The AP obtained two internal memos describing the decision to bury the report. The memos raised no factual objections but said the command would not consider any of the report’s findings or recommendations.
The failings cited by the report reflect one aspect of a broader challenge to achieving a uniquely American mission — accounting for the estimated 83,348 service members still listed as missing from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
This is about more than tidying up the historical record. It is about fulfilling a promise to the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers and sons and daughters of the missing. Daughters like Shelia Reese, 62, of Chapel Hill, N.C., who still yearns for the father she never met, the boy soldier who went to war and never returned.
She was 2 months old when heartbreaking word landed at her grandmother’s door a week before Christmas 1950 that Pfc. Kenneth F. Reese, a 19-year-old artilleryman, was missing in action in North Korea. To this day, the military can’t tell her if he was killed in action or died in captivity. His body has never been found.
“It changed my whole life. I’ve missed this man my whole life,” she says.
She’s not alone.
Reese is among 7,910 unaccounted for from Korea, down from 8,200 when the war ended 60 years ago this month.
A sense of emptiness and unanswered questions haunted many families of the missing throughout the second half of the 20th century, when science and circumstance did not permit the almost exact accounting for the dead and the missing that has been achieved in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the government’s efforts have provided closure for hundreds of families of the missing in recent years, many others are still waiting.
Over time, the obscure government bureaucracies in charge of the accounting task have largely managed to escape close public scrutiny despite clashing with a growing number of advocacy groups and individuals such as Frank Metersky, a Korean War veteran who has spent decades pressing for a more aggressive and effective U.S. effort.
The outlook for improvement at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, he says, is not encouraging.
“Today it’s worse than ever,” he says.