The U.S. government's $100 million-per-year program aimed at solving the cases of soldiers missing in southeast Asia marches on. The number of soldiers whose fate during the war remains unknown stands at 2,233, including losses at sea.
But what about the estimated 300,000 Vietnamese war dead who were never returned to their families?Representatives from the Vietnam Veterans of America Inc. had a task force in Vietnam last year seeking information about America's missing when Vietnamese began asking for information Americans might have about their missing.
"So we started a drive to get information on ID cards taken off the battlefield and returning it to the families of those missing on their side," said Don Waak, Texas board member of the Vietnam Veterans of America Inc.
"We had taken information on about 1,800 cases. That's a drop in the bucket, but it's a start," Waak said.
By comparison, 1,800 cases is eight to nine times the number of American POW/MIA cases the U.S. government estimates it could possibly solve through its searches in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
"We have a lot of pictures of dead enemy soldiers where you can recognize the faces. We took information regarding mass grave sites," he said. "One had over 100 soldiers. We are told we have information on another burial site that has up to 600."
Waak said his organization's efforts are working because they are being handled by veterans with the support of both governments. "We wanted to get the governments out of the way," he said. "Their minister of defense allowed us to turn materials over to veterans, not to them."
Members of the group began collecting the information to take back before President Clinton lifted the trade embargo with Vietnam in February. But the organization still opposes normalizing relations with Vietnam until there is a full accounting of America's missing.
"We're continuing to collect information. This wasn't a one-time thing. We're going back," he said.