T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E

Press Briefing on Joint Task Force-Full Accounting Excavation Site (11/17/00)

Help Site Map Text Only

                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary
                            (Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam)
For Immediate Release                                   November 17, 2000

                             PRESS BRIEFING BY
                              EXCAVATION SITE

                         Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel
                             Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam
6:05 P.M. (L)

     MR. CROWLEY:  To help set up the day for tomorrow, where the President
will have the opportunity to visit an excavation site not far from here and
then tomorrow evening, participate in a repatriation ceremony before
leaving for Ho Chi Minh City, we thought it would be very helpful to give
you a better sense of the total scope of our government's commitment to the
families for the fullest possible accounting of our missing.

     So, first, we have -- we have two briefers.  One to kind of give you a
broader sense of, particularly at the Department of Defense, how we
approach not only issues regarding Vietnam, but also as we've seen, we're
learning more recently about those who are still missing from World War II.
Last week, for example, we had the return of remains of servicemen who died
during the Korean War.

     So to first give you a broader sense of the commitment that we have on
behalf of the families, veterans organizations to continue this pursuit, we
have the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW and Missing
Personnel, Bob Jones.  He will be followed by Frank Childress, an Army
Lieutenant Colonel, who will give you a briefing on what we call Joint Task
Force-Full Accounting and the work that they're doing, particularly here in

     But to start off, we have Bob Jones.

     MR. JONES:  Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I am Bob Jones, and I
want to tell you that I probably have the best job in the Department of
Defense.  I have the responsibility to assist the President in fulfilling
our moral obligations to the men and women in uniform.  And that moral
obligation is to do everything that we as a nation can possibly do to
ensure that if they become isolated as a result of their service to the
nation, that we will do everything that we possibly can to ensure that
they're returned to their loved ones.

     Having said that, the mission in my office is a very broad mission.
It encompasses the basic code of conduct training that the initial --
training that the soldier gets when they go into the service.  It carries
through high risk of capture training  to combat search and rescue policy
responsibilities.  It goes to the accounting responsibilities, such as you
all will see tomorrow at the Joint Task Force operation on Case 0897.

     Our operations are global in nature.  As was stated earlier, we do, in
fact, have an obligation to conduct recovery operations, World War II,
Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam and any future wars that may occur.  And
having said that, as you can imagine, as we look at the numbers here in
Vietnam and we start looking at the global numbers, I am seeking to locate,
recover and return to their loved ones some 88,000, almost 90,000 missing
Americans -- 78,000 from World War II, some 8,200 from Korea and so on.

     So we do, in fact, have a tremendous obligation.  The President, when
he took office in 1993, established four criteria that we measure our
successes by.  First and foremost is the recovery and repatriation of
remains.  Secondly, resolving discrepancy cases, the last known alive
cases.  Conducting trilateral investigations with other countries.  And
then, of course, the recovery and access to archives and documents which
will facilitate the other operational areas.

     We have been extremely successful in dealing with the Vietnamese
during this administration.  We have recovered and returned over 283
missing Americans since President Clinton took office, and that's a very
significant number when you look at the fact that we have identified 591
individuals from the Vietnam War that have been missing over the years.

     We've been very, very successful.  The Vietnamese have, in fact, been
very cooperative.  We would not enjoy the successes that we have today if
it had not been for the cooperation of the Vietnamese government and the
Vietnamese people.  I can assure you that we have had very candid talks
during my tenure with the Vietnamese; they have been most willing to assist
us in any way they can.  They have provided us access to their population
to do oral history interviews.  They have provided us access throughout
their country to conduct our joint operations anywhere from the breadth of
their country.

     I'm very pleased and very proud of the accomplishments and I could not
say enough about the successes of the DOD accounting team.  And this is the
young men and women, both military and civilian, who work out here in some
very arduous conditions, around the clock, trying to recover missing
Americans somewhere around this globe.  Anywhere that we have served, we
have Americans out looking for missing Americans.

     I do have a few moments, so if anyone would like to fire a few
questions at me, I'd be most happy to take them.

     Q    How long does this -- do you anticipate this program going on?
What's the length of commitment you have?

