National League of POW/MIA Families

March 8, 2018

AMERICANS ACCOUNTED FOR: On 2/25/19, DPAA announced that Navy Reserve Journalist 3rd Class Raul A. Guerra, USN, listed as missing on 10/8/67, SVN, 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/CIA, listed as missing on 12/27/71, in Laos.  The DPAA release on accounting for George L. Ritter, from the same Air America/CIA 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.  Before that, no changes in the Vietnam War statistics had been posted since October 17th when DPAA posted the names of two Vietnam War personnel now accounted for, Ritter, noted above, and LT Richard C. Lannom, USNR, TN, listed MIA on 3/1/68, NVN, recovered 12/13/17 and ID’d on 9/25/18. 

The number still missing (POW/MIA) and otherwise unaccounted-for (KIA/BNR) from the Vietnam War is now 1,589.   Of that number, 90% were lost in Vietnam or in areas of Cambodia or Laos under Vietnam’s wartime control: Vietnam-1,246 (VN-452, VS-794); Laos-288; 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 994.   A breakdown by country of these 994 Americans is:  Vietnam – 672, Laos – 277, 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 1,057.  The 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 285 have been accounted for from Laos, 727 from Vietnam, 42 from Cambodia and 3 from the PRC.

US/VIETNAM COOPERATION:  DPAA and DIA/Stony Beach (DIA/SB) field operations resumed in mid-February and are expected to conclude in early April.  In early December, a repatriation ceremony was held in Da Nang to conclude the last Joint Field Activity (JFA) of the calendar year that consisted of several investigation and recovery teams.  The year culminated with a US-hosted, joint commemoration to celebrate 30 years of sustained joint field operations. The annual US-SRV Technical Talks took place September 10th in Hanoi, led by DPAA Deputy Director Rear Admiral Jon Kreitz.  As anticipated, Vietnam was responsive to US requests, other than a couple that are still under consideration, and the pace and scope of cooperation continues to expand. 
Chairman’s Comment:  The League deeply appreciates efforts by the government and people of Vietnam to work constructively and effectively to achieve the fullest possible accounting.  Vietnam’s early on-again, off-again cooperation has improved and steadily expanded over the last 40 years and today can be described as forward leaning, proposing initiatives and providing increased opportunities for success.
US/CAMBODIAN COOPERATION:   DPAA/DIA Stony Beach investigation and recovery teams began work in mid-January at several sites that had been on hold awaiting action by Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen to lift the “temporary suspension” he had levied nearly 18 months earlier.  On October 12th, the long-serving Prime Minister announced his decision to lift the suspension in a letter to Washington State officials, copied to the League Chairman of the Board.  His action came despite continued Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sanctions for inadequate steps by Phnom Penh to accept Cambodian citizens who committed crimes and were subject to deportation according to international law. Thankfully, throughout the suspension, DIA’s Stony Beach Cambodia specialist, Eric Phillips, continued to conduct case investigations.  The ongoing JFA will wrap up mid-March, and investigations will continue to the end of the month.
Chairman’s Comment: The League is grateful that Prime Minister Hun Sen lifted the suspension, and looks forward to resuming longstanding cooperation with his full support for this important humanitarian issue. We are also grateful to Washington State Senator Ericksen and Representative Buys for their work in advocating resumption of POW/MIA operations in Cambodia. Coming just in time for the dry season, this decision enabled DPAA and DIA/Stony Beach to proceed with important field operations, working alongside their thoughtful, capable Cambodian counterparts.   
US/LAO COOPERATION: DPAA and SB personnel recently concluded field investigation and recovery operations on cases of US personnel missing in northern Laos that concluded with another repatriation ceremony conducted at the Luang Prabang Airport on February 27th.  Annual US-Lao consultations were held September 7th in Vientiane, led by RDML Kreitz.   Significant agreement was reached to expand support for year-round DIA/SB investigations.  Joint Field Activities (JFAs) resumed, including completion of the site in NW Laos that resulted in the accounting for three Air America/CIA personnel. It was a very successful recovery effort after many years on the Master Excavation List while awaiting a JPAC (before DPAA was formed) decision to excavate.    
Chairman’s Comment:  The League looks forward to positive results from these efforts, recognizing and applauding several significant developments in POW/MIA cooperation that the Lao leadership has authorized in recent months. These include base-camping at remote locations, increasing the number of US participants on a case-by-case basis, and extensions of time on field recovery sites when justified.   Despite often difficult conditions, including advance destruction of unexploded ordnance, humanitarian cooperation to account for US personnel continues to improve, for which all Americans are grateful.  Hopefully, further Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sanctions against Laos for failing to accept Lao nationals who long ago immigrated to the US, were since convicted of criminal acts, and are now scheduled for legal deportation back to Laos, will not negatively impact bilateral US-Lao humanitarian POW/MIA cooperation. 
