Nation Will Not Forsake Missing, Not Stop Seeking Fullest Accounting
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Jun. 27, 2003 The quest to account for missing servicemen from the Vietnam, Korean and Cold War and World War II "is unwavering, untiring and will not fail!" Jerry D. Jennings told the audience during the 34th annual National League of Families conclave here June 27.
The global war against terrorism, including Afghanistan and Iraq, will not diminish the nation's efforts to account for the missing from past conflicts, said Jennings, deputy assistant secretary of defense for prisoner of war and missing personnel affairs and director of the Defense POW/MIA Office.
He went on to say that missing service members will not be forsaken in order to take care of those in harm's way today.
To emphasize his comments, Jennings said, in May 2001, President Bush spoke of "a special group of veterans: Americans still missing and unaccounted for from Vietnam, Korea, the Cold War and World War II. They deserve and will have our best efforts to achieve the fullest possible accounting and, alive or dead, to return them home to America."
Moreover, he quoted Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who echoed the president's commitment in January: The brave men and women who serve in the war on terror "can do so with the full confidence that if they are captured, become missing or fall in battle, this nation will spare no effort to bring them home. That's our solemn pledge. However long it takes, whatever it takes, whatever the cost."
"Our mission of the fullest possible accounting has not and will not be diminished by combat operations around the world," Jennings noted.
He told the gathering of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and other loved ones of missing servicemen that Congress has made clear its desire that the mission to account for the missing will not be cut. "In fact," he said, "much of our field work and resources have actually increased because Congress supports our mission. And they've also specified that the manpower and the budget of our agency (DPMO) will not be touched."
DPMO has more than 600 men and women of different specialties working every day around the world to account for the more than 88,000 Americans who are missing from all conflicts, the secretary said.
Jennings then asked employees of his office to stand to be recognized, to audience applause. "Their talents and specialties are so varied research, policy, analysis, personnel recovery, communications, security and so on," he noted.
He also recognized the lifelong dedication of Ann Mills Griffiths in moving the issue forward on behalf of POW and MIA families. Griffiths is the executive director of National League Families.
Noting that the first-ever DoD-wide personnel accounting conference was held last January, Jennings said that included government briefings and presentations by Griffiths and several veterans organizations representing millions of members.
"In another new initiative, I've invited senior policy level representatives from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to attend POW/MIA consultations in Bangkok, Thailand, in October," Jennings told the audience. "We plan to discuss lessons learned from the past, craft strategies to advance the effort in Southeast Asia, and forge together a vision for the future."
He foresees the countries exchanging ideas, fostering greater cooperation and ultimately contributing to achieving the answers to America's and families' questions about missing personnel.
Among other initiatives, DPMO is planning a veteran-to- veteran exchange in Southeast Asia. "American veterans organizations have already offered support for this initiative," he said. "We're appreciative of their willingness to join with us in what we believe will be a very productive initiative."
U.S. efforts to press for greater cooperation continues beyond Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, into Russia and other countries, Jennings noted. For example, he said work with the Russian government to clarify cases of American missing personnel from the Vietnam War continues.
"Though we've not reached the point of dramatic breakthroughs, I'm encouraged by certain recent signals from Moscow indicating a more forthright approach to working with us than previously shown," Jennings said.
For example, he said efforts are underway to allow declassification of some Russian military records from the Vietnam War era. "In recent months, the Russians have provided us with excerpts of classified materials that we're correlating with our own records relating to American loss incidents," Jennings said.
"Unfortunately, as long as nations have disagreements, there will be wars," he said. "We're not finished until the job is done to bring home every American warrior.'