Defense Official Searching for POWs, MIAs
Robert Jones says in looking for missing servicemen that a tooth filling is as good as a fingerprint.
by Clint Cooper
Working with just such body and bone fragments, Mr. Jones' Department of Defense office was responsible in 1999 for identifying and returning the remains of 67 U.S. servicemen who had been listed as missing in action.
Mr. Jones, deputy assistant secretary of defense for prisoners of war and missing persons, was in town Tuesday to address JROTC cadets at Red Bank High School and observe their yearly awards ceremony. He came at the request of Red Bank senior ROTC instructor James Penny, who was his close friend when they were in Special Forces together during the Vietnam War.
A combat veteran himself, Mr. Jones knows the importance of closure for families of missing servicemen.
"We will do everything we possibly can to bring them home," he said.
Sam James of East Brainerd wishes he could believe that.
Mr. James' son, Air Force Capt. Samuel Larry James, was piloting a two-man F-4 when he was shot down on a bombing raid to Cambodia on April 18, 1973. He was listed as missing until 1999, when the government informed Mr. James that bone fragments and three teeth had been found and identified as his son's.
Mr. James requested DNA proof, but the Air Force turned him down.
"They said they had all the proof they needed," Mr. James said.
The remains of Capt. James were subsequently buried at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., after authorization was given by his former wife. Mr. James, his wife and their daughter did not attend. Today, the Jameses fly a prisoner of war flag and an American flag in their yard. They cling to the hope their son's body will be found.
"We're saying they did not prove to us that it was him," said Mr. James, himself a veteran of World War II.
Mr. Jones said he understood the Jameses' plight, but he said the next of kin has primary responsibility for direct disposition of remains.
"There's a difference of opinion," he said. "It's one of the terrible things we're confronted with. We understand the emotionalism and the difficulties it causes. We respect that. We really do."
Mr. Jones' office lists 78,000 servicemen missing from World War II, 8,216 from the Korean War, 124 from the Cold War and 2,028 from the Vietnam War.
The assistant secretary says it is the country's "moral obligation" to do its utmost to bring home the remains of as many as possible.
© Chattanooga (TN) Times-Free Press
10 May 2000
Reproduced under 17 USC §107
||James, Samuel Larry
||East Ridge HS, Chattanooga, TN
|High School Activities
||Football, Wrestling, National Honor Society
|Post High School
||Supt's List, Wrestling, Ski Club
|Academic Degree Major
||BS - Basic Sciences - USAFA, Grad Student, Meteorology Major - Univ of Texas
|Active Duty Assignments
||Grad Student, Navigator Training, Weather Officer, Navigator F-4E, Weapons Systems Officer F-4E
||F-4E, 13th Tac Ftr Sq, 432 Tac Recce Wg, Udorn AB, Thailand
|Killed In Action Mission
||Crashed near Lomphat, Northeast Cambodia, 60NM southwest of Pleiku, RVn while marking targets for daylight strike misson.
|Next of Kin
||Jennifer L. James, Wife, Melissa L. James, Daughter, Sam E. James, Father, Virgie M. James, Mother
||USAF Academy 04/18/1999
||MIA 04/18/1973 to 04/11/1975; Remains Recovered, 01/1998
|Aeronautical Speciality Rating
||Weapons Systems Officer
|Notable Decoration Awards
||1 AFCM, 1 PH