COMMENTARY: DR. JAMES G. CONNELL, Senior Analyst, Joint Commission Support Directorate, DPMO

U.S. - Russia Archival Conference
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

It is a great honor to be included in today's program in the company of friends and colleagues from both sides of the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs. I was fortunate to work with the Commission, and live and travel in the Russian Federation and the other former republics of the USSR for more than nine years, and I first visited the Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense in Podolsk in May of 1992. In 1992 or 1993, I recall meeting both of our Colonels Sergey at Podolsk - Ilyenkov and Chuvashin - as bright young junior officers on the way up. Chuvashin was a captain and Ilyenkov was a senior lieutenant. I am delighted that Seryozha Ilyenkov is now the chief of the Archival Service of the General Staff, succeeding our old friend, Colonel Ovchinnikov, and Seryozha Chuvashin is the Chief of the Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense Archives. I recall with gratitude and affection Colonel Chuvashin's predecessors, Colonel Brilev and Colonel Luchkin, their professional courtesy with respect to our work and the wonderful luncheons we enjoyed there through the years, luncheons which were always a genuine reflection of Russian culture and hospitality. The Military Memorial Center of the Russian Armed Forces has also been very supportive through the years: a fond recollection is Colonel Viktor Mukhins excellent knowledge of both the German language and German beer at an emotion-charged conference of Soviet and German former POWs in Dresden. POWs truly share a common experience regardless of which side they are fighting for. Colonel Valery Filippov, who has worked with us for several years now, continues the fine tradition of Colonel Mukhin.

We have progressed from occasional research visits to the Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense at Podolsk in the early years to visits on a regular, scheduled basis since 1997, but the spirit of cooperation has remained constant throughout the past twelve years. We are always proud to cite the fact that, as the result of our mutual efforts at Podolsk, we have been able to help clarify the fates of a number of U.S. and Soviet servicemen. Deputy Chief Colonel Andrey Tikhonov and Senior Research Fellow Irina Pushkareva have been of great help in this work.

We are very grateful to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, or MVD, as we often call it, for its support and are delighted that Colonel Vladimir Kozin, the Director of the MVD Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, is with us. At the very beginning of the work of the Commission, the MVD carried out a nation-wide search of prisoner records in the provincial Internal Affairs Directorates to try to identify American POWs who might have been incarcerated in the Soviet Union during World War II and later. This check yielded information on a number of well-known U.S. civilian prisoners of the post-war period such as John Noble, Gary Powers (I escorted Gary Powers Jr. to Vladimir Prison to see where his father was held), and William Marchuk, and a very few prisoners who were military such as Private Sidney Ray Sparks, Corporal Murray Fields, and Private Wilfred Cumish. There were no American POWS or MIAs among these names, but we need to do more research. One solution to cope with the huge kartoteki, or prisoner files, we have encountered has been to contract with local archives in given regions such as Vorkuta and Perm to do research on our behalf. On our many trips around Russia, the local directorates have always been supportive and cooperative. Even after I made five trips to Magadan and Susuman and Uptar in Magadan Oblast in search of information on SGT Phillip Vincent Mandra, USMC, whose sister, Irene Mandra, is with us today, the local UVD Chief Colonel Blinda remained patient and ready to help. We were acutely aware that assistance to us was often rendered in the context of very limited financial resources. LT Col Pletkin, the chief of Zlatoust Psychiatric Prison for the criminally insane in the Urals near the marker separating Europe and Asia, sadly commented that Sweden spends more on a prisoner in a day than he had to spend in a month, yet he gave the job his very best and genuinely cared for his charges, by any measure not very nice people. I often think of the sign I saw at Perm-35, now a GULag museum, which stated, as a matter of fact, that here, in 1986, the last political prisoner in the Soviet Union was released. When I was studying Russian at Annapolis in the fifties I never dreamed I would visit Verkhneuralsk, Potma, Taishet, Arzamas, Inta, Ukhta, Syktyvkar, and prisons like Kresty. Colonel Vladimir Kozin deals with the legacy of the GULag and the correctional labor colonies, as prisons are called in Russia, on a daily basis, and we admire him for his efforts, and those of his predecessor, Colonel Nikishkin, who was so helpful not only to us, but also to Carl Modig and the Holocaust Museum.

