Report of the
Senate Select Committee
Information from Returned POWs
American POWs from Southeast Asia returned in four major groups
from February 12 through March 28, 1973. DoD reported that 566
servicemen returned, including 513 of the 591 listed by DoD as
POWs, and 53 others DoD carried as missing. Twenty-five American
civilians also returned.
The returned prisoners were initially interviewed at Clark Air
Force Base in the Philippines. One of the primary objectives of the
debriefing process was to obtain information about the fate of
other Americans known to both military and civilian returnees. For
more information about the debriefing process, see chapter five.
The debriefings produced information that some unaccounted for
servicemen had been alive in captivity at one point, although many
of the individuals were believed by the returnees to have
subsequently died. By early April, the Homecoming Center at Clark
Air Force Base reported that returned POWs had provided information
on 156 servicemen who "may have died in captivity."
The Committee located documentary evidence that DIA kept files of
information it received from the debriefing of returning
POWs. The files indicate, for example, that information
about an unaccounted-for POW or MIA would be transmitted to the
service debriefers in order to obtain corroboration or denial from
other former POWs. However, the Committee was unable to locate any
compilation of records confirming that this was done in every case.
The Committee also failed to locate any plan for updating DIA's
database in response to the debriefings.
As mentioned above, the DIA often had acted on evidence of
captivity to categorize servicemen and civilians as prisoners well
before the service casualty review boards acted. During Operation
Homecoming, however, DIA policy appeared to change. Instead of
acting on evidence from the debriefings about a missing American's
capture and death, DIA began waiting for the services' to
officially change his status. The Committee was not able to locate
any documents explaining the basis for this change in approach. For
additional information concerning Operation Homecoming, please see
April 1973 - April 1975
At the end of Operation Homecoming, 591 American POWS had returned,
566 military and 25 civilians (Including the 10 who were on the
DRV/Laos list). Testimony of DIA and DOD officials involved in the
accounting process at the time, and archival DIA documents, convey
disappointment and frustration over the unexpectedly low number of
returnees and the outcome of returnee debriefings.
In June 1992, Gen. Eugene F. Tighe, Jr. (USAF, Ret.), who directed
the CINCPAC effort to produce a list of expected returnees prior to
Operation Homecoming, testified about his reaction at the time to
the enemy lists:
My personal view was shock because I had a great deal of
faith in the approximate numbers of those lists that we
had compiled ... and my reaction was that there was
something radically wrong with the lists versus our
information, that they should have contained many more
names. That was my personal judgment and that was a
collective judgment of all those that had worked
compiling the lists.
Similarly, Dr. Roger Shields, DoD's Deputy Secretary for
International Economic and POW/MIA Affairs from 1971 to 1977, told
We knew immediately upon receiving this list of those to
be repatriated and those said to have died in captivity,
that men whom we knew had, at one time, been alive and in
captivity were omitted from the list altogether. After
debriefing those who returned, we knew also that the
names of some men who may have died in captivity were
also not on the lists.
In his testimony, Admiral Thomas Moorer, Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff from 1971-1975, stated:
...I expected the interrogation of the POW's that were
released to reveal some information on the POW's that
were still held in the immediate vicinity of Hanoi. I
also hoped that factual information would be developed as
to the existence of POW's in outside areas of North
Vietnam... the returnees added very little to the
information on hand.
A DIA memo, prepared in early April 1973, summed up the agency's
view in the immediate aftermath of Operation Homecoming:
There has been no progress in obtaining the release of,
or an accounting for, US personnel captured/lost in Laos
or Cambodia. There has been no progress in obtaining
information from the DRV or PRG on US personnel (last
known alive in captivity and) not released (or accounted
for)...With Operation Homecoming essentially complete, it
is anticipated that efforts will be directed toward
achieving some results in these areas.
Efforts to obtain a better accounting of missing Americans
continued in Southeast Asia after Operation Homecoming was
The mission of the Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC),
activated in January 1973, was to search for, recover and identify
dead and missing U.S. personnel in Southeast Asia. JCRC's
assignment did not include investigating the possibility that live
Americans were held against their will in the area after Operation
Homecoming, although they did receive reports suggesting that
unidentified U.S. POWs were still alive. Additionally, JCRC remains
recovery operations were limited to areas under friendly control in
South Vietnam. Active JCRC investigations in these areas continued
until December 15, 1973, when one of its teams was ambushed at a
site and an American serviceman was killed. With the virtual
cessation of JCRC's field efforts after this incident, the JCRC was
essentially going through the motions with little or no success,
according to its Deputy Commander, Col. Eugene Hollis.
In the months immediately following Operation Homecoming, DIA
continued to adjust its accounting lists. On April 13, 1973, the
DIA submitted its last weekly memorandum to the Secretary of
Defense and the JCS concerning the prisoner debriefings. The
report indicated that the returnees had provided information
indicating the possible death of 46 of the Americans who had been
listed as POW and 110 of those listed as MIA.
On April 16, 1973, the DIA adjusted its intelligence requirements
for July-December 1973 to include information on the
"approximately" 1,357 Americans "thus far unaccounted for, who may
be Prisoners of War, the location and defense of their PW camps,
and a resolution of the status of personnel officially listed as
In late April, 1973, Dr. Roger Shields, who served as head of the
POW/MIA Task Force with the Department of Defense, met with
representatives of the service Secretaries. The outcome of that
meeting was a goal of resolving within six to eight months the
status of all armed services personnel not returned to American
control. In Cambodia or Laos, a resolution would await the
negotiation of peace agreements in those countries.
On May 18, 1973, the DIA listed "65 prisoners of war not accounted
for on any enemy lists" and "1,238 personnel missing in action not
accounted for on any enemy lists."
In a report to Deputy Secretary of Defense Clements on May 22,
1973, DIA noted that 1,303 persons were still officially
unaccounted for, not including 27 reported by the DRG/PRG as having
died in captivity whose remains had not been recovered. Returnee
debriefs indicated that approximately 100 of these 1,303 were
"probably dead"; at the time the status of approximately 70 of
those was being changed from POW or MIA to KIA/BNR.
On May 24, 1973, Dr. Roger Shields wrote in a memorandum to his
superiors that "we have over 1300 unaccounted for, and this means
that we have no information to show conclusively that a man is
either alive or dead."
By June 30, 1973, the DOD Comptroller's Office was still listing by
name 67 U.S. military personnel as "Hostile Captured." Only two
POWs had Laos as the country of casualty, although there were more
than 300 servicemen missing there.
As of early July 1973, 142 Americans previously listed as missing
or POW had been declared dead based on a PFOD; 9 had been reported
to have died in captivity.
At the end of Operation Homecoming, DIA continued to carry
individuals in the POW category. However, statements by DoD
officials at the time, and in testimony before the Committee
suggest that DIA was agnostic about the chance that any unreturned
POWs had survived. In an April 12, 1973 press conference, Dr.
Shields stated that, "We have no indications at this time that
there are any Americans alive in Indochina." In testimony before
the Committee, Dr. Shields commented about that April 12, 1973
My statement was about current information. There were
questions...We had questions about the status of
Americans. Did we leave anyone there? And did we know so
we could go get them? The answer to that was we did not
know at that time about any man that we could put our
finger on and say he was there. We carried some
individuals as prisoners. My statement here was echoed
many times. Official Defense Department policy was that
there was an open question. We did now know whether they
were alive or dead.
Dr. Shields stated further:
The issue at the time the men came home was one where we
had Article 8(b), providing for a full accounting of the
missing. Now, the missing at that time were the people
who had not been repatriated, who were carried as MIA
because we did not know, carried as prisoner of war
because we hoped and had reason to believe that they were
prisoners of war, but did not come home either.
Commander Charles Trowbridge, Director of DIA's POW/MIA Office,
since 1972, told the Committee that "...we had no current
information at the time where we could go and put our hands on some
individual that was alive at that time." Brig. Gen. Robert
Kingston, first head of the JCRC, testified that he did not recall
any "hard evidence" that Americans were being held alive at that
time. Frank Sieverts, the State Department's Chief Official
for POW/MIA Affairs before and after Operation Homecoming expressed
a similar view: "I don't think we had any indications of Americans
in captivity ."
