The American Legion Magazine
Alan W. Dowd
ANN BAKKENSEN had always believed that her father, 1st Lt. Robert Niemann, was killed during an air mission over Korea. Niemann flew F-86s. During his last mission, he lost communication with his wingman and was never heard from again.
A year later, with the war over and no trace of the American pilot, the Department of Defense closed the case on Niemann and declared him killed in action.
For the next four decades, that's where everything stood. No questions, no searches. The family had no reason to doubt the DoD's conclusion. But then, Bakkensen read an article in The Oregonian that changed everything.
The September 1992 article reported the Soviet Union had devoted considerable time and energy to obtaining captured F-86 pilots. "My dad's name was listed as one of the pilots they had captured alive and interrogated," Bakkensen recalled.
Immediately, she put her research skills to work on behalf of her dad and the entire Korean MIA cause, which had never seemed to draw as much interest or attention as the plight of Vietnam-era MIAs. "There are some 8,200 Americans still unaccounted for from the Korean War," Bakkensen noted. "That's four times more than in Vietnam, though I'm not trying to diminish the sacrifice of POWs and MIAs from Vietnam at all."
Today, Bakkensen is president of the Korean-Cold War Family Association of the Missing, a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 by three daughters of Korean War MIAs. Based in Coppell, Texas, the group pushes for a full accounting of every MIA and POW from the Korean War.
The young organization has already made its presence felt in Washington, where its advocacy efforts have prompted DoD to issue a directive for the full accounting of servicemen missing from the Korean War; led to the passage of legislation bringing Korean War MIA efforts into harmony with those of Vietnam; spurred the government to declassify documents pertaining to Korean War MIAs; and convinced DoD that new technologies should be used to identify personnel buried at the Punch Bowl National Cemetery in Hawaii.
The Legion Lends a Hand. Bakkensen's group works with The American Legion and the U.S. government to gain access to POW burial sites and battlefields in North Korea.
"The government has become more aggressive in its efforts over the past two years," observed Bakkensen, who spoke at the 1999 National Convention in Anaheim. Due to this newfound determination in Washington, joint recovery operations are underway in North Korea. However, only three of the six operations scheduled for 1999 were carried out, due to the North Korean government's intransigence.
Bakkensen knows from experience how difficult North Korean officials can be. She recently led a delegation to North Korea, where she observed a U.S. recovery team excavating remains presumed to be those of American servicemen. Last year was the fourth consecutive year in which the United States conducted excavation operations in the communist country. The efforts have produced 29 sets of remains.
But according to Bakkensen, perhaps the most promising developments are coming from Russia. The U.S.-Russia Joint Commission is combing through documents in the Podolsk Archives outside Moscow. The commission comprises military and archival experts from the U.S. and Russian governments.
Bakkensen hopes to become the first non-government official on the commission. "The Legion is really helping me in this effort," said Bakkensen, adding, "Russia transferred over 12,000 pages of documents to the U.S. government in 1998 alone." These documents are helping the DoD and families like Bakkensen's piece the Korean MIA puzzle together.
Even so, Bakkensen's father has yet to be confirmed dead or alive. 1st Lt. Robert Niemann's status is now officially "missing in action."