Reagan Promises to Pursue Claims of POWs and MIAs in Indochina
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan urged Americans Saturday to ″stick with the facts and keep faith with each other″ in seeking to determine whether any U.S. servicemen taken prisoner during the Vietnam War are still alive and in captivity.
″There is no secret there are those who want to promise easy solutions or even exploit this issue for selfish reasons,″ Reagan said in his weekly radio address, delivered from the Oval Office of the White House.
″The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has held difficult hearings to pursue whether a factual basis exists for many of the public claims about our missing men,″ he said.
That committee heard testimony June 25 from two retired Army men, Maj. Mark A. Smith and Sgt. Melvin C. McIntire, who claim they have evidence of American prisoners of war held in Laos. Members of the committee, including Sen. Jeremiah Denton, who spent seven years in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, expressed skepticism about the claims.
Since the end of the Southeast Asian war in 1975, the U.S. government has received hundreds of reports of Americans still being held prisoner, many of them alleging sightings of Americans in Laos.
The governments of Vietnam, Laos and Camobodia have repeatedly denied that any Americans are held.
″This is, of course, a difficult and emotional issue,″ Reagan said.
″But we have made progress and the truth is we will continue to make progress as long as we stick with the facts and keep faith with each other.″
″All Americans, after all, have a common goal in this endeavor,″ the president said. ″Freedom for any prisoner who may still be held in Southeast Asia and justice for all of the families who worked so long to resolve the fate of our POWs and MIAs in Vietnam.
″They were our loved ones and our fellow Americans and they were, I am certain time will tell, part of a noble cause and history’s heroes,″ Reagan said.
The Defense Department lists 2,441 Americans who did not return from the Southeast Asian conflict, but the secretaries of the four services have declared all but one of them dead, with their bodies not recovered.
The exception is Charles Edward Shelton, shot down on a reconaissance mission over Laos on April 29, 1965. Pentagon officials have said he is being kept on the missing rolls for symbolic reasons.
Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage, however, said last year that the Reagan administration ″acts under the assumption that at least some Americans are being held against their will in Indochina″ because ″there may indeed be some Americans held against their will.″
In 1976, a special House committee concluded that ″there are no Americans still being held alive as prisoners in Indochina″ although a small number of deserters or civilians might have chosen to stay behind.
Reagan, addressing a portion of his remarks directly to relatives of missing men, said, ″We mean to end your heartache and uncertainty.″
″We will vigorously pursue the answers you seek and deserve,″ the president said. ″ We will apply every resource we can to achieve the fullest possible accounting of your relatives still missing in Southeast Asia.″
Rep. Stephen J. Solarz, D-N.Y., delivering the Democrats’ radio address Saturday, agreed that the return of the MIAs is ″a matter of the highest national priority.″
He used the issue as a starting point for criticism of the Reagan administration’s policies in Nicaragua and South Africa.
″By seeking a military solution to the conflict in central America, and by failing to address the causes of conflict in southern Africa, the administration is pursuing policies that make more likely the eventual involvement of American troops in foreign wars that bear no relationship to our most vital interest,″ Solarz said.
He called on the administration ″to peacefully resolve those crises and conflicts abroad that could plunge our nation into war and lead to even more American dead and missing in the future.″