The Fate of Our POWs From The Korean War

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Zimmerlee:  Agencies include Navy, Senate, State Department, Army JAG, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense, Air Force, Marine Corp, CIA, International Military Agencies, Provost Marshal General, and many others.

The requests for release must go through either a “Mandatory Declassification Review” or Freedom of Information Act” process. I have hundreds of those in the works, some dated back into the ‘90’s.

If the boxes contain correspondence between two agencies, both must agree to release. If foreign countries are involved, they too, must be contacted for release.

To even request information, you must first know that it exists. That is the hardest part. Then you must know exactly where it is located. The Archives does not make that easy. Then you must request it during certain limited “pull times” and wait. Most often, it can’t be found where the Archives claims it’s located or where it is still classified, even though you have been notified in writing that it is declassified.

FP: Kindly share the case of Sgt. Desautels with us.

Zimmerlee: Richard Desautels was captured on 1 December 1950 and held at camp 5. He was presumed dead on 19 February 1954 after the fighting had ended. We weren’t told anything more, but our government knew full well that he had been taken into China in the summer of 1952. He spoke Chinese and was a “reactionary” – meaning that he was a difficult prisoner. He learned much about his captors and they knew he would share it all (including war crimes) upon his release. That was not going to happen.

In 2003, the Chinese admitted having him and claimed he died of insanity. If true, they drove him to it.

FP: Tell us why the Chinese took Desautels and what they were doing with him. Share the evidence with us about their admission of having him.

Zimmerlee: Desautels was taken prisoner in 1950 along with hundreds of others from our Army’s 2nd Division. When the guards discussed confidential or criminal activities, they spoke only Chinese. For months, they didn’t realize that Desautels also spoke Chinese and now knew all their secrets.

The Chinese saw Desautels as a challenge. Could they convert this rebel? Could they brainwash him into thinking that communism is the solution to all world problems?

According to a 2003 release of a summary of a 10 page still classified Chinese document, Desautels became mentally ill on April 22, 1953 and died April 29, 1953 in a Chinese  town 150 miles from the border with Korea. His body was buried there, but exhumed later and lost.

That’s interesting, since several American POWs reported Richard Desautels alive in August 1953, four months after his supposed death.

But Desautels is just one known POW case.  I have details on hundreds of supposed MIA cases, which clearly indicate they were POWs, some with burial locations. DPMO is claiming one Marine was in a bunker when it collapsed. His body is supposedly still in the bunker located in the current DMZ. Evidence shows he was in a prison camp, then transported to Kaesong, near Freedom Village, in August 53. Since we didn’t know he was prisoner, we didn’t ask for him, so the Chinese loaded him up in a truck with untold others and hauled him North — never to be heard from again.

FP: Why does the U.S. government behave in the way it does on this issue?

Zimmerlee: We were not as successful in the Korean War as our government would lead us to believe.  When the Chinese captured our men and bragged about it in their newspapers, they printed names. The New York Times translated and reprinted their names for the whole world to see and at that point, our government couldn’t deny their capture.

Yet, at every opportunity, our government hid the fact that our men were captured. If a man was captured but died before his name could be recorded at an interrogation point, he was labeled KIA, killed in action.  If a man was known to be captured, but his name wasn’t on a published list, he was labeled Missing-in-Action.

FP: What can the average citizen do to help uncover the truth and perhaps even help those POWs still being held alive somewhere? What’s a good organization to get involved with?

Zimmerlee: Most important, go to, select your congressmen, and leave a message that states “Change Title 10 United States Code to provide immediate declassification of all POW/MIA related documents more than 25 years old.”

Then check out these websites:,,,,

Together, we can and will get answers!

For more information on this issue, see our symposium: Why We Left Our POWs Behind.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.

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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?