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September 12, 2015

What is POW/MIA Recognition Day? Let's start with what it is not. It is not a day to honor returned POWs. They have their day of honor in April. It is not a day to honor veterans. Their day is November 11, Veterans Day. It is not a day to honor our war dead. Their day is in May, Memorial Day.

POW/MIA Recognition Day is a day to honor and remember our service members listed as Prisoner of War or Missing in Action from World War II, Korea, Cold War, Vietnam, Operation El Dorado Canyon and the Gulf Wars who never came home, service members whose fate remains a mystery today.

As we mark another POW/MIA Recognition Day we note that recent articles in the media have focused solely on the recovery and identification of remains. We commend and fully support all efforts to recover and scientifically identify remains both from the field and those buried as Unknown in our wartime cemeteries.

The Department of Defense has done a magnificent job getting the media to focus on remains recoveries while ignoring the issue of Live Sighting reports and the possibility of surviving POWs from our past wars. We must challenge the Defense Department and specifically the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), asking what about live POWs? In recent years we've seen Japanese POWs captured by the Soviets during World War II, and South Korean soldiers captured and held in North Korea during the Korean War returned to their homeland. If the Soviets held Japanese POWs, and the North Koreans held South Korean POWs, why would they not hold American POWs?

As for Vietnam, during the war the U.S. government operated under the assumption the North Vietnamese would also hold back American Prisoner of War. As early as January 1969, the Rand Corporation in a study titled Memorandum RM 5729 1-ARPA January 1969 - Prisoners of War in Indochina" by Anita Lauve Nutt recognized the strong probability the North Vietnamese would hold back a number of POWs at the end of hostilities. The North Vietnamese considered POWs as bargaining chips. Ms. Lauve concluded her study with this comment.

No matter what terms are agreed upon, it would be unduly optimistic to believe that the DRV [Democratic Republic of Vietnam] and the VC [Viet Cong] will release all U.S. prisoners immediately after conclusion of an agreement in the expectation that the United States will meet its military, political, or monetary commitments. More likely, they will insist on awaiting concrete evidence of U.S. concessions before releasing the majority of American prisoners, and will retain some of them until all U.S. commitments have been fulfilled.

The Central Intelligence Agency reported in November 1970 the North Vietnamese would look for reasons "for not returning all American prisoners." Everyone recognized the value placed on POWs by the North Vietnamese, Lao and Viet Cong and expected them to use POWs as bargaining chips. Why is anyone surprised they did exactly what everyone expected them to do? They held back American POWs.

As late as 1992, CIA acknowledged the existence of a 1975 study on POW/MIA matters. In a letter to Senator John Kerry, CIA noted, "There is a statement in the introduction to the publication which states that the DRV planned to keep some Americans secretly."

By the Defense POW/MIA Office's (now DPAA) own admission some 2.76% of all Live Sighting reports remain unresolved. While visiting the new DPPA web site we found two pages dealing with Live Sighting reports. As with most information coming out of DPMO/DPAA the information is contradictory.

The first page contains a document titled "Vietnam-Era Statistical Report" current as of 8/31/2015. This two page documents contains the current number of the missing broken down by branch of service, country of loss and pursuit status. It also contains the number of service members accounted for since 1973. That number includes service members identified without benefit of actual remains.

The second page provides a breakdown of the 1,996 "Firsthand Live Sighting" received since 1975. DPAA list 1,340 reports or 67.13% as equating to "Americans who are accounted for." Another 45 reports or 2.25% of the reports were "correlated to wartime sightings of military personnel or pre-1975 sighting of civilians who remain unaccounted for." A total of 556 reports or 27.86% reports "were determined to be fabrications."

The remaining 55 reports or 2.76% represent unresolved Firsthand Live Sighting reports. They are described this way.

48 (2.40%) pertain to Americans reported in a captive environment.

7 (0.35% reported sightings of Americans in a non-captive environment (i.e. working as truck drivers; married with Vietnamese family).

A timeline of the unresolved live sighting reports, by year of sighting follows.

This document omits one very important piece of information. How many POWs are represented by the 55 unresolved Firsthand Live Sighting Reports? Does each of the 55 reports represent only one POW, or are multiple POWs discussed? If each report discusses 2 POWs the number of POWs is over 100. Most likely the reports are a combination of individual and multiple POWs. However, as unresolved Live Sighting Reports remain classified, we will never know.

This report also lists 5,614 reports in the category of "Hearsay Sighting Reports." These could be second, third, or fourth etc. hand reporting. DPAA provided no comment or breakdown regarding these reports. Are all 5,614 reports fabrications? That would be a staggering statistical improbability.

