March 1973: After years of fighting the Communists in SE Asia, the United States calls it quits, and its sons who fought the war and were captured by the enemy, some imprisoned for up to 8 years, prepare for their time of liberation and a return to the Land of the Free.
“To see that US aircraft, the Air Force uniforms come out of that aircraft, it melts your heart because you know freedom’s just a few hours away.
It’s kind of hard to hang in there, day after day, in my case, 2110 days, you’ve just got to have absolute belief that some day your country’s going to come get you. When I went to Vietnam, I was prepared to be killed, to be wounded, even to be captured. But I was not prepared to be abandoned by the country that sent me there” – former American POW.
The war ended in January 1973, with a negotiated cease fire. 591 prisoners, or only about 12 percent of those requested by the US, were returned during “Operation Home Coming” in February and March 1973.
Laos was another story. More than 500 pilots were shot down over Laos during the war. But none were returned, even though the Laos government indicated they desired to release American POW’s.
February 19, 1973 (UPI): “A Pathet Lao spokesman said his group is holding American prisoners of war who will be released after a cease fire goes into effect.”
But how many POW’s were they holding?
March 25, 1973 (UPI): “US sources believe that a substantial number of missing in Laos – perhaps as many as 100 – still may be alive.”
Laos made it clear. If American POW’s were to be released, Laos needed a separate cease fire agreement with the US – one separate from the agreement made with North Vietnam.
A Washington Post report headline dated February 18, 1973 stated, “Pathet Lao says, no truce, no American POW’s”. But the US government appeared unwilling to negotiate a cease fire with Pathet Lao. And American chief negotiator at the Paris peace talks, Henry Kissinger, wanted American prisoners held in Vietnam and Laos returned in Vietnam through Hanoi.
March 26, 1973: North Vietnam announces they will release the last American prisoners being held, on March 27 and 28.
March 26, 1973 (AP): “The US demand that it also release POW’s captured in Laos, is beyond the Paris Peace Agreement.”
Capt. Eugene “Red” McDaniel (former POW): “After having asked for over 3,700 men, they gave us their list, the Vietnamese list of 591, which I happened to be one of. We accepted that list and came home in four groups. 591 men. And on April 13, 1973, and this is public record, the US government said, ‘they’re all dead!’. Well, my question is, what happened to those other 3,109 that we asked for between March of 73 and April 73, when we declared them all dead. What happened to those men?”
And, why would the United States government declare American prisoners of war dead, less than three weeks after US sources reported to UPI that as many as 100 were still alive, and after the United States originally asked for 3,700 men?
In a futile attempt to buy freedom for America’s POW’s, a secret letter dated February 1, 1973, was sent to the North Vietnamese Prime Minister from Henry Kissinger. The letter stated that the United States was willing to pay $3.2 billion dollars over five years. While this offer was being made by the Executive Branch, Congress was busying itself investigating the torturous treatment received by our servicemen at the hands of their Communist captors. Many former American POW’s testified to being tortured any number of ways throughout a given day.
One of the most brutalized of all, had this to say, “We’re talking, seven days and seven nights with no sleep, kneeling on concrete twenty-four hours a day, electric shock treatment about three hours per session, getting beaten with a fan belt about fifty times. And that was just the physical torture. The psychological torture was even worse. They’d come down and interrupt your daily interrogation and tell you there’s been a change in your family. And if you asked what kind of change, they would say, you don’t need to know. And you live with that for the next three or four years.”
April 6, 1973: Angered by reports of torture, the US Senate voted 88-3 to bar any financial aid to North Vietnam.
April 12, 1973: The Pentagon declares all American POW’s dead.
April 30, 1973: White House staffers Bob Haldeman, John Erlichman and John Dean, were forced to resign. The POW issue was forced to take a back seat as the Nixon Administration became entangled in Watergate.
