MIA Facts Site

Accounting for the Missing:

Description of Activities

to Account for the Missing in SEAsia
 

Purpose.  A common criticism of the US government over the MIA issue is that "no one is doing anything to find our missing men.   They are just forgotten, no one cares about them."  Not so.  In fact, actions by the US government to find our missing men from Vietnam (Korea, too) is the most intensive and exhaustive effort in the history of warfare.   This article describes that effort from beginning to the present -- the purpose of the article is:

  1. To provide a brief history of US efforts to account for the missing in SEAsia. This brief history will focus entirely on the organizations involved.
  2. To identify the various organizations whose names and acronyms are referred to in discussions of US government efforts to account for missing in Southeast Asia.

This is by no means a definitive description, discussion, or dissertation on the efforts to account for the missing in Southeast Asia.  Instead, I have quoted from an excellent book on the subject and have written my own quick description of how the current MIA accounting organizations evolved from earlier organizations.

The Beginnings:  JPRC, JCRC

The  material that starts below the rainbow line is quoted from a fine book on the subject:
M. I. A.: Accounting for the Missing in Southeast Asia, by Paul D. Mather, LTC, USAF (Ret.). This is all Paul's work and I take no credit for it (I just sat here and typed it into my computer). If anyone would like to obtain a copy of Paul's book, go to my home page bookstore, click on the POW-MIA Selection, find the book there, and follow the instructions to  connect to Amazon.com where you can order it.

 

Begin quotes from "M.I.A.: Accounting for the Missing in Southeast Asia."
(NOTE: An ellipsis . . . indicates material omitted.)

QUOTE

(pp. 4 - 5)

In Paris on 27 January 1973, representatives of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, the North Vietnamese government), the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG, the "Viet Cong" shadow government in South Vietnam), the government of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, the government of our ally in South Vietnam), and the United States of America signed a document officially titles "The Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam." This document, more commonly referred to as the Paris Accords, included as a specific provision an article dealing with the resolution of the ate of those Americans (and others) still unaccounted for at the conclusion of hostilities. Article 8(b), states:
 

The parties shall help each other to get information about those military
personnel and foreign civilians of the parties missing in action, to determine
the location and take care of the graves of the dead so as to facilitate the
exhumation and repatriation of the remains, and to take any such other
measures as may be required to get information about those still considered
missing in action.

Thus, at 2400 hour GMT on 27 January 1973 the stage was unknowingly set for what was to become a most difficult, frustrating, trying, and exceedingly lengthy effort to carry out the provisions of Article 8(b) of the Paris Accords and determine the fate of our missing men.

AN UNEASY CEASE-FIRE  . . .

A Two-Party Joint Military Commission (TPJMC) and a Four-Party Joint Military Commission (FPJMC) set forth in the accords and the protocols were immediately established as the entities to carry out the specific tasks which were to lead toward ending the war and restoring the peace in Vietnam. The FPJMC included representatives from the United States, the Republic of Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), and the Provisional Revolutionary Government (the Viet Cong), and was to exist for only 60 days. The TPJMC was to have a more enduring tenure, however. The TPJMC, that included only the two South Vietnamese factions, the RVN and the PRG, was charged to carry out the implementation of those articles of the Paris agreements which were viewed as strictly within the South Vietnamese purview, and which would supposedly lead toward national reconciliation. . . .

 THE FOUR-PARTY JOINT MILITARY TEAM  (pp. 6 -  7)

One of the protocols to the Paris Peace Accords made provision for a residual Four-Party Joint Military Team (FPJMT) to carry on the search and accounting for missing individuals following the 60-day termination of the FPJMC activities. This team, with representation from the same four parties making up the Four-Party Joint Military Commission, came into existence in early 1973 and remained in place in Saigon until the eventual fall of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam of 30 April 1975. The US delegation to this FPJMT became, in essence, the US negotiating entity to deal with the DRV and the PRG in carrying out Article 8(b) of the Paris Accords.

The US delegation of the FPJMT was a group of less than twenty military personnel from all services, . . . These included specialists in international law and history, individuals familiar with negotiation techniques, plus an array of interpreters, translators, and support personnel. . . .