Rear Admiral Boris Gavrilovich Novyy has worked with us for about seven years now. Much of what he has accomplished could not have been carried out without the cooperation of the Central Archives of the Russian Navy at Gatchina. Captain First Rank Igor Shchetin continues a tradition of cooperation going back to 1992 and Captain First Rank Reznikov, providing a great deal of information on our Cold War shoot downs and working with our Center for Naval History which is represented here today. Only through the resources of Gatchina was it possible several years ago for Admiral Novyy and I to go to Riga, Latvia, and meet with retired Captain Ponamarev, who actually stood on Pier 1 in Severomorsk and received the remains of Captain Eugene Posa, USAF, from Soviet ship SKR-56 at 1000 on October 19, 1960. Captain Posa had been on a RB-47 shot down near the Kola Peninsula on 1 July 1960.

We are delighted that Colonel Valery Sudkov of the Federal Security Services Border Guards Archives is with us this week. Working with Admiral Novyy, Colonel Sudkov's archives in Pushkino north of Moscow has provided very valuable information on several of the ten Cold War shoot downs the Commission is investigating.

Our cooperation with the Military Medical Archives in St Petersburg goes back a number of years to when Dr. Shevchenko was the Chief of the Military Medical Academy. Dr. Shevchenko became the Minister of Public Health of the Russian Federation, and I understand he is now the Chief Physician of Russia. Cooperation with Colonel Anatoly Budko's Military Medical Museum and its archives has enabled us to identify a number of WWII casualties who were treated in Soviet field hospitals. When the work they are doing for us is completed we hope that a great number of WWII cases will be resolved.

I cannot close my remarks without paying tribute to our friends and colleagues who are no longer with us. First to mind comes General Colonel Dmitriy Antonovich Volkogonov, who worked so diligently in the formative years of the work of the Commission, despite his serious illness. General Major Anatoliy Aleksandrovich Volkov, Dmitriy Antonovichs successor as Russian Co-Chairman of the Commission, left us much too soon under very sad circumstances, and we all miss the dour, good-natured needling of KGB/FSB Colonel Vyacheslav Mazurov, who seemed as if he were getting his questions straight from Press Chief Kobaladze some times. Another departed shipmate is Captain First Rank Sergey Tarasov, who always welcomed us so cordially at Gatchina. One of my treasured souvenirs of my time in Russia is a signed picture of the destroyer he served on which he presented to me as a fellow destroyerman with a touching, soaring toast which, it seems to me, is a gift of every Russian. Pust zemlya im budet pukhom! May the earth be like goose down to all of them!

Finally, we come to the real purposes of the present archival conference. After this conference, we would hope to have a better understanding of the declassification process in Russia and how we might better identify documents of interest to us on the basis of cryptic, unclassified finding guides. We would hope to identify approaches for research in other archives than the military archives such as Colonel Khristoforov's KGB/FSB archives, the Archives of the State Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, and the archives of the Foreign Intelligence Service. We want to understand better the economic and physical problems facing Russian archives. And we would hope that our Russian colleagues would have a better appreciation of our problems, be it declassification or the problems in getting subordinate records depositories to transfer their elderly documents on a timely basis. We must always keep in mind the ultimate goal of helping both our Russian guests and us clarify the fates of our missing citizens, particularly, those who have honorably served their countries in the military. These former Soviet citizens and Americans deserve no less.

Jim Connell and Irene Mandra








© 1950-2012 Korea-Cold War Families of The Missing, Inc.
All rights Reserved Internationally