Most countries consider the place where a soldier falls in battle to be his grave. The United States is different.
This country's policy is to recover the remains of all service members missing in action. Department of Defense officials don't know of another country that does that. "Our commitment to the service member and their family is that the government will make the fullest possible accounting for them if they are sent into harm's way," says Larry Greer, spokesman for the Pentagon's POW/MIA recovery office.
This year, the government will spend $55 million in efforts to recover the remains of MIAs. On any given day, 500 people ranging from excavation teams in southeast Asia to scientists matching DNA in labs are working on various aspects. Recovering and identifying remains is a painstaking process that often takes years.
There are about 88,000 US MIAs dating back to World War II. The Pentagon doesn't initiate searches for the estimated 78,000 MIAs from the second world war, but teams respond when suspected remains are found, Greer says. MIAs from the Korean and Vietnam wars are different. The government is initiating searches for each MIA from those conflicts. The three countries have been cooperative, but searches have been slow.
In the case of academy graduates Capts. Doug Martin and Sam James, search teams were in northeast Cambodia in 1993 to conduct interviews with local villagers and visit the suspected crash site. Other teams arrived in 1995 and 1997 to establish whether a full excavation team should be sent in. That team arrived in January 1998 and discovered bone fragments, teeth and James' dog tags, but nothing else. The human remains were sent to a lab for testing and comparison with the captains' dental records. A board of officers then reviewed the evidence and decided those remains were those of the missing men. The families were told in late 1998.
MIA recovery efforts are going slowly in North Korea, where 8,200 American service members remain missing. Only two MIAs have been recovered and identified since 1996, but the pace is increasing, Greer says.
The Pentagon also lists 123 people missing from incidents during the Cold War. Most of them are air crew members shot down in hostile territory. Some 18 MIAs from the Cold War period have been recovered and identified. Greer's office is also charged, in part, with recovery of prisoners of war from all conflicts. Although stories continue to circulate about service members being held as POWs from past wars, "as yet there is no credible evidence that live Americans are being held against their will in North Korea or Southeast Asia," Greer said. "The military doesn't have any MIAs listed from the Persian Gulf War or other recent conflicts. Part of the reason is advanced technology and better search and rescue operations," Greer said. Scientific methods have been improved, allowing identification of DNA that's more than 50 years old. The military also requires members to provide a blood sample to make identification easier.
"The United States will continue to make recovery of MIAs a
priority," Greer says. "This military spends an awful lot of resources taking care of servicemembers and their families."
AII POW-MIA----Provides up to the minute information on the POW/MIA issue
National League of POW/MIA Families----Keeping the pressure on our government to continue searching for their missing loved ones
Phonies and Wannabes----Phony POWs show up everywhere; VFWs, League of Families meetings, newspaper and magazine articles. Who they are and what you can do to help expose these dishonorable charletans.