Making sure they all get home...

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johnie_webb Johnie E. Webb Deputy to the Commander for Public Relations and Legislative Affairs Rarely does a week go by without the news that another American has been returned to their family after identification of the repatriated remains whether it be from Vietnam, (Also here), Korea, or even occasionally World War II . The highest profile such case was of course the identification and return of Capt. Michael Scott Speicher to his family. We pay great homage to these Americans as they are returned home but we seldom remember the work and struggle by why this process which has become almost commonplace reached that status. I was fortunate enough to meet one of the individuals, possibly the only one, that has seen the effort grow to the priority it has now, a priority much greater than it once held. The man’s name is Johnie E. Webb. He currently serves as the Deputy to the Commander for Public Relations and Legislative Affairs, a position he has held since September 2006. That is not his first post however since he has spent most of his adult life engaged in the effort to bring our comrades home. When the American role in Vietnam ended, the two mortuaries operating in Danang and Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base closed and consolidated their operations in Thailand. In January 1973, a US Army Central Identification Laboratory was established in Thailand to continue to search for, recover and identify those still listed as Missing in Action (MIA). One of the officers in that effort was Captain Johnie Webb, assigned as a Search and Recovery Team Leader in 1975. It is very possible that the effort to recover those Americans still missing could have ended in 1976 when troop reduction agreements were signed between the US and Thailand in 1976. Thanks however to the continuing focus placed on this effort by the League of Families and by many thousands of Vietnam veterans demanding that all of their comrades be returned home, the laboratory was moved to Hawaii. The man assigned the responsibility of moving the lab was Captain Johnie Webb. His career since that day he was assigned as a team leader has been with the recovery and identification effort culminating in the command of the Central Identification Laboratory – Hawaii from 1982 to 1993. He retired in 1994 as a Lt. Colonel and immediately into civilian leadership positions where he continues to serve. During his time with the recovery and identification effort, thanks to him and to the many veterans and family members who continued to press for a full accounting of those missing, the priority placed on the effort has grown considerably. As an example, an effort that was led by Captain Webb during the move to Hawaii is now commanded by a Navy Rear Admiral, a two star flag officer. The identification laboratory has grown to become one of the foremost forensic laboratories in the world where many scientists come to study and learn from the techniques developed there. The Vietnam veterans and the League of Familes can take great credit in what the organization known as JPAC-CILHI has become but it is really because of the boots on the ground of men like Johnie Webb that the work continues. There may be others that have played an equally important role but it truly is due to people like Johnie Webb that Scott Speicher finally came home and that the phrase, “No American shall be left behind” has developed into its full and complete meaning.
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If Johnie is so great, ask him where Joseph Hargrove's remains are located?

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.