The vast majority of the families of troops missing from the Korean War have already provided DNA samples for possible identifications, but the new national commander of the 1.2-million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars urged them Friday to make it 100 percent.
The return of 55 sets of remains by North Korea on Friday and the prospect of renewed searches on the ground in North Korea by U.S. teams lend urgency to the need for a complete DNA database at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, VFW National Commander Vincent "B.J." Lawrence said.
About 5,300 of the 7,700 service members listed as missing "are believed to be in North Korea, and 111 of our 126 Cold War missing are in the vicinity of the Korean peninsula, yet family reference samples on file only account for 91 percent of Korean War missing and 85 percent of Cold War losses," he said in a statement.
"We have to do better than that, and that's why I'm calling on more than 1.6 million VFW and VFW Auxiliary members to canvass their neighborhoods and urge every MIA family -- even distant relatives -- to provide a family reference sample in the hope that the next identification announcement is their long-lost soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or contract civilian," Lawrence added.
He said the return of the 55 sets of remains Friday is "a huge step in the right direction that we hope will finally bring peace to the peninsula and closure to American families who have been waiting more than six decades for their loved ones to return home from their war."
Lawrence, of Alamogordo, New Mexico, is an Army veteran who served in South Korea. He was elected national commander at the VFW's national convention in Kansas City earlier this week.
In his speech to the convention, Lawrence said the VFW must focus on getting a younger generation of veterans more involved in their communities and veterans issues.
"There's an energy in this organization that's just champing at the bit to be released," he said. "It comes from a younger generation who wants to get their hands dirty out in their communities, and it comes from an older generation who knows that the way we did things in the past no longer works, but whose experience and knowledge remains valuable."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.