The POWs We Left Behind – by Jamie Glazov


Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Lynn O’Shea, Director of Research for the National Alliance of Families for the Return of America’s Missing Servicemen.

FP: Lynn O’Shea, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Tell us what your Alliance is currently working on.

O’Shea: Currently, we are working toward the passage of House Resolution 111, calling for the formation of a Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in the House of Representatives.  It is our hope that the House Committee will pick up where the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs ended in 1993. When the Senate Committee published its final report, it contained several recommendations. One of those recommendations was that their work be ongoing. That has not happened. Since the Senate Committee ended, much new information has surfaced that requires in depth and objective review. Additionally, there is information within the records of the Senate Committee that did not make it into the final report. Some of this information directly impacts specific POW/MIA cases and how they should be investigated.

FP: The Senate Committee concluded in 1993 that “There is evidence, moreover, that indicates the possibility of survival, at least for a small number, after Operation Homecoming…” (Operation Homecoming, was the 1973 return of POWs upon the signing of the Paris Peace Accords.)

What exactly did this mean?

O’Shea: It meant in all probability that American servicemen were left behind at the end of the war in Southeast Asia. When Former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director James Schlesinger appeared before the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, he was asked directly if the United States left men behind in Southeast Asia.  Schlesinger responded: “As of now, I can come to no other conclusion.”

What no one knew at the time was that when the Committee published its final report,

committee investigators had put together a list based on various sources of information, including admissions by Vietnamese officials, that some servicemen were in fact captured but not acknowledged by either the North Vietnamese or the Viet Cong.

FP: What else has been discovered?

O’Shea: In 2006, we located two memos written by an investigator for the Senate Committee. The first dated July 22, 1992,  stated; “My review of JCRC (Joint Casualty Resolution Center) 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 memo went on to say: “this is the first admission from Vietnam that these nine were captured alive.” Of the nine servicemen named in this memo, only two have been accounted for.

The second memo dated August 1, 1992 expands on the earlier memo and increases the number of POWs from 9 to 19. That memo begins; “My review of POW/MIA case files disclosed DIA/JTFFA message traffic referring to individuals DOD now has information survived into captivity.” While these admissions have come from the Vietnamese government, our government continues to search for these men at their loss locations. Clearly, they will not be found at their loss locations unless the Vietnamese allow them to be found.

For years, we have speculated about the Senate Committee’s conclusion as to the “possibility of survival, for at least a small number after Operation Homecoming. We have asked: What is a small number? In August of 2008, we received our answer. That answer came in the form of another memo. This one was written based on a consensus of the investigators of the Senate Committee. This fifteen page memo began:  “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.”

The investigators concluded: “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…. U.S. field teams in Vietnam since 1989 have uncovered evidence that more Americans were in fact taken captive than officially recorded.”

The memo also acknowledged that the figure of 59 “represents the minimum number of possible live POWs today.”

Not only did the committee investigators determine a possible minimum number of 59 POWs as possibly surviving after Operation Homecoming, they named them. This stunning information along the names of potential POWs left behind at the end of the war in Southeast Asia was never made public as part of the Committee final report.   Even more unbelievable is the fact that none of the families whose loved ones were named on this list of possible survivors was ever informed of the information.

In addition to this formal memo, there are the working notes of various committee investigators.   They provide great insight, as to the evidence available on individuals captured but not acknowledged by the North Vietnamese or Viet Cong.

FP: What explains the government’s lack of movement on this? Is there a cover-up for some reason? What interests are being threatened?

O’Shea: The families of our unaccounted for POWs and MIAs have asked this question for years.   Prior to 1993, it was the job of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to investigate reports of POWs in Southeast Asia.   If you look at DIA actions and reactions from 1973 until approximately the 1982–83 time frame, you will find live sighting reports aggressively investigated.   This is especially true during the period 1979–1981 under the leadership of General Eugene Tighe.

When reviewing documents of the day, one can see a subtle shifting in attitude within the DIA moving into 1982 – 83.  Live sighting reports once viewed with an open mind were now viewed with the goal of disproving the report.   General Tighe described this as the “mindset to debunk.”   As the years progressed, that “mindset” deepened.

This shift in policy did not go unnoticed by the families of our POWs and MIAs.   They were quick to make their displeasure with the DIA known.   By 1985, the DIA was under the leadership of Commodore Thomas Brooks.     Brooks spent only four months at the DIA and he was not happy with what he found.   In a scathing memo, he wrote “I was not at all pleased with the situation I found when I took over responsibility for the POW/MIA issue. The deeper I looked the less professional the operation appeared.”