In the wake of Operation Homecoming, DoDs official position, as
affirmed by Dr. Shields, was that it did not know whether those
unaccounted for were alive or dead. State Department
representatives, on the other hand, claim to have taken a somewhat
different approach in diplomatic discussions, especially with the
Pathet Lao. Mr. Sieverts discussed the Department's approach
during an exchange with Senator McCain at the Committee's June 25,
Mr. Sieverts: Our approach during that entire period was
to present information in a positive spirit through the
channels that were available pursuant to the Paris
agreement and, to the extent that it was possible, and it
was not at all easy, to do so in Laos, as well. At every
opportunity, we would shade the interpretation of cases
and lists in a favorable direction.
Senator McCain: What do you mean by favorable?
Mr. Sieverts: In the direction of saying we know you have more
information. This is a list of prisoners...
Senator McCain: You were assuming they were alive?
Mr. Sieverts: For the very purpose the committee is concerned
about, we were going on that assumption. The difficulty was
that at the same time if you overstated that assumption for a
domestic audience you would create what was clearly an
exaggerated and possibly an entirely false hope among
families, among many thousands of Americans who were needing
to deal suddenly with the reality and the grief that their men
weren't coming back.
Instructions in June 1973 permitted the JCRC to recommend that an
MIA be recorded as "dead-remains not recoverable" when no remains
were locatable at the loss location. At that point, the Services
convened casualty review boards in accordance with the Missing
Persons Act to review the status of all those who remained in the
MIA or "captured" category and began making PFODs about those
listed as MIAs and POWs.
Reviews were halted in August 1973 because of litigation by MIA
families over provisions of the Missing Persons Act. A New York
federal court injunction prohibited casualty status changes without
the approval of next-of-kin until 1977. At that time, the review
process resumed with next-of-kin present at the deliberations.
Meanwhile, in response to the lawsuit in 1973, the Deputy Secretary
of Defense instructed the Service Secretaries to take an active and
personal role in the status determination process.
The subject of status review is covered in more detail in chapter
two, dealing with the Paris Peace Accords.
Shifts in Intelligence Priorities
As Operation Homecoming was drawing to a finish, DIA's intelligence
collection priorities began to shift. The Committee's
investigation uncovered evidence that DIA's efforts to gather
intelligence for the purpose of accounting for missing Americans
diminished substantially after the Paris Peace Accords were signed.
On March 13, 1973, the DIA's POW/MIA Branch ordered the end of
requirements to collect intelligence on U.S. prisoners held by the
People's Republic of China; the rationale was that all prisoners
held by China had been, or were being, released. By deleting
this area of informational need, the DIA eliminated the authority
for human intelligence operations relating to China and U.S.
POW/MIAs. This decision was questionable given the evidence that
there were large numbers of Chinese troops inside the northern
provinces of North Vietnam during the war, and that this was an
area in which a number of U.S. aircraft, with unaccounted for
pilots, were shot down. There is also evidence that Chinese
military advisers served at the division level with Viet Cong
forces in South Vietnam.
On March 27, 1973, the DIA reviewed its need for continued weekly
overhead imagery of known or suspected POW camps in North Vietnam.
All but three prisons in the immediate Hanoi area, Hoa Lo, Cu Loc,
and the Citadel, were dropped to an inactive readout exploitation
priority. The remaining three prisons were downgraded to
semi-annual coverage. The POW/MIA Branch felt that if a readout
was desirable, it could initiate imagery coverage on a one-time
On April 17, 1973, the DIA reassigned most of its POW/MIA personnel
to strategic arms limitation and Soviet missile intelligence
related areas. The POW/MIA branch was informed that:
...As the POW-MIA project is brought to a conclusion, a
new manpower survey of DI-6 [will] be conducted near the
end of 1973 to determine residual requirements in this
In June 1973, the Chief of Naval Operations dismantled the office
of the Special Assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations for
POW/MIA Matters. In addition, the JCS 10-year operations
plan was revised in 1973, in consultation with the DIA, to cover
the 1973-1982 period. In the plan, POW intelligence, and evasion
and escape were priorities 49 and 56, respectively. These
"priorities" followed sociological data (priority 16), exploitation
of physical environment (priority 46) and civil defense (priority
In August 1974, overhead imagery coverage of POW camps in North
Vietnam was moved to the lowest annual coverage priority.