JOINT CASUALTY RESOLUTION CENTER (pp. 10 - 12 )

While the FPJMT constituted the negotiating element of the US effort, another entity, the Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC), was created as the operational element. The JCRC was a unique organization in the annals of military history. Activated in Saigon on 23 January 1973, its first commander was Brigadier General Robert C. Kingston, a hard-driving infantry office with considerable background experience in special operations. The JCRC mission was solely to assist the Secretaries of the Armed Services to resolve the fate of those servicemen still missing and unaccounted for as a result of the hostilities throughout Indochina. The unit was to have a predominantly operational role -- the carrying out of field search, excavation, recovery, and repatriation activities negotiated through the FPJMT.

General Kingston gathered the initial JCRC cadre in Saigon, calling for volunteers and drawing heavily from among military personnel still remaining in-country at that time (January 1973). He personally interviewed each volunteer, accepting those whose talents matched a menu of personnel skills previously drawn up by the military planners at CINCPAC in Hawaii as the Paris negotiations were wending their way toward conclusion. The personnel roster, with an initial authorization of approximately 140 persons, was heavily loaded on the side of field search teams. . . .

The JCRC case records were inherited from another little-known military unit in Vietnam which was named the Joint Personnel Recovery Center (JPRC). The JPRC, which had already been operational in Vietnam for over six years, had the mission of attempting to rescue American prisoners-of-war and, consequently, had collected considerable information and had generated numerous files on those individuals who had disappeared. Therefore, with the establishment of the Joint Casualty REsolution Center, the old JPRC files constituted a logical starting point for the entire casualty resolution effort that was to follow. Efforts were soon launched by the JCRC to expand and update these files, beginning immediately with the debriefing of all POWs released during Operation Homecoming in February and March of 1973.

Though the JCRC was activated in Vietnam, because of the US interpretation of the restrictions imposed by the Paris Accords on the number of US military personnel who could be left in Vietnam, the unit was immediately moved to Nakhon Phanom Air Base in northeast Thailand.
. . .

JCRC OPERATIONS BEGIN  (p. 13)
 
The men and women of the newly-formed JCRC, sensing the 'uniqueness' of their mission, and filled with a high sense of endeavor, were eager to begin the task of attempting to recover the remains of their fallen comrades-in-arms. (NOTE: The next few paragraphs describe the process for selecting sites to be searched, excavated, etc.)
. . .

SEA SALVAGE OPERATIONS  (pp. 15 - 16)

Of the approximately 2,500 individuals unaccounted for at the end of active US involvement in the fighting in early 1973, over 400 had been categorized as 'over-water' losses. This meant that the individuals were believed to have been lost at sea, either as a result of having crashed into the water, or as a result of drowning after an untoward incident -- being washed overboard from a ship, for example. No one had any illusions regarding the ultimate fate of those listed in this category; however, because of the number involved the JCRC Commander ordered that an attempt should be made to determine the likelihood of recovering any identifiable remains.

To answer this question, the US Navy Supervisor of Salvage was asked to design and conduct an off-shore search and recovery program under JCRC direction. After a data analysis was completed, a search locale was selected off the Vietnam coast in the region between the cities of Danang and Hue. This coastal sea area was the scene of a relatively high number of aircraft crashsites, and was thought to afford the maximum opportunity to test the concept of underwater location and recovery of remains. . . .

The results of this effort were disappointing but not unexpected. The often-imagined scene of the World War II aircraft sitting relatively intact on the ocean floor had no parallel in the case of the average modern jet fighter. The divers' inspections confirmed that these aircraft, due primarily to their speed, had disintegrated to nearly the same extent as if they had crashed on land. Wings and control surfaces were ripped off, engines were broken from fuselages, and -- worst of all -- cockpits were chattered and torn asunder. This initial crash trauma, the time lapse since the event, and the effect of seawater immersion combined to preclude the successful recovery of identifiable remains.
. . . 

Over the past decade (NOTE: 1984 - 1994) the remains of several aviators who were classified as 'over-water' losses have been returned by Vietnamese officials. Later analysis has shown, however, that these were the remains of fliers whose bodies were recovered from the water by fishermen, taken ashore, and interred.
. . .

