Estonian Officials Attend Vietnam Loss Burial
A group burial for Maj. Aado Kommendant, and Lt. Col. Charles M. Walling, U.S. Air Force, was held at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 46 years from the day their F-4 Phantom was lost over South Vietnam. Uniquely, in honor of Kommendant's Estonian heritage, military and government officials from Estonia attended on behalf of their President.
VFW National Convention
From July 22-25, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) held its 113th National Convention in Reno, Nevada. There was a wide range of impressive guests, speakers and participants at the convention. President Barack Obama addressed the convention on Monday, as did MG Tom, JPAC Commander, and Ms. Ekaterina Priyezzheva, the Chairperson of the Russian side of the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs. Representatives of the War Veterans Committee, an international veterans service organization, whose members represent a number of countries from the former Soviet Union, participated in the event. DPMO's Joint Commission Support Directorate (JCSD) provided translation support with two Russian linguists. JCSD has a long history of working with the War Veterans Committee, whose members have greatly facilitated its work. DASD Winfield addressed the VFW National Security and Foreign Affairs and POW/MIA Committee on Sunday about the work going on in the Accounting Community.
Meetings with Congressional Staff
On July 10th, DASD Winfield met with key staff members from the House and Senate Armed Service Committees to discuss accounting for our missing service members. They spoke at length about the personnel accounting community and DPMO's expectations for achieving our goals in the coming years. These committees have congressional oversight of the personnel accounting issue and have been unwavering in their support for the POW/MIA mission for many years.
Secretary Clinton Visits Laos
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Laos in 57 years when she stopped in Laos on her way to an ASEAN forum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The visit by a U.S. Secretary of State, long requested by U.S. officials and the National League of POW/MIA Families, was well received by Lao officials. Secretary Clinton met with the Lao Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister, and came away with pledges from the Lao of greater flexibility for our Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) teams. U.S. and Lao officials will flesh out these issues out at the semi-annual U.S. - Lao Consultative Talks scheduled for next month in Vientiane. The U.S. continues to press the Lao for greater flexibility for DIA's Stony Beach POW/MIA investigators and more reasonable charges for helicopter support.
Proposed Legislation for Volunteer Assistance
Earlier this year, the Department of Defense submitted to Congress a DPMO legislative proposal that gives the Secretary of Defense authority to accept services from volunteers to assist in accounting-for our missing. Both the House and Senate included the proposal in their versions of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, and we are hopeful it will be enacted into law. If passed, this legislation will allow us to work collaboratively with volunteers.
DPMO Briefs Families
In June, the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia held their 43rd annual meeting in Crystal City, VA. During the three-day meeting, 186 family members, representing 97 cases of personnel missing from the Vietnam War, received briefings from senior officials and analysts from DPMO, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, the Department of State, each of the Military Services, the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, the Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory, and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Balkans Research Project
In May, DPMO and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, concluded a 4 1/2 month Balkans Research Project with an investigation in Croatia, Slovenia and, for the first time ever, Serbia. The results of this research include one case to present to the JPAC Excavation Decision Board, two possible exhumation requests, and additional information on one case that may involve one U.S. serviceman and the Slovenian Partisans with whom he fought and died. The DPMO/JPAC team also advanced other cases, and useful contacts were made in all countries especially Serbia, where DPMO believes several cases may be resolved in coming years.
In May, after years of requests, Vietnam turned over policy, strategic, and tactical level archival documents regarding unaccounted for Americans. While our analysts continue assessing the documents, we are encouraged by Vietnam's action and look forward to further progress. During Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's recent visit to Vietnam, Vietnamese officials announced they would open access to another three sites previously off limits to U.S. teams. This action, coupled with previous Vietnamese announcements removing sites from restricted lists, leaves a handful of sites still inaccessible to U.S. teams. We continue to seek access those sites.
Chinese Archives Agreement
From May 16-17, DPMO staff met with Chinese military archivists and signed a technical arrangement renewing cooperation for another three years on sharing information about American military personnel missing in conflicts in China. The U.S. negotiating team also included staff from the USPACOM Joint POW/MIA Command and personnel from the U.S. Embassy, Beijing. The Director of the PLA Archives Department reported that China's Ministry of National Defense considers the archival research arrangement to be the most successful component of the U.S.-China mil-to-mil program.