EXPRESSING THE SENSE OF CONGRESS REGARDING AMERICANS STILL MISSING OR OTHERWISE UNACCOUNTED FOR IN SOUTHEAST ASIA (House of Representatives - July 12, 1990)
Mr. SOLARZ. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that the Committee on Foreign Affairs be discharged from further consideration of the concurrent resolution (H. Con. Res. 291) expressing the sense of the Congress regarding the need to account as fully as possible for Americans still missing or otherwise unaccounted for in Southeast Asia and to secure the return of Americans who may still be held captive in Southeast Asia, and ask for its immediate consideration.
The Clerk read the title of the concurrent resolution.
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from New York?
Mr. LAGOMARSINO. Mr. Speaker, reserving the right to object, I yield to the gentleman from New York [Mr. Solarz], chairman of the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, to explain the resolution.
Mr. SOLARZ. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my very good friend from California [Mr. Lagomarsino] for giving me the opportunity to explain this resolution, as well as for his very strong and significant support for the bipartisan effort to bring about a full and final accounting of the fate of our POW's and MIA's in Southeast Asia. In his capacity as chairman of the Task Force on POW /MIA's , the only Republican in the House, I believe, who chairs an official task force of the Congress, he has played a very helpful role focusing attention on this continuing problem.
The resolution which would be before Members was introduced by the gentleman from Colorado [Mr. Brown], who I think deserves some credit for having initiated this effort. It is supported by the administration. It has broad bipartisan support in the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and I believe in the House as a whole.
I have asked unanimous consent to bring it up now primarily because tomorrow the National League of Families of Prisoners and Missing in Action will be meeting for its 21st annual convention. This is a national organization which more so than any other has promoted the cause of the families of our men who are still missing in action, in the hope that a full and final accounting of their fate can one day be achieved. We thought it appropriate to consider the adoption of this resolution before that conference actually convenes, as we have every year in the past. The resolution itself expressed the sense of the Congress that we should continue to give the highest national priority to the effort to account as fully as possible for our POW /MIA's . That priority was established by the Reagan administration. It has been continued by the Bush administration, and it has been warmly endorsed by every Congress in the last several years. It also expressed the view that there is a viable and sustained process of joint cooperation with the Vietnamese and Laos Government, to get answers for families of American POW's , because we believe it is very important to have their cooperation if this is going to succeed.
Indeed, in the final analysis, as my friend from California [Mr. Lagomarsino] knows better than most, the real answers to this problem lie not in Washington but in Hanoi and in Pnonpenh and Vientiane.
The resolution also says we should place renewed emphasis on seeking an accounting of the 892 American POW /MIA's who disappeared in Cambodia, without placing this humanitarian objective into conference with United States efforts to obtain an acceptable political settlement of the Cambodian situation. It calls for heightened public awareness on the POW /MIA issue in the United States.
Mr. Speaker, this resolution is further proof, not that any is really needed, of the bipartisan nature of congressional action on this issue. Fifteen years after the end of the war in Indochina, 2,302 of our missing men still have families who are haunted by the knowledge that they do not know what has happened to them. I believe that we can always be most effective abroad when we are united at home. This resolution will enable Members to send a strong and continuing signal to Vietnam, to Laos, and Cambodia, that this remains a matter of the greatest and gravest concern to the Congress, and therefore to the American people.
I want to thank the gentleman from Colorado [Mr. Brown] for initiating the resolution, and I want to thank the gentleman from California [Mr. Lagomarsino] for his strong and effective efforts as chairman of the task force in keeping hope alive and the issue current. I urge Members on both sides of the aisle to join in supporting this resolution.
Mr. LAGOMARSINO. Mr. Speaker, further reserving the right to object, I yield to the sponsor of the resolution, the gentleman from Colorado [Mr. Brown].
Mr. BROWN of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I would like to express my profound thanks to the gentleman from New York, the distinguished chairman, and the gentleman from California, who have been so instrumental in bringing this measure to the floor.
Mr. Speaker, it was 25 years, slightly more than 25 years ago when Lyndon Johnson sent out a call to those who served their country in the Armed Forces, asking for volunteers to go to Vietnam. He offered that challenge and the opportunity to those who loved freedom, who were willing to defend it far away from the American shores. American men and women volunteered in record numbers. The fact is, in the early years of the Vietnam war, there was a higher percentage of volunteers who served to defend our country in that far land than any of our modern conflicts. The fact is that those who served our country, who gave a full measure of devotion, some still remain unaccounted for, over 2,300.
Yet since the fall of Saigon in 1975, there have been more than 1,300 sightings of Americans in Vietnam who have not been returned. These have been investigated; they have been followed up and verified. There still remain almost 100 of these sightings and reports that cannot be explained away and for which there is no answer other than that these people may yet remain alive in Vietnam.
