A coalition of groups representing veterans and the families of missing U.S. servicemembers has accused the Defense Department of not fully supporting a joint U.S.-Russian program that seeks answers to the fate of Americans who disappeared behind the Iron Curtain.
The U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs, established in 1992, has given investigators from the United States access to Russia’s central military archives and opportunities to interview potential eyewitnesses about U.S. servicemembers who may have perished in the former Soviet Union or the territory of its allies during World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War.
“After nine months of broken promises, we cannot sit quietly and allow senior officials in the Department of Defense to redirect funding, transfer researchers and linguists and jeopardize any possibility of mission success for the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs,” the coalition stated in an editorial released July 13.
The issue was addressed today at the National League of POW/MIA Families national meeting in Crystal City, but Defense Department officials attending the conference did not satisfy concerns raised by the veterans groups, said Ann Mills-Griffiths, executive director of the league.
“Other than to say the overall accounting mission will continue to do the most with what it has, their responses did not answer our questions or shed any new light into the direction DOD may be taking,” said Joe Davis, spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, one of the groups that signed the editorial
In a memo June 29 shortly before leaving office, then-Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates directed “a reassessment of what is minimally required” to increase the capacity of the POW/MIA accounting community.
Air Force Maj. Carie Parker, a spokeswoman for the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, said Friday that the Pentagon is working with the National Security Council “to ensure that the department provides the appropriate support to the commission.”
No funding to the commission has been cut “to date,” said Parker, adding that she was unaware of plans to do so. “The mission continues.”
The editorial from the veterans’ groups said that a failure to fully support the commission “will make it nearly impossible for our government to locate information and/or remains to help determine the fates of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans who may have perished in the former Soviet Union or in the lands of their allies during World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War.”
The numbers of servicemembers or civilians missing and unaccounted for include 78,000 from World War II, 8,000 from Korea, 1,680 from Vietnam, 120 from the Cold War and one each from Iraq and Afghanistan.
This post has been updated since it was first published.