DPAA REACHING OUT TO HELP EDUCATE CURRENT AND FUTURE MILITARY PERSONNEL:   In conjunction with travel to host the DPAA Family Member Update (FMU), this time in San Jose, CA, Outreach & Communication (O&C) Director Todd Livick, COL, USA (Ret), Deputy Director Johnie Webb, LTC, USA (Ret), Jennifer Valle, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (AFMES) and other DPAA O&C staff traveled to Santa Clara University and briefed ROTC cadets as well as those from Santa Cruz, San Jose and Stanford.  Reportedly, it was a positive experience for all and DPAA plans to continue to work through such channels to educate tomorrow’s military.  DPAA also traveled to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) and briefed the Commandant, students and Foreign Area Officer class.  All felt there was positive engagement and the potential for future impact as some may be assigned in counterpart nations’ embassies around the world.
At the FMU, a total of 242 family members, representing 112 losses, were in attendance, though only 44 family members, representing 16 losses, were related to the Vietnam War.  That breakdown, roughly 20% of the total, is predictable, considering how relatively few of the total missing/unaccounted-for personnel (82,000 is the round number most often used) are from the Vietnam War.  Currently numbering 1,589, representation by Vietnam War-related families is fairly high, if sorely outnumbered.  The good news is that DPAA Director Kelly McKeague has pledged continued priority on Vietnam War investigations and recoveries for at least the next five years.    
50th ANNIVERSARY ANNUAL MEETING:  June 19-23rd, the League’s 50th Anniversary Annual Meeting will again be held at the Hilton Crystal City Hotel.  Registration will be Wednesday, June 19th, 5:00 – 8:00 PM in the Virginia Ballroom Foyer, and an Orientation/Ice Cream Social will be held from 7:00 – 8:30 PM, same location.  Opening Session will be on Thursday, June 20th, during which a Retrospective of the League’s past 50 years of effort and evolution of the accounting mission will be presented in brief by those directly involved in the accounting mission from the Paris Peace Accords to the present.  Recognizable officials from the early post-war years through today will give brief remarks in sync with archival, visual footage.  The day will conclude with the 50th Anniversary Annual Dinner that evening. Friday, June 21st, headquarters and field officials from DPAA, DIA/Stony Beach and the Armed Forces DNA Lab will brief on a wide variety of field investigations and recoveries (including underwater), identification processes, disinterments, scientific advances in DNA ID processes and other initiatives, such as partnerships.  The League’s Archival Research Committee will also give a special presentation.  A special event will occur on that evening.  On the last day, June 22nd, a three-hour Q&A Session will be held during which all who briefed on specific areas of interest will be present to respond to questions, moderated by the League Chairman or Vice Chairman.  Saturday afternoon will be the annual League Business Session, followed by a League-hosted Farewell Reception, and all registered for the 50th Anniversary Annual Meeting are invited and eligible to attend. REMINDER: Applications to be a candidate for the 2019-21 Board of Directors are due by Friday, April 5th, 2019.          
50th VIETNAM WAR ANNIVERSARY COMMISSION:  During the League’s 50th Anniversary Annual Meeting, eligible individuals will be presented a Certificate of Honor from the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration.  If you are immediate family (parent, spouse, sibling, or child) of a US serviceman listed by DoD as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War and have not yet received a Certificate of Honor, be sure to attend this year’s 50th Anniversary Annual Meeting.  On behalf of a grateful nation, each recipient will be presented a Certificate of Honor, an MIA lapel pin, and two Presidential Proclamations dealing with the Vietnam War Commemoration that highlight the service and sacrifice of you and your loved one.  If you have any questions about the Certificate of Honor Program, or your eligibility, please contact the Vietnam War Commemoration by e-mail,,  or by calling 703-697-4933.

1,589 Americans are now listed by DoD as missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War: Vietnam - 1,246 (VN-452, VS-794); Laos–288; 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.  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 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 February 22, 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         36
1976-1985        3
1986-1995        1
1996-2005      14
2006-2013        1
Total                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 February 22, 2019, the Department of Defense lists 1,589 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 994 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                                               8

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 274 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 994 Americans accounted for since the April 30, 1975 end of the Vietnam War:  Vietnam, 672; Laos, 277, Cambodia, 42 and the PRC, 3.
An additional 63 US personnel were accounted for between 1973 and 1975, for a grand total of 1,057. 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 285 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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