On Upcoming Presidential Visit to Laos, Sam Johnson Calls for Greater Access for U.S. MIA Recovery Teams in Laos
In preparation for President Obama's upcoming state visit to Laos in September, I am calling on the President to discuss ongoing U.S. efforts in Laos to repatriate the remains of American personnel still Missing in Action (MIA) in that country from the Vietnam War, and to ask that the Lao government lift certain restrictions that have hampered U.S. recovery efforts.
I am known for my longstanding efforts to account for those servicemen and women still Missing in Action from all U.S. conflicts. This plea to the President comes after I was contacted by Nancy Whitford Eger, whose father, Col. Larry Whitford, was classified as MIA during the Vietnam War. A mere 11 years old when her father was shot down in 1969 over Laos, Eger promised her now-deceased mother that she would carry on the 46-year responsibility of finding her father’s remains and give him a proper burial in the United States.
Given my life experiences, it is my privilege to do what I can for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and our freedom. Essentially, the next generation of family members are the new voice to remind our government that more must be done to return to American soil the real defenders of freedom. We must remain united in our efforts and never forget.
Today there are 301 American personnel still MIA in Laos from the Vietnam War. The Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) conducts ongoing search efforts in Laos and around the world to identify and repatriate the remains of missing American service members. However, the Lao government limits the crew size of DPAA recovery teams and requires these teams to stay in a “base camp” arrangement. These two factors have severely prolonged DPAA efforts to bring home American MIAs and to provide an accounting to their families who have waited for so long. I am hopeful that President Obama’s state visit will provide an opportunity to highlight these issues and to secure greater access for U.S. recovery teams.
Congressman Johnson, a 29-year Air Force veteran who spent nearly seven years as a Prisoner of War (POW) in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" in Vietnam after being shot down on his second tour and 25th combat mission, has made the recovery of fellow POWs and MIAs a top priority since his return to American soil in 1973's "Operation Homecoming." While a POW in Vietnam, Congressman Johnson’s wife, Shirley Johnson, helped to create the National League of Families which started a campaign to draw international attention to the cruel treatment of the Prisoners of War in Vietnam. Today Congressman Johnson serves as a Commissioner on the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW / MIAs and has conducted multiple trips to Vietnam and elsewhere to search for American MIAs who never returned home to their families.
Johnson is joined by a bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders in his letter to the President, including fellow "Hanoi Hilton" POW Senator John McCain and Senator Chuck Grassley, who represents Col. Whitford’s home state of Iowa.