So what we do here tonight is not just to remember those who gave extraordinary devotion and dedication and sacrifice for our country, but we say that this country has no other higher priority than to bring those Americans home and find a full accounting for those who served their Nation. This Nation would be shamed if we allowed those who served us in combat to go unaccounted for, unremembered, and unspoken for. This resolution tonight has the heartfelt yearnings of the American people. It says that we shall never forget them and we shall never stop inquiring about their fate.
Mr. Speaker, we have no other higher priority than to demand their release and their accounting.
Mr. LAGOMARSINO. Mr. Speaker, further reserving the right to object, I yield to the gentlewoman from Illinois [Mrs. Martin].
Mrs. MARTIN of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from California for yielding.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of this important resolution, and I commend my colleague, the gentleman from Colorado [Mr. Brown], who fought for his Nation in Vietnam. I thank him for his efforts in bringing this before the House, and I thank the chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee and the committee for allowing this resolution to come to us at this time when it is important to families and to all of us.
Mr. Speaker, during the past 18 months a great deal has changed in the world and in the way we think about the world. From the perspective of historians and political scientists, Vietnam is already, or very soon to be, of another ERA in American and world history--a cold war conflict.
From the perspective of the many millions of Americans whose lives were directly touched by the Vietnam war, however, it will not be so easily or readily confined to the historical context. In particular, the Vietnam conflict will remain a personal reality for the spouses, the brothers, the sisters, and the friends of the 56,000 Americans who gave their lives in Vietnam and the 2,302 Americans who are still prisoner, missing, or unaccounted for.
It is my hope, in supporting this resolution, that it will be recognized by the Governments of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as a powerful restatement of our determination to achieve the fullest possible accounting of those 2,302 Americans. It should also be recognized by those Governments as notice from the Congress that truly normal relations with the United States will be impossible so long as the fate of our countrymen remains unresolved.
We owe it to every man and woman who served our Nation during what was perhaps its most painful and difficut hour, as well as to the families and loved ones they left behind, to assure that this issue remains one of high national priority. Our commitment to those individuals will not diminish; it is a commitment immune to time and to history.
Mr. LAGOMARSINO. Mr. Speaker, further reserving the right to object, I yield to the distinguished Republican leader, the gentleman from Illinois [Mr. Michel].
Mr. MICHEL. Mr. Speaker, I am honored to be a cosponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 291.
I certainly want to thank the distinguished chairman of the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the gentleman from New York [Mr. Solarz], along with the gentleman from California [Mr. Lagomarsino], and those other members of the task force for bringing this measure to the floor.
Earlier today, the House became the recipient of the first Medal of Honor ever awarded, to Jacob Parrot during the Civil War.
A ceremony marking the occasion was held in Statuary Hall.
The Medal will be on display for all to see. It is my hope that visitors to the Capitol Building will take the time to see the display when it is in place, and to meditate on the meaning of the Medal of Honor.
I mention Jacob Parrot's Medal of Honor because the event in which he earned the medal, a daring raid behind Confederate lines to capture a train, which resulted in some of the raiders becoming prisoners of war.
And it strikes me that it is fitting that we should be remembering other POW's and MIA's from another war on the same day that this Medal of Honor becomes a part of the great symbols on display in the Capitol.
The Medal of Honor, after all, is one way the Government has of officially recognizing bravery above and beyond the call of duty.
In a similar fashion, we owe it to all POW's and MIA's to officially recognize their sacrifice, their bravery, their memory.
One way of doing this--and here I quote from the resolution--is by:
Expressing the sense of the Congress regarding the need to account as fully as possible for Americans still missing or otherwise unaccounted for in Southeast Asia and to secure the return of Americans who may still be held captive in Southeast Asia.
I have said before that my feeling about POW's and MIA's can be traced to my experience as a combat infantryman during World War II.
I know what it means to wait in the darkness and, when dawn comes, discover that buddies are missing, gone without a trace.
When something like that happens, you do not forget it. The memory can haunt you across the years.
And I also know, from experience on this issue in recent years, that this is a very emotional issue. It is one that goes to the heart, and sometimes leads to heated confrontations.
I know that there are sincere differences over the measures the Government can take and should take in regard to this issue.
But on one thing there is no division: The House POW /MIA Task Force, under the leadership of our distinguished chairman and ranking member, is making every effort to deal with the complexities of this issue.
And I know that President Bush is also committed to doing all that is humanly possible to account for the fate of those yet unaccounted for.
So I just want to thank those responsible for giving us an opportunity to make these comments this evening and bring the measure to the floor, hopefully to be unanimously adopted.
