COLUMBUS, Ohio –
The Defense Federal Community commemorated Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day Sept. 21
at the Defense Supply Center Columbus
. Since 1986, the third Friday in September is set aside to remember those taken prisoner or reported missing in America’s conflicts. This year’s featured speaker was Jack Kull, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency
’s Strategic Coordinator for Southeast Asia.
Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Chief of Staff Air Force Col. Janette Ketchum delivered opening remarks, welcoming the nearly 400 associates in attendance. Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard and the children of two Americans missing in action were also present for the ceremony: Megan Genheimer and retired Navy Cdr. Rick Buell.
Genheimer is the daughter of Air Force Col. Francis McGouldrick Jr., a pilot missing since the Vietnam War whose remains were recovered in 2013. Buell is the son of Navy Lt. Cdr. Ken Buell, a naval aviator who remains unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.
“Today remains without a doubt one of America’s most committed vigils – the repatriation of our POW and MIA service members,” Ketchum said. “Honoring these brave warriors validates the ideals that America protects globally: individual freedoms, human dignity and the belief in self-determination.”
Following her remarks, Ketchum welcomed Kull to the stage for the day’s keynote presentation.
Kull has been involved in the POW/MIA community for more than 35 years and, prior to his current post, served as DPAA’s senior Vietnam War policy advisor.
“Whether it was in Germany, the Philippines, Korea, Hanoi or Baghdad – the bravery and sacrifice of our prisoners of war and missing in action is every bit on par with those who were at Normandy, Iwo Jima, Pork Chop Hill and Fallujah,” Kull said.
In keeping with the day’s theme – Noble Mission, Global Effort – Kull outlined the accomplishments and challenges worldwide in accounting for the nation’s missing defenders.
More than 82,200 Americans still remain unaccounted for from conflicts dating back to World War II, including 3,685 Ohioans. Nearly 40,000 of that number involves losses over water, making the likelihood of finding and identifying their remains nearly impossible, Kull said, so DPAA’s efforts are largely focused on losses over land because those cases could potentially yield clues to the whereabouts of remains.
Time is the greatest enemy across all conflicts DPAA seeks to account for, he stated. For World War II cases, critical information is being lost due to the advancing age of witnesses and the natural decay of the era’s documents copied using carbon-paper. In Vietnam, environmental erosion over time is literally eating away clues that could lead to the discovery of remains.
Another challenge in locating and identifying remains involves political and global realities.
“This may be a humanitarian endeavor but we’re at the mercy of host nations,” explained Kull, who touched on the ramifications of attempting to gain approval for DPAA investigative teams to enter countries where the U.S. relationship has historically been frosty.
However, several recent successes are cause for hope.
In the Korean War, for instance, significant progress is being made to account for 7,600 Americans who remain missing from that early 1950s conflict. On September 20, the remains of two Americans lost in Korea were identified – the first identified from 55 boxes of remains recovered from North Korea over the summer. Additionally, DPAA has recently gained access to approximately 1,300 remains, including approval to conduct a phased disinterment of 652 unknown Americans buried in Hawaii’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
“In Reagan’s words ‘we write no last chapters,’” said Kull, recalling President Ronald Reagan’s speech in 1984 addressing families of those missing in action. “We started this program with those words, and they’re as relevant today as they were then.”
Ultimately, accountability is a lifelong endeavor shared amongst families seeking answers and the DPAA’s men and women who investigate and search on their behalf. Kull explained that this effort could not be undertaken without the support of various governmental departments, foreign nations, the military services, third-party collaborations and partnering organizations.
“For those of us who are privileged to work this issue, this is not a job to us. This is a mission, this is a commitment,” he said. “And I say this to the families: your loved ones are not forgotten and we will do everything humanly possible to bring them home.”
POW/MIA Event Video
DPAA Agency Video
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency mission is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation.