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McCaskill probes alleged mismanagement in POW/MIA program

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – Six decades after the Korean War, the remains of more than 50 Louisans who fought in that conflict have never been found. Neither have the remains of 10 soldiers from the region who fought in Vietnam.

Each of those stories is a tragedy for the surviving relatives, who have spent decades fearing the worst but still hoping for a miracle. And each name on the long list of POW/MIA Americans – 83,348 from World War II, Korea and Vietnam – is the subject of searches by a Pentagon command charged with finding as many of them as possible.

But now, that Hawaii-based unit – the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) – is the subject of a new Pentagon inquiry and a possible U.S. Senate subcommittee probe – related to how it has handled the search for those missing service members.

This week, the Associated Press reported the findings of an internal study – suppressed by military officials – that asserted that the JPAC’s efforts have been mismanaged, and in some cases were inept and wasteful. 

The study, obtained by the AP, alleged that JPAC is dysfunctional, finding too few clues on former battlefields, relying on inaccurate databases and occasionally sending teams on expensive "boondoggles" in Europe.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sent a letter to JPAC’s commander, demanding information about that internal report and the military’s efforts to suppress it. McCaskill chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight.

“This is a deeply personal issue for thousands of families across the country — many of whom have been actively engaged in these efforts for decades,” said McCaskill. “We’ve got a responsibility to make sure this program is being run in a responsible manner, and I will not rest until we have answers.”

In her letter to the JPAC’s commander, Air Force Major General Kelly K. McKeague, the Missouri senator asked for the internal report as well as any internal communications relating to the report’s findings and recommendations.

Shortly after McCaskill’s office released copies of the letter to the media, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters that the Defense Department had ordered a “second look” review of JPAC. That was ordered by Pentagon policy chief James Miller, who is in charge of oversight of the military’s POW/MIA effort.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said that the AP report "has sparked discussion inside the department, and the Office of the undersecretary of Defense for Policy will take a second look at JPAC operations as a result. We have a sacred obligation to perform this mission well, that is to perform remains recovery missions and to look for any POWs that might still be out there.  This is a sacred obligation of this department, and that's why a second look will be

One of the findings of the internal report, according to the AP, was that the North Koreans had tricked the JPAC into digging up remains of soldiers that had been “planted” in former U.S. fighting positions. JPAC paid the North Koreans hundreds of thousands of dollars to “support” the excavations, which found some bones that had been drilled or cut – suggesting that they had been used as laboratory skeletons before being “planted.”

The recovery of remains from Korea has been especially difficult, with only about 300 remains found of the 8,200 soldiers unaccounted for at the time the war ended – 60 years ago this month. According to the AP, there are still 73,661 “unaccounted for” service members from World War II; 7,910 from Korea; and 1,645 from Vietnam.

According to the National League of POW/MIA Families, 38 Missourians and 68 Illinois natives are among the 1,645 Vietnam veterans still unaccounted for.

The Pentagon lists 207 Missourians still missing from the Korean War, as well as four others still unaccounted for during the “Cold War” outside of Korea and Vietnam. The Pentagon’s Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office lists the unaccounted-for Missourians on these websites:

The POW/MIAs from World War II are not listed by state.

Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.

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