National League of POW/MIA Families

July 29, 2019
AMERICANS ACCOUNTED FOR:  On 7/26/19, DPAA posted the identification of Major Neal C. Ward, USAF.  Listed as MIA in Laos on 6/13/69, his remains were recovered on 12/13/17, and identified on 7/19/19.  On 6/11/19, DPAA announced that Air Force Colonel Roy A. Knight, Jr, listed as MIA on 5/19/67 over Laos, is now accounted for. His remains were recovered on 2/28/19, and ID’d on 6/4/19.  Prior to that, DPAA announced on 2/25/19 that Navy Reserve Journalist 3rd Class Raul A. Guerra, USN, listed as MIA on 10/8/67, was accounted for. His remains were recovered on 8/15/05 and identified on 2/20/19.   On January 15, DPAA posted the accounting for Roy F. Townley and Edward J. Weissenback, Air America, listed as missing on 12/27/71, in Laos. The DPAA release on accounting for George L Ritter, Air America from the same incident, indicated his recovery on 12/13/17, and ID on 9/25/18.  Both Townley and Weissenback were recovered late last fall and their families were notified just before Christmas, 2018. 

The number still missing (POW/MIA) and otherwise unaccounted-for (KIA/BNR) from the Vietnam War is now 1,587.   Of that number, 90% were lost in Vietnam or in areas of Cambodia or Laos under Vietnam’s wartime control: Vietnam-1,246 (VN-443, VS-803); Laos-286; Cambodia-48; PRC territorial waters-7. Since chartered in 1970, the League has sought the return of all POWs, the fullest possible accounting for the missing, and repatriation of all recoverable remains.  The total accounted for since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is 996.   A breakdown by country of these 996 Americans is:  Vietnam – 672, Laos – 279, Cambodia – 42, and the PRC – 3.  In addition, 63 US personnel were accounted for between 1973 and 1975, the formal end of the Vietnam War, for a grand total of 1,059.  These 63 Americans, accounted for by US-only efforts in accessible areas, were not due to cooperation by post-war governments in Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia.  Combined, a total of 287 have been accounted for from Laos, 727 from Vietnam, 42 from Cambodia and 3 from the PRC.

LEAGUE’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY ANNUAL MEETING SUCCESSFULLY CONCLUDES:  Although a full report will be coming out shortly, it is accurate to say that this year’s meeting was the largest, most significant in years.  That isn’t especially surprising since it was a year-long effort to plan and schedule speakers to maximize effectiveness.  The following key factors applied:

1)  Members who had not attended in years didn’t want to miss the 50th Anniversary commemoration;

2) A great deal of emphasis was placed on a Retrospective that featured key participants who outlined the very difficult challenges that were met throughout the 1980s, building on President Reagan’s commitment and priority;

3) There was high level, very interesting participation by Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Lieutenant General Robert Ashley, USA, and Ambassadors Ha Kim Ngoc of Vietnam, Khamphan Anlavan of Laos and Chum Sounry of Cambodia; 

4) DPAA Director Kelly McKeague again pledged five years of operational priority on Vietnam War accounting, plus leaders and field specialists, as well as DIA’s Stony Beach Team of POW/MIA investigators, briefed on current operations and approach; and

5) DPAA provided Facebook live streaming of all sessions.

