At a ceremony conducted in Da Nang on December 11, Vietnamese officials repatriated to Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) representatives what are believed to be the remains of three Americans unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War.
DPAA Deputy Director for Operations Rear Admiral Jon Kreitz led the U.S. delegation that participated in the ceremony during which DPAA Detachment Two Commander Lt. Col. Adam Points officially accepted the remains.
The ceremony is part of a two-day visit that Kreitz is making to Vietnam to commemorate the 30th anniversary of sustained United States-Vietnamese joint field activities (JFAs) that officially began in September, 1988, to account for U.S. personnel who are missing from the Vietnam War.
“We extend our sincere appreciation to the government and people of Vietnam, especially the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons, assisting the U.S. accounting mission,” Kreitz said, as he met with Vietnamese officials before the ceremony.
The 30-year relationship of sustained field operations grew out of high-level discussions between the two nations that intensified in the early 1980s. Those talks were advanced by the Vietnamese government facilitating a visit to Hanoi by the National League of POW/MIA Families in 1982. That visit helped spur dialogue more focused on the issue of accounting for personnel missing from the war that ended in 1975.
The talks resulted in an initial joint field mission in 1985. Based on the success of that mission and subsequent talks, the two countries reached a formal agreement for a series of field missions that began in 1988. Since then, 133 JFAs have been conducted in Vietnam, to include the latest one that ends today, following investigation activities in several locations and recovery missions in Quang Binh, Quang Ninh, Thua Thien-Hue, Nghe An and Tuyen Quang Provinces.
DPAA plans to conduct four JFAs this fiscal year in Vietnam. Each JFA involves approximately 95 U.S. personnel and accompanying Vietnamese counterparts, plus a Defense Intelligence Agency POW/MIA specialist. Together, they work on investigations and recoveries throughout the country for a period of approximately 30 days per JFA.
The more than 130 JFAs in Vietnam have resulted in remains associated with 474 individuals being recovered and repatriated since the beginning of sustained cooperation in 1988.
When the Vietnam War ended, 1,973 Americans were missing in Vietnam. In addition to those remains recovered during JFAs, other U.S. remains have been unilaterally turned over by Vietnam, as well as remains recovered during the war, leading to 726 Americans accounted for to date. Across the countries of the region where Americans went missing during the Vietnam War -- including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and China – a total of 1,592 Americans remain unaccounted for.
“The JFAs in Vietnam have contributed significantly to the answers that have been provided to 726 families,” Kreitz said. “And, as this ceremony indicates, that work continues in hopes that answers can be found for the families who are still missing loved ones from the Vietnam War.”
One member of the U.S. delegation to the ceremony has been involved with the Vietnam recovery effort since its beginning. Johnie Webb was the U.S. military commander of the first field mission in 1985 while assigned to a DPAA predecessor organization. He closed out his military career there and then joined the staff as a civilian employee.
“As a veteran of the Vietnam War, I am honored to have been a part of advancing the relationship between our two governments to account for our brave men who gave their lives for our great country. As our relationship has matured, I also find it rewarding to be able to assist the Vietnamese in accounting for many of their soldiers,” said Webb, who still holds a key civilian position on the DPAA staff.
In addition to the repatriation ceremony, U.S. and Vietnamese officials will host two dinners – one by each country - to officially commemorate the 30th anniversary of the joint missions.
DPAA Director Kelly McKeague summed up the significance of the anniversary by stating: “In pursuing over these three decades this common humanitarian goal of finding answers for families and bringing unreturned veterans home, our joint endeavors have contributed to the security, stability, and prosperity that mark the strategic relationship America has with Vietnam.”