Being skeptical of Nixon’s ability to deliver the $3.25 billion dollars, which he never did, the North Vietnamese decided to keep their collateral, meaning prisoners from the war. And it wasn’t the first time the Vietnamese had ransomed prisoners. French POW’s waited years for an agreement to be made. Evidence shows one example of this old Communist technique taking place after the liberation of numerous Nazi prison camps after World War II. Stalin had held thousands of American and Allied prisoners, vowing not to return any of them unless numerous Soviet demands were met.
General Eisenhower was aware that Americans were being held prisoner in the Soviet Union just weeks after the end of the war. In a secret message dated May 9, 1945, sent to General George Marshall in Washington, he estimated the number of prisoners being held at 25,000. Ominously, those Americans never returned home.
American POW’s taken from the Korean War were also transported to the Soviet Union. This fact was confirmed in a secret memo to the US Embassy in Moscow from then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, advising the Soviets that the United States was indeed aware that US POW’s from Korea were being held in the Soviet Union.
Also verifying this is a Combined Reconnaissance Activities Report, dated February 24, 1953, as well as a CIA report dated July 15, 1951, which also mentions 78 American POW’s from Korea being held in a camp in China.
Former Defense Intelligence Agency Director Daniel Graham had this to say, “The Soviets would come with a list of specialties and look and pick among the POW’s being held in North Korea and then ship them out.”
A CIA intelligence report dated as recently as March 9, 1988, indicates that at least some American POW’s from the Korean War may still be alive. It states, “11 Caucasians, possibly American prisoners, were seen on a farm north of P’Yongyang.”
What are the chances that American POW’s from Vietnam were also shipped to the Soviet Union?
According to Jerry Mooney, Former National Security Agency analyst, when the Soviets had the occasion to take into their possession, prisoners with superior technical knowledge, they would move them to a small underground prison located in Vietnam. The prisoners would then be taken to a small air field and flown to the coast. From there, they would be taken by boat, rather than by plane, to the USSR. He explains, “If a ship went down, the evidence was gone. If a plane goes down, there’s evidence all over the place.”
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Testimony before the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in 1991 by a former Soviet KGB official and a former Vietnamese General, suggests American POW’s were interrogated by the Soviets.
Committee member, Senator Robert Smith, explains the significance of this admission, “All the American POW’s who came home, never gave any indication that they were ever interrogated by Russians. So, if that’s the case, where are all the ones who were?”
Smith and the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA affairs, Senator John Kerry, were appointed to a joint US/Russian Commission to comb KGB files for answers regarding the fate of American prisoners from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Former President George Bush Sr., “There’s no hard evidence of prisoners being alive.”
Former Congressman and former consultant to the Defense Intelligence Agency, Bill Hendon, strongly disagrees with the former President as he furiously lists cases of documented sightings to the Senate Committee: “49 in North Vietnam, 200 in North Vietnam, 4 in South Vietnam, 184 in Vietnam, 70 to 80 in North Vietnam, a ‘truck load’ in North Vietnam, 2 in Laos, ‘a group’ in North Vietnam, 50 in Laos, 230 in Vietnam from the CIA, and 219 more in Vietnam from a Vietnamese doctor who testified that he took care of them.”
Testifying before then Senator Al Gore and the Senate Rules Committee in 1991, Former Congressman Hendon stated that evidence is overwhelming that American POW’s are still alive. In his testimony, he quoted as saying, “Many of the reports are, I believe, highly reliable. 50 in Laos, double-polygraph confirmed, 6 in Laos, double-polygraph confirmed. The accounts are highly specific as to location.”
Again, former National Security Agency analyst Jerry Mooney, says the United States government knew from the beginning that it would be difficult to get all American POW’s returned home because the Vietnamese considered them to be ‘war criminals’, not ‘prisoners of war’. Mr. Mooney also says the US intelligence community, behind the scenes, was keeping track of American POW’s. He is further quoted as saying, “While the overt side of government, the policy side, had declared them dead just to calm down the American people, the highest national requirement, from the highest levels of government, remained on the books in the intelligence community. And that requirement was to: ‘Identify, Search for, Locate and Bring Home’ these POW’s.”