Despite many challenges, including continuing dysfunction within DPAA, there is reason for measured optimism.  With sustained support from the families and our nation’s veterans, the League is determined to press for answers and priority on Vietnam War accounting, while supporting investigation and recoveries of unaccounted-for WWII, Korean War and Cold War personnel over disinterment and ID of remains of the known dead, so long as Vietnam War accounting efforts remain DPAA’s operational priority. 
TALKS MAY RESUME ON KOREAN WAR REMAINS RECOVERIES.  Though there still is no clarity on when/whether agreement to restore remains recovery operations in North Korea will occur, there is ongoing speculation.  The subject is reportedly high on the agenda as it is something about which both leaders agree should be pursued on a separate humanitarian basis, regardless of political and/or policy differences.  In this instance, no news is NOT good news, and it is hoped that working level talks to work out modalities of in-country cooperation can resume soon and the work proceed before the frozen ground precludes such field recoveries.
The following excerpts are from the Defense Department's June 1, 2019 publication, pages 36-37 & 40:
The Department is building a strategic partnership with Vietnam that is based on common interests and principles, including freedom of navigation, respect for a rules-based order in accordance with international law, and recognition of national sovereignty. The U.S.-Vietnam defense relationship has Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Admiral Phil Davidson visits Nepal, January 11, 2019. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Robin Peak After nearly 50 years of service in the U.S. Coast Guard, the Hamilton-class cutter (WHEC-722) was officially transferred to the Vietnam Coast Guard under the name CSB-8020. A transfer ceremony took place at Coast Guard Base, Honolulu, May 25, 2017. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa McKenzie Indo - Pacific Strategy Report 37 grown dramatically over the past several years, as symbolized by the historic March 2018 visit of a U.S. aircraft carrier for the first time since the Vietnam War.
The Department is working to improve Vietnam’s defense capabilities by providing security assistance, including Scan Eagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, T-6 trainer aircraft, a former U.S. Coast Guard high endurance cutter, and small patrol boats and their associated training and maintenance facilities.  The U.S. military also engages in numerous annual training exchanges and activities to enhance bilateral cooperation and interoperability with the Vietnam People’s Army, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard. Additionally, DoD has provided training and technical assistance to support Vietnam’s 2018 deployment of a medical unit to the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan, and will continue to provide assistance to facilitate future deployments.
Our increasingly strong defense ties are based on a foundation of close cooperation to address legacy of war and humanitarian issues, which predates the restoration of diplomatic relations in 1995. As we look to celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations in 2020, DoD remains committed to supporting U.S. efforts to clean up dioxin contamination and remove unexploded ordnance, and appreciates Vietnam’s continued assistance to account for U.S. personnel missing from the Vietnam War.
Strategically located in the geographic heart of ASEAN and the Mekong sub-region, Laos presents opportunities for deepening security, economic, and diplomatic engagement. China is increasingly focused on Laos, and Beijing continues efforts to expand its strategic footprint through large debt-fueled investments, especially in infrastructure and energy. However, Laos is wary of overdependence and is seeking to diversify its partners and options. At the same time, Laos is experiencing a significant demographic shift – with a large majority of its population under the age of 35 – which presents a unique opportunity to engage a new, outward looking generation. The Lao military prioritizes Vietnam, Russia, and to a lesser degree China as its primary security partners. At the same time, the Laotian military is slowly expanding its international engagement portfolio, first to ASEAN and to a lesser degree to countries in the region such as Japan, Australia, and India.
The United States supports activities that advance Laos’ integration into ASEAN, such as defense modernization, interoperability, English language proficiency, and respect for a rules-based international order. In the meantime, we are working to move past war legacy issues related to the Vietnam War and aim to conclude Prisoner of War/Missing in Action recovery operations honorably, and by 2030 to make Laos substantially risk-free of U.S.-sourced unexploded ordnance.
DoD seeks to build a productive military-to-military relationship with the Kingdom of Cambodia that protects its sovereignty, promotes military professionalism, and helps it become a responsible and capable contributor to regional security. In early 2017, Cambodia suspended all military-to-military exercises with the United States. We, however, continue to cooperate in peacekeeping operations, humanitarian mine action, medical research, and U.S. Missing in Action personnel accounting.
CHAIRMAN’S COMMENT:  It is very encouraging to see the POW/MIA accounting mission integrated into US policy priorities by release of this significant document in the very important Singapore Dialogue.    Perhaps now we'll also see follow-through by senior officials throughout the interagency policy community to reinforce the importance of the accounting effort to the United States, the affected families, our nation's veterans and the American people. 
This specific report forms the basis for widespread implementation and will be extremely helpful so long as our expectations are reasonable and all aspects of official efforts are coordinated and fully integrated to maximize effectiveness and expand accounting results. 
 Donate today, 501(C)3, #23-7071242, at
1,587 Americans are now listed by DoD as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War: Vietnam - 1,246 (VN-443, VS-803); Laos–286; 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 January 2018 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.  Recently, Laos is showing much greater flexibility, having again authorized an increased number of US personnel in-country simultaneously, 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.  Importantly, the Lao Government authorized two additional Lao personnel to work year-round with DIA’s Stony Beach POW/MIA specialist, 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 in early 2018 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 partially agreed.  Successive US Ambassadors have strongly supported this important move, and increases in bilateral military relations clearly contributed to overcoming past reluctance.  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.  
POW/MIA STATISTICS, as of July 29, 2019

