The MIA in Vietnam: Background information when reading The Signal Flame

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The Signal Flame

by Andrew Krivak

The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak X
The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Matt Grant
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About this Book

The MIA in Vietnam

This article relates to The Signal Flame

Print Review

In The Signal Flame, the Konar family grapples with the fact that Sam, the youngest son, is missing in action in Vietnam.

War, by its very nature, means that not all who leave to fight will return home. In addition to those who die in service to their country, conflicts yield prisoners of war (POWs) and soldiers missing in action (MIA) who remain unaccounted for after the hostilities end. In most cases, the fate of these missing men and women remains a mystery, leaving grieving families without the closure of knowing what happened to their loved ones.

The National League of Families' POW/MIA flag After the Vietnam War, 2,646 American servicemen were reported missing. Since that time, 1,028 have been identified and repatriated. It is the task of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to conduct ongoing investigations into the whereabouts of the other 1,618.

However, searching for the last known whereabouts and remains of over 1,600 people across four countries (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and China*) who went missing decades ago is no easy task. Sometimes, servicemen have been found alive. But more often than not, these painstaking investigations involve searching for human remains in places that are at best, guesses of where someone might have been killed in action.

Complicating matters further, if the cause of death was a high-speed crash or fire, remains can be laborious to identify. Technology makes searching easier, and the Paris peace accords of 1973, which officially ended direct U.S. involvement in Vietnam, stipulated that both nations must cooperate in locating remains of their missing service members. Thankfully, the relationship between the two powers has eased over the years.

In 2010, the U.S. funded a $1 million initiative to train Vietnamese officials to find their own missing, and in return, Vietnam's Ministry of National Defence (MND) has made more of its archives on killed or missing troops available to U.S. investigators.

According to their website, members of the DPAA plan to conduct four Joint Field Activities in the 2017 fiscal year. This involves traveling to Hanoi, where the MND is located, on an ongoing basis to sort through archival documents and excavate battle sites. Additionally, both U.S. and Vietnamese officials will conduct interviews to document an oral history of the war, hoping that eyewitness testimony will open new leads. To date, this ongoing program has garnered more than 300 such oral histories.

Of course, Americans were not the only ones who fought in the Vietnam War. Six Australians were also reported missing, and have since been confirmed killed in action. And thanks to cooperative efforts between the U.S. and Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of missing Vietnam soldiers are actively being searched for in the same manner as the missing Americans.

*The MIA in China were lost at sea in Chinese territorial waters.

Picture of The National League of Families' POW/MIA flag from National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia

Article by Matt Grant

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Signal Flame. It originally ran in March 2017 and has been updated for the September 2017 paperback edition.

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