     MR. JONES:  Sir, our commitment is a moral obligation, I do not see
any closure to it.  As long as we have sufficient leads to pursue a missing
American, we will follow those leads until we either recover that
individual or have sufficient evidence that individual is not recoverable.

     Q    What percentage of cases do you find that there are some remains
to recover or, you know, that there is no trace of anybody?

     MR. JONES:  Sir, we have 602 cases here in Southeast Asia, which are
called no further pursuit cases.  Those are cases in which we believe that
neither the United States government nor the Vietnamese government can
provide any further information that will lead to a recovery of that
missing individual.

     Q    Sir, are those cases mostly lost at sea?

     MR. JONES:  A significant number of them are, yes, sir.

     Q    Sir, last week the President signed a bill, the "Bring 'Em Home
Alive" bill.  Does DOD have any reason to believe that there are any MIAs
out there that are still alive?

     MR. JONES:  Sir, the number one priority for my office is to ensure
that we do everything possible to follow up on any reports of live
Americans who may be held against their will anywhere around the globe.  We
have had over 21,000 reports -- reports -- of Americans, live-sighting
reports.  We've investigated all of those.  None of those have borne fruit.
We have no evidence that any American is being held anywhere against their
will at this time.

     Q    When was the last one of those reports that you got?

     MR. JONES:  That's why I carried this book with me.  If you'll bear
with me for just a moment.  We've noticed that there has been a significant
drop-off in those as it relates to Southeast Asia.  The last live sighting
report that my office -- unresolved live sighting report was in '97, sir.

     Q    Is that from Vietnam?

     MR. JONES:  It was from Southeast Asia.

     Q    Is that Vietnam?

     MR. JONES:  I can't say the specific country right -- the information
I have doesn't have it broke out by country, sir.

     Q    And a follow up to the question, if there has been three years
since the last report, none have proven -- have been found out of the
21,000, what's the purpose of the "Bring 'Em Home Alive" act?

     MR. JONES:  The "Bring 'Em Home Alive" act is an act which is
all-encompassing.  It talks in terms of bringing them home alive from
Russia, from China, from Korea, from Southeast Asia and any future wars.
So it provides the opportunity for an individual in a country to assist an
American who may be held against their will to return to America and thus
gain immigration status.

     So if, by chance, there is some individual out there and,
hypothetically, that person is brought out by an indigenous person, then
that person then would be given immigration status and, of course, we would
return that live American.

     Q    Sir, what can you tell us about -- I think you referred to Case
0897, which I presume is Captain Evert?

     MR. JONES:  I believe that the JTF is going to give a detailed
briefing on that when I leave, sir.  If you will just wait a few moments, I
think we can give you a good briefing on that.

     Q    One quick question.  Can you tell us exactly what is the location
that the President will visit tomorrow?  Is it technically part of Hanoi or
is it outside and in a township?

     MR. JONES:  Sir, I think that question would be best answered by the

     No further questions, ladies and gentlemen?  Thank you so very much.
I think you will enjoy the briefing provided by the Joint Task Force.
These are the -- the operators out here  are doing the job.  Thank you.

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  Thank you, Mr. Jones.  And he has answered a
number of questions that will probably be asked of me.  He has the policy
making responsibility for the full accounting mission.

     Joint Task Force-Full Accounting -- and I am Lieutenant Colonel
Franklin Childress.  I am the public affairs officer for Joint Task Force
Accounting.  Our mission is to basically achieve the fullest possible
accounting of Americans who are unaccounted for from the war in Southeast

     Now, the fullest possible accounting has been used by presidential
administrations since the end of the war to express the commitment of the
nation to bring home and bring answers to all those who did not return from
the war.  This specifically is detachment two, which is in Hanoi as a
permanent fixture.  It resides in a compound that we call "The Ranch" in
Hanoi.  We have three detachments.  One is in Bangkok, Thailand, at the
United States Embassy, one is in Ventian, Laos -- that's detachment three.
And detachment two is in Hanoi.  And this is their mission statement.

