League of POW/MIA Families Hold Conference
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., July 10, 2001 An optimistic Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz set the tone for the recent 32nd annual National League of POW/MIA Families conference here.
Wolfowitz delivered the keynote speech.
Ann Mills Griffiths, league executive director, said no one expects miracles, but Wolfowitz's attitude gave the impression that the missing personnel issue would be taken seriously by the government. "Despite the continued frustrations, we're dealing with people who say what they mean and mean what they say," she said.
The annual league conference gives families of missing personnel a chance to hear directly from government officials about the status of efforts to account for missing service members.
Wolfowitz told the gathering that the government is determined to search for resolution "to free families of missing personnel from the prison of uncertainty whenever and wherever possible."
He repeated President Bush's Memorial Day pledge at Arlington National Cemetery: "Those missing deserve and will have our best efforts to achieve the fullest possible accounting, and alive or dead, to return them home to America."
Wolfowitz emphasized that the continuous search for missing personnel includes seeking answers for families whose loved ones are still unaccounted for from World War II, Korean War, Vietnam and the Cold War. "It's an obligation we owe to those who serve and to their families," he said.
Thunderous applause erupted when Wolfowitz vowed continued support for the Central Identification Laboratory and Joint Task Force-Full Accounting in Hawaii, the Armed Forces DNA Laboratory in Maryland, Defense Intelligence Agency's Stony Beach Team, Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory and the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.
"We're committed to strengthening the diplomatic efforts needed to gain unilateral actions on the part of Vietnam -- actions at the core of resolving the many discrepancies we must address," he said.
Wolfowitz praised the work of the league and its members, saying, "They have traveled to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to meet with foreign officials. They have walked thousands of miles through the halls of the Pentagon, State Department and Congress telling the stories of husbands, sons, fathers, brothers and loved ones - reminding all Americans of our sacred duty.
"We must not, we will not, cease our efforts until we can return to America's welcoming arms and yearning hearts those heroes who have been missing far too long."
Spokesman Larry Greer said the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office provided two days of presentations about DoD's efforts to account for missing personnel.
"Each year, we're asked to present technical discussions on subjects that family members have expressed an interest in," he said. "For example, we usually give a technical update on the progress of using DNA to identify remains. We also talk about challenges we've faced in the past year and look at what the future might hold. We're always asked to comment on negotiations with the Vietnamese, Laos and Cambodians, to explain what progress is being made in each country."