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Shakeup of MIA Accounting Agencies

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam Veteran, has ordered a major reorganization of the government agencies responsible for recovering and identifying the remains of missing servicemen and women.

It is a painful reminder of what a poor job the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office have done in their efforts to locate my friends Russ Galbraith and Pappy Kahler.

According to the March 1, 2013 edition Bits N Pieces, National Alliance of Families Newsletter, Hagel has ordered the consolidation of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.

Bits N Pieces quotes an article published in the February 21st edition of The Stars & Stripes.

“In the wake of numerous reports of misconduct and poor management practices by personnel charged with recovering and identifying the remains of missing service members from past conflicts, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has ordered the Pentagon to come up with a plan to consolidate all Defense Department assets into a single, more accountable entity that will manage all personnel accounting resources, research and operations.”

“Hagel directed Michael Lumpkin, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, to deliver the plan to him within 30 days, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters. In a memo obtained by Stars and Stripes, Hagel said Lumpkin's action plan should propose ways to:

  • Maximize the number of identifications.
  • Improve transparency for families.
  • Reduce duplicative functions.
  • Establish a system for centralized, complete, fully accessible personnel case files for missing personnel.

The move is long overdue.

I know twelve men whose names are etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Six of those men are Missing in Action (MIA).

I understand why the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office have had difficulty finding the remains of four of those men, but the other two cases clearly reflect the poor management practices of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.

Here is a brief synopsis of what I know about my six friends who are MIA.

When I visit The Wall, I always enter at the west side and walk along The Wall until I reach Panel 51W, I have to say hello first to John Bush, the closest friend I ever had.

John‘s F-4D was hit by AA fire over North Vietnam on July 24, 1968. His aircraft made it out to the Gulf of Tonkin before it crashed, but the aircraft was inverted when it hit the water and neither member of the crew escaped the aircraft before it exploded and sank to the bottom of the ocean.

So I understand it has been difficult to find John’s remains.

Then I walk along The Wall to Panel 45W and say hello to Bill Kinkade. Bill was my roommate at Air Force Survival School at Fairchild AFB, just before the two of us headed for SEA.

In the wee hours of the morning on September 1, 1968, Bill was the copilot in a flight of two F-Ds on a night armed reconnaissance mission in the northeastern approaches to the Ban Karai Pass, one of the main infiltration routes between North Vietnam and Laos.

During the attack, Bill’s aircraft, Carter 02 was hit by ground fire, disintegrated and exploded before it hit the ground.

In his after action debriefing, the aircraft commander, Captain Jack Wilson reported that he heard a garbled transmission from Bill Kinkade just before Wilson ejected, but that he did not know what happened to Kinkade.

It is entirely possible that Bill never made it out of the aircraft. So I understand why it has been difficult to find John’s remains.

After I touch Bill’s name, I walk down along The Wall to Panel 36W. It’s a tough place for me to be; I know two men whose names are inscribed on Panel 36W, Russ Galbraith and Joe Fanning.

It is especially hard, because there is ample evidence that Russ Galbraith ejected safely and was captured by the North Vietnamese.

On the night of December 11, 1968 Captain Russell Dale Galbraith, was the navigator in an RF-4C aircraft that left Udorn RTAFB in Thailand on a night photo reconnaissance mission along a section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, approximately 23 miles south-southwest of the Marine Corps base at Khe Sanh in South Vietnam.

A report by Task Force Omega explains exactly how badly the government has handled the search for Russ Galbraith.

In April 1991 the US government released a list of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action who were known to be alive in enemy hands and for whom there is no evidence that he or she died in captivity. This list, commonly referred to today as the USG's "Last Known Alive" list, included Russell Galbraith. An additional notation on this list states, "JTFFA (Joint Task Force for Full Account) Survival Code 1."

Capt. Galbraith was among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Lao admitted holding "tens of tens" of American Prisoners of War, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or the Paris Peace Accords since Laos was not a party to that agreement.”

I do not understand why the government has not been able to recover Russ’ remains.

So it makes perfect sense to me that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has ordered the shakeup at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.

When I leave Russ Galbraith’s name on Line 002 of Panel 36W, I locate Joe Fanning’s name on Line 015 of Panel 36W.