     The methods of accounting we use are two.  First is return live
Americans.  Not since 1973, in Operation Homecoming, when 591 Americans
were returned from Vietnamese captivity, has an American serviceman held
against his will returned from Southeast Asia.  But we don't rule that
possibility out; because we cannot prove that there are no service members
held against their will from the war in Southeast Asia, the official policy
is we don't rule that possibility out.

     The second way is return identifiable remains.  The biological and
legal requirements of identifying someone are necessitated by actually
bringing home identifiable remains.  On some cases -- and I'll explain this
later, if you like -- there are circumstantial identification.  When we go
to a crash site and we find identification media, such as dog tags or name
tags or other indications that the pilot was in that aircraft when it
crashed, but we can't find biological evidence such as remains in
sufficient quantity to actually biologically identify someone, that would
be a circumstantial identification.

     However, we shoot and our prime goal is to biologically identify
someone and that is the job of a central identification laboratory, who is
our partners in this business here in Southeast Asia.

     The unaccounted for perspective:  from World War II, 78,000.  In the
two weeks surrounding D-Day, almost 8,000 are unaccounted for from that
period.  From the Korean War, 8,100.  And, today, in Southeast Asia after
the Mayaguez incident, the number stood at 2,583.

     This is what it looks like from Southeast Asia, specifically.  And, by
the way, Joint Task Force-Full Accounting has a mission to account for
unaccounted for Americans, specifically from the Vietnam War area in
Southeast Asia, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

     In 1975, after the Mayaguez incident, the number stood at 2,583.  When
Joint Task Force-Full Accounting was formed in January 1992, the number
stood at 2,267.  And today the number is 1,992 Americans unaccounted for
from the war in Southeast Asia.

     This is what it looks like by service.  There are 58,000 names,
approximately, on the Wall in Washington, D.C., the Vietnam Memorial Wall.
Of that number, approximately 48,000 were combat-related casualties, death.
Of that number, a vast majority of them are Army and Marines.  However, the
nature of ground combat allowed us to recover our wounded and dead.
Therefore, a high percentage are Air Force and Navy aviators.

     Also of note, many of our unaccounted for were lost in
aviation-related incidents.  In the Army's perspective, many of these are
helicopter losses, where soldiers were on board and they perished when the
aircraft went down.  Also the Marines, helicopters and high-performance
aircraft.  And in the Air Force and the Navy's perspective, some of these
were lost over water, some of them were lost in the part of Northern
Vietnam where we cannot recover the remains, we couldn't mount search and
rescue operations because of enemy activity or the nature of the loss.

     This is by country of loss.  As you can see, there are 1,498
unaccounted for Americans in the country of Vietnam; eight in the country
of China or over Chinese territorial waters; 421 in the area of Laos; and
65 in Cambodia.  Now, this is significant to note:  about 80 percent are in
the area just below what was then the DMZ and along the eastern portions of
Laos and Cambodia, along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

     We have a program set up with the Vietnamese government and the
Laotian government that allows us to bring in Vietnamese military personnel
who were in the Ho Chi Minh Trail and have firsthand knowledge of that loss
-- that's called the Trilateral Witness Program.  We bring these witnesses
in to help us find locations where these Americans were lost in these

     Okay, again, this breaks it down for Vietnam, specifically.  And this
is today, there are 1,498 Americans unaccounted for in the country of
Vietnam.  Now, the no further pursuit, as Mr. Jones said, this is in the
country of Vietnam, the no further pursuit means -- and I'll give you two
examples -- one is an American aircraft, A-6, goes off the carrier Kitty
Hawk in 1966.  The engines flameout about a mile off the carrier, it goes
down in deep water, there's no evidence of ejection, no evidence of
parachutes on the surface.  The only thing we can surmise is those two
Naval aviators perished in deep water and we'll probably never be able to
find them.

     Another example is our Marines in a fighting position in a fire base
in 1969.  An artillery round comes directly on that individual and
explodes, there are no remains to be found today; there's no remains to be
found back then.

     This just gives you a perspective of our counterpart organization, the
Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons.  We have a very cordial and
very close relationship with this office.  Again, they work for the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of Americas and their director is a
man by the name of Mr. Bah Hung, and he works very closely with the
Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of
Public Security.

