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POW/MIA AFFAIRS COMMITTEE REPORT:
Always Onward

BY GRANT COATES, COMMITTEE MEMBER

Researching the records that the Veterans Initiative Program has amassed over the past 19 years has developed a myriad of feelings for me. Reading first-hand stories of combat has brought past war experiences present. Many war memories that I suppressed years ago are coming back vividly after reading statements and after-action reports and looking at topographical battle maps and hand-drawn diagrams. I feel as though I have walked in the writers’ shoes.

Many veterans have written personal comments along with information on deaths on the battlefield. The common wish of many veterans is for the enemy dead, and their families, to have peace. As time passed, the hatred and barbaric actions of the wars and the grieving for fellow soldiers has become a desire for peace of mind through forgiveness from the souls of the former enemy. These veterans speak for the dead.

Forgiveness is self-interpreted. There is no clear definition about how to forgive. Some veterans have made their own peace by recalling details of a terrible time in their lives, when a life was spared or taken. The details were sent to the Veterans Initiative, where they were researched, sorted, and categorized to identify the location of bodies. The information was then given to the Vietnamese government for further action.

Now, time is the enemy. Memories fade, eyewitnesses die, facts are lost, and knowledge itself disappears. But history never disappears. Sometimes it is buried, sometimes it is relocated, and sometimes it is temporarily misplaced on a shelf or in a box.

With today’s mechanisms of storage, film, audio, and media transfer, DNA identification, and satellite imagery, history is much easier to place into a permanent and everlasting format for future generations to read, see, and learn. All of these methods have one main commonality: input from humans.

The Veterans Initiative program always needs more history. The stories, pictures, maps, and after-action reports that you submit are your history of our war. Nothing is thrown out. All items are archived for immediate and future use. Recently, the VI has received fewer submissions.

We need your help. Descriptions of incidents could provide information about Vietnamese losses, and perhaps American missing.

On April 10, 2008, Charles Ray, the director of the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), sent a letter to VVA President John Rowan, extending “sincere gratitude for Vietnam Veterans of America’s dedication and continued partnership in our shared mission.” Ray also wrote that information gathered by VVA and shared with DPMO “has been correlated to U.S. records of 167 air losses over North Vietnam. Among these correlations, 15 have been tentatively associated with missing personnel.”

For me, the experiences being involved with the Veterans Initiative program have gone beyond the norm. I no longer say, “Don’t mean nothing.” For the VI, everything is important, and many reports, notes, or verbal statements have been integral in getting the fullest account of events.

Now I say in my letters, “Always Onward.”

 

 

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