Three months later, the decision was made to terminate the Prisoner
of War Intelligence Task Force.
Throughout this period, efforts to collect human and signals
intelligence began to diminish, although some reports were
received. After Operation Homecoming, the Army's 500th Military
Intelligence Group and an Air Force Air Intelligence Group were the
primary intelligence-collection resources left in Southeast Asia.
Both supplemented the Defense Attache Office in Saigon with
professional agent handlers and intelligence staffs collecting
information from South Vietnamese counterparts. Both groups were
based in Bangkok, Thailand, and also conducted operations in
Cambodia, Laos, and China.
However, in 1974, at the direction of the U.S. Ambassador in
Bangkok, all military agent operations from the Thailand base were
put on hold; no new operations could be developed. Following the
dismantling of the U.S. Army's Pacific Command that year, all
HUMINT operations in Southeast Asia relied on support and approval
The available record indicates that military HUMINT operations in
the region declined dramatically after 1975 and were terminated by
Disposition of Records
On January 31, 1974, the Army's 22nd Detachment began to be
dismantled. Its casualty files were transferred to the individual
services and its non-casualty records transferred to the National
Archives. The Army had hoped to be able to write a history
of its Operation Homecoming activities but this was disapproved by
the Army's Secretary of the General Staff, General Stilwell.
In the fall of 1974, the Air Force Intelligence staff records
associated with the POW/MIA issue were apparently transferred to
the 7602nd Air Intelligence Group and are today in the archival
files of JSSA. In 1975, the U.S. Navy's compartmented POW/MIA files
were partially destroyed.
Post-War Accountability: April 1975 - Present
In 1975, communist forces seized full control of governments in
Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The fall of the U.S-allied
governments in Indochina precluded any further on-site excavations
by the Joint Casualty Resolution Center.
It also led to an enormous outflow of refugees from these three
countries, particularly in 1977 and 1978. Refugees were regularly
debriefed by U.S. officials, and refugee reports became an
important source of information in the POW/MIA accounting process.
In 1978, at the request of POW/MIA family organizations, the United
States began putting up posters in refugee camps notifying refugees
of the U.S. desire to obtain information about missing Americans.
These outreach efforts have led to a steady flow of reports over
The fall of Saigon in April, 1975 led to the severance of
diplomatic relations with Vietnam and an extension of the U.S.
trade embargo to the entire country. During the next three years,
U.S. efforts to gain information about missing Americans were
focused on refugee debriefs and high-level diplomatic discussions
with the Vietnamese. Although no breakthroughs occurred, these
discussions did lead to the resolution of a substantial number of
cases through the return of remains.
Shortly after taking office in 1977, President Jimmy Carter
appointed a Commission, headed by United Auto Workers President
Leonard Woodcock, to visit Southeast Asia in an effort to obtain
POW/MIA-related information. A Defense Department briefing provided
to the Woodcock Commission in March 1977, provides a useful
snapshot of the accounting process at that point in time.
According to Dr. Roger Shields, who briefed the Commission, DoD
listed 2,546 Americans including 41 civilians, as prisoners,
missing, or as dead/body not recovered. Dr. Shields told
Commission members that 758 military personnel were being carried
on the books as POWs or "missing" but that the distinction between
the terms was "probably academic." Shields went on to say that:
We have no evidence to indicate that any American
servicemen are being held as prisoners in Southeast Asia,
but whether a man is alive or dead does not relieve us of
the responsibility to seek an accounting for him. We
want the fullest possible accounting for the entire 2,546
and, where possible, we want the remains of our dead
returned. We cannot attain this goal without complete
cooperation by the Vietnamese... We do not expect them
to have knowledge of every one of our missing, but we do
want to know what they do have.
Dr. Shields walked the Commission through the five categories that
DIA had established to determine which men the Vietnamese and Lao
should know about. The categories consisted of:
1. confirmed knowledge,
2. suspected knowledge,
3. doubtful knowledge,
4. unknown knowledge, and
5. a category for those who were known to be dead but whose
remains were not recoverable.
