For The Return of America's Missing Servicemen
National Chairperson - (firstname.lastname@example.org)
New York State Director - (email@example.com)
The National Alliance of Families mourns the passing of Michael Skivington, brother of POW/MIA William Skivington, Jr., Kham Duc, May 11, 1968. Born August 21st 1953, Michael Skivington passed on Wednesday, May 16, 2001. To his wife Ilse, his son William Edward, III, parents William E. Sr., and Berta Skivington, we offer our deepest sympathy.
In this edition of "Bits" we bring you the case of Jerry Degnan, a civilian missing in Vietnam. Jerry never served active duty. He did serve in the Ohio National Guard and at 28, he went to Vietnam, as a civilian employee of Decca Navigator Systems, Inc., based Saigon. The company was under government contract to train U.S. helicopter pilots. Its employees would travel from base to base, often as un-manifested passengers, with the latest technology to assist and train U.S. pilots. While these employees were not members of the military, sheep dipped like the men of Site 85, they were an integral part of the war effort. More importantly, they were American's operating in harms way. As such they should have been entitled to the full protection of the United States government.
In cases where the U.S. government can not protect these citizens, it is the obligation of the government to do everything in their power to recover these individuals while treating the family with the same dignity and respect afforded to the families of our missing servicemen.
Sadly, the story of Jerry Degnan, and his family leads us to believe civilians are, second class citizens, when it comes to the governments dealing with their families.
We became interested in this case on May 3rd 2001, when we received an email, which contained the May 2nd transcript of the National League of Families Update line. It stated; "Late yesterday, the Defense POW/MIA Office web site posted a change in the number of missing civilians from 39 to 38, having recently concluded perhaps the longest and one of the most complex identifications associated with the Vietnam War."
"This individual was not manifested on the helicopter that crashed August 9, 1967, with 5 manifested personnel on board; however, five remains were recovered immediately and his remains were mistakenly interred as an Army serviceman. When a sixth set of remains was recovered several days later and ID'd as those of the Army serviceman interred years before, the remains previously buried in error were disinterred in 1982, and identification efforts were recently renewed thanks to a dedicated CILHI data analyst. It is complex, but attests to the determination that CILHI brings to the mission of accounting for missing Americans."
Naturally, the thought of another remains misidentification, from a multiple loss incident, peaked our curiosity. With a little research, we learned that the remains misidentified in 1967, were now identified as civilian Jerry Degnan. However, we still had an unexplained discrepancy between the date of the helicopter accident and the reported dated of Mr. Degnan's disappearance.
We made inquires of several POW/MIA Advocates, hoping to locate a family member, with no luck. Then on May 13th, we received an email that said, quite simply "Please E mail me back if you wish to talk to me." The email was signed Ronald Degnan. Attached to the email was a case history. What you will read, is based, in part, on that case history and information provided by Ron Degnan, in a phone conversation with Lynn O'Shea.
Public records state civilian Jerry Degnan was reported missing on August 28th 1967. This date was established based on the recollections of one Decca employee who stated he had met with Degnan and another Decca employee on August 25th. So, how could he have been on a helicopter that crashed on August 9th?
Now, for the rest of the story:
On August 9th 1967, a helicopter carrying a crew of four, plus one passenger was involved in a mid-air collision. With the assistance of the POW Network, we were able to obtain the names of the 5 servicemen on board the helicopter when it crashed. (This occurred prior to our contact with Ron Degnan.) The pilot of the aircraft survived. The crew and passenger of the helicopter were not as fortunate. Shortly after the incident five sets of remains were recovered. Four of the remains carried identification media, dog tags, military identification cards and name tags on their fatigues. The fifth set of remains bore no identification media, no tags, no ID card and his fatigues carried no name. Dental identification for the fifth set of remains was "inconclusive." However, age, race and hair color were in general agreement with the fifth set of remains.
Regular readers of "Bits" know an "inconclusive" dental match never stopped an identification before, and this case was no exception. Based on process of elimination the remains of the 5th man recovered from that helicopter was identified as the passenger. His remains were returned to his family for burial sometime in either August or early September of 1967.
Four months later, on December 30th 1967, a U.S. patrol operating in the area of the helicopter crash located the remains of an American serviceman, in fatigues with dog tags and identification card in place. The name on the dog tags and ID card matched the helicopter passenger, identified and sent home for burial some four months earlier.
The remains, along with the identification media, were sent to the Mortuary at Tan Son Nhut. We have to assume that the dental records were available for this individual, as they were used in the "identification" of the now unknown or 6th individual aboard that helicopter. Yet, NOTHING was done in 1968 to correct the obvious misidentification.
The remains were held at Tan Son Nhut until the war ended and the mortuary was closed. From Tan Son Nhut, the remains were shipped to the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) - Thailand. In 1976, they were moved to the new CIL headquarters in Hawaii. It was not until 1982, fifteen years after their recovery, that CIL-HI finally decided it had enough information to make a formal identification.
Why did CIL-HI decide to correct this error in 1982? Perhaps, someone decided it was time to do the right thing. We'd like to think so, but CIL-HI's record does not support that assumption. The time frame says it all - 1982.
Starting in 1981, the United States government actively pushed for remains to be designated the Vietnam Unknown. In 1982, everyone was looking to CIL-HI to provide a Vietnam Unknown, in spite of the fact that no remains met the criteria for an Unknown Soldier. Every set of remains at CIL-HI became a potential candidate for the Vietnam Unknown. Memos dating back to 1981, detail a single-minded effort to provide, or make a Vietnam Unknown. Perhaps someone asked why a set of remains with dog tags, an ID card and potentially with dental records had been held at various mortuaries for fifteen years.
While unfortunate for the Blassie family, it was fortunate for the Degnan family that the 6th set of remains from that helicopter crash, was not stripped of his identity, as Blassie was, and designated the Vietnam Unknown.
Once the remains misidentification was corrected, CIL-HI had another problem. They now held a set of remains that did not match the records of any unaccounted serviceman missing in Southeast Asia. This would not be the last time CIL-HI would find themselves in that situation.
According to Degnan's brother Ron, very little effort was expended to learn the circumstances of Jerry's disappearance. As with most POW/MIA families the Degnan's launched their own investigation of Jerry's disappearance. They accumulated a basement full of documentation and information. The family's review of the case led them to the conclusion that Jerry had, in fact, disappeared some 19 days earlier. Repeated requests to investigate this information was, according to Ron Degnan, ignored. In Ron's words, "we couldn't get anyone to listen."
In 1993, Ron traveled to Washington D.C. to review his brothers classified file. As with other families, he discovered that his brothers "classified file" held little information and that his own file was much larger and contained more detailed information.
No progress was made in identifying the unknown remains exhumed from the 1967 grave, until 1998. That is when the case was taken over by a new CIL-HI analyst. With devotation above and beyond, this analyst reviewed information and evidence that led him to the conclusion that the unknown remains were, in fact, those of Jerry Degnan. Anthropological evidence showed the remains to be of a Caucasian male aged 23 - 30 years old, approximately 5" 10". The remains showed signs of trauma consistent with an air crash. Degnan's records indicated he was a Caucasian male, 28 years old who stood 5' 11".
Using a new technique of Digital superimposition of X rays over photos of bones, a "near exact match" was made of the clavicle to a 30+ year old X ray of Jerry Degnan. In addition to the digital superimposition, mt-DNA testing was used.
Still the analyst had to reconcile the discrepancy between the date of the helicopter crash and the date of Degnan's reported disappearance. That is when the family was contacted and asked if they knew of any way Jerry Degnan could have gone missing before the reported date.
Finally, someone listened to Ron Degnan. According to information obtained by the family, the third person present at the 25 August 1967 meeting with Jerry Degnan denied such a meeting every took place. He further stated that his records indicated that he was not in Saigon on August 25th .