Live Sighting statistics provided by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) 
Live Sightings: 1,996 first-hand live sighting reports have been received since 1975, none recently.  1,941 (97.24%) are resolved:  1,340 (67.13%) equated to Americans previously accounted for (i.e. returned POWs, missionaries or civilians detained for violating SRV codes); 45 (2.25%) correlated to wartime sightings of military personnel or pre-1975 sightings of civilians still unaccounted-for; 556 (27.86%) were determined to be fabrications. The remaining 55 (2.76%) unresolved first-hand reports are the focus of continuing analytical and collection efforts: 48 (2.40%) concern Americans reported in a captive environment; 7 (0.35%) are non-captive sightings.  The years in which these 55 first hand sightings occurred are listed below:
       Pre-1976    1976-1985    1986-1995    1996-2005    2006-2015     Total
           36                 3                       1                14                 1               55
Accountability:  At the end of the Vietnam War, there reportedly were 2,583 unaccounted-for American prisoners, missing or killed in action/body not recovered. As of July 29, 2019, the Department of Defense lists 1,587 Americans as missing and unaccounted-for, 90% of them in Vietnam or in areas of Cambodia and Laos where Vietnamese operated during the war.  A breakdown by year of recovery for the 996 Americans accounted for from Vietnam War-related losses post April 30, 1975 follows:
1965-1974                     War years: (recently identified)                        2
1974-1975                     Winding down USG effort                              28
1976-1978                     US/SRV normalization negotiations              47
1979-1980                     US/SRV talks break down                               1
1981-1985                     1st Reagan Administration                            23
1985-1989                     2nd Reagan Administration                         168
1989-1993                     George H.W. Bush Administration               129
1993-1997                     1st Clinton Administration                            327
1997-2001                     2nd Clinton Administration                            57
2001-2004                     1st George W. Bush Administration              64
2004-2008                     2nd George W. Bush Administration             62
2008-2012                     1st Obama Administration                             51
2012-2016                    2nd Obama Administration                             27
2016-2020                    Trump Administration                                     10

According to the DPAA Lab, unilateral SRV repatriations of remains with scientific evidence of storage have accounted for less than 200 of the 670 from Vietnam; two were mistakenly listed as KIA/BNR in Vietnam in 1968, but remains were actually recovered at that time.  All but seven of the 275 Americans accounted for in Laos since the end of the war have been the result of joint recoveries.  Six were recovered and turned over by indigenous personnel from Laos and one from Vietnam.  In addition, three persons identified were recovered in Vietnam before the end of the war.  There follows a breakdown by country of the 996 Americans accounted for since the April 30, 1975 end of the Vietnam War:  Vietnam, 672; Laos, 279, Cambodia, 42 and the PRC, 3.
An additional 63 US personnel were accounted for between 1973 and 1975, for a grand total of 1,059. Of the 63, 9 were from Laos, 53 from Vietnam, and 1 from Cambodia.  These Americans were accounted for by unilateral US effort in areas where access was possible, not due to cooperation with post-war governments of Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia.   Added to results from government-to-government humanitarian cooperation post-war, a total of 287 have been recovered and identified from Laos, 727 from Vietnam, 42 from Cambodia and 3 from the PRC. 

