When one American is not worth the effort to be found, we as Americans have lost. – Rolling Thunder Motto.
War is an ugly endeavor fought by brave warriors at the behest of national leaders. In the heat of battle, soldiers are killed, wounded, captured, or go missing. Prisoners captured during battle are at the mercy of the enemy. Despite laws created by gentleman’s agreement in an international forum, history has shown that combatant nations have abused, tortured, and killed prisoners captured on the battlefield. After World War II, Russia would declare a Prisoner of War (POW) a war criminal and hold them well beyond the end of hostilities. It has become a standard practice of Communist nations to hold prisoners long after war’s end, making the process of accounting for the dead or missing difficult if not impossible.
Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office
The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) was established in 1993 as a single office to oversee and manage all POW/MP affairs within the Department of Defense. These professionals are responsible for collecting and consolidating information on missing persons and for working with the families of service members (and with various government agencies) to recover remains. With the motto of “Keeping the Promise,” DPMO is tasked to “lead the national effort to achieve the fullest possible accounting for our missing DOD personnel and to inform their families and the public.
In a recent letter to the Soldier of Fortune website, contributor Bill Bell writes about recent information he has received from sincere Americans. “For the past two days I have received a deluge of emails and telephone calls from people concerning recent reports alleging that a live American named “John Hartley Robertson” has been located residing in Vietnam. Over the years numerous reports with the names of actual, unaccounted-for American personnel associated with them have been circulated widely. Most of these reports were obvious fabrications.”
But not all reports are fabrications. Occasionally, a report is received that warrants further analysis. The simple rule of thumb of a POW/MIA investigator is “the benefit of the doubt always goes to the missing man.” The professionals at DPMO rightly believe that finding one living POW/MP from America’s past wars makes it worth the time and effort of sorting the wheat from the chaff.
Consider the Source
When reading reports about surviving POW/MIAs from previous wars, check the source. Anecdotal evidence or unsubstantiated reports that play on the emotions of families by providing false hope is criminal. Over the years, too many reports have been proven to be fabricated. Once in a while, a report has been compelling, only to be discredited when so-called facts cannot be confirmed. Occasionally, POW/MIA sighting have been used by communist leader to embarrass American officials in order to gain diplomatic leverage. Vietnam used this tactic with Sen. John Kerry and President Clinton to expand economic and commercial ties with the United States. Of course, this doesn’t mean Americans should stop looking for POW/MIAs. We must simply be skeptical of manipulators, con-men, and outright liars who will exploit America’s mission of accounting for all of its warriors.
Photo credit: familymwr (Creative Commons)