In a sworn statement this gentleman stated that he last saw Jerry Degnan on August 8th 1967 at approximately 11:30 AM . The helicopter crashed August 9th with 4 crewman, 1 manifested and 1 un-manifested passenger on board. Add this information to the fact, the Jerry told his family that he could fly any time he wanted, often as an un-manifested passenger.
Based on the evidence and efforts of the CIL-HI analyst, the remains misidentified in 1967 were identified on April 13th 2001, as Jerry Degnan. The Degnan family is satisfied with the accuracy of the identification and are pleased with the efforts of the CIL-HI analyst since 1998.
However, they would still like to know why it took from 1967 to 1982 to correct an obvious and well documented error in identification. As Ron Degnan asked, "why the cover up."
End of story.... hardly
Over the years the governments callous treatment of POW/MIA family members has been well documented in the pages of "Bit N Pieces" We thought we had heard it all. We hadn't.
The treatment of the Degnan family left us speechless. Any POW/MIA family member who has gone through the identification process knows that you receive a visit from two representatives of mortuary affairs. During that visit various documents are presented and explained detailing the identification process. These documents include forensic reports as well as detailed photos of the remains. The family is then given the opportunity to pose questions, if they choose. Once the identification is made a casket is provided and the body is transported to the location of the family's choosing for burial.
Civilians lost in war zones and their families receive no such consideration. The Degnan family received their identification information in the mail. We were stunned. In conversation with Lynn O'Shea, Ron Degnan stated "I can't imagine being a mother or wife and getting something like this in the mail with no preparation or explanation."
Next, Mr. Degnan detailed an Army letter which stated he had 21 days to notify the Army as to how he would reimburse the government for cost to transport the remains. After much aggravation, the remains were finally shipped air freight. At this point Ron Degnan doesn't know who is paying for the shipment and is waiting to see if he receives a bill. The remains arrived at their destination, wrapped in an army blanket, in side a cardboard box, and then placed in a stapled plywood box.
Don't civilians working in war zones, for companies under government contract deserve better than a cardboard box? Jerry Degnan was not the only civilian missing in Vietnam. Is this how other civilian families can expect to be treated.? How much would it have cost to send two members of mortuary affairs to properly brief the Degnan family? How much would it have cost the government to return the remains of Jerry Degnan, to his family, with the dignity they deserved?
Ron Degnan is angry. He realizes that he can do nothing about how his family and his brother's remains were handled. He would, however, like to make sure that no other family of a civilian, working for the U.S. government or its contractors in a war zone is treated as his family was. One of two things must happen to prevent other civilian families of missing Americans from receiving the same treatment as the Degnans. The U.S. government must assume responsibility for the return of remains of missing civilians, to their families. Or, companies under government contract must set up a fund to be held in escrow, to cover the cost of transporting the remains of their employees.
Support the American Servicemembers Protection Act - Until two days ago, we'd never heard of this legislation, which just passed the House of Representatives. It now heads for the Senate where a battle is expected. The need for this legislation and what it means, is best explained in a letter we received from Congressman Peter King (R-NY). In a letter to Lynn O'Shea, dated May 15, 2001, Congressman King stated: " There is no obligation I take more seriously as a Congressman than supporting our Armed Forces. When we send our men and women into battle, we have the absolute moral obligation to give our full support to those men and women every step of the way."
"That is why I am so concerned about the threat which our Armed Forces will face from the International Criminal Court (ICC) that is now being set up by the United Nations. Once it is operating, the ICC will claim jurisdiction to prosecute American solders for "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity."
"Last week's decision to remove the United States from the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, while keeping such brutal countries as Cuba, Libya, China and Sudan on the Commission, gives us an idea of the type of justice the ICC can be expected to dispense. Moreover, any Servicemen prosecuted by the ICC will be denied constitutional rights guaranteed them under our Bill of Rights. What a disgrace! This U.N. Court is a direct threat to our sovereignty which should be opposed by every American."