     We have provencal specialists in each province of Vietnam, and they
have people that work in this activity, all the way down to the district
and the village level.  So we work very closely with these individuals and
whenever we go to the field, they go with us and they're our counterparts.
Also, in Vietnam specifically, two times a year they conduct unilateral
investigations, and that's important as well.

     This is what a joint field activity looks like in Vietnam.  Four to
five times a year we come into Vietnam.  The operations are planned for
approximately 30 to 32 days; approximately 95 individuals are on this
investigation recovery team.  And then we have what's called a research and
investigation team which focuses on the last known alive and priority
cases.  We also have two investigative elements, and six recovery elements.

     This is what a recovery element -- specifically, tomorrow you'll be
looking at a recovery site, and the recovery team that is going to be out
there is made up of these individuals.  We have under our operational
control of the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting an organization called the
central identification laboratory, which is some of the premier forensic
analysts and investigators, specialists in the world.  And as you can see,
a large number of this organization has the makeup of this recovery

     The team leader is an Army captain who has had a successful career in
the Army.  We also have an anthropologist, and this anthropologist is the
scientific team leader.  He or she tells us where to dig, how deep to dig
-- all the science is in control of that, and so the science and legal
requirements out at the site is under the control of that anthropologist.

     We have a team sergeant who acts as a foreman of the site, working
with the Vietnamese workers, working with the American workers, and they do
a very good job.  The mortuary technicians, photographer -- we have
linguists out on site from the Joint Task Force.  We have life support
technicians out on the site, and they are the ones that actually identify
whether it's an American aircraft, whether there was someone in that
aircraft, and actually help the scientists determine where to dig and where
to excavate on the site.

     We have EOD specialists, explosive ordnance specialists that go out
and do mine sweeps to make sure that there's no unexploded ordnance or any
other mine fields out in the area.  That is a very important aspect of our
job because there's a lot of unexploded ordnance in the area, a lot of
mines still left over from the French colonial period, as well as the
Vietnam War.

     This is what our operation looks like.  Four times a year into
Vietnam, five times a year into Laos, and one time a year into Cambodia.
We use strategic airlift from Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, and deploy
to U Tapao Naval Air Base in Thailand.  When we deploy to Thailand, we have
an agreement with the Thai air base commander to allow us to use ramp space
and warehouse space at U Tapao Naval Air Base.  We reconfigure the loads
using C-130s and actually fly into the countries.

     In Vietnam, specifically, we land in Hanoi, Denang and Ho Chi Minh
City, and this is based on where we're going to be digging.  Specifically,
from April to August is the dry period in the central region where many of
our unaccounted for are.  Therefore, we have to get in that central region
during that period.  The other times, during August to April, is the rainy
season in the central region, so we have to focus our operations in the
north or the south.  This specific operation we're working primarily in the
north.  This is what this operation looks like, the 63rd Joint Field
Activity.  It's from the 30th of October to the 28th of November.

     We have one research investigation team.  They're working on an oral
history program, finding war veterans who have knowledge of unaccounted for
Americans and getting their oral histories.
We're having two investigation elements.  They're focusing down in the
southern and central region.  And then the recovery elements, as you can
see by the yellow dots, are focused primarily in the north.

     Tomorrow, as Mr. Jones mentioned, we're going to Vin Phuc province.
And this is the case of one unaccounted for American who was flying an
F-105D aircraft.  And as you probably have been aware by the papers, the
individual we're looking for is Captain Lawrence G. Evert.  Captain Evert
was on the MIA status and he was posthumously promoted to lieutenant

     The crash occurred on the 8th of November, 1967, and it's in a rice
paddy area adjacent to a railroad embankment, and I'll show you a photo of
this site in just a moment.  This is what it looks like.  The railroad
embankment is very close to the site.  The target that Captain Evert and
his other three F-105 Deltas were going after was the Phuc Yen bridge,
which is in the distance over here.  They were bombing this, coming from
the direction -- from here, across.  Captain Evert's was the fourth
aircraft in a flight of four.  He was hit by antiaircraft -- according to
witnesses, he was hit by antiaircraft artillery in the left rear fuselage
of his aircraft.

