long-standing close partnership with our own Department of Defense, and with other Government Departments … We are also joined here today because there is still a job unfinished, a mission to complete. Many of you, together with other American families, are still living with uncertainty, and without closure. As part of the total DoD mission to protect and defend America, the Department is committed to make the fullest possible accounting of our prisoners of war and those missing in action. Those who offered their service in the name of something higher than themselves are heroes, and we owe them . and you … no less. The countries of Southeast Asia hold critical keys to our ability to produce that accounting. This year – this summer - is a hopeful time in our partnerships with those countries. Just a few weeks ago, Secretary Rumsfeld visited Vietnam. He thanked the Government of Vietnam sincerely for its cooperation and continued assistance. The US Government's annual certification requirement is a key part of bolstering and encouraging that cooperation…Secretary Rumsfeld thanked his hosts, and he also said: 'We still have work to do, and as we all agree, we do not want to forget the importance of this' ... He urged the Government of Vietnam to continue to take unilateral steps to increase access to information. And he did meet with positive responses from his hosts. These are hopeful signs. I believe we can be encouraged by them, even as the hard work continues. Vietnam is the focus point, but our partnerships with Laos and Cambodia are also very important. Our constructive work with those Governments does continue and will continue. Their ongoing cooperation with us is both welcome and essential … The relationships forged as part of that effort have laid the groundwork for broader relations with these countries, across the spectrum of US interests. This is something else that all of you can be proud of ... Today’s servicemen and women know, as they go into battle, that whatever may befall them, their Nation will honor their service ... and bring them home again ... I do thank you all for your patriotism, hard work, and everything you do every day to take care of America. God bless you all, and God continue to bless America." Secretary England aided League Chairman of the Board Jo Anne Shirley and Tom Nielsen, Vietnam veteran and well-known artist, in unveiling this year’s National POW/MIA Recognition Day poster portrayed on the cover of this newsletter. It is wonderful to again have Tom's talent and commitment to signal domestically and internationally that America does in fact "Honor their Service" and will "Fulfill Their Trust," this year’s theme for National POW/MIA Recognition Day, September 15th. In addition to remarks from Chairman Shirley and Executive Director Ann Mills Griffiths, US Ambassador to Laos Patricia Haslach made a presentation on POW/MIA operations in Laos, aided by photos and remarks from LCDR Brian Danielson, USN, son of Captain Benjamin Danielson, USAF, listed MIA on December 5, 1969. Recognized as the experience of a lifetime, LCDR Danielson also explained the difficulties encountered and the benefits gained from his perspective and that of others who participated in the US-Lao field operation. Ambassador Haslach's support of the League and commitment to the issue are deeply appreciated. An Interagency Policy Panel brought informative remarks from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian & Pacific Affairs (DAS/EAP) Eric John and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs (DASD/POW-MIA) Bob Newberry. Mr. John is heavily engaged in developing and implementing broader policy with Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia and frequently testifies before Congress on US policy in the region. In testimony July 13th before the Senate Finance Committee regarding PNTR with Vietnam, he reinforced the message that Vietnam needs to continue to improve cooperation on accounting efforts and cited the POW/MIA issue as one of the State Department’s continuing priorities. Acting DASD Newberry reassured the families of the Administration's commitment and the importance of working together. LTG Michael D. Maples, USA, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), addressed the attendees on Intelligence Community Contributions to the issue and outlined his vision concerning the future of DIA’s Stony Beach Team of specialists. The restructured team is now manned with two specialists assigned to each Indochina country. They will soon move permanently to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, though one has long been stationed in Phnom Penh. The move to Laos will be delayed, with the two qualified Lao specialists headquartered for now in Bangkok. Stony Beach headquarters has moved to DIA in Washington, DC. Tom McKay will switch from Stony Beach Team Chief to Program Manager of the Stony Beach Mission and serve as the primary link between DIA headquarters and Stony Beach Team members whose sole focus will continue to be on POW/MIA accounting investigations and interviews. In view of a great deal of turmoil and across-the-board decreases in budgets and personnel, this was welcome reassurance from the DIA Director. Tom McKay and Lao specialist Brad Taylor wrapped up this segment of the program, providing additional details on in-country implementation of the Stony Beach investigations. Two additional panels concluded the day’s presentations: the Oversight & Operations Panel and the Research & Analysis Panel, presented jointly by representatives from DPMO and JPAC. The first to speak was Melinda Cooke, DPMO Director for Policy, and the JPAC perspective in implementing policy was presented by Acting Director for Policy Jennifer Nasarenko. Four experienced analysts jointly presented a long-sought perspective on pursuing answers, using a hypothetical case applicable to all. Gary Sydow, DPMO Director for Research & Analysis, Rob Richeson, JPAC Deputy Director of Intelligence, Dian Corneliussen-James, DPMO Senior Intelligence Analyst, and Ron Ward, JPAC Southeast Asia Research & Analysis Branch Chief, took the audience from an initial incident and preliminary analysis, to in-country investigation and follow-up, through comprehensive review, to site recovery and repatriation of remains, concluding with forensic analysis, subsequent identification and return to the family for honorable interment. The concept was to demonstrate the entire scope of the accounting process; it succeeded. The League Annual Dinner was a highlight again this year, headlined by Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) who gave a very engaging address that reflected personal commitment and knowledge. LtCol Diep Duong, USAF, RN, PhD, PACOM’s office of International Health Affairs, gave a presentation on humanitarian medical assistance programs in Laos and Cambodia. We were especially pleased that Chaplain of the United States Senate RADM Barry Black, USN (Ret), former Chief of Chaplains, US Navy, could join us to provide the invocation and benediction. The highest award presented by the League is the Distinguished Service Award. Presented for only the fourth time ever, it was unanimously awarded this year for over 30 years of dedication and commitment to an outstanding concerned citizen from Ohio. Known to nearly all family members and veterans who are active on the POW/MIA issue, Liz Flick serves as the League’s Region IV and Ohio State Coordinator. She heads the Ohio Chapter MIA-POW, distributing POW/MIA flags and traditional stainless steel POW/MIA bracelets throughout the country and around the world, ably assisted by her wonderful husband, Bob. Congratulations, Liz! Deserving prior recipients are Richard Childress, now the League’s Senior Policy Advisor, the late Betty Bartels, and Dr. Paul Wolfowitz, former Deputy Secretary of Defense and now President of the World Bank.