‘Until They Are Home’

‘Until They Are Home’: MIA Mission Continues After 40 Years

Tim Dyhouse

January marked the 40th anniversary of the start of the post-war search for missing Gis in Indochina. That mission’s origins are under reported as are the earliest efforts to recover the remains of Americans from overseas wars beginning in 1898. Here is a brief recap.

THE OFFICIAL DOCUMENT that ended America’s military participation in the Vietnam War in 1973 contained a provision that supported a vital VFW priority.

Article 8 of The Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam— also known as the Paris Peace Accords—stipulated that the former combatants would cooperate “to facilitate the exhumation and repatriation” of the remains of war dead. Immediately after the document was signed, the U.S. created the Four-Party Joint Military Team (FPJMT) and the Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) to carry out Article 8. The FPJMT negotiated details of remains recovery while the JCRC carried out the actual field work.

According to Paul D. Mather, author of M.I.A.: Accounting for the Missing in Southeast Asia, the JCRC was a “unique organization in the annals of military history.” Activated on Jan. 23, 1973, in Saigon, it consisted of 140 volunteers—mostly Green Berets—commanded by Brig. Gen. Robert C. Kingston. It was immediately moved to Nakhon Phanom Air Base in Thailand because of personnel restrictions placed on it in Vietnam.

Also based in Thailand and established in 1973 was the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL-THAI), which sought to identify remains.

During JCRC’s original tenure, which ended with the fall of Saigon in April 1975, Army Capt. Richard M. Rees became the only American killed by hostile action during an MIA remains recovery operation, on Dec. 15, 1973, at a helicopter crash site some 12 miles southwest of Saigon (see page 26 for details).

Conduct recovery operations. With South Vietnam’s defeat, JCRC relocated its headquarters to Hawaii and moved its field teams to Bangkok, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore. These were locations where large numbers of “boat people” refugees gathered after fl eeing the Communist takeover in Vietnam.

In May 1976, CIL-THAI moved to Hawaii and became known as CILHI. Based at Hickam Air Force Base near Pearl Harbor, it now employs 30 forensic anthropologists, archaeologists and odontologists (forensic dentists), as well as 400 military and civilian personnel.

In 1992, the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA) was established to focus specifically on Vietnam War cases and officially replaced JCRC. Its detachments were based in Bangkok, Thailand; Hanoi, Vietnam; Vientiane, Laos; and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. CILHI retained responsibility for worldwide recoveries from all wars.

Unfortunately, the worst loss of life during a remains recovery mission occurred during this period. On April 7, 2001, seven Americans and nine Vietnamese were killed when their helicopter crashed about 280 miles south of Hanoi (see VFW magazine, September 2001).

On Oct. 1, 2003, after determining that MIA accounting efforts would be best served by combining JTF-FA and CILHI, the Pentagon established the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) at Joint Base Pearl Harbor- Hickam in Hawaii. Its motto is “Until They Are Home.”

SOURCE: VFW Magazine

Unaccounted-For Americans from the Vietnam War

Country of Loss Unaccounted-For Repatriated/Identified
Vietnam, South

810

691

Vietnam, North

470

Laos

314

261

Cambodia

54

36

China

7

3

Total

1,655 *

991

*Includes 468 lost at sea or over water.
SOURCE: Defense POW-Missing Personnel Office, Oct. 17, 2012

Ronald Reagan, President, 1981-88 stated:

We write no last chapters.  We close no books.  We put away no final memories.  An end to America’s involvement in Vietnam cannot come before we’ve achieved the fullest possible accounting of those missing in action.

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