He went on to say “With regard to the allegation of “a mindset to debunk”, I must conclude that there is an element of truth to this as well, although probably not as much as has been publicly stated.”

Brooks ended his memo with this comment. “I am afraid we are in for some troubled times. We have not done our job as well as we should have in days passed and we will not withstand scrutiny very well.”

By 1991, Col. Millard Peck, head of the POW/MIA section at the DIA wrote, in his letter of resignation “The mindset to “debunk” is alive and well.  It is held at all levels, and continues to pervade the POW-MIA Office, which is not necessarily the fault of the DIA.  Practically all analysis is directed to finding fault with the source.  Rarely has there been any effective, active follow through on any of the sightings, nor is there a responsive “action arm” to routinely and aggressively pursue leads.  The latter was a moot point, anyway, since the Office was continuously buried in an avalanche of “ad hoc” tasking from every quarter, all of which required an immediate response.

It was impossible to plan ahead or prioritize course of action.  Any real effort to pursue live sighting reports or exercise initiative was diminished by the plethora of “busy work” projects, directed by high authority outside of the DIA.  A number of these grandiose endeavors bordered on the ridiculous, and – quite significantly – there was never an audit trail.   None of these taskings was ever requested formally.   There was, and still is, refusal by any of the players to follow normal intelligence channels in dealing with the POW-MIA Office.”

Is there a cover-up?  Many years ago, during a conversation with a military casualty officer handling POW/MIA matters, the subject of a cover-up came up.   This was his response.  “There’s no cover-up, just a lot of incompetence.”   Many individuals both in the military and political arena have staked their careers and reputation on the erroneous belief that no POW was left in Southeast Asia

FP: Why would a communist regime like North Vietnam keep our POWs? What have been some reports of what happened to them?

O’Shea: As far back as 1969, both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Rand Corp. a private think tank, concluded that the North Vietnamese would not return all the POWs in their custody at wars end.   It was believed the North Vietnamese would hold these men as bargaining chips to insure the U.S. abided by the provisions of any peace agreement negotiated.

Clearly, the U.S. government expected the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong to hold back POWs, and that is exactly what they did.

What happened to the unreturned POWs?  This is one of the great unanswered questions. Some reports have POWs in varying numbers in Vietnamese prisons.   Other reports have some dispersed throughout Southeast Asia, mostly in Laos, living in villages with limited freedoms but not free to leave.  Sadly, there are also reports that having outlived their usefulness, the POWs were executed.

FP: What have some defectors from enemy camps told us?

O’Shea: Live sighting reports vary.   Some are first hand and highly detailed.  One very significant and telling report comes from a Lt. in the North Vietnamese Army.   He defected to the South in April of 1973.   He told of seeing six American POWs and speaking with one of them on four occasions between August of 1972 and February of 1973.   He described his encounters with this POW providing his first name, state of birth, military rank and background and marital status.  The source described this POW down to a 1 ½” inch scar behind his left ear.   U.S. officials correlated this report to Army Captain John T. McDonnell, who had a 1 ½” scar behind his left ear.  This POW was alive after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords.   He never came home.

FP: What can be done?

O’Shea: What can be done?   That is a difficult question to answer.   We no longer have any leverage with the Vietnamese government.   Having lifted the trade embargo and granting diplomatic relations with Vietnam, we no longer have anything to negotiate with.  We gave away the store and got nothing of true value in return.

Our only options are to work for the total declassification of all POW/MIA documents.  In spite of two Presidential Executive Orders to declassify POW/MIA related material, much remains classified.    We also believe the passage of House Resolution 111 calling for the formation of a POW/MIA Select Committee in the House of Representatives will aid in our efforts to bring public awareness to the POW/MIA issue.   Additionally, it will allow an examination of information uncovered since the Senate Committee ended in January 1993.  There is also the matter of information the Senate committee either did not address or were unable to fully address.

FP: Lynn O’Shea, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.

  • aggreen1

    How can we expect the U.S. government to work towards accounting for the POW/MIAs in Vietnam when the country hasn't got the guts to demand that Russia account for the WWII POWS, liberated from the German Stalags, and sent to the Soviet Union's slave labor camps where they disappeared from history?Al

  • misha1776

    “Betrayed,” by Joseph Douglass, does a superb job of documenting this country’s willful abandonment of US POWs since World War II. The intelligence presented by Dr. Douglass indicates that a significant number were passed along to the Soviets for use in heinous weapons experiments and other nefarious purposes.