Also discussed are "Crash/Grave Site" and "Dog Tag" reports. While DPAA provides no comment or breakdown on the "Crash/Grave Site" reports, there is a detailed breakdown of the "Dog Tag" reports.

The second DPAA web page discusses "generic case files," for Vietnam. The first problem with this page is DPMO/DPAA has not updated the page since December 2004. The "generic files" list the following unresolved Live Sighting Reports.

The second problem is that a count of the reports listed totals 32 vs. the 55 listed on the "Vietnam-Era Statistical Report," with the most recent report dated November 24, 2004. Again there is no indication as to the number of POWs represented in these report. Three of the reports mention the number of POWs reported, three. Others discuss Americans in the plural. Unexplained is how the number of reports jumps from 32 to 55 while the "Vietnam-Era Statistical Report" timeline shows only one reported sighting in the period 2006 - 2015.

One of the 32 reports, Index #412 dated 091641ZNOV79 and titled Americans in North Vietnam, may still be officially classified. However, its content and the multitude of documents associated with it are readily available. This is the sighting of 3 American POWs in North Vietnam by Mr. Mr. Tran Vien Loc, better known as the "Mortician."

Tran was a Vietnamese citizen of Chinese ethnicity. In the late 1970s, with tension between China and Vietnam high, Hanoi sought to purge itself of Chinese nationals and Vietnamese of Chinese ethnicity living in Vietnam. Some returned to China. Others became refugees, Tran among them.

Working for the North Vietnamese government in Hanoi as a mortician, it was Tran's job to process the remains of U.S. POWs. Tran estimated he prepared the remains of some 400 American servicemen, before he was forced to flee the country. Once prepared, the Vietnamese government stored the remains. In the years that followed, they would dole out the remains, using them to gain favor with the U.S. At some point, the Vietnamese government realized they had made a mistake in letting someone with Tran's knowledge out of the country. He received threats and lived for many years in fear for his life. To protect his identity, U.S. officials gave him the nickname "the Mortician." His name not revealed until decades later.

The Mortician received much publicity for his information on remains. Rarely mentioned is his report of seeing three Americans in Hanoi on several occasions. He believed these Americans were POWs. During his deposition for the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, when asked how the Defense Intelligence Agency rated the Mortician's live sighting report, then head of the Agency, General Eugene Tighe responded, "Very high and we were amazed... We considered it factual, as a matter of fact compared his sighting location with the location that Garwood subsequently gave, and I think it was close to the same place or in the same neighborhood." We will have more on the Mortician's live sightings in a future edition of Bits N Pieces.

We found no statistical reports for the Korean War. We did find a DPAA web page for "generic files" listing classified and declassified reports. The list of unresolved live sightings follows. There is no indication as to when this page was last updated.

The DPAA website list 14 Cold War losses between 1950 and 1969. Today we focus on two of those losses. The first is a Navy Privateer, with a crew of 10 including Robert Reynolds, shot down by Soviet aircraft over the Baltic Sea on April 8, 1950. The second is an Air Force RB-29 lost over the Sea of Japan, with a crew of 12 including Samuel Busch, on June 13, 1952. All 22 servicemen remain among the missing.

Both incidents are discussed in a report produced by Task Force Russia (POW/MIA) in support of the U.S. Delegation U.S. - Russian Joint Commission on Prisoners of War/Missing in Action titled "American Servicemen Missing in Action: The Korean and Cold Wars." According to the report,

"…on 17 July 1956, Washington had acquired sufficient information from numerous different intelligence sources to support the belief that some or all of this crew night have been picked up by Soviet forces and imprisoned. In a demarche that mentioned both the RB-29 and the 8 April 1950 Privateer crew, Secretary of State Dulles referred to reports concerning detained U.S. military personnel, reports that had "become so persistent, detailed, and credible" that they could not be ignored. This demarche described reporting from released inmates of the Soviet Gulag who had "converse with, seen, or heard reports concerning United States military personnel" in the Gulag and concluded that the United States government "is compelled to believe that the Soviet government has had or continues to have under detention" members of the Privateer crew and the crew of another lost flight, an RB-29 shot down over the Sea of Japan on 13 June 1952."

Two of the hundreds perhaps thousands of our unreturned Korean War POWs….

Sam Logan - Shot down September 9, 1950, Air Force Major Sam Logan left a trail of his captivity, scratching his name and date of shoot down on a jail cell wall of the Pyongyang court-house in North Korea, along with the notation September 27, 1950.

