POW/MIA Update: April 9, 2013

AMERICANS ACCOUNTED-FOR: There are still 1,651 personnel listed by the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. DPMO recently posted the accounting for Major Larry J. Hanley, USAFR, listed as MIA in Laos on November 4, 1969, while flying an F105D Thunderchief. His remains were recovered February 24, 2012, and identified on March 8, 2013. The number of Americans announced by DPMO as returned and identified since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is now 932. 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 995. Of the 1,651 missing and unaccounted-for personnel, 90% were lost in Vietnam or areas of Cambodia and Laos under Vietnam’s wartime control: Vietnam–1,278 (VN-469, VS-809); Laos–313; Cambodia–53; PRC territorial waters–7; 450+ over-water losses are among 630 DPMO lists as No Further Pursuit.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE COMMITMENT: On March 29th, in a statement commemorating Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day in many states across the country, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, a veteran of the Vietnam War, included the following in specific reference to the Defense Department’s commitment to the accounting mission: “More than 1,600 service members remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. Their families still seek answers. Today, the Department of Defense reaffirms its commitment to take all steps to account for our missing personnel and bring closure to their families.”

JOINT FIELD OPERATIONS: In early March, a Joint Field Activity (JFA) began in Laos, but consisted of only three Recovery Teams (RTs) with no Investigation Team (IT) deployed, and is expected to conclude on April 10th. JPAC’s reasoning for deploying fewer personnel to conduct field operations is worrisome, but significant increases should occur soon. Recently, and at long last, the Lao Government decided to renew a business license for Helicopters New Zealand, the foreign company previously contracted by JPAC to provide smaller, certified-safe helicopter support for access to remote sites. This welcome news was conveyed last week by US Ambassador to Laos Karen Stewart and subsequently confirmed by JPAC. The League deeply appreciates the Lao Government’s responsiveness to specific appeals for this decision and looks forward to a renewed pace of operations of which both countries are more than capable. The next JFA in Laos will be May 2 – June 15th, consisting of four RTs, and again there will be no ITs deployed from JPAC Headquarters in Hawaii.

CAMBODIA FIELD OPERATIONS POSTPONED: Unfortunately, JPAC postponed the Cambodia JFA, scheduled to begin in February that would have consisted of two RTs and one Underwater Recovery Team (URT). JPAC leaders anticipate this will be a relatively short postponement in order to resolve some contracting issues, but rescheduling has not yet been announced. In the interim, a field forensic review took place last week to review remains unilaterally turned over by indigenous personnel.

OPERATIONS IN VIETNAM: On March 1st, a Joint Advance Work (JAW) Team began preparation for arrival of a full JPAC contingent on March 12th. A JFA is now ongoing in Vietnam with three RTs and two Vietnamese Recovery Teams (VRTs) working at five different locations in southern provinces. The JFA is expected to conclude on April 14, but the IT was canceled and the Research Investigation Team (RIT) was reduced in scope due to a purported lack of JPAC funding at that time, a shortage that may have been at least temporarily corrected with the Continuing Resolution at FY13 levels. The danger persists due to a freeze on hiring and potential furloughs in the offing.

WORLDWIDE OPERATIONS: 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 during WWII, the Korean War and the Cold War. In addition to countries previously mentioned, JPAC teams are now or were recently deployed to the Philippines, Republic of Korea (South Korea or ROK), the Solomon Islands, Burma (Myanmar), several European countries and Palau. A return last week to Papua New Guinea (PNG) was for a WWII site assessment, and Phase Two Testing (P2T) in India, again on WWII sites, will take place May 8th – June 7th, though no investigations are scheduled. Finally, if ethnic and religious violence don’t preclude travel, JPAC investigators will return to Burma/Myanmar in May to continue very productive work that resumed earlier this year. Cooperation from US and Burmese authorities was said to be outstanding and there was significant public reaction to a “hot line” set up for source reporting.

This is all good news. The League is rightfully proud 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.

STILL NO WORD ON COMMISSION CHARTER: The White House has yet to approve the charter for the US-Russia Joint Commission (USRJC) on POW/MIAs. The National Security Staff (NSS) has moved at a snail’s pace on this action that has been pending for several months. Now that former Senator John Kerry has been confirmed as US Secretary of State, his position on the USRJC as the Senate Democrat is vacated. (In reality, he never participated as a USRJC delegation member or in plenary sessions held in Moscow or Washington, DC.) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has repeatedly been asked to name another Senate Democrat who is willing to be actively engaged, so perhaps action will finally occur. 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 US Chairman General Robert “Doc” Foglesong, USAF (Ret) have shown throughout the unwarranted White House delay, and we hope for results soon.

LEAGUE 44TH ANNUAL MEETING: Again to be held at the Hilton Crystal City Hotel, the 44th Annual Meeting will take place June 12-15th. COIN Assist transportation was recently approved by the Secretary of Defense for two family members per missing/unaccounted for serviceman or civilian to attend. Registration forms and reservation instructions are provided on the League website, www.pow-miafamilies.org, and were mailed to all League members. Deadline for making reservations at the Hilton Crystal City Hotel is May 9th. Reservations by this date will ensure the special League rate of $139, plus taxes, per room, per night (single or double). An abbreviated program schedule is also available on the League website.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS ELECTION: Balloting of all 2013 dues-paid League family members for election of the 2013/2015 Board of Directors will shortly occur, via US Postal Service. Candidate statements and ballots will be distributed by the end of this week. Deadline for returning ballots in the special envelope provided is May 31st, and must be by US Postal Service mail to the League’s national office. Election results will be announced during Opening Session of the League’s 44th Annual Meeting.

Check the League Website: www.pow-miafamilies.org

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