Many people are unaware of just how many Americans involved in combat operations are now confirmed held as prisoners of war (POWs), listed as missing in action (MIA), or for some other reason as yet unaccounted for. On this Memorial Day, and with 400,000 motorcycles in town for Rolling Thunder XXIV, I tried to find out the actual number of American POWs and MIAs. The bottom line is that from WWI until today, there are roughly 85,500 Americans still unaccounted for. Please see Defense POW MIA Office for more information about 13 Americans accounted for so far this year.
• Of approximately 80,000 American dead in WWI, some 1,600 have never been identified.
• The bulk of our MIAs are from WWII where over 400,000 died. Not counting those deliberately buried at sea, there are 73,792 missing. Of that number, perhaps as many as 35,000 could be recovered if found. The remainder are entombed in sunken vessels or lost at sea.
• From Korea, we have 8,001 missing.
• From the Cold War, there are 127 still missing, down from 165. These are mostly flight crews, and the number is declining as crews are discovered and their remains repatriated.
• From Vietnam, we have 1,689 still missing. It is thought that some MIAs are still held alive in secret POW camps, mostly in Laos.
• During the 100 hour Gulf War, there were 49 captured or unaccounted for, including then-Major Rhonda Cornum, now a Brigadier General in the Pentagon. With the identification of M.S. Speicher’s remains in August 2009, 47 Americans have been rescued, released, or recovered. The remains of 2 naval aviators were lost at sea.
• In the Global War on Terror, we have 2 POWs. Specialist (now Staff Sergeant) Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie was kidnapped Oct 2006 by Shi’ite militants in OIF. He is being held for ransom. The Army has promoted him twice in absentia and, while refusing to negotiate with his captors, continues to search for him. Private First Class (now Specialist) Bowe R. Bergdahl was captured in June 2009 by Taliban in OEF. The Army promoted Bergdahl in absentia and is still searching for him. Bergdahl is being held for $1M and the release of 21 Afghani prisoners.
Rolling Thunder started in 1987 to educate people about the plight of many Vietnam-era POWs and MIAs, and to increase public pressure on the government to get a full accounting of all Americans. Some of our Vietnam families have endured the purgatory of uncertainty for over 45 years. The mission expanded to prevent Gulf War combat troops and their families from facing the same uncertain fate. Since 1987, Rolling Thunder has continued to educate the public about POW / MIA issues and pressure the government for action on all POW / MIA cases.
Today I'll remember the fallen, the captive, and the missing. And I support all efforts to rescue, or recover and repatriate all our POWs / MIAs.
The motto of the Joint POW / MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) is, “Until they are all home.”
Amen to that!