    For example, during the Korean War, the Soviets had the Czechs build a military hospital in North Korea ostensibly for the purpose of training their military physicians in treating combat trauma. It also served as an operating base for selecting healthy American POWs as specimens to secret through a circuitous path back to Russia for experimentation and exploitation.

    This is an incredible book written by a meticulous researcher and analyst. His many decades of service to America, working in the defense and intelligence community, are highly regarded. To our government’s shame, not one person in government ever contacted him regarding the information in this book. This in spite of the fact that much of his information came from some of the most highly regarded (and well vetted) intelligence sources to come out of the communist bloc.

    I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more on this topic. But be prepared to be furious with our government.

  • MaryAnn

    This just makes me sick. If there is even one American held prisoner anywhere, it should be a priority for our government to get him back. What in hell has America become? It's amazing to me that we can still find young men and women willing to fight for us; not only because of the POW/MIA situation, but that our soldiers are arrested and imprisoned for doing their job and the dangerous (for them) rules of engagement they are forced to comply with. Not to mention, again, the dithering of current president concerning Afganistan. Thank God for our soldiers, and pray for them daily.

  • Bill Corr

    Ancient Japanese POWs – along with willing or unwilling defectors – still turn up in Vietnam, Indonesia, China and Russia.

    A quiet campaign of offering worthwhile cash rewards for the return of the living and the dead in Laos and Vietnam is probably the best course of action.

    One hates to mention it, but there's the fact that the POW/MIA Industry painted itself very black indeeed during the Reagan years; some reports suggest that it was full of unscrupulous scam artists who made a good living out of it.

    Aggreen 1 is 100% right. Numerous Westerners dissappeared into the vast mass of the USSR, never to be seen again.

  • USMCSniper

    You Are Right On:

    In the Clandestine Service and Special Operations, many things that supposedly “never happened” took place in the Cold War's “shadow conflicts.” My experience and training in covert operations provided a lifetime of skills and insights upon which to investigate the mystery of unrepatriated POWs. Much to the chagrin of the Defense POW/MIA Office (DPMO), I did just that, arriving at viewpoints that run counter to its official dogma. Upon 33 years experience and more recent investigations in 1995-96, were reached the following conclusions. For half a century, the Soviet Union masterminded an elaborate exploitation of foreign prisoners of war. Into the Gulag Archipelago that contained 30 million Soviet nationals were sent hundreds of thousands of non-Soviets, including nearly half-a million Germans, Austrians, Italians and Japanese.

    The pool of foreign prisoners of war included hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans. What happened to these American G.I.s is a chapter in our nation's history that has, for too long, gone unwritten.

    The disappearance of Americans into the Gulag was intentional. If it were a mistake, it would have been corrected in diplomatic channels decades ago. The very nature of Clandestine Operations means they are not accidents. They are not acknowledged and never revealed. The greater the magnitude of the Covert Operation, the greater is the secrecy that surrounds it. The POW operation is one big secret.

    What the Soviet Union started in 1945, Russia, Vietnam, North Korea, China and even Cuba still guard today. Secrecy is still vital to these governments. (Former Warsaw Pact countries of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and the remnants of East Germany are also quiet of their knowledge of Soviet POW operations).

    First, the sensitivity of the Operations to exploit foreign POWs ranks as high as its nuclear programs. Both superpowers had nuclear arsenals. Both exploited prisoners in war time. But only the Soviets kept POWs incommunicado after the wars ended.

    Second, “communism” is not “dead.” It is only underground. There were no purges. Those who ran the KGB still run the SVR and a dozen other services in the former Soviet Union.

    Third, it is difficult, but not impossible, for communist veterans who know the fate of our POWs to come forward. Their lives, families and well-being are at risk. The Defense POW/MIA Office needs a new approach toward the POW mystery. Traditionally, it has concentrated its efforts on individual loss cases, essentially neglecting the “strategic” aspects of the problem that are fundamental to understanding what happened to unrepatriated POWs.

    When DPMO acts primarily as bone-hunters and archaeologists, it becomes easy for the Vietnamese and Lao Communists, Khmer Rouge, North Koreans, Chinese and Soviets to hide the existence of the broad-based clandestine programs they coordinated against the POWs.