"To protect our servicemen, I was proud yesterday to vote for the American Servicemembers Protection Act. This legislation will:
(a) prohibit any entity of the United States Government from cooperating in any
way with the ICC;
(b) prohibit the participation of U.S. military personnel in any UN peacekeeping
operation unless our forces are exempted from prosecution by the ICC;
(c) prohibit the transfer of any classified information to the ICC;
(d) prohibit U.S. military assistance to countries that are a party to the ICC; and
(e) authorize the President to use any measures necessary to bring about the
release of U.S. or Allied personnel detained or imprisoned by the ICC.
"....This legislation will now go to the Senate where it will face a tough fight. Be assured I will do all I can to highlight this issue and focus public attention on it. The American military must not be held hostage to the whims of the U.N."
Obviously, this is a piece of legislation we need to support. After hearing the story of Jerry Degnan, we have to ask... What about the civilians? How will they be protected?
Why does Johnie Webb still have a job???
Bush Certifies Vietnam's Full Cooperation on POW Issue - May 11, 2001 - "Presidential Determination No. 2001-15" MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE:
"SUBJECT: Cooperation by Vietnam in Accounting for United States Prisoners of War and Missing in Action"
"As provided under section 610 of the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary and Other Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 2001, as contained in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY 2001, Public Law 106-553, I hereby determine, based on all information available to the United States Government, that the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is fully cooperating in good faith with the United States in the following four areas related to achieving the fullest possible accounting for Americans unaccounted for as a result of the Vietnam War:
1) resolving discrepancy cases, live sightings, and field activities;
2) recovering and repatriating American remains;
3) accelerating efforts to provide documents that will help lead to the fullest possible accounting of POW/MIAs; and,
4) providing further assistance in implementing trilateral investigations with Laos.
I further determine that the appropriate laboratories associated with POW/MIA accounting are thoroughly analyzing remains, material, and other information and fulfilling their responsibilities as set forth in subsection (B) of section 610, and information pertaining to this accounting is being made available to immediate family
members in compliance with 50 U.S.C. 435 note...."
"...In making this determination, I have taken into account all information available to the United States Government as reported to me, the full range of ongoing accounting activities in Vietnam, including joint and unilateral Vietnamese efforts, and the concrete results we have attained as a result."
"Finally, in making this determination, I wish to reaffirm my continuing personal commitment to the entire POW/MIA community, especially to the immediate families, relatives, friends, and supporters of these brave individuals, and to reconfirm that the central, guiding principle of my Vietnam policy is to achieve the fullest possible accounting of our prisoners of war and missing in action...."
GEORGE W. BUSH
YO! Congress - Please get the World War II Memorial Built, while there are still some World War II vets left to see it. Of the 16 million who fought in World War II, approximately 6 million survive and they are dying at a rate of more then 1,000 a day. Get off the stick and get the Memorial Built. Think about this... these men and women saved the world, in less time than it is taking to build their Memorial.
Rapidly Approaching - The National Alliance of Families Twelfth Annual Forum is scheduled for June 21st - 23rd, 2001. Our Forum is conducted to coincide with the governments annual POW/MIA Family Briefings. We urge all family members to attend this years government briefings, for Vietnam family members. Remember the government will provide free airfare to two family members to attend the briefings. There is no charge or registration fee to attend the government briefings. It is important that family members attend these briefings.
Our meeting will be held at the Crown Plaza Hotel, 1489 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington Va. Room rates are $106.00 single or double, plus tax. To make reservations call 703- 416-1600 Remember to say you want the National Alliance of Families Group Rate. The deadline for reservations is May 29th, 2001. - MAKE YOUR RESERVATION, NOW!!!!!
One of our confirmed speakers is former National Security Agency Analyst Jerry Mooney.
Remember, the Alliance is an all volunteer organization. Our meetings are open to all, without charge. At this time of year, we actively seek contributions to finance our Forum. If you wish to contribute, donations may be mailed to:
P.O. Box 40327
Bellevue, WA. 98015.
Remember All Contributions Are Tax Deductible.
Contact us here!