     None of the three pilots that were flying with him saw him go down or
had any knowledge that he went down until he failed to report in after the
strike.  However, other aircraft that were in the area saw his aircraft
crash and, before he crashed, they heard a radio transmission, "I'm hit
hard," and that was the last transmission from Captain Evert.

     Again, we will be -- the ones of you that are going out tomorrow will
be going to the site.  And this is what's called a wet screening operation,
where we employ Vietnamese workers into this area of a crash crater.
Again, the anthropologist decides where it is and they start in the center
area, in this particular case, and try to define the edges of this crash
crater.  And, apparently, the aircraft went down fairly deep.

     We use what's called cheese cutters, which are angle iron and wire
mesh, to actually cut the mud.  We put it in these buckets, pass the
buckets along the Vietnamese workers and then put it in quarter-inch mesh
screening.  We use a water source, using pumps, to come in and force the
mud through high-pressure water hoses through this quarter-inch mesh screen
and the resulting remains that are in there are either human remains,
personal effects or wreckage.  And we found a lot of wreckage at this
particular site.  So this is the basic scene-setter for tomorrow's

     These are some of the challenges.  In Vietnam, Southeast Asia,
specifically, we have a lot of challenges.  It's a high-risk environment.
As I said, there's a lot of unexploded ordnance in the area, both mine
fields, unexploded ordnance from aircraft, bomblets from B-52s in some
cases.  You also have artillery rounds in some cases that are very volatile
in high temperatures.

     Also, there is wildlife.  In one case that I was actually on in July,
the workers and the team actually heard tigers in the area, because it was
in a very remote area.  There is also many snakes in the area.  There is
one snake called the bamboo viper, that is particularly dangerous.  The
terrain in some cases is very hazardous.  On very steep terrain that it
takes a long time to get up to, in some cases over boulders; in some cases,
we have to actually land aircraft on top of mountains and repel down to get
to sites.

     Additionally, we operate in a high-risk environment in terms of
disease.  There's a lot of disease endemic in the region, from cholera,
Japanese encephalitis, plague in some cases, and other diseases.  And
malaria, as well.  So we have to be very careful.

     Province and district coordination:  we have to make sure we work very
closely with our counterparts at the province, district and central
government, and central government representatives from the Vietnam Office
of Seeking Missing Persons to facilitate this.  Every time we come to
Vietnam, before we go in, we have what's called a technical meeting or
technical talks where we coordinate each case very closely with the
Vietnamese and we work out all the problems or bugs before they occur, so
that's a very important process.

     The difficult and complex cases.  There are many difficult and complex
cases in Southeast Asia, specifically in Vietnam.  This case that we're
going to tomorrow, there was a communications cable right near the area.
There was also the railroad embankment.  The Vietnamese wanted to make sure
that we had a joint team of U.S.-Vietnamese engineers go to the site to
actually make sure that we could do the excavation of the site safely and
without damaging the integrity of that railroad embankment.  So that was
very important, as well.

     And time.  Time is somewhat of an enemy in our case.  We are talking
to witnesses and sometimes the memories fail.  In some cases, the witnesses
are no longer with us, they've passed away.  So we're really trying to go
out and find these witnesses who have firsthand knowledge of the sites.  In
one case, we went to a site.  We were looking for five witnesses, that I
was on, and we only found one still living in that particular village.  So
it is a sense of urgency.  Also, the acidity of the soil in some cases
degrades the remains so that they're not as much remains to be found, in
some cases.  So, again, that is one of the challenges we face.

     Again, Ambassador Peterson had a great quote, and this is something I
want to share with you.  "Never before in the history of mankind has any
nation done what we're doing.  The effort of Joint Task Force-Full
Accounting to Honor the U.S. commitment to our unaccounted for comrades,
their family and the nation is unprecedented."

     And for me, working as a public affairs officer in this mission, it is
a sacred honor.  For the military tradition, we have a tradition that we
don't leave our dead on the battlefield.  Unfortunately, in the Vietnam
War, we were forced to by circumstances.  But I think if you ask the
solders and the men and women who are out there on the site, why do they do
it?  They say they do it for the families; they do it for the unaccounted
for families who cannot close that chapter in the book of their lives and
the lives of their loved ones until they actually get remains back and are
able to bury them with honors.  Also they do it for the families that they
leave back in Hawaii or wherever they come from.  They would want the
government to do the same thing for them as we're doing now for their
unaccounted for servicemen and women.