The most compelling evidence of Logan's capture comes in the form of this photo taken by the Soviets. Sam Logan, clearly a Prisoner of War, remains among the missing.

Richard Desautels - The Chinese Government, after years of denial, admitted American POWs, including Army Sgt. Richard Desautels, were taken into China. Did Richard Desautels die in April 1953 as the Chinese claim or was he alive in August 1953 as American POWs reported.

Were American POWs from the Korean War transfered to China and the former Soviet Union? Did North Korean hold back our POWs as they held back South Korean POWs?

"There is evidence, moreover, that indicates the possibility of survival, at least for a small number, after Operation Homecoming…." Conclusion of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs January 13, 1993.

An internal memo, addressed to Senator John Kerry, thru Francis Zewnig, the Committee's staff director titled, "The Universe of Possible POWs: 1973 versus 1992," dated August 17, 1992 states,

The memo continued.

In the fall of 1991 the Senate Select Committee identified one of its priority tasks as defining the universe of Americans who could have survived in captivity in Southeast beyond the end of Operation Homecoming in April 1973. This led to a recovery of major historical documents which confirm what the Administration knew in 1973 and what it knows today.

After collecting and analyzing the various lists of confirmed or possible prisoners and reviewing the case files of each of these individuals, the Committee staff has drawn the following conclusions:

-- Due to the nature of the war in Southeast Asia it was not possible to state at any time since 1973 that all Americans reported captured in Southeast (Asia) and not repatriated alive during Operation Homecoming were dead by the end of Operation Homecoming.

- Since 1989 U.S. teams have gathered evidence in Vietnam that between 20 and 30 Americans, neither officially acknowledged by Vietnam as a POW at Operation Homecoming nor officially classified a POW by the Defense Department, were in fact taken prisoner by the Vietnam People's Army during the war. Most appear to have died before 1973 but the fate of at least 5 is as unclear today as it was 19 years ago. Defense Department archival intelligence files contain reports these individuals had been captured during the war.

-Today, Defense Department files contain evidence that at least 59 Americans were -- or may have been -- taken prisoner and their precise fate is still unclear. This includes the 20-30 not officially acknowledged by Vietnam in 1973. This represents the minimum number of possible live POWs today."

The Committee staff notes that those cases which appeared in 1973 to offer the greatest hope of survivability have, with the receipt of remains and new information, resulted in evidence that most whose fate in captivity could not be confirmed in 1973 now appear to have died in captivity prior to 1973. However, U.S. field teams in Vietnam since 1989 have uncovered evidence that more Americans were in fact taken captive than officially recorded.

Two earlier memos generated by an investigator for the Senate Select Committee dated July 22, and August 1, 1992, list by name a total of 19 servicemen acknowledged by the Vietnamese as captured.

The July 22, memo states,

"My review of JCRC casualty files has surfaced several messages which list a total of nine American servicemen Vietnam has acknowledged were captured alive, all of whom are listed by DOD as having been declared dead while missing. None are officially listed as ever having been a POW. This information has come from Vietnamese officials a piece at a time over the past two years."

The nine POW acknowledged by the Vietnamese are, Carlos Ashlock, James T. Egan, Jr., Robert L. Greer, Roger D. Hamilton, Gregory J. Harris, Donald S. Newton, Madison A. Strohlein, Robert L. Platt and Fred Schreckengost. Remains for
both Greer and Schreckengost were recovered. Commenting on Greer and Schreckengost, the memo notes, "During the recovery of their remains in 1990 Vietnamese officials acknowledged they had been captured alive and killed in captivity. The U.S. Marine Corps still does not list them as having died in captivity but to have died while in a MIA status."

The August 1, memo states,

"My review of POW/MIA case files disclosed DIA/JTFFA message traffic referring to individuals DOD now has information survived into captivity."

Named in the memo are, Carlos Ashlock, Richard Bram, John Dingwall, James Egan, Robert Greer, Roger Hamilton, Gregory Harris, Paul Hasenbeck, Thomas Mangino, Fredric Mellor, Donald Newton, Daniel Nidds, Robert Platt, John McDonnell, John O'Grady, Fred Schreckengost, David Winters, and Martin Massucci and Charles Scharf (1 of 2).

A small sampling of our POWs and MIAs, they are what POW/MIA Recognition Day is all about.

Charles Shelton - Laos
David Hrdlicka - Laos

John McDonnell - So. Vietnam

Roger Dumas - Korea
Philip Mandra - Korea
Ronald Van Wees - Korea
Jack Lively -
Cold War

A small sampling of our POWs and MIAs, they are what POW/MIA Recognition Day is all about.
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