WASHINGTON – Three American veterans groups have donated money to purchase DNA kits to help scientists identify Russian soldiers' remains – which could ultimately bring home and identify remains of missing U.S. soldiers.
Russian scientists will use the 500 DNA kits to collect blood samples from the mothers,maternal aunts or siblings of missing servicemen who served in the former Soviet Union and match them with unidentified remains.
U.S. law doesn't allow the Department of Defense to fund or supply equipment to foreign governments. The American veterans groups bought the DNA kits,which were delivered in October,for $2,230.
Artie Muller,a Vietnam combat veteran who served from 1965 to 1967 and founded the Rolling Thunder veterans group,said the Pentagon approached the group to help supply the kits. VietNow and the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation also contributed.
“I told them whatever they couldn't get,we'd pay for,” Muller said. Rolling Thunder donated about $1,200. “We thought in doing this with the Russian government,it would help for a better relationship between the people from each nation.”
Rolling Thunder has worked to help find remains and lobbied for laws that would aid in the search for U.S. prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action in Vietnam,Cambodia,China,Laos and other places for nearly 20 years.
Muller said he expects the Pentagon's Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office to help arrange a meeting between Rolling Thunder and the Russian government “to put all the cards on the table” to search Russia and find any Americans who may still be there,dead or alive.
Some people believe there could be living soldiers from the Cold War,Korean or Vietnam War in Russia,but Defense Department POW/MIA spokesman Larry Greer said no evidence exists to support a claim of missing soldiers living in Russia.
Remains of at least one soldier from the Cold War are thought to exist in Russia. The U.S. side of the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs thinks there may also be small numbers of remains from U.S. POWs in the Korean War that were transferred to the former Soviet Union.
Remains can be bones,dog tags or a variety of other personal items.
The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office estimates that 88,000 U.S. troops are missing in action from World War II to the present.
“We have visited every continent and recovered remains on them,” Greer said. “We've even recovered Americans who crashed planes during the World War II period over the U.S.”
Searches in North Korea were suspended in 2005. Before then,225 possible remains were recovered.
Greer said a team of scientists came back from China in October after finding a Korean War bomber crash site. Excavation hasn't started at the B-29 crash site on the Yalu River near Dandong,China.
Greer said they expect to find more sites along the Yalu River.
“During the Korean War,American POWs were moved back and forth and up and down the Yalu River,bordering North Korea on the north and China on the south,by the Chinese military,” Greer said. “Some of our guys did not come back. Some were tortured and brainwashed. There are some still missing,and we want to find them.”
The U.S. government is sharing its knowledge of DNA testing with Russians in hopes that Russian archivists will exchange information with Defense Department employees that will lead to the discovery of U.S. soldiers' remains.
Russian scientists will be using what they learned in U.S. laboratories to identify remains of former Soviet servicemen who served in wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya.
“The reasons we work with the Russians on the DNA issues are because they have many of our missing servicemen,” Greer said. “It's to help both sides to account for their missing.”
Greer said he thinks the veterans groups' donations will lead to a friendlier relationship between U.S. and Russian veterans that could turn up information on MIAs not available through the governments' work.
Two or three times each year,veterans groups like Rolling Thunder and the American Legion are briefed on the U.S. DNA lab's programs and statuses of missing soldiers.