DIA listed 179 in category 1, 1160 in category 2, 344 in category
3, 428 in category 4, and 436 in category 5. Dr. Shields
told the Commission that it would be reasonable to expect an
accounting for all those in the first two categories, that is 1,339
men out of the total of 2,546. . He also indicated that
American teams needed to be on the ground to do the accounting job
Carter Administration Policies
During the late 1970's, the efforts by the U.S. Government actively
to seek and evaluate POW/MIA information was hardly evident to the
public. This led to severe criticism, especially by the National
League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast
Although the remains of more than 40 Americans were repatriated in
1977 and 1978, the Carter Administration's efforts to gain POW/MIA
information through improved relations with Vietnam collapsed
following the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in late 1978 and
early 1979. Moreover, efforts to gain POW/MIA information from Laos
during this period were virtually non-existent and no information
The National League of Families commented:
In 1979 and 1980, no remains were returned government to
government and no negotiations of substance occurred.
During the 1970's, the POW/MIA branch at the Defense
Intelligence Agency was slowly being put out of business,
as was Central Intelligence Agency capability and focus
on Southeast Asia. The governmet had written off the
possibility of anyone being alive, and our missing family
members were being presumptively declared dead.
NSC memoranda during this period shed additional light on the
extent of the U.S. Government's accounting efforts. For instance,
following the return of Marine Corps PFC Robert Garwood in 1979, an
NSC staffer wrote:
It would be politically wise for the President to
indicate his continued concerns with the MIAs. . .since
the Administration had implied earlier that it believed
Vietnamese assurances that there were no Americans left
behind in Hanoi.
In April, 1979, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski
advised President Carter that:
The National League of Families remain convinced that
live American POWs remain in Vietnam. They also believe
you are not being adequately informed and that the
bureaucracy is not pursuing the matter aggressively. .
.This case has little merit.
By the last year of the Carter Administration, an NSC staffer
reported that the National League of Families had "nothing new to
say". However, the official advised Dr. Brzezinski that it was:
important to indicate you take recent refugeesightings of
Americans seriously. This is simply good
politics; DIA and State are playing this game, and you
should not be the whistleblower. The idea is to say the
President is determined to pursue any lead concerning
possible live MIAs. Do not offer an opinion as to whether
these leads are realistic.
Reagan Administration Efforts
Efforts to re-open dialogue on POW/MIA matters with Laos and
Cambodia began following President Reagan's election in 1981.
Simultaneous efforts were made to develop intelligence information
on possible live American POWs.
In early, 1981, the U.S. Government attempted to confirm evidence
that Americans were held in Laos, although the results were
inconclusive. Also in 1981, two Congressmen, Bill Hendon and John
Leboutillier, traveled to Laos with the support of the
Administration to try to find a way to establish a dialogue on
According to the National League of Families:
Mr. Hendon was primarily involved in efforts with the Lao
to move forward the level of cooperation on
accountability for nearly 600 Americans still unaccounted
for in that country. Toward that objective, he and former
Representative John LeBoutillier were instrumental in
gaining executive branch agreement to provide, in 1981,
medical disaster relief to a hospital in Vientiane, Laos.
This step paved the way for cooperative acceptance of the
League's delegation in 1982, a visit which was termed a
"significant breakthrough" by the State Department, soon
followed up by high level discussions to gain further
cooperation. The resultant crash site visit was the first
of its kind and led to the official survey and subsequent
joint excavation at Pakse, conducted in February, 1985.
During President Reagan's first term, significant efforts were also
made to improve POW/MIA cooperation in Vietnam, through several
high-level trips to Hanoi. For the first time, the National League
of Families was also included in these diplomatic efforts. A key
step occurred in January 1987, when the President appointed Gen.
John Vessey (USA, Ret.) as his Special Emissary to Vietnam on
POW/MIA Affairs. This appointment followed a private trip to Hanoi
earlier that year by Mr. Ross Perot, during which the Vietnamese
indicated a willingness to accept a President Emissary on POW/MIA
Gen. Vessey's overall goal has been to obtain the "fullest possible
accounting" for all Americans missing from the war in Vietnam.