(pp. 22 -23 ) . . . In early December 1973, another JCRC field activity began. The site of interest, a helicopter crashsite, was located approximately 20 kilometers southwest of Saigon in an area of rice and pineapple fields, low trees, and brush. The rice fields, abandoned for a number of years, had grown up with tall grass and weeds but were still flooded with knee-deep water and mud. Captain Richard Rees, the JCRC field team leader on this operation, flew with his team to the crash site aboard FPJMT-marked helicopters on the morning of December 13.
. . .

On the morning of the third day, 15 December, Rees and his team again boarded the FPLMT helicopters at Tan Son Nhut airport in Saigon for the short 15-minute flight back to the crashsite.
. . . The first of three helicopters hovered down to a landing. Touching down gently, Rees and his men hopped out as the Vietnamese pilot held the craft stable on the dike. The other two helicopters commenced their landings adjacent to the first. Suddenly a Communist B-40 rocket-propelled grenade exploded against the first helicopter, setting it afire and fatally wounding one of the Vietnamese crewmen. Though hit by shrapnel, the other two helicopters immediately took to the air to escape a similar fate. With their means of escape gone, Captain Rees and his unarmed team were at the mercy of the automatic weapons fire which the Viet Cong ambushers now raked across the paddy field.

Rees and his men threw themselves down into the knee-deep water, hoping that the weeds and old paddy dikes would provide some degree of cover from the ambushers' fire. Captain Rees quickly realized that they were totally at the mercy of their attackers . . . In a final courageous gamble to save his team, Rees stood up with his hands raised, and shouted in Vietnamese to the attackers to stop their firing because his men were unarmed. His shout was immediately answered by a volley of fire from the brush at the edge of the paddy, and Captain Rees fell dead in the water.

. . . the Viet Cong quickly withdrew from the scene leaving behind one American killed and four team members wounded, one Vietnamese killed and three wounded, and one helicopter destroyed.

End of quotes from M. I. A.: Accounting for the Missing in Southeast Asia.

(NOTE: Paul's book continues to describe the stormy FPJMT meeting at which the US representative, Colonel William Tombaugh, threw Captain Rees' bloody shirt at the Viet Cong representatives.)

 

The US decided to train South Vietnamese to conduct recovery operations. In those operations, by August 1974, these indigenous teams had recovered 36 remains, 5 of which were identified as Americans. Following the fall of Saigon, the US had no further access to the old battlefields. The JCRC headquarters eventually relocated to Hawaii, with field teams in Bangkok, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore. These locations were chosen because they were where Vietnamese "boat people," fleeing the Communist takeover, wound up in refugee camps. JCRC interviewers obtained from these refugees a large volume of information about grave sites, crash sites, and sightings of people who may have been Americans. (For a discussion of these "live-sighting" reports, go to the Table of Contents and read the articles by Wick Tourison.)

The Defense Intelligence Agency Special Office for POW-MIA Affairs (DIA)

DIA is a foreign intelligence agency, whose mission is to collect and analyze information dealing with foreign military activities. During the war, DIA maintained close ties with in-country intelligence operations, with the military service intelligence operations, and the national-level agencies, as well as maintaining liaison with allied intell agencies. The Special Office had the mission of collecting as much information as possible about missing men. This information was used as the basis for rescue attempts, to determine who was and was not being held prisoner, and to prepare for Operation Homecoming.

After the war and Homecoming, the DIA office gradually decreased in size. When I joined it in early 1986, there were 17 folks working in the office. Based on recommendations made to the then-Director of DIA, LTG Leonard Perroots, USAF, we built the office to 42 people. Also, because the JCRC was a humanitarian agency, they could not maintain contact with host country intelligence agencies. Thus, in 1986, DIA established a group named STONY BEACH, a DIA element that basically duplicated the JCRC presence in SEAsia. JCRC and STONY BEACH reached a division of labor in which each of them worked specified cases and reports.

