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The Vietnam-Era Prisoner-of-War/Missing-in-Action Database

History

To facilitate your use of the Library of Congress (LoC) POW/MIA Database, it is essential to understand the genesis of the database and its contents.

The LoC database was developed as a result of the McCain Bill (Public Law 102-190, as amended, Title 50 U.S.C. 435 note (2000)), which was signed into law on December 5, 1991. The text may be read online at http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/50/435.notes.html External Link, under the section entitled "Disclosure of Information concerning unaccounted for United States Personnel of Cold War, Korean Conflict, and Vietnam Era." Title 50 U.S.C. 435 stipulates that documents contained in the Department of Defense (DoD) files be placed "in a suitable library-like location within a facility within the National Capital region for public review and photocopying." The collection database was to contain information that relates to persons still unaccounted for as a result of the Vietnam War. There were 2,266 personnel, military and civilian, unaccounted for at the time of passage of the McCain Bill. Therefore, those who were prisoners of war and returned alive to US control in 1973 or those nonsurviving POW/MIAs, whose remains had been returned to and identified by US authorities prior to December 1991, are not included in the LoC POW/MIA Database. Further, the McCain Bill directed that each primary-next-of-kin (PNOK) has the option of denying release to the public data pertaining to their unaccounted for loved one. For those reasons, when searching for information on a person who has been or is carried as unaccounted for, one may not be able to locate information on the individual. There are records pertaining to 1,705 personnel out of the original (as of Dec. 5, 1991) 2,266 unaccounted for in the LoC Database. The remaining 561 files pertaining to the unaccounted for persons were denied public access by the families in compliance with the consent provisions of the McCain Bill. 

The second basis for establishing the LoC Database and defining its content is Executive Order (EO) 12812, 57 Fed. Reg. 32,879 (July 24, 1992), signed by President Bush on July 22, 1992. This EO requires all executive branch departments and agencies to declassify and publicly release documents, files and other materials pertaining to Vietnam-era POW/MIAs. The Department of Defense chose to place these items in the LoC POW/MIA Database along with those required by the McCain Bill. These additional documents are more generic in relation to the Vietnam- era POW/MIA issue. Other departments and agencies chose to place their holdings in other locations. For example, the Department of State placed its materials with the National Archives and Records Administration. 

The documents contained in the LoC POW/MIA Database collection address treatment, location and condition information as it relates to circumstances of each loss case. They include intelligence reports; service records; loss incident reports; loss investigations; refugee reports; past and current recovery efforts; case analysis; loss site excavation reports and archival documents found in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The documents held in Department of Defense files were originated by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), military service departments, the Department of State, the National Security Council, the US Senate, various intelligence agencies, the Joint Task Force Full Accounting (JTFFA), the Defense Prisoner of War/
Missing Personnel Office (DPMO)
External Link, the Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii (CILHI), the Pacific Command (PACOM) and others. Many documents are case specific, however, a large collection of documents pertain to POW/MIA policy, POW/MIA release negotiations, diplomatic activities, Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs depositions, and others that only address the Vietnam-era POW/MIA issue in general. 

Extensive search efforts continue to resolve cases that remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. Many diverse organizations throughout DoD are involved at an annual cost of approximately $55 million. Since December 1991, the government has resolved cases of 205 individuals through recovery and identification efforts. Many other remains have been recovered from crash sites and grave sites and are undergoing rigorous, time-consuming forensic and scientific analysis to achieve positive identification. Documents contained in the LoC POW/MIA Database reflect the degree of effort being expended for case resolution. Also, information provided in refugee and other source reports, possibly pertaining to Americans in Southeast Asia, is resolved or is under active investigation and further analysis. Currently, there are 68 reports that remain unresolved out of 21,350 reports collected to date. 

What is NOT in the LoC POW/MIA Database and why:

  • POW/MIA information on World War II, Korean Conflict and the Cold War unaccounted for. Documents pertaining to these conflicts are the responsibility of the Archivist of the United States. For further information please call the Textual Reference Branch, National Archives at (301) 713-7250. 
  • Documents on POWs that were repatriated to US control as a part of Operation Homecoming in 1973 or previously. 
  • Documents on POW/MIAs who did not survive their incarceration or loss incident, but whose remains were returned to US control prior to December 1991. 
  • Documents on personnel who were still categorized as unaccounted for after December 1991 and whose records were not released to the public under the consent provisions of the McCain Bill. 

The LoC maintains separate a US-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs Database of documents relating to Americans who may have been incarcerated in the former Soviet Union during or after World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Cold War and the Vietnam War. These documents include the minutes of meetings held between 1992 and the present by the US-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs, as well as documents recovered from various Soviet and Russian archives. Task Force Russia was established in the spring of 1992 to support research and analysis for the US delegation of the Joint Commission. Establishment of this database does not stem from the McCain Bill or EO 12812. 

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  July 27, 2010
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