The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

January/February 2004
POW/MIA COMMITTEE REPORT
   
 

What I Found In Vietnam

BY LARRY KLEIN, CHAIR

This report reflects my personal findings, observations, and conclusions about the September Veterans Initiative Task Force trip. All questions, comments, and reactions should be directed to me.

As stated in the VVA Constitution, "The POW/MIA Committee shall seek, receive, and disseminate information on the POW/MIA issue to the National Board of Directors, State Councils, Chapters, POW/MIA families and friends, and VVA members as called upon."

I had great expectations for what I would find on the trip. Most importantly, I wanted to see for myself just how sincere the Vietnamese were about helping to obtain the fullest possible accounting for our POW/MIAs from the war in Southeast Asia.

The only way I could come close to being convinced was by sitting across the table from the Vietnamese veterans, remembering that they were once enemies, and watching their body language, attention to the issue at hand, andmost importantlytheir eye contact. Then and only then would I be able to see for myself what all the trips by the VITF to Vietnam in the past ten years had accomplished, and if the trips have resulted in better cooperation by the Vietnamese veterans.

The material presented to them on this trip contained enough information to identify an additional 501 of their own, bringing the total to date to more than 8,100. Thanks to all the American veterans who have turned in information to VVA. This trip convinced me that all the trips have paid off, either directly or indirectly, in the recovery of our missing, and have resulted in bringing closure to family members who have waited decades.

The day after our arrival in Hanoi, the team met with Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA). Meeting with them is an essential part of our mission, because it allows us to obtain first-hand and up-to-date information on repatriation cases, the pursuit of Last-known Alive cases, Live Sightings, and the findings of witness that may shed light on crash sites, grave sites, and remains of missing Americans in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

The last thing we did before leaving our meeting with JPAC was to present to the Detachment Commander a plaque with the names of the Americans and Vietnamese killed in the April 2001 helicopter crash.

During this trip, VVA President Tom Corey attended a repatriation ceremony. He escorted four sets of remains onto the C-141.

We went to the U.S. Embassy to meet with Amb. Raymond Burghardt and briefed him on the most recent successes of the Veterans Initiative and on our ten years of continuous effort to account for the missing.

We met with the Vietnamese Office for Seeking Missing Persons, the authority that coordinates Joint Field Activities along with JPAC. We discussed the issue of the travel restrictions in the Central Highlands. We were assured that there was an ongoing process to relax such restrictions.  Once again, Tom Corey raised the issue of the importance of allowing U.S. Navy vessels to assist in over-water recovery efforts.

We also met with the leaders of the Veterans Association of Vietnam. We presented General Thuy with with a certificate recognizing the contribution of Vietnamese and American witnesses in the effort to recover the remains of A lot of good information was passed back and forth with the help of the interpreters. I found the meeting's atmosphere very friendly, exactly as I hoped it would be. Some of the comments were directed to me as the POW/MIA chair. The group leader and I agreed that there was a need to continue a program of education. Several times during the meeting I had to stop and remember that these were former enemies I was talking to.

In my opinion, both groups were at the meeting for one purpose and one purpose only: to do what it takes as veterans to provide closure for all families.

To our surprise and delight, there was great interest in what we were doing. Shortly after the meeting started, members of the Hanoi press corps showed up. They paid attention to every detail of the meeting and afterwards spent a lot of time interviewing everyone.

The last meeting in Hanoi was with a delegation from the Ministry of Defense (MOD). This was an important meeting, in my opinion. I figured if we saw sincerity at the higher levels, we would surely see it at lower levels. I figured right, because I saw everything I was looking for all over Vietnam. The meeting with MOD far exceeded my expectations. Before we left the meeting the Minister was presented with the original documents containing information about 501Vietnamese MIAs.

We traveled south to Hue, Danang, and Ho Chi Minh City where we met with the People's Committee and the Vietnamese Association of Veterans. As we did in Hanoi, we presented information on the 501 additional MIAs and held discussions relating to the issue of the missing from both sides.

I hope those who read this report will come away with a better understanding of what the VITF has achieved over the past ten years. Keep in mind it is because of our desire to return items to help the Vietnamese obtain closure for their MIA families that these trips are made. VVA members believe what they are doing is the right thing, and what they do has a direct or indirect effect on providing closure for the families of our MIAs. I can now say I have seen first hand what they have done and are doing. They should all be commended for what they do. What has been accomplished has been noticed and complimented on by government agencies, family members, elected leaders, and other veterans service organizations. As usual, VVA has taken the lead and others have followed.
 

   

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