     So it's very important that we do this mission.  It is a sacred honor,
and I'm very glad to be a part of and I'm very proud to be a part of the
military, and I'm very proud that the President has now come to Vietnam to
affirm this commitment of achieving the fullest possible accounting.  And
I'll be glad to take a couple of questions.

     Q    Can you name the village, the location of this site?  How would
you describe it?

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  I don't want to pronounce it.  I have the spelling
of it, and I would obviously butcher it.  I think I have it that I can give
it to you after the briefing.  But I certainly don't want to offend anybody
by mispronouncing that name.

     Q    Sir, as I gather it, when we come out there tomorrow, we'll sort
of be coming upon the activity as it's going on on a day by day basis.
Nothing special will happen tomorrow that didn't happen the day before or
will happen the next day when the President and all of us leave.  Is that

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  Well, the activity will be ongoing.  Obviously
there are certain security precautions that will happen and there are
certain things that the President, because he's coming, will interrupt the
normal flow.  But that is, I think, offset by the fact that the President
is actually coming to Vietnam and will see a site for himself.  For his
eight years in office he's been affirming that this is the highest national
priority.  And by actually being there, I think he's affirming that
commitment to the nation.  So I think it's great that he'll be there.

     But, again, the workers will be out there working; the dig will be
continuing as it is in the normal process.  And, again, there are certain
considerations that I'm sure everyone will understand of a President coming
to that particular site.

     Q    You mentioned the dangers from unexploded ordnance and from
nature.  Has anybody ever been killed or injured during this process?

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  Not since Joint Task Force-Full Accounting was
formed.  Back in 1973, there was a U.S. Army captain who was conducting
search and recovery operations as part of the Joint Casualty Resolution
Center, who was ambushed near Saigon and he was killed.  But that is the
only individual who has actually been killed during this whole mission.

     Q    What can you tell us about what has been recovered so far at this
particular site we're going to?

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  That's a very good question.  There's a lot of
wreckage that has been actually recovered, a lot of wreckage that supports
that we're looking for an F-105D.  There was a data plate that actually was
found that we're analyzing right now to determine if it's in that data
plate range, or in that range of numbers that supports this particular
aircraft.  So it's like a jigsaw puzzle, and as we find pieces of wreckage,
it's like the jigsaw puzzle pieces are coming together.  So it's a great

     Q    Could you explain a little bit why you're only getting to this
site now?  This would seem to be one of the easier sites because it's a --
crater, it's in a fairly flat place, it's populated, easy access.  Why
wasn't this site higher up on the priority list?

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  Well, until the joint team of U.S.- Vietnamese
engineers came out to basically survey the site and certify that it could
be done safely, without damaging the integrity of this railroad embankment,
the Vietnamese wouldn't let us dig, quite frankly.  And that's reasonable
because we certainly don't want to do something that would cause that
embankment to cave in and cause a train crash or something.  So that is the

     Q    To follow, so this has been on the list for quite some time as a
very good possibility site?

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  Well, I don't know exactly how long it's been on
there.  It's been investigated three times, and each time you investigate,
if you find correlating data that suggests this aircraft at this time, this
individual.  So there are witnesses that we go to, and each case is
analyzed on its merit.  But this case has been on the excavation list for a
couple of years, I think, and we've just been waiting to get out and do the

     Q    Can you tell us a little more about Captain Evert, how old he
was, when he disappeared, where he's from, anything like that?

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  He was from Cody, Wyoming.  I think he was born in
1938.  That seems to be the -- but I'll be able to tell you specifically
what day tomorrow, but that seems to be the time that he was actually born,
in my opinion.  He has two sons that are visiting Vietnam and will actually
be out at the site tomorrow.  They were able to go to the site today and
basically, without any interference, walk around the site.  It was very
touching, very moving, and very emotional for the brothers to actually go
to that site and talk to the soldiers.  And I think it was part of their
healing process, and I think that was important.