Throughout the years, the message to the American public has remained the same; there is no hard evidence the American POW’s are still being held. However, the operational side of government was directed to keep looking and keep identifying POW’s.
Mr. Jerry Mooney’s job at the NSA was to compile a list of actual, confirmed, living POW’s to be used in the ongoing talks with the Vietnamese. Mr. Mooney goes on to explain, “My list, my original list, of live POW’s was 305. And that’s a short list. To get on my list was hard, very difficult. My list could very easily have been 500 to 600.”
Some former intelligence chiefs have shared Mooney’s belief that American prisoners are still alive in SE Asia.
October 1985: Former CIA Director, William Casey, told a group of five US Congressmen, “Everyone knows they’re there, but there’s no public support to get them out. What do you want, another hostage crisis? We messed up. It’s my job to see that we don’t mess up again.”
October 9, 1985: Former National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, Robert McFarland, made this remark before a luncheon group in New York, “There have to be Americans there. There is more that we ought to be doing.”
June 1985: The former head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, publicly stated his belief that as many as 50 to 60 American POW’s are being held in SE Asia.
In 1986, a Pentagon Commission concluded that American prisoners are still being held and there as a large volume of evidence.
In a recent interview, Rep. Bob Dornan recalls his trip to Hanoi in an attempt to win the freedom of America’s POW’s. He quotes himself as saying to the Vietnamese officials, “Let’s talk turkey about getting our guys out. You know what one of the Communists said to me? And I’ve never said this on camera before – he said, ‘you raise a million and then we’ll talk’. That’s what he said to me and I’ll polygraph on it!”
In 1991, during testimony before the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, the Pentagon’s Bill Bell, who headed the POW/MIA office in Hanoi, testified he knew of Americans being held in captivity in SE Asia long before 1973.
Former Air Force Intelligence Officer, Lt. Col. Al Shinkle, has tracked American POW’s in Laos for two decades. He says he has discovered 324 of the 500 pilots shot down over Laos were still alive. He details a conversation he had with the Laosian Ambassador to Thailand in December 1985, “I asked him if they did indeed have American prisoners of war and he said yes, we have them in large numbers. When I asked him if they were available for recovery, he said yes, they were for sale.”
Sinkle states no action was taken after he reported the conversation to US Intelligence.
Vietnam War hero, former Green Beret Commander and POW hunter, Col. James “Bo” Gritz, says very early on in President Reagan’s first term, the Administration had a plan to rescue American prisoners of war. He said the President’s plan included using the Army’s Delta Force.
Candidly, Gritz explains, “The operation wouldn’t have succeeded, I don’t believe. Because they were going to fly off a floatilla, across Vietnam, into Laos. I just don’t think it would have worked. But, President Reagan was excited about rescuing prisoners of war.”
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared the POW/MIA issue would be America’s highest priority. In a letter to a POW family member dated May 19, 1982 from the President, he states, “I know there is a perception that little action is taking place, but this is because the operations that are going on are of a covert nature.”
March 1992, Legion Magazine: “We have the sensitivity of a pile driver in dealing with the families” – General Hohn Vessey, Presidential Emissary, POW/MIA Affairs.
A 1986 interview with the late Marion Shelton, who was the wife of an American POW, finds her echoing the feelings of many POW/MIA families, “I think the worst emotion you have through the years is despair. I’ve learned to not think about where my husband is or what’s happening to him, because you can’t think about that. You’ll die.”
Seventeen years after American involvement ended, the Vietnam War claimed yet another victim. Marion Shelton was the matriarch of the POW/MIA movement. Her husband, Col. Charles Shelton, was known to have been captured alive when his plane went down over Laos in April 1965. To this day, he is the only official prisoner of war listed by the United States government. Unanswered questions and 25 years of waiting to be reunited with her husband proved too much for Marion Shelton to bare. She had lost faith in her government. Washington, she believed, had failed her. Feeling hopeless and alone, Marion Shelton took her own life in September 1990.