Delegations led by Gen. Vessey, along with visits to Southeast Asia
by members of the Select Committee, have resulted in significant
improvements cooperation on the part of the Vietnamese. This is
discussed in detail in Chapter 8.
Gen. Vessey's efforts have been supplemented and enhanced by the
Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA), which was established on
January 23, 1992 under the direction of CINCPAC. The successor to
the JCRC, JTF-FA is involved in the full range of POW/MIA
operations and its first priority is to investigate live-sighting
reports and discrepancy cases. The JTF-FA has Vietnam-based,
Bangkok-based and Hawaii-based search teams which conduct intensive
30-day investigations and began conducting remains recovery
operations in Vietnam in April 1992. JTF-FA personnel interview
Vietnamese officials and citizens, survey and excavate crash sites
and graves, and examine archival records provided by the
Vietnamese. Similar operations occur in Laos and Cambodia.
By the end of October 1992, JTF-FA had completed 217 live-sighting
investigations (186 in Vietnam, 18 in Laos, and 13 in Cambodia);
114 inspections of crash or grave sites (88 in Vietnam, 23 in Laos,
and 3 in Cambodia); and 30 excavations of crash or grave sites. It
recovered remains (15 sets in Vietnam, 8 in Laos, and 7 in
Cambodia). Twenty-two sets of remains had been recovered (14 from
Vietnam, 3 from Laos and 5 from Cambodia) and ten sets of remains
(7 from Vietnam, 1 from Laos, and 2 from Cambodia) had been
returned voluntarily. Eight sets of remains (4 from Vietnam, 4
from Cambodia) had been identified with another 151 pending
JTF-FA reported receiving, between January 1 and October 30, 1992,
65 first-hand live-sighting reports, 51 in Vietnam, five in Laos,
and nine in Cambodia. JTF-FA conducted 38 investigations of live
sighting reports, some advance-notice and others upon immediate
request of the host officials, during this period. In all, 113
live sighting reports have been investigated and resolved; 85 more
remain unresolved. JTF-FA has found no evidence to date to suggest
that any Americans who was last known alive is alive today.
The Committee notes that JTF-FA efforts are in cooperation with
DIA's Stony Beach team and augmented by forensic experts and
anthropologists from the U.S. Army's Central Identification
Laboratory in Hawaii.
Statistics alone do not convey the magnitude of the JTF-FA effort
or the commitment of those involved in it. In testimony before the
Committee, William Gadoury, an investigator for the Task Force's
team in Laos, described its operations in detail. The Task Force
has 44 priority cases in Laos--three of these are individuals who
were once POWs and the rest were last known alive there. Because
of the terrain in Laos, excavations are particularly difficult.
Mr. Gadoury described one of the team's recent excavations in an
exchange with Senator Kerry at the Committee's December 4, 1992
Mr. Gadoury: ...this particular excavation was one of the
more challenging ones we've had. It was on a remote
mountain-top location. We had to set up a base camp
approximatley 30 kilometers away because we had no access
by road to an area near the crash site. We ended up
lying by the helicopter every morning [so we could] at
first light get the teams up there, conducting the
excavation during the day with villagers who would walk
up from the nearby village and work with us, and then we
would fly back in the evening.
While this was going on, we had a smaller investigation
which would go off in separate directions during the day
with our Lao counterparts to investigate a number of
discrepancy cases that we had. And with the time we had
available, we were pretty successful.
Senator Kerry: You literally had to cut a little landing place
in the mountain, correct?
Mr. Gadoury: That's correct.
Senator Kerry: And you spent how many days up there in what
kind of heat?
Mr. Gadoury: I believe it was 28 days. It gets pretty warm in
Laos, especially in the jungle. It's hot, humid weather;
difficult working conditions.
Senator Kerry: What did you find?
Mr. Gadoury: In terms of ---
Senator Kerry: What did you pull out of this crash site?
Mr. Gadoury: The aircraft involved was an AV/OV-2, which
crashed into the side of a mountain. It's scattered over a
large area... I don't recall the exact dimensions, but it was
over 100 meters wide, and probably about the same distance
going from the bottom of the slope up a 60 degree slope to the
top. And there was a wide distribution of wreckage. As we
started going, meticulously following the Identification
Laboratory;s excavation procedures from the bottom to the
Senator Kerry: So, you literally began to sift through soil,
Mr. Gadoury: Right.