     Q    Sons or brothers?

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  They are sons.

     Q    Is that very unusual, that relatives get to do that?

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  This is one of the first times that this has
actually happened, where relatives come out.  We don't necessarily
encourage it all the time, but this was a unique situation, and I think
they came at the invitation of the President.

     Q    You mentioned one of the challenges, the acidic soil and how it
tends to work by supposedly decomposing the human remains.  Has it been
your experience that oftentimes you find aircraft or military remains and
less of the human remains because of this acidic soil?

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  It varies from place to place in Vietnam.  Some
places, like a rice paddy, for instance, where the clay is very thick and

there is not a lot of oxygen to get to it, we've actually found a large
number of human remains at the particular site.  And some other places,
where there is acidic soil and the burial is shallow, for instance, you
might have less remains there because they've deteriorated over time.  So
it varies from place to place and it's not something you can generalize and
say the acidic soil breaks down all remains.

     Q    What's the soil like at this particular site?

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  It is very thick.  In actuality, they have to use
that cheese cutter to actually cut the clay, put it in buckets and it has
to actually be in the buckets with water to soften it before it can
actually be sifted in those quarter-inch mesh screens.

     Q    If I understand your briefing correctly, you can only do the
background research, finding witnesses, you know, the soft research -- from
digging, when you come in the four or five times a year; is that right?
You cannot have an ongoing people on the ground continually trying to
gather background --

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  We have a detachment here that has basically got
six military and civilian individuals who are all the time gathering
information.  We have a gentleman by the name of Gary Flannagan who has
been here in Vietnam working this mission since 1991 when the organization
-- before the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting stood up, it was then called
the U.S. MIA Office.  And this office, this effort is one of the key
bilateral issues, as you heard Mr. Jones and President Clinton say, that
actually cemented the relations with the government.

     So Mr. Flannagan is working on a full-time basis working on each case.
So we have people back in Hawaii, here in Vietnam, with our Vietnamese
counterparts that are always collecting leads, trying to find new
witnesses.  So it is an ongoing effort.
     Q    How many sites are currently under excavation, as this one is?

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:   There are six sites that are currently being
excavated in Vietnam.  One site was actually closed, and we moved to
another site.  So this is the seventh site.  We started with six, we closed
one, and we moved to another one, so this joint field activity we've had
work on seven sites.

     Q    Why did you close the other one?

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  The anthropologist apparently decided that it was
actually a site that had been excavated before and for whatever reason, I'm
not sure, I don't have all the details, but he apparently closed that
particular site because he deemed that there was no longer remains or any
other cause to continue.  So, again, that is the anthropologist's
recommendation, and our commander makes the final determination.

     Q    How optimistic are you in this particular case that you'll have a
successful conclusion, be able to repatriate the remains?

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  In Captain Evert's case?

     Q    Yes.

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  What happens is if we do find remains out of the
site, at the conclusion of the joint field activity we have what's called a
joint forensic review, with a Vietnamese anthropologist, an American
anthropologist sit down, examine the remains we find to determine if
they're probably American.  If they're deemed to be probably American, then
they're repatriated in a ceremony similar to what you'll see tomorrow

     And we have found one piece of remains so far at this particular site.
And that is a very positive development, but again, we cannot say for sure
until its gone through forensic analysis that that is remains of Captain
Evert or even if it's human.  Again, we don't even try to do that when
we're out there.  The Central Identification Laboratory actually does that
forensic analysis.  So they are some of the most qualified people to do it
and they do a wonderful job.

     Q    Just to understand, you pull everything out of the site that you
can and at the end you take it for this forensic examination?  You don't
take something that looks or may be a human remain and rush it off to the

     COLONEL CHILDRESS:  That's correct.  They are under secured control of
anthropologists, the remains that we find.  Also personal effects.  If you
find a watch or some other item that probably is from that individual,
we'll keep that under control and actually take it to that joint forensic
review at the conclusion of the joint field activity.

     If there are no other questions, thank you very much.  And I
appreciate your time.

     END  6:42 P.M. (L)

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House
White House for Kids | White House History
White House Tours | Help | Text Only

Privacy Statement