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As the United States continues to wage battle overseas, Assemblyman Jack Conners said the nation can’t stop looking for service members still missing from past wars.
"Almost 88,000 United States service members are still missing and unaccounted for, dating back to World War II," Conners (D-Camden) wrote in a July 16 opinion column for The Times of Trenton. "For the families of these soldiers, closure has never come."
Conners, chairman of the Assembly’s Military and Veterans’ Affairs committee, argued for continued support for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which is dedicated to accounting for all Americans missing from past conflicts. Without the work of that group, he said, "closure may never come."
PolitiFact New Jersey thought the number of unaccounted-for soldiers seemed high and checked Conners’ statistic. We found that while the assemblyman was mostly correct, the number of missing and unaccounted for from World War II was recently lowered.
A spokesman for the Assembly Democrats, Tom Hester Jr., sent us a news release from 2010 and an article from 2009 from the U.S. Department of Defense that said 88,000 service members are missing or unaccounted for since World War II to back up Conners’ claim. Hester also said the number is cited by veterans’ groups, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, which referenced the figure in an opinion column posted July 13 on its website.
And up until a few months ago, that number was accurate.
The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office oversees the U.S. Department of Defense’s efforts to account for Americans missing from past conflicts. The agency keeps statistics on the number of service members still unaccounted for -- and they now put the number at 83,601, including: 73,792 from World War II, 7,997 from the Korean War, 125 from the Cold War and 1,687 from the Vietnam War. There are also two U.S. service members missing from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The biggest change in the overall figure is attributable to the number of missing from World War II, which was reduced from about 78,000 to more than 73,000 in May, according to Maj. Carie Parker, spokeswoman for the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office.
After World War II ended, the Army launched an initiative called "The Return of the World War II Dead Program" to account for all of the more than 400,000 Americans who died during the war, according to the missing personnel office’s website. When that program ended in 1951, an estimated 78,000 service members were still unaccounted for, according to Parker.
In 2003, Parker said her agency found a 1956 roster of unaccounted-for service members that put the number at more than 80,000. Since then, more than 6,000 on that roster were found to have been buried at sea and another 780 remains were identified. Parker said the revised total of unaccounted-for service members from World War II was updated in May of this year.
Joe Davis, director of public affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States’ Washington, D.C. office, said in an email that his organization wasn’t aware "the total missing and unaccounted-for number was lowered from 88,000 to 83,000 until just recently," and pointed out that in a recent opinion column by "the VFW and seven other veteran and POW/MIA family organizations we, too, cite the 88,000 figure."
Still, he said, "whichever number is used, the Assemblyman is correct, because the loss is so monumental — and the circumstances of loss so catastrophic — that we may never ever be able to account for every single MIA, which is why the veterans' community and the families of the missing celebrate every new identification as if it were their own, because it means an American family somewhere finally has their loved one return home from war."
Conners said 88,000 service members are still missing since World War II. The number of missing was recently revised to more than 83,000 missing and unaccounted for, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Conners’ statistic may have been slightly dated, but his point -- that tens of thousands of Americans who served overseas remain unaccounted for -- is true.
We rate his statement Mostly True.
To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.
NJ.com, Opinion: Search for POWs/MIAs must not be forgotten, July 16, 2011
Department of Defense’s Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, Summary Statistics, accessed Aug. 1, 2011
Department of Defense’s Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, World War II, accessed Aug. 1, 2011
Interview with Major Carie Parker, spokeswoman for the Department of Defense’s Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, Aug. 1, 2011
Email interview with Tom Hester Jr., spokesman for the Assembly Democrats, Aug. 1, 2011
U.S. Department of Defense, POW/MIA Corridor Opens, Sept. 14, 2010
U.S. Department of Defense, Pentagon Ceremony Salutes Former POWs, Missing in Action, Sept. 18, 2009
Email interview with Joe Davis, director of public affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Aug. 1, 2011
Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Opinion Editorial: DOD Breaking Sacred Promise with POW/MIA Families, July 13, 2011
Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, What We Do, accessed Aug. 1, 2011
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