POW/MIA Update: September 5, 2012

AMERICANS ACCOUNTED-FOR: There are still 1,660 personnel listed by the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War. Announced on August 16th was the identification of SGT John R. Jones, USA, TX, listed as MIA in South Vietnam on June 4, 1971. SGT Jones’ remains were recovered on September 8, 2011 and identified July 23, 2012. 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 top 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 923. 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 986. Of the unaccounted-for 1,660 personnel, 90% were lost in Vietnam or in areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam’s wartime control: Vietnam–1,281 (VN-470, VS-811); Laos–317; Cambodia–55; PRC territorial waters–7; more than 450 were over-water losses.

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.

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. Alyssa 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.

AIR FORCE MAJOR GENERAL KELLY McKEAGUE TO COMMAND JPAC: The Department of Defense just announced that Air Force Maj Gen Kelly McKeague, currently serving as Special Assistant to the Chief, National Guard Bureau, will assume command of JPAC at the end of October. He served previously as Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard Matters. Commissioned in 1981 through the Georgia Institute of Technology Air Force ROTC program, he served as a civil engineering officer in a variety of assignments at base, major command, and Headquarters USAF levels, entering the Maryland Air National Guard in 1985. Gen McKeague replaces MG Stephen Tom, USAR, who will retire upon relinquishing command of JPAC.

CONSULTATIONS WITH LAO, CAMBODIAN AND VIETNAMESE OFFICIALS: JPAC Commander MG Stephen Tom, USAR, held talks with Lao counterparts in Vientiane on August 22nd to cement commitments made in July to Secretary of State Clinton on permitting ground transportation to, and base-camping near, incident sites. This flexibility was sought to enable field operations to continue despite the Lao Government’s unwillingness thus far to make acceptable arrangements for smaller-scale helicopter transport for conducting investigations and recoveries. US Ambassador to Laos Karen Stewart, a staunch supporter of the POW/MIA accounting effort since her first tour in Laos many years ago, participated in the talks, as did the outgoing and incoming Deputy Chiefs of Mission (DCMs) and officials from DPMO and JPAC’s Detachment 3 in Vientiane. Following these talks, the US delegation moved on to Phnom Penh where talks were held to thank the Cambodian Government for facilitating US operations in their country and to define future efforts to account for the 55 US personnel still missing and unaccounted for in their country. Cambodia has the highest level POW/MIA Committee, with the greatest leadership backing and responsiveness, of any of the Southeast Asian countries. The League is also pleased that US Ambassador to Cambodia, William Todd, is also much engaged in supporting the bilateral accounting process. MG Tom will lead Technical Talks in Hanoi next week.

FIELD OPERATIONS: In mid-October, Joint Field Activities (JFAs) will resume in Laos and Vietnam, and a large team will conclude operations in Vietnam this week. 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 completely due to acidic soil in the region. Near the conclusion of the last JFA in Laos, the Lao permitted travel by road (a longstanding request) when the helicopter in which the teams were being transported was grounded due to bad weather. This prompt, flexible decision by the Lao was the first implementation of one of the commitments made to Secretary Clinton during her July visit to Vientiane. Nevertheless, the scale of field operations in Laos has been dramatically reduced and won’t be increased unless and until the Lao Government takes steps to facilitate helicopter support for access to remote sites. Earlier this year, JPAC conducted a successful JFA in Cambodia, though with only one Recovery Team, plus one trilateral Investigation Team working with Cambodian and Vietnamese counterparts. Field operations in Cambodia must be more frequent to achieve accounting objectives before it is too late.

JPAC field operations are also ongoing now in Belgium, South Korea, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and one just concluded in the Solomon Islands – all dealing with World War II (WWII) recoveries, except the JPAC Korea Forward Element (KFE) that was conducting coordination and investigation operations with United Nations Command/Military Assistance Command (UNCMAC) and the Korean JPAC-equivalent, MAKRI, plus a JPAC Joint Forensic Review Team (JFRT). In a few weeks, an Underwater Recovery Team (URT) will begin work on a possible WWII site in Corsica. JPAC’s work continues to expand into more and more countries, recovering more and more US personnel who served and sacrificed for our country. The League is pleased and grateful that our consistent work from 1970 until the present have resulted in the enormous effort now being made. The League strongly supports such efforts, so long as achieving the fullest possible accounting for missing Vietnam War personnel is not reduced or jeopardized in any way, but instead fully funded and pursued.

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. on September 21st. 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]