    Since Vietnam, DPMO has focused sizable efforts on investigating crash sites, to the exclusion of larger issues. That needs to be adjusted, not for show, but for effect.

    The past is prologue. World War II, Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam were all linked. Soviet policy perspectives, intelligence requirements and covert operational needs were coordinated with their allies. America must understand the POW connection between those four conflicts before it can solve the issue of unrepatriated prisoners.

    The methods and goals of Soviet operations were not random, unplanned or untested actions that occurred spontaneously in each of those conflicts. They were connected. To understand the consequences of those operations, America needs to probe the strategic importance that the Soviets placed on foreign POWs.

    To do this, DPMO needs fewer “analysts” and more investigators — men and women who can exhaust leads and solve mysteries. DPMO has the information it needs to make a strong case against the Soviet and Russian governments in the POW affair. It claims it lacks the proof, but what DPMO really lacks is the will. Granted, more proof would make a better case so hire more investigators to obtain it. The proof is out there and it can be obtained. It is the effort, the commitment and the way DPMO applies resources that will count. Under the current DPMO management, it does not count for much. What DPMO needs, along with new management and real leaders, is a commitment and new efforts to aggressively pursue the twin issues of (a) unrepatriated POWs since World War II, as well as (b) the transfer of American POWs to the USSR. The recovery of remains alone is only part of the mission and in truth, it is better handled by the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA) and the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CIL-HI) .

    Even if every one of the POWs and MIAs who were left behind are now deceased, America still owes them a debt of honor. The full measure of their sacrifices can only be known by exposing what really happened to them. The facts may turn out to be ugly, but they must be revealed.

    What should America do with the sordid facts when they become known? Nations other than the U.S., faced with this same problem, enacted their own solutions. But they did it long before the “media age.” Today, the public and policy makers need to address options rather than hide them. The current rush to expand NATO is being undertaken without any thought of how the former Warsaw Pact countries could be pressured to reveal their knowledge of the Soviet operations.

    To understand what America is up against regarding the POWs, it is necessary to understand why it was it in the national interest of the Soviet Union to acquire, transfer and exploit Americans and other foreign POWs.

    In World War II, perhaps 6000-7000 American POWs went from Nazi Prison camps to the Gulag, partially because the Western Allies would not forcibly return Russian POWs who had fought for Germany against Stalin. Stalin could not exact vengeance on those he considered traitors, so he took a measure of revenge against the soldiers of those who denied him his will. American POWs of the Nazis, became hostages of the Communists.

    In Korea, American POWs were sent to Siberia and Moscow for nuclear radiation experiments, drug experiments, medical tests, intelligence exploitation, use of their identities, espionage, technical information, avionics, skilled labor, propaganda insights and forced labor. In the Cold War, the U.S. did not admit Soviet air space violations, so the Soviets did not acknowledge the presence of airmen it captured in this clandestine war.

    The Vietnam War was not isolated from the rest of the communist world or its collective experiences. Too many credible people have stepped forward, in private situations, to say otherwise. DPMO cannot be so arrogant as to believe that it has answered all the questions concerning the POWs. It has not even raised all the questions adequately.

    Let's be honest. The people who brought the West such tactical and intelligence defeats as Dien Bien Phu, Khe Sanh, Tet, Hue, the Cu Chi tunnel systems, the Ho Chi Minh Trail; and who infiltrated every U.S. and South Vietnamese military, intelligence and political organization of the war, are very capable of planning, executing and covering up an elaborate, secret, second-tier POW system. The Soviets, who never expected to lose the Cold War or answer for its human rights abuses of its own people or foreigners, have a history of acting with impunity.

  • johnmatejov

    I can validate all that Lynn has stated here… and potentially MORE when it comes to the downright shameful manner in which our government has handled the POW/MIA issue. My name is John Matejov… and along with Lynn's assistance, my two State Senators and lone Congresswoman fron the state of Wyoming, (and Steptoe and JohnsonLLP), our family is challenging DPMO's disgraceful handling of our brother's case, (VIETNAM), as we speak. Your head would spin with bewilderment when you hear of the facts of this case, and the facts of many others. The American public is quite unaware of what has NOT transpired over the years when it comes to “The Fullest Possible Accounting” by the DPMO office. It truly bothers me when a former President of our country personally tavels to an Asian country to obtain the freedom of two female “journalists” who may have knowingly crossed borders, were captured, convicted and incarcerated. While Americans, who put on our uniform were intentionally thrust into harm's way, became lost or captured…. and thier fates have fallen into the black hole that is our DPMO Office. Something is entirely wrong with this picture!

