The American Legion National Security Commission met Aug. 26 in Charlotte, N.C., during the organization’s 104th National Convention to hear from two speakers on the progress the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is making with accounting for those who remain unaccounted for, and challenges to resupplying critical military capability.
DPAA. Of the 81,409 servicemembers who still remain unaccounted for, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency estimates that about 38,000 are recoverable. There are over 700 servicemembers and Department of Defense civilians who research, investigate, recover and account for those who have gone missing since World War II, with about 200 identifications made a year.
“It is so critical that we continue to tell the story," said Fern Sumpter Winbush, principal deputy director for the DPAA, to the National Security Commission. "It’s one thing for us to do all the incredible work that we do behind the scenes, but most importantly we need to educate everybody that has an interest and I hope most of the American public has an interest in this mission. So that you can continue to tell the story.
"You may not know the names of all those who are missing, but we do. And every single day we work to account for them.”
Winbush provided updates on recovery and identification projects the DPAA is working on.
In 2018, the DPAA began disinterring 652 Korean War unknowns from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. It’s about a seven-year project and so far, “we have answered the call for 189 families who have been waiting,” Winbush said to more applause. And 378 remains are in the DPAA lab in Hawaii undergoing forensic analysis.
A new project the DPAA is starting is called the Enoura Maru Project. Disinterment efforts have begun to identify more than 400 sets of remains from World War II out of 27 graves marked as unknown at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. “These were (American) POWs that were accidentally killed by U.S. forces when the ships, often called hell ships, that the Japanese used to transport these POWs to POW camps,” Winbush said. “The ships stopped in Taiwan where again they were attacked by U.S. forces.”
“The great thing about the Enoura Maru Project is that the story doesn’t end there. Because the Enoura Maru family members kept the faith, persevered and convinced other family members to give us their DNA, we were able to begin this project. So we now have approval to disinter all 27 graves. We can’t disinter unless we can prove that we can make an identification, and we can only do that if family give us a simple cheek swab.”
Winbush added that DNA is the main line of evidence that the DPAA uses to make an identification. And today, “if anyone goes missing, we should be able to recover and identify them quickly. They should never be unaccounted for. And the way the U.S. government is going about that is there are DNA samples from every servicemember that is serving now.”
A recovery effort also will soon begin off an island in Venice, Italy, where a World War II bomber went missing in a duck pond. “We are very excited about what this project is going to produce,” Winbush said.
And two Medal of Honor recipients awarded posthumously have recently been recovered, identified and returned to their family –Lt. Col. Addison Baker of World War II and Cpl. Luther H. Story of the Korean War. American Legion Post 130 in LaBelle, Fla., welcomed home in May their post namesake who was part of Operation Tidal Wave. After nearly 80 years, the remains of 2nd Lt. Pharis E. Weekley were identified and brought home to his family in Florida.
“The American Legion and the DPAA have enjoyed a long serving partnership,” Winbush said in closing. “I want to thank The American Legion and this committee for everything you do to help us progress this mission. We could not be where we are today without organizations like yours standing beside us, pushing and advocating on our behalf.”
Resupply of critical military capability. The invasion of Ukraine prompted the United States and other allies to respond by providing Ukraine with critical military capability from domestic stockpiles to defend against Russian military advances.
“Those stockpiles have rapidly depleted of critical defense and offensive capability that we now must urgently resupply to restore our own stockpiles while simultaneously supporting Ukraine’s needs today and tomorrow,” said Keith Webster, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Defense and Aerospace and the Federal Acquisition Council, to members of the National Security Commission. “The Biden administration is working closely with NATO allies and their industries to determine where we can partner to accelerate military production to meet the needs of Ukraine, to resupply the U.S., to resupply NATO allies.”
There are challenges that come with ramping up military capability production such as funding, supply chain issues and workforce, Webster said. But the current administration and Congress are trying to respond to address these challenges in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the president:
1. Asking for multi-year procurement authority “which gives contractors confidence that the DoD will buy at a predictable rate up to five years of a contract reward,” Webster said. “This reduces contracting timelines and can result in some cost savings to the DoD by 5 to 15% cost savings. There is congressional resistance to all of what he’s asking, and the Chamber and other associations are working to secure enough votes to get this language passed now.”
2. Seeking $4.5 billion “in supplemental funds to restore U.S. stockpiles of critical capability, that the DoD has transferred to Ukraine and U.S. allies, and to make investments in key industries to ramp up production in anticipation of a conflict with China.”
3. Seeking $5 billion “in supplemental funds to continue to provide capability and training to Ukrainian forces for fiscal year 2024. The majority of this $5 billion in Ukraine funding will be passed to our defense contractors via contracts procured to sustain miliary equipment for Ukraine,” Webster said, adding that the earmarked funds will “further infuse funding into our industries to support their immediate efforts to ramp up production.”
Beyond the 2024 NDAA, Webster said that “onshoring and reshoring our manufacturing dependencies is paramount and it’s ongoing. Bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. for critical security purposes and reassuring supply chains to allies and close partner nations is a must given what we’ve learned from the pandemic.” An example he provided was returning chip manufacturing to the United States – multibillion dollar investments breaking ground in the U.S. now. “However, it will take up to five years before the very first chips can roll off the production line,” he noted.
“The urgent supply and capability to Ukraine, which continues, while trying to meet the recent supply demands in preparation for another conflict has painfully revealed challenges and limitations to today’s defense manufacturer,” Webster said. “Both parties recognize these challenges and agree that we must fix the situation to ensure America is always ready to confront our adversaries to ensure that those who volunteer to defend have everything they need to win.”