Only two months after Vietnam quietly announced unprecedented levels of cooperation regarding on-going U.S. POW/MIA efforts in Southeast Asia (SEA), a delegation from the National League of POW/MIA Families and a parallel group of Green Beret Vietnam veterans will travel to Southeast Asia (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, & Thailand) January 11-30th to meet key U.S. and Vietnamese officials. And, if the weather cooperates, they will visit in the field staff from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency working to locate and account for the remaining 1,602 Americans still in SEA.
The league delegation will be led by Chairman of the Board/CEO Ms. Ann Mills-Griffiths. She will be joined once again by the League Senior Policy Advisor Richard Childress, COL, USA (Ret), and, for the first time, MIA daughter Cindy Stonebraker, a second-term elected member of the League’s Board of Directors. Childress, a highly respected Vietnam veteran, has worked with the league since 1989 following an eight-year stint as the senior policy advisor and director of Asian affairs for the National Security Council from 1981 to 1989 with President Reagan.
Parallel to the league delegation, representing the joint Special Operations Association (SOA)/Special Forces Association (SFA) POW/MIA Committee will be Mike Taylor, LTC, USA/SF (Ret), vice president of SOA and chairman of the joint SOA/SFA POW/MIA Committee. He will be joined in Hanoi by fellow Green Beret Robert J. “Spider” Parks, CSM USA/SF (Ret), a member of the SOA/SFA POW/MIA Committee. Mrs. Elli Childress and Mrs. Laura Taylor will accompany their respective husbands and participate with delegation members in social and cultural events and other activities.
Both delegations are either flying to SEA today (Jan. 11) or have landed in SEA where they are scheduled to meet with U.S. ambassadors, embassy officials, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Stony Beach SEA specialists and DPAA Detachment personnel in each country, according to a League Jan. 7 update.
The League delegation will meet with senior officials in Laos, Vietnam and, hopefully, Cambodia, to share goals and ideas and discuss topics of mutual interest to advance the accounting mission. The SOA/SFA delegation will meet with American and foreign veterans, some of whom fought against U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.
While in Laos, representatives of both delegations (Stonebraker, M. Taylor and L. Taylor) will visit excavation sites to thank U.S. and host nation personnel for their often dangerous efforts during Joint Field Activities (JFAs) to account for missing loved ones and unreturned fellow veterans.
“I’m encouraged by the forward-leaning Vietnamese at this time,” said Mills-Griffiths, “as they continue to make recommendations for improving and expanding the process in Southeast Asia. We’re going to talk to them, make some recommendations, listen to them and hopefully help to expedite efforts to account for more U.S. personnel in Southeast Asia.”
Taylor, who served from 1968-1972 in Vietnam as a Green Beret in top-secret projects, felt no compelling urge to ever return to SEA until recently. As chairman of the joint SOA/SFA POW/MIA Committee when this opportunity surfaced for Taylor, “I changed my mind,” he said. “With 1,602 Americans remaining missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, combined with Vietnam’s increased openness and willingness to work with the U.S. at this time, a critical time in the recovery process, I felt I had to go and I’m honored to do so … and, on a personal very level, I’m looking forward to meeting soldiers from the NVA (North Vietnamese Army), as I’ve been told that some of their combatants would like to meet us.”
Two months ago, key Vietnamese officials said that for the first time in more than 47 years, there would “…no longer be any restrictions on the number of U.S. personnel who could work in-country simultaneously, affirming flexibility in field operations and that there are no longer any areas restricted to U.S. access … including previously sensitive areas along the northern coastal provinces,” according to Mills-Griffiths.
In addition, President Donald J. Trumps’ visit to Vietnam in the fall added increased visibility to the POW/MIA issue as he said, “Our accountability efforts in Vietnam are very, very important to all of us. We will not rest until all of the (1,602) missing veterans are returned home. I want to thank the government of Vietnam for their assistance in our efforts.”
Mills-Griffiths and Taylor applauded Trumps’ efforts to bring the POW/MIA issue back into the public conscientiousness. As of today, of the 1,602 U.S. personnel still missing from the Vietnam War, 294 are unaccounted-for in Laos – which includes 50 Green Berets who served in the secret war running missions across the fence from Vietnam, 48 in Cambodia and seven in the People’s Republic of China. According to League public updates, 90 percent of them lost in areas controlled by Vietnamese forces during the war.
Editor’s note: if you would like to read more from John Stryker Meyer, check out his book “SOG Chronicles: Volume One” here on Amazon — there he sheds light on the untold stories of Green Berets behind enemy lines in Vietnam, conducting harrowing missions with little to no support.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.
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