And I hope that every visitor who sees the Medal of Honor on display, will also take time to see the POW /MIA banner that is in the great rotunda. These are two manifestations of the thanks a grateful Nation offers to the brave.
Both the medal and the banner say, in a different way: We shall never forget.
Mr. LAGOMARSINO. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Illinois [Mr. Michel].
Further reserving the right to object, Mr. Speaker, as the chairman of the bipartisan House POW /MIA Task Force, and an original cosponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 291, I rise in strong support of this important resolution introduced by our colleague Hank Brown of Colorado. This resolution reaffirms Congress' support for keeping the POW /MIA issue as one our Nation's highest national priorties--a designation made by President Reagan and reaffirmed by President Bush.
I want to commend Mr. Brown of Colorado for introducing his resolution because it is a very important signal to the Vietnamese and the rest of the world that we care about the fate of our 2,302 missing servicemen in Indochina and will not let this issue die.
Sadly, the fates of these missing servicemen and the unresolved questions of their longing families have remained unanswered for so long. Part of this situation can be blamed on ourselves. Some, in their efforts to forget the Vietnam war also forgot about those who did not come home. Others, like the Woodcock Commission, claimed there were no live Americans being held in Southeast Asia. I clearly remember the congressional mission of which I was a part that visited Hanoi in August 1979. In response to our questions regrading the POW /MIA's , now Foreign Minister Nguyen Cao Thach said, `We didn't think you cared.' We do care. I care, my constituents care, the POW /MIA families care, the congressional POW /MIA Task Force cares, Congress cares, millions of concerned American citizens care and our Government cares.
Today, under the Bush administration, as before under the Reagan administration, the POW /MIA situation has been made a top national priority. New energies and initiatives have been devoted to our POW /MIA's clearly signaling that America has not forgotten its missing men in Indochina and that we are ready and willing--at the highest national levels--to take the actions necessary to achieve a fullest possible accounting. It is critical for us to be unified on this point. House Concurrent Resolution 291 confirms this unity.
The real reason we still have so many unresolved POW /MIA cases, though, rests with the Vietnamese. The obstacles to progress and the answers to our questions lie with Hanoi, not Washington. The Vietnamese have agreed to treat the POW /MIA issue as a separate, humanitarian issue divorced from other political matters, like diplomatic recognition and so on. We will hold the Vietnamese to this pledge.
I am very encouraged that since General Vessey's mission to Hanoi in August 1987, additional progress toward achieving the fullest possible accounting of our missing men has been made. General Vessey, who was reappointed by President Bush as the President's special POW /MIA emissary, has presented the Vietnamese with a number of discrepancy cases--cases about which we know the Vietnamese have more information. The speed and comprehensiveness with which Vietnam helps satisfactorily revolve these case will, I believe, determine how long until we are able to achieve the fullest possible accounting of these men. While I am encouraged by the increased level of activity, it is not a substitute for results. Unfortunately, results over the past 6 months have been
disappointing. More needs to be done by the Vietnamese and the Lao at a much faster pace.
I am absolutely 100 percent convinced that the Vietnamese maintain a stockpile of American servicemen's remains. I am strongly convinced that there are live, unaccounted for Americans in Vietnam. I also believe that there could be live POW's in Southeast Asia--or could have been. The Vietnamese could easily help resolve some of our accounting by releasing the remains they have stored and giving us unrestricted access to investigate other cases. The ball is in their court.
Despite these obstacles, progress has been made. We have recently concluded some joint crash-site investigations and additional remains have been repatriated. We continue to work with Laos on similar projects. Technical teams have and continue to meet frequently with both the Lao and the Vietnamese. But, this progress is too slow. I hope the Vietnamese will realize that they have nothing to gain by dragging their feet on this issue. While the POW /MIA issue is a separate humanitarian one, progress on it--or the lack of progress on it--will have an impact on the resolution of other bilateral concerns. This resolution lets the governments of Southeast Asia know that Congress is watching, closely.
Mr. Speaker, House Concurrent Resolution 291 also recognizes the long suffering of the POW /MIA families. Beginning tomorrow and through this weekend the National League of Families, the only national organization comprised solely of family members, is holding its annual convention here in Washington. These families have waited a very long time to get answers and their league has been instrumental in helping achieve the progress we have made thus far. The league and the families deserve much praise.
Through this resolution, Congress is officially broadcasting that it will remain steadfast with our POW /MIA families and will keep the faith. We are reaffirming our commitment to achieving the fullest possible accounting of our POW /MIA's and reaffirming that `we will not forget.' I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this very worthy resolution.
Mr. Speaker, I yield to the gentleman from California [Mr. Dornan], who is a chairman of the task force.