Family members, veteran organizations and other POW/MIA supporters throughout the country consistently opposed steps to improve economic and political relations with Vietnam until their leadership decided to cooperate fully to resolve the POW/MIA issue. The League supported a policy of reciprocity – steps by the US to respond to efforts by Vietnam to locate and return remains and provide issue-related archival documents.  During the initial stages of the normalization process, important leverage was lost without commensurate results; however, there has since been much greater responsiveness. 
One way of viewing what the US knows concerning Vietnam’s ability to respond more fully is to look at what US intelligence and other data confirmed at the end of the war.  At that time, 196 missing Americans were last known alive in captivity or reported alive in close proximity to capture.  Vietnam knows that these highest priority cases are directly related to the live prisoner issue and has improved responsiveness, but thus far has accounted for fewer than expected of these Americans by returning identifiable remains.  Also, archival documentation is as yet incomplete.  In all but 20 of these cases, joint field investigations have reportedly been sufficient to confirm death.  Logically, if deceased, remains of these Americans should be recoverable, as they were in captivity or on the ground in proximity to Vietnamese forces (other than those who died in captivity in South Vietnam).  Also, logically, Vietnam should possess and be able to provide helpful records; thus, recent initiatives by Vietnam to increase working level archival research and records access are encouraging and most welcome
US wartime and post-war reporting on specific cases, captured Vietnamese documents concerning the handling of US prisoners and casualties, and wartime debriefs of communist Vietnamese captives, reinforced by US-monitored directives and other reporting, form a clear picture of a comprehensive Vietnamese system for collection of information and remains, dating back to the French-Indochina War.  Specific sources, such as the mortician in 1979, substantiated by others in the 1980s, highlighted remains collection and storage as a key aspect of Vietnam’s policy leading to eventual discussions with the US.  Indeed, through arduous and sustained negotiations, the US and Vietnam reached agreement to return remains of Americans that had been stored for years, though the number repatriated to date has not met well-publicized US Government expectations.
Community-wide intelligence assessments served as the basis for long-standing US estimates that Vietnam could account for hundreds of Americans by unilaterally locating and returning remains.  In 1986-87, the entire intelligence community maintained much higher predictions, but the numbers were subsequently further screened to establish the most realistic targets for Vietnam’s government to meet.
During the war and since, the Vietnamese government placed great value on the recovery and/or recording of burial locations of US remains.  In wartime, if jeopardized by imminent discovery or recovery by US forces, burial was immediate in order to hide remains.  Subsequently, the remains were disinterred, photographed when possible, then reburied or, when feasible, transferred to Hanoi.  Evidence of this relatively complex process was confirmed by US intelligence.
Forensic evidence serves as another basis for establishing expectations. Scientific evidence of above or below ground storage, or both, exists on less than 200 of the 672 identified remains returned from Vietnam since the end of the war in 1975.  The count, confirmed by DPAA forensic scientists, is far below US expectations, based on reliable intelligence indicating that many more were recovered and stored by the Vietnamese government and could be repatriated, if Vietnam’s leadership approved.  
After two years of no results from the Vietnamese in 1979-80, during a September 1982 ABC “Nightline” program, the late Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach denied that Vietnam was holding any US remains, as did other senior officials throughout the Carter Administration. 
Vietnam later admitted storage of remains.  In 1985, following up an initiative through a regional government, a US National Security Council (NSC) official met privately with a Vietnamese Politburo member during an NSC-led US delegation to Hanoi, in which the League Executive Director participated. The carefully drawn plan was for negotiations on live prisoners and remains, but the minister indicated live prisoners were not on the table for discussion.  Rather, as discussed through a third party, the subject was large numbers of remains.
In 1983, Vietnam returned eight remains with clear evidence of storage.  Negotiations for a two-year plan in 1985 brought the largest number of remains obtained to that point; nearly all showed evidence of storage. In order to confirm the scope of Vietnam’s knowledge, two specific cases were officially presented to officials in Hanoi in 1985-86 with a request for their unilateral assistance. Both losses were judged by the US Government to have occurred inside Laos, in areas under Vietnamese control during the war.  One was returned unilaterally in 1988, 98% complete and stored above ground since his 1972 incident along the border between Vietnam and Laos; the other is still missing.  From 1985 – 1989, 168 remains were repatriated, the vast majority showing clear evidence of long-term storage.  Vietnam has unilaterally repatriated stored remains from Cambodia and very remote locations, not just highly populated areas, relating to incidents spanning the entire war.
There is continuity.  In 1991 and 1993, the Vietnamese provided grave registration lists with names of unaccounted-for Americans.  Inclusion of these names appears to have been an intentional signal, as was filtering through private channels photographs of dead, unaccounted-for Americans, some of whose remains have yet to be returned.  The Government of Vietnam directed combat photography; their soldiers did not own personal cameras, much less carry them.  Regardless of mixed or conflicting assessments, these and other actions by Vietnamese officials were apparently intended to signal the US Government of remains availability for diplomatic and/or economic purposes.  At the time, remains fragments in Vietnam’s possession were not repatriated, believed not to be identifiable, but significant improvements in DPAA’s ability to identify very fragmentary remains has dramatically increased.   
Information obtained from post-war US field operations reveals that central Vietnamese authorities systematically recovered American remains. Eyewitnesses reported central-level supervision of remains recoveries of US personnel not yet repatriated. Vietnam’s leaders have repeatedly pledged to renew and increase their own efforts to locate and return remains and provide relevant documents and have moved incrementally.  In recent years, responsiveness has continued to increase, but more needs to be done. Establishment of comprehensive bilateral relations, including strategic dialogue and increased military-to-military cooperation bodes well for Vietnam to accelerate unilateral efforts to close these historic gaps.
President George W. Bush formalized criteria for steps Vietnam should take unilaterally to be fully responsive on the accounting effort.  His March 20, 2002, Certification to Congress was followed and further defined by Secretaries of State Powell and Rice three additional times and, on March 7, 2008, the Bush Administration issued its Determination to Congress stating in part, “….we urge Vietnam to work aggressively to improve tangibly its unilateral provision of POW/MIA-related documents and records, focused initially on archival data pertaining to Americans captured, missing or killed in areas of Laos and Cambodia under wartime Vietnamese control.  Vietnam should also focus greater attention on locating and providing information on discrepancy cases with priority on those last known alive in captivity or in immediate proximity to capture, and to locating and repatriating the remains of those who died while in Vietnamese control that have not yet been returned.  The United States also calls upon Vietnam to continue permitting our recovery teams to have access to restricted areas for the sole purpose of conducting our humanitarian accounting operations.”  Vietnam’s cooperation has continued to improve, including provision of archival documents. Reportedly, all sensitive areas previously closed to US officials are no longer off-limits and Vietnamese investigators are now locating and making available witnesses on a regular basis.   
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