In 2018, North Korea allowed the return of dozens of boxes of remains of U.S. servicemembers who fought in the Korean War.
One of the persons responsible at the time for conducting the U.S. effort to bring home the remains of all missing U.S. servicemembers still remembers how that felt. And he shared that feeling Aug. 30 during The American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., where he was honored with the organization’s Patriot Award.
Johnie Webb, who began his career at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) in 1994 and retired from the same agency in December 2022 as its Deputy Director for Outreach and Communications Directorate, told delegates that particular repatriation continues to stay with him.
“Probably one of the things I am most proud of was my last opportunity to negotiate with the North Koreans when we couldn’t get back in-country. I was able to negotiate with the North Koreans and bring back, you’ve probably heard, the 55 boxes of remains of Americans who died in North Korea.
“But it’s more than just the 55 boxes. There’s more than 100 American servicemembers represented in those boxes. Over 80 of them have been identified and returned to their families.”
A retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and Vietnam War veteran, Webb said returning those remains – and the other remains repatriated during his time at DPAA – to their families brings a sense of closure for those wondering for years about their missing loved ones.
“I’m proud I played a small part in providing answers to those thousands of family members who lost a loved one: The young man who went off to war and did not return home,” he said. “The family not knowing what happened to that loved one.
“Through the work we’ve done in DPAA and its predecessor organizations have provided answers to those families to give them peace. To give them a place that they can go honor that loved one. To take their grandkids and tell them about the bravery of their grandfather, who gave his life for the freedom we share today.”
Webb was presented the award for his dedication in locating, identifying and accounting for thousands of American heroes who were missing or killed in action since the Civil War. Webb also was cited for hosting numerous American Legion delegations led by national commanders at the DPAA laboratory in Hawaii.
“Even after a distinguished 26-year military career, our Patriot Award winner continued to keep faith with his Vietnam veterans by beginning a second career with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, where he would valiantly serve until his retirement in December 2022,” American Legion National Commander Vincent J. Troiola said. “His expertise on accounting for our missing heroes can be attested to not just by me, but by many of my predecessors and members of our National Security staff who have witnessed his passion and advocacy during the many briefings that he has given our organization over the years.”