  • mokshaone

    Of all of the issues of the world, this one by far turns my stomach the most. To think of those who trusted their government rotting in horrible conditions still holding out some kind of hope that they would eventually be rescued or released, still putting out their secret code words or signs, makes me want to vomit. God forgive Kissinger because I never will!

  • PAthena

    Senator John McCain was a POW held by North Vietnam (which did not abide by the rules for treatment of POWs). Get in touch with him.

    • kim

      If you want to get anywhere, it's best to leave McCain out of it. He's blocked so many families from obtaining crucial info on their loved ones.

  • antioli

    I have read that the administrations wanted the issue of MIAs to be eliminated as they felt it was a politically liability to keep it going. The issue would keep N. Vietnam and the US at odds if the MIA issue did not disappear which would keep the war memories alive. Two of our later presidential candidates were assigned the task of eliminating any documentation that might keep the issue alive

  • Debbie

    Awesome article, very moving and OH so true. Believe what you will, but if the American people are no nieve as to believe we left NO ONE behind, it is a sad state of affairs that this country has come to. I am astounded that they do not teach the VN War as part of history in the schools any longer… this not history?

    I am an active member of Rolling Thunder, and I will not let people forget. I applaud the National Alliance of Families and our Chapter in NC is pushing NC Senators to sign on with House Resolution 111 so we can get some much needed action.

    The news reporters, report daily on the current war and happendngs, these same reporters need to keep ALL POW/MIAs in the forefront of the public so the American public starts demanding answers, not just the families. This will take all of us to make this right. If they are alive or dead, they need to be accounted for and they need to be brought home to the land they fought so hard for. Their families need closure and peace of mind that their loved ones have not been forgotten or forsaken.

    • kim

      roll on Debbie!……member of RTNC Chap.7 here!

  • John

    Senator McCain will not do anything about the issues of POWS he is no better than any of the others. How many veteran organization still push the issues of POWS/MIAS and are out there still keeping the issue alive and in the public forefront not too many other than one group VietNow which still believes in live POWS .

    • Kim

      WRONG! Rolling Thunder has a member base country-wide of over half a million….just by itself….and there are many more vet "biker" groups…..too many to list here that all carry the POW message.

  • johnmatejov

    I have oftentimes received comments such as this one to “Contact Senator McCain”… sad to say these comments prove to do nothing more than validate the level of, (how do I say this without ofending you?),… ignorance pertaining to the shamefull pursuit of the truth concerning our POW issue. For YOUR education, Senator McCain sat on the POW/MIA Select Committee… and actually summed up the “spin” on my brother's case directly. He, in effect turned many of the ambiguos, (and incorrect), sworn testimony into “fact” by his summation of this case. Intentionally? Care to watch the video of his closing remarks? As a former prisoner of war, (a shot down pilot no less), he could have blown this case wide open with his knowledge of survivor radio beacon use in a tactical environment…. (a pivotal topic for my brother's fate, and potentially three other members of this crew). My opinion about this man is that he directly sold out this issue…. a sad, but regrettably, a genuine view shared by many. Thanks for writing to me. I'd be happy to share more with you should you choose to discuss Joe's case. I am not yet allowed to openly discuss it in detail however, until the matter is resolved. Please google “The Baron-52 Incident” if you care to become more enlightened. Thanks again for your interest.

  • captnjack

    McCain & Kerry trashed the senate hearings in '93. Kerry destroyed documents. They knew their were POWs in N VN. Who received the contract to clear Haiphong Harbor? Ask Kerry. Kerry should be tried as a traitor. Kissinger should be tried as a traitor as well. McCain has buried documents in classified status until long after he (and us) are long dead – why?
    I voted for McCain for 2 reasons. One is it was easy to see our Liar in Chief was even worse than McCain could be. It was also hoped as pres enough pressure could be put on McCain to get some answers on those we left behind.
    Does anyone believe we had pilots suffering from malnutrition when shot down? The Viets handed over remains with that story.
    Much is known- more is hidden.

  • 4fingerz

    How can any of you believe that the U.S. Govt. will do anything at all? They are the enemy of our once great country!!! What we need is someone like Ross Perot to finish what he started in the early 80's, to go over and buy those POWS back!!!!! and do it privately.