The Fate of Our POWs From The Korean War

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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is John Zimmerlee, Executive Director of the Korean & Cold War POW/MIA Network.

FP: John Zimmerlee, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Let’s begin with what happened with our missing servicemen from the Korean War and what, for 60 years, the American government has said about them to their families. What is the real fact?

Zimmerlee:  Thanks Jamie.

Immediately after the Korean War, families were told not to talk about their missing loved-ones as it might endanger their life, safety, and possible return.  The truth is that President Eisenhower knew full well that thousands of American servicemen were still alive and in captivity, but pursuing them might start World War III.

FP: Why were our servicemen taken and kindly give a little bit more information about why Eisenhower and our government didn’t do anything about it?

Zimmerlee: Russia was a silent partner in the Korean War, supplying guns, aircraft, and pilots to China. In return, the Chinese agreed to send unrecorded prisoners to Siberia. Russia denied any involvement in the war.

According to Soviet estimates, more than 14 million captured citizens and prisoners of war passed through the Russian prison system, gulags, for free labor in mining and forestry camps throughout Siberia.

During the Korean War, aviators were interrogated by the Chinese for overall knowledge of the war and technical knowledge of the aircraft, then sent to the gulags. Ground forces were sent to the gulag directly.

The war was unpopular, and was lasting too long. No one would surrender. A cease fire agreement, Armistice, took more than a year to prepare and was reluctantly signed. Meanwhile, Congress had approved the use of a nuclear bomb.

Eisenhower had to make a decision.  The only way to locate these men was to invade Siberia and look for them across an area of 5.1 million square miles, with no guarantee of finding them.

FP: What have American presidents done in terms of the closed documents on the cases of our missing servicemen? What have been the results?

Zimmerlee: In 1995, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12958 which stated all documents more than 25 years old should be declassified at a rate of 15% per year. By 2001, all should have been available to the public, but no effort was ever made and most of those more than even 50 years old are still classified to this day.

In 2003, George Bush signed Executive Order 13292 which repeated the language of the previous EO, but stated that in documents that may concern National Defense or ‘weapons of mass destruction’ . . . they may be kept classified for up to 50 years. Again, departments have claimed that the order was not funded and therefore they didn’t comply.

In 2009, Obama signed E O 13526 which stated the same thing, but made allowances of 75 years for sensitive documents.

No doubt the next relative EO will allow a hundred years of secrecy.

FP: Tell us about your own research and what you have discovered.

Zimmerlee: When the Defense Prisoner of War – Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) was created in 1995, I met with their attorney and initial staff to determine just what they would be doing.

During my very first meeting, it was evident that research and discovery was not their main focus. If any information was to surface, I knew I would have to find it myself.

Over the last 17 years, I have scanned more than 92,000 declassified documents and discovered compelling evidence on 835 MIA cases and 190 KIA cases that clearly indicate these men were known PRISONERS of WAR, but their families were never told.

But, I have seen only about 10% of the documents related to the Korean War POW/MIA issue. Just imagine what I could discover if the “Classified Documents” (about 90%) were released.

FP: So who is it exactly that is not obeying the orders signed by Clinton, Bush and Obama? Who exactly is succeeding in blocking the release of the documents and of the truth. And why?

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  • tagalog

    On rare occasions, in my readings about the gulag, I come across brief passages mentioning U.S. citizens, members of the armed forces, in the gulag. These are NOT the unfortunate American Communists and fellow travelers who went to the USSR in the 1930s as part of Stalin's industrialization invitation who wound up in the gulag, but soldiers and airmen during the 1950s period. Of the U.S. POWs in the hands of the North Koreans/Red Chinese whose fate seems a bit odd, is there any information about who (if anyone) wound up in the gulag, how many, and where they went? Surely there are NKVD/KGB records.

    Do Haynes and Klehr know anything about this?

  • WilliamJamesWard

    The Communists or any enemy that takes prisoners usually kills them outright if they are deemed of no_use including ingtelligence gathering. America has had a policy of humane treatment for POW'S, but war_is such a dirty business and feelings are so charged with anger that policy and practice fall to personality._On both sides of armed conflict the emotions run high and quite often a prisoner is simply disposed of_and without fanfare, however if captured by Americans the record of survival is much higher and treatment_beyond compare. __Americans lost to fighting Communists are the loved ones of some citizen family and one would think a great_effort would be made to secure their release. I think the truth is that the Communists knew the hurt not returning_prisoners would cause was a way to weaken and America they would always be in conflict with thus no_return, denial only but exception if there was money changing hands. Communists can not be considered_humanitarians and do not think like what we would consider normal, they are and were heartless and cruel_to all including themselves. If there was a way to retrieve our people without greater war, death and destruction_I would hope it was undertaken…………..William

    • scum

      Recent evidence has come to light about the wholesale massacres of South Korean troops of South Korean civilians. In some cases, civilians were boarded on ships, taken out to sea, and dumped alive. The reasoning behind all this was that there was a fear civilians might 'go Communist' so the easiest thing to do would be to simply execute them in one diabolical version of 'friendly fire.' There's one South Korean commander still alive who validated this evidence.

  • ArkAshamedOBill

    Michael A. Ledeen, “Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West” (New York: Truman Talley Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2009), pp. 23-26, discusses abandoned American Korean War POWs and cites Melinda Liu and B.J. Lee, “The Last Casualties,” Newsweek, Vol. 135, No. 25 (June 19, 2000).

    Robert Jay Lifton, “Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir” (New York: Free Press, 2011), p. 11, mentions that the POWs who resisted the xi-nao (“mind-cleanse”) process were labelled “reactionaries” and those who were susceptible were labelled “progressives.”

  • Indioviejo

    It makes me angry that politicians of both Party's, bureaucrats, and other officials in the US government are so callous about the lives of those who serve. The old know, but the young are idealist and want to believe our leaders are too. We are always expendable, collateral damage for strategic purpose, but we serve for love of home, country, and our brothers in arms.

  • Erica

    Hi my name is Erica and I was wondering if I could ask you some questions. You don’t have to answer them but if you do, they can be as long and detailed as you want them to be.

    1. What do you think was the main cause of the Korean War?

    2. Had Korea been invaded a lot before Japan took over in 1910?

    3. Who was affected by the war and how? (This question doesn’t have to be very detailed)

    4. What exactly was the agreement signed that ended the Korean War? What did it say and who signed it?

    5. How long did it take North and South Korea to rebuild their culture after the war?

    6. How much did Japan change Korea when they ruled there?

    7. How did North Korea become so different from South Korea?

    8. I’ve seen on the news that North Korea has built missiles that, if shot, could reach to the coast if California. Is that true?

    9. Do you think that North Korea has hope of ever being not so insane?

    10. Do you really think there might be a second Korean War? What do you think it’ll accomplish?

    11. North Korea is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as you know. Can you explain how they’re democratic? Isn’t there a dictatorship there?

    12. Since North Korea is still a very isolated country, do you think they have secrets that we don’t know about? If so, what secrets?

    13. What are the main differences between North and South Korea today?