Prioritizing missing American service members

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I recently co-sponsored legislation introduced by Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) calling on the U.S. Department of Defense and other federal agencies to prioritize efforts to identify and recover unaccounted American military personnel. Our country cannot waver on efforts to bring home America’s prisoners of war (POW)s and missing in action (MIA). We must finish the search for American families who have waited decades for answers about their loved ones who have not returned home after serving our country.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is the organization primarily responsible for coordinating and conducting research and recovery efforts for POW and MIA soldiers. The agency reports on servicemembers identified and returned home. The return last year of Army Corporal Charles B. Crofts of Shelley, Idaho, who went missing from the Korean War in 1950, reduced the DPAA’s number of remaining POW and MIA veterans from Idaho to 365, including eight Idahoans missing from the Vietnam War. With help and information from the POW*MIA Awareness Corp. of Pocatello, Idaho, I highlighted the service of the eight Idahoans missing from the Vietnam War in a column last fall. I continue to work with the DPAA on recovering First Lieutenant Bud Hayes, of Filer, whose airplane went down near the Philippines during World War II. We must continue to seek answers until all Idaho servicemembers are home.

The DPAA’s complicated efforts to recover missing American personnel require involvement across multiple federal agencies, which can belabor its mission to “provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation.” The resolution I recently co-sponsored, S.Res. 61, would call upon the Department of Defense, the DPAA, other agencies and foreign governments to intensify efforts to identify and account for missing U.S. personnel. These findings contained in S.Res. 61 illustrate the need for this prioritization:

83,000 American personnel are still unaccounted-for around the world from past wars and conflicts;

thousands of families and friends have waited decades for the accounting of their loved ones;

families of these brave Americans deserve our nation’s best efforts to achieve the fullest possible accounting for their missing loved ones.

This resolution corresponds with other legislative efforts I have supported to better enable families to find their loved ones and bring them home. I am also a co-sponsor of S. 120, the Bring Our Heroes Home Act, that would provide for an expedited and consolidated process for declassifying and collecting records of POW and MIA personnel.

The legislation is meant to address the obstacles preventing families and caseworkers from accessing the records needed for recovery efforts by putting one entity, instead of the current multitude of agencies, in charge of prioritizing and facilitating the declassification of records related to missing service members.

Idahoans, including members of the POW*MIA Awareness Rally Corp., have raised awareness about the continued need to return our missing servicemembers, holding annual rallies and other events to keep a spotlight on the service of those who remain missing and the need for answers for their families. Their efforts are greatly valued in helping to ensure that their return is prioritized. I am grateful for opportunities I have had to attend a rally, meet with Idahoans about these efforts and hear the information they maintain about Idaho’s missing servicemembers.

As Americans, it is our duty to bring home those who have sacrificed so much for our country. The federal government must expedite efforts to serve the families waiting for answers about their loved ones. We cannot let this effort wane.

Mike Crapo is a Republican senator who represents Idaho in Congress.

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