Vera Hart no longer believes the United States government will help to unite her with her son. Col. Thomas Hart was shot down over Laos in December 1972. The Pentagon attempted to return a set of remains to Hart’s wife Anne in 1985. Believing her husband was still alive, she refused to accept them. The government insisted and said they would be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, regardless of the family wishes.
Former NSA analyst Jerry Mooney again recalls his experience, “When the Thomas Hart case came up and the government said they’d recovered remains, I knew that to be an error.” When the decoded information came over the tape, taken from North Vietnamese communications and detailing the survival and capture of Thomas Hart, among others, Jerry Mooney recalls the conversation he had with his supervisor, “I asked him, ‘are you going to call DIA? Call them on the secure phone and say that you have confirmation that the North Vietnamese have captured Thomas Hart and these other people on the message?’ He said, ‘no, DIA doesn’t have to know everything’. He then took it and crumpled it up and threw it in the ‘burn bag’ and it went to the shredder.”
Mooney knew that Thomas Hart was alive. And others knew that the bones identified by the Army Central Identification Lab were not Harts.
Forensic Anthropologist from Colorado State University, Dr. Michael Charney, examined the bones after a court order forced the Army to turn them over. This is his analysis, “You could not even tell if those seven pieces of bone came from the same person. The only thing you could tell from these bones is it was probably a male over the age of 19, period. That’s it. No more.”
In 1986, Dr. William Maples, a Physical Anthropologist at the University of Florida, told members of Congress that a number of Anthropologists had examined several similar sets of remains and agreed, they were unidentifiable.
Why then, did the Army tell family members that these were the remains of their loved ones when they were not identifiable?
Jerry Dennis sent his six-foot, Caucasian brother off, but was surprised when the Army returned the remains of a five-foot-five Oriental. He says, “The helicopter Mark was in uses JP4 or JP5 nonleaded fuel. This body had been blown-up with American grenades and burned with regular gasoline. Dog tags pinned to the blanket wrapped around the body were burned by simply holding a book of matches underneath them.”
Senator John Kerry (D-MA): “Has anyone ever held you back or restrained your efforts to find somebody, or diverted information that you have provided or covered-up any information that you have provided?”
Bill Bell, the Pentagon’s POW/MIA Office in Hanoi: “Yes Sir.”
When a picture turned-up in 1991 of three men that some thought were American POW’s, the hopeful family members were grateful to hear that three sets of fingerprints were taken off the photo. However, when each of the families requested the fingerprint card from the files the Army keeps, they were told the cards had mysteriously vanished from all offices throughout the various levels of government.
If there has been a cover-up by elements within the United States government, what is the reason for it? When did it start and why?
Col. Millard Pep believes that there is a mindset to debunk information. He resigned as head of the Pentagon’s Special Office on POW/MIA Affairs, February 1991. In his letter of resignation, he charged that his office was being used as a “toxic waste dump to bury the whole mess”. He termed the handling of the whole matter, “A farce, conducted with smoke and mirror tactics, to stall the issue until it dies a natural death”.
If there has not been a POW cover-up, at the very least, there has been an effort to suppress information about POW’s.
John Sommer, the Executive Director of the American Legion says the Communists have been more forthcoming with information than the Pentagon. In his testimony, he is quoted as saying, “We actually get more hard information from the Vietnamese than we have from the Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense or any other American entity involved with this issue.”
Marine Private Bobby Garwood, a POW returned in 1981, wasn’t given a hero’s welcome by any measure. After he testified to being just one of 70 or 80 other American POW’s still being held, he was arrested and charged with aiding and abetting the enemy.
Researched and originally produced by the American Defense Institute, and reproduced and distributed by The Liberty House.