The Military Services

Military personnel belong to their parent service. That is, Army guys belong to the Army, Marines to the USMC , etc. Each service has a personnel center that has a missing persons or casualty operation center. These are the folks who are responsible for notifying next-of-kin when a service member is killed, missing, wounded, or captured. And, the service casualty offices maintain contact with the next-of-kin for as long as need be. It is these service personnel offices that maintain the detailed personnel files on the missing men. That is, DIA would not have a missing man's personnel file, pay records, or medical records. DIA also would not have any special identifier data issued to the man by the service or by the operational command. Close contact, of course, is maintained between DIA and the service casualty offices.

Service Secretaries and OSD

In keeping with the principle of civilian control of the military, the senior folks in services are the civilians, with the Service Secretaries (Secretary of the Army, of the Navy, of the Air Force.) being the senior authority in each service. In the Department of Defense, the Secretary of Defense is the top dog. Under him is the Deputy SECDEF, a couple of Under Secretaries, and a collection of Assistant Secretaries (who are then assisted by Deputy Assistant Secretaries). Within the OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) is the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (ASD/ISA), which serves as the DoD's "State Department." It is in this office that DoD input to national security affairs is developed.

From the time of the war, there has been in ASD/ISA an office that deals with DoD POW-MIA policy.  Traditionally, that office was staffed by at least one returned POW.  For some time, USAF Colonel Jerry Venanzi was in ASAD/ISA POW office.  For most of the time I was with DIA, we worked with COL Howard Hill, a returnee.

National Security Council

Very close to the top of the pile is the National Security Council (NSC). This organization, located in the Old Executive Office building, next to the White House, is the President's foreign affairs policy formulation arm. On the NSC staff is a Director of Asian Affairs, responsible for developing advice to the President on US policies toward Asia.

End 1990

At the end of 1990, the players were:
 

bulletNSC Director of Asian Affairs (US Army Colonel Dick Childress);
bulletASD/ISA - POW-MIA ;
bulletDIA and the DIA Special Office for POW-MIA;
bulletThe Services and the service casualty offices;
bulletJCRC;
bulletCINCPAC (Commander-in-Chief, US Pacific Command, Navy admiral who owns everything from the California coast to the coast of Africa, including JCRC.);
bulletUS Army Central Identification Laboratory - Hawaii (CILHI; described on my home page under the article on identification.), and their parent HQ, US Army Personnel Command.

And, let's not forget the Department of State.  POW-MIA Affairs in State were under the Assistant Secretary of State for Asia - Pacific Affairs.

Congress also had an interest in MIA affairs.  For many years, beginning at the end of the war, there was a House Task Force of POW-MIA Affairs.  That Task Force held hearings at various times during the 1970s reviewing the possiblity of Americans remaining alive in SEAsia; I do not have reports of those hearings but I have read them and I recommend that the serious studnts of MIA affairs try to locate those reports.

Congress maintains its oversight role through committees.  For the time that I was in DIA, we answered to at least six committees:
 

bulletThe House Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs; under the Asia-Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Members of the select committee included Congressmen Ben Gilman, Stephen Solarz, Bob Dornan, Bill Hendon, and Bob Smith.
bulletThe House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and their subcommittees dealing with Asian affairs.
bulletThe Armed Services committees of the House and the Senate.
bulletThe Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  This committee reviewed all our intelligence operations and we provided them regular briefings on those operations.

You need to know, also, that there was -- and still is -- a very well-organized and well-connected family organization, the National League of Families of Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia (the League). I have neither the patience nor the inclination to describe the origins of the League. I recommend that you read Jim and Sybil Stockdale's book, In Love and War, for the genesis of the League. Ms. Stockdale and few other POW-MIA wives formed the League during the war. After the war, the nature and operating tactics of the League changed and it became a well-connected lobby (during Republican administrations).

For a less-than-flattering appraisal of the League, check out H. Bruce Franklin, M.I.A.: Mythmaking in America, and Susan Katz-Keating, Prisoners of Hope. Both these are available on my home page.

1991 - 1993:  Major Reorganization

Central Documentation Office

In 1991 two things happened:
 

bulletPresident Bush ordered that all documents throughout the government pertaining to POWs and MIAs from SEAsia be declassified and placed in a collection in the Library of Congress. This directive included the files on individual missing men.
bulletThe Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs (SSC) was formed and held hearings until early 1993.

