- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

The visit of Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai to the White House this week — three decades after the end of the Vietnam War — has been heralded by the press as unprecedented and historic.

Many American veterans, however, hope it will bring the nation closer to finding the more than 1,800 U.S. servicemen still missing and unaccounted for in Vietnam — along with Laos, Cambodia and China.

“I don’t know if the prime minister has a hidden agenda, coming on the 30th anniversary of the war’s end. But we would hate to see our POW/MIA policy held hostage, to be used as leverage for the economic development of Vietnam,” said Ray Felsecker, spokesman for the American Legion.

Based in Indianapolis, the 3-million member American Legion is the world’s largest veterans organization and supports any policy that holds Vietnam accountable for prisoners of war and troops missing in action, Mr. Felsecker said.

The group also hopes for more American access to Vietnam’s military archives or U.S. military aircraft crash sites.

“The fact is, Hanoi is embarrassed by certain records, certain activities,” Mr. Felsecker noted, adding that Vietnam is eager these days to forge new economic ties with “their former enemy.”

According to the Defense Department, there were 2,583 servicemen missing in action when the Vietnam War ended; 746 sets of remains have since been repatriated and identified.

There are 1,397 Americans still unaccounted for in Vietnam, with 621 in a “no further pursuit” status. Specialists say there is little chance of finding their remains.

The most recent positive identification was made May 19, according to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), based at Hickam AFB in Hawaii.

After an 11-year investigation, JPAC specialists identified the remains of U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Lee A. Adams, who died in the crash of his F-105 fighter jet, believed to have been shot down by enemy fire over Quang Binh province in 1966.

In addition, 374 servicemen are still missing in Laos, 55 in Cambodia and seven in China.

Some believe that it’s time to move beyond the conflict.

“This visit is long overdue, and it’s time both our countries got over the war,” said Jim Doyle of Fresno, Calif., an Army veteran of the war in Vietnam. He called the war a “tragic mistake.”

Mr. Doyle is spokesman for the Maryland-based Vietnam Veterans of America Inc., but says his remarks are personal reflections.

“The normalization of relations makes me happy,” he said. “This visit could open a new set of doors, not only on the POW/MIA issue, but on trade relations and Agent Orange, which is important on both sides.”

Another veterans group hopes this week’s visit will address the painful past.

“What makes [the visit] even more significant are those men still missing,” said Joe Violante of the Kentucky-based Disabled American Veterans, a 2.1-million-member group of disabled vets and their families.

“We hope President Bush will use this as an opportunity to ask the prime minister to turn over records his country may have about the whereabouts or burial of our missing, and to step up unilateral efforts to find them,” he said.

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