Joe Fanning and I were classmate at Manhattan College. Joe is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known.

On December 13, 1968, Joe Fanning was the co-pilot of a C-123K from the 606th Special Operations Squadron that took off from Nakhon Phanom Airfield (NKP) in northern Thailand a few miles from the border of Laos.

The C-123K “Nimrod” aircraft flew low level night patrol missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Flying at 2000-3000 feet, the job of the C-123K’s seven man crew was to spot enemy truck convoys on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and then drop flares to illuminate the truck convoys for B-57 bombers which were flying overhead.

During an air strike, one of B-57s collided with Joe’s Nimrod C-123.The C123 lost power, went out of control, in a flat spin. The aircraft exploded on impact with the ground.

Because it was night, and the aircraft went into a flat spin, the wreckage could be anywhere in a 20 square mile area, or more. So I understand it has been difficult to find Joe’s remains.

Joe may have bailed out and gotten hung up in the top of a 100-foot tall tree in the jungle miles from where the aircraft hit the ground.

It doesn’t make it any easier to touch Joe’s name on The Wall, but at least I understand how difficult it must be to locate his body.

When I leave Joe’s name, I continue my walk down along The Wall to Panel 22W, where I locate Harold “Pappy” Kahler’s name on Row 47.

Here’s what I wrote about Pappy on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Wall of Faces website.

In the spring of 1968, the TAC Sea Survival course at Homestead AFB, Florida was mandatory for all Air Force aircrews going to Vietnam, and Major Harold "Pappy" Kahler was the ranking officer in my class.

In South East Asia, Pappy and I were both assigned to the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB). Pappy was in the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, I was in another squadron, the 41st TEWS, at the other end of the flight line.

Every day, before we flew, we received an intelligence briefing that included the location of the SAM sites and AAA sites, the level of the MIG threat, and a summary of any aircraft losses the previous day. In June 1969, I was "short" -- almost ready to go home. As I sat in the EB-66 briefing room listening to the briefing before one of my last flights, the intelligence officer said that Pappy's plane had gone down in Laos. He was the last man I knew who was lost before I rotated home.

Around 1:15 in the afternoon on June 14, 1969, Pappy was flying an F-105D Thunderchief, call sign Mantis 02. According the official history of the 355 TFW, he was "lost during a bomb pass on a bridge in the 'B' sector of Laos.
The lead aircraft noted a flash in his mirrors after pull off, and later located the impact area on a steep ridge beyond the target. There were no observed enemy defenses in the target area. No chute was seen, no beeper heard, and the pilot is listed as MIA."

Even though Pappy’s wingman had “located the impact area on a steep ridge beyond the target,” the American government has not been able to locate the site and return Pappy’s remains.

That sticks in my craw. If we can send men to the moon and get them back, we should be able to locate Pappy Kahler’s remains and bring them back.

It’s just a matter of priorities.

When I leave Pappy’s name, I walk down to the center of The Wall to Panel 1W, where I have to get a guide find a ladder so I run my hand across John Kozuch’s name on Row 20 of panel 1W.

As I wrote on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Wall of Faces website.

I met John Kozuch in 1968 at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base. We were both navigator/bombardiers flying the Douglas EB-66 Destroyer.

John was one of the guys who taught me the ropes, when I first got there

The EB-66 was a twin-engine jet bomber that had been converted to an electronics warfare platform. The job of the EB-66 crews was to find and jam the radar sites that controlled the North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery.

At the end of my tour, I returned to the States and continued flying the EB-66 until I was discharged.

John got an assignment to an F-4D squadron. It was a choice assignment for a navigator. In the Air Force, most of the Guys In the Back Seat (GIBS) of the F-4 were pilots.

John Kozuch's F-4 disappeared in weather during a flight over the South China Sea on December 13, 1968. Even though John was flying a combat mission, because his flight originated on Okinawa, his name was left off The Wall when it was built.

I cannot image how hard that was for his widow Patricia and his daughter Lucy. But at least the Department of Defense finally did something to rectify the mistake.

Perhaps the reorganization of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office will do something to locate my friends Russ Galbraith and Pappy Kahler.