Tuesday, February 27, 2018



February 26, 2018

1,600 Americans are now listed by DoD as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War: Vietnam - 1,253 (VN-458, VS-795); Laos–292; Cambodia-48; Peoples Republic of China territorial waters–7.  (These numbers fluctuate due to investigations resulting in changed locations of loss.)  The League seeks the fullest possible accounting for those still missing and repatriation of all recoverable remains.  Highest priority is accounting for Americans last known alive. US intelligence indicates some Americans known to be in captivity in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were not returned at the end of the war.  In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it must be assumed that these Americans could still be alive, and the US Government should not rule out that possibility.

Vietnam established comprehensive wartime and post-war processes to collect and retain information and remains; thus, unilateral efforts by them offered significant potential.  Vietnam has since taken many unilateral actions that are welcome and appreciated, plus announced that there are no obstacles to full cooperation.  Recently, Vietnam has increased implementation of commitments to provide long-sought archival records with relevant, case-related information, thanks in part to improvement of working-level efforts, but primarily due to increased bilateral relations across the board.  The early 2015 League Delegation brought commitments that offered real promise for increased success. First undertaken in northern Vietnam in 1985, joint field operations have dramatically changed and are now much more effective.  Vietnamese officials are participating with greater seriousness and professionalism, achieving increased results, including both US-led Joint Excavation Teams and Vietnamese Recovery Teams (VRTs), led by Vietnamese and supported by a few US personnel.  This formula allows a greater number of teams to “increase the pace and scope of field operations,” as requested by Vietnam since 2009, unless budget reductions interfere.  Due to increased military-to-military cooperation, US Navy assets are now allowed to participate in underwater survey and recovery operations, when requested.  These steps, long advocated by the League, are now coming to fruition and reportedly are raised by US officials at all levels.

After a rough period, joint field operations in Laos are now increasingly productive, even though more difficult than elsewhere.  Accounting efforts had slowed due to Lao Government inflexibility, attempting to over-price payment for helicopter support and denying permission for ground transport to accessible incident sites.  Recently, Laos is showing much greater flexibility, having again authorized an increased number of US personnel in-country simul-taneously, allowing ground transportation to accessible sites, and reaching agreement for contracting a private company to provide reliable, smaller-scale helicopter support to access remote sites.  When helpful, Vietnamese witnesses are also allowed to participate in joint US-Lao operations.  DIA’s Stony Beach POW/MIA specialist is assigned full time in-country, and Lao officials are now approving field investigations outside the confines of scheduled DPAA field operations.  A border dispute with Cambodia that was ongoing when the League Delegation visited over two years ago continues to impede recovery operations in that area.  The League urges officials in Laos and Cambodia to at least temporarily set aside their political disagreement and work trilaterally with the US to proceed on this humanitarian recovery, to end the uncertainty of the families.    

DIA’s Stony Beach Team:  One Cambodia specialist works full time at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, and research and field operations in Cambodia have received excellent support.  Two Stony Beach personnel for years rotated on temporary duty in and out of Vietnam, collecting information via archival research and interviews of potential witnesses.  DIA has now decided to permanently station one Stony Beach Vietnam specialist in Hawaii and one in Hanoi, to which Vietnam has agreed.  Successive US Ambassadors have strongly supported this important move, and increases in bilateral military relations clearly contributed to overcoming past reluctance.  New US Ambassador to Laos Rena Bitter reportedly supports full use of DIA’s Lao specialist.  It is hoped that ever-expanding bilateral relationships with Laos and Vietnam will mean positive decisions and greater flexibility to expand.  Stony Beach specialists are sorely needed to augment the investigation process while witnesses are still living and able to facilitate locating incident sites for follow-up. 

The greatest obstacles to increased Vietnam War accounting efforts are too few qualified scientists, and unreliable funding that has caused US cancellation of scheduled operations, thus sending negative signals to foreign counterpart officials, especially in Vietnam.  Since over 80% of US losses in Laos and 90% in Cambodia occurred in areas where Vietnamese forces operated during the war, Vietnam’s expanded provision of helpful records, improved and increased archival research, interviews and field operations are the core means to increase accounting results for Vietnam War missing personnel, America’s UNRETURNED VETERANS.   

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