 

To declassify the mountain of documents, the Central Documentation Office was formed under the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (ASD/C3I). Headed by USAF Colonel Charlie Brown, the CDO called together 70 or so military reservists and civilians from throughout DoD. They had three missions:
 

  1. The SSC was calling for documents. It was the task of the CDO to pull together these documents and haul them over to Capitol Hill. On more than one occasion, the CDO rented Ryder trucks to carry the requested documents to the committee.
  2. The family of each missing man had to be contacted (the service casualty offices did this) and asked if their missing man's personnel and loss files could be made public. (This is a fine point because individual protection under the Privacy Act ends when you die. But, we always concluded that the privacy a man enjoyed while alive evolved to his family as long as he was missing.) A few families could not be located. Some did not want their missing man's file made public. Most agreed.
  3. CDO prepared these files and documents to go to the Library of Congress. The call went out, several times, for every government agency to turn over any POW-MIA information they had. CDO declassified this stuff and put it in the Library of Congress. It was this CDO effort that established the Vietnam War POW-MIA collection that is now in the Library of Congress. You can access the titles of documents through the Library of Congress WWW site. As far as I know, individual documents are not on the WWW, just an index of titles.

Task Force Russia

Also, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, openings appeared for the US to begin searching in the states of the former Soviet Union for information on Americans missing from WW II, Korea, and from the Cold War. (Missing from the Cold War? During the Cold War, the Ruskies shot down folks other than Gary Powers. In fact, there were -- I forget the number -- two to three dozen US "electronic reconnaissance aircraft" lost on the periphery of the Soviet Union. Many of these crew members are missing.)

The Army was given the mission of jumping on this opportunity, thus was formed Task Force Russia, to look into WW II, Korean War,  and Cold War losses and missing.

Consolidation

One of the findings of the SSC was that the POW-MIA issue was not an intelligence matter and that DIA should no longer be out on the tip of the spear. So, this is what happened in July 1993:
 

  1. The Central Documentation Office (CDO), Task Force Russia, the DIA Special Office for POW-MIA Affairs, and, the ASD/ISA policy cell were all combined into the Defense POW-MIA Office (DPMO).
  2. The position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW-MIA Affairs (DASD/POW-MIA), under ASD/ISA was created. The DASD wears two hats: he/she is the DASD/POW-MIA and is the Director, DPMO. Brigadier General, USAF (Ret) James Wold was the first DASD. He came on board in early 1994 and resigned in September 1997.  Mr. Robert Jones, a former infantry captain and Vietnam veteran is now the DASD/POW-MIA.
  3. The JCRC mission was assumed by the Joint Task Force - Full Accounting (JTF-FA). The JTF, commanded by an Army brigadier, is headquartered in Hawaii, is an operational element of USPACOM, and has operational and research elements in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It is the JTF-FA that has the troops who go into SEAsia on excavations, searches, and other operations. STONY BEACH still has teams in SEAsia. In fact, STONY BEACH and JTF-FA researchers work in all three countries of Indochina, digging through archives, interviewing old adversaries, and generally collecting documentary and oral evidence on missing Americans.

So, folks, there you have it.  It's down and dirty and not too well written.  Still, I hope some of you find the article informative and useful.  At the risk of being too pedantic, there is one lesson that I ask each reader to take from this article:

The effort to find missing Americans, dead or alive, has continued
unabated from the time the first American was lost in Southeast Asia.
 No country in history has ever committed the resources to find its
missing men that the U. S. has committed to finding men lost in the
Vietnam War.  That same effort is now extending to Korea and the
Cold War.  Not every lost American will be found.  Archival research
will not find information on every man.  Sadly, such is the nature of war.
But, in those cases where a family must be told that there simply is no
more to be found, there will have been a full and honest effort made.
Today, we still recover from the jungles of New Guinea and the fields
of Holland the remains of Americans from WW II.  Years from now, as
the jungles of Vietnam yield to growth and development, lost crash sites
from Vietnam will appear and another soldier will come home.

Here is a link to a website authored by an active duty soldier working with the recovery teams in SEAsia. 

Read about work going on today.