Senator Kerry: You would sift through soil, and you would
clean it out, and you would find fragments of bone; you find
fragments of teeth.
Mr. Gadoury: On this last situation, we were not able to
finish the site, but we found over 300 bone fragments, and a
number of teeth and quite a few personal effects and personal
Senator Kerry: How does this affect you, to do that?
Mr. Gadoury: Well, obviously it's work that's important to be
done. The people on the team are all dedicated. It's
satisfying to get the results after we've worked so hard to
get the team in place and get the work done.
Senator Kerry: Well, I mean, on a personal level, though as
a soldier, it can't be very pleasant sifting through remains.
Mr. Gadoury: No. One example is, we found a lady's high school
class ring. Obviously, there were no women on board, but it
was probably being carried by someone on the aircraft. You
find something like that, and obviously it brings back the
personal nature of the work that we're doing.
Senator Kerry: The reason, obviously, I ask this is that, you
know, we've been sitting here for a year, and people come to
the table here and say, we're not doing enough, and we're not
doing this or that, and here we've got guys like you, Bill
Bell (Negotiations Assistance Officer, JTF-FA)...Bill, how
many years have you been at this?
Mr. Bell: Off and on, about 27 years I think.
Redefining "Unaccounted For"
In the two years following Operation Homecoming, the services, DI-
11, and DIA continued to maintain statistics on Americans missing
in Southeast Asia. In March 1973, DIOR also began to keep files on
each individual serviceman in its database. In early 1975, DIOR
started to record statistics of those servicemen who had died with
bodies not recovered (Died/BNR).
At the end of 1975, DIA also began to seek information and keep
statistics on those who had died but whose bodies were not
recovered. Notwithstanding the drop in national priority for
POW-related intelligence, DIA expanded its area of responsibility
by adding to the appropriate national intelligence priority a need
to obtain "...information concerning... killed in action whose
bodies have not been recovered..." This action coincided with
DIA's decision to include Americans considered KIA/BNR in its
public discussions of those who were "unaccounted for."
By 1980, due to litigation initiated by the POW/MIA families and
Congressional pressure, the DOD included all those initially
categorized as POW or MIA (but presumed dead administratively) and
all those originally categorized as KIA/BNR in their total of
Americans missing or otherwise unaccounted for in Southeast Asia.
This decision to include KIA/BNR in the definition of "unaccounted
for" resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of those
unaccounted for and led to confusion about the number of
individuals whose fate really is in doubt. However, the Committee
notes that accountability, including the return of remains, has
occurred on some cases that were originally categorized as KIA/BNR.
This reinforces the fact that U.S. categories were not always
complete, and did not necessarily contain information that could be
obtained from Vietnam.
By December 2, 1980, DIA carried 2,500 that it called unaccounted
for, more than at any time during or after the war. In 1977, the
services resumed their process of reviewing the status of those
listed as MIAs or POWS. By 1982, a PFOD had been issued for all
who remained unaccounted for, except Colonel Charles Shelton, a
pilot shot down in Laos. Today, DIOR carries Colonel Shelton as the
only POW and 2263 others as Died/BNR or "missing" for a total of
2,264 Americans unaccounted-for in Southeast Asia.
Laos: the DIA View
The fate of Americans lost in Laos has been a source on continued
controversy. According to DIA, of the 1,200 airmen shot down in
Laos during the war, 61 percent were rescued. Another 62 men were
accounted for by the release of U.S. POWs and the post-war
repatriation of remains. To date, 519 of the 1200 lost in Laos
remain unaccounted for. Of these, 189 were declared killed in
action by their service commanders at the time of their loss but
since the bodies of these 189 have not been recovered, they
continue to be listed as "unaccounted for". The remaining 330
servicemen were declared MIA because there was not enough
information during the war to determine their fate. Subsequent
investigations by DIA suggest that some of these men were also
killed in action.
DIA believes it unlikely that POWs were left behind in Laos for
several reasons. First, the rescue rate for men lost over Laos, 61
percent, was substantially higher than the rate for those shot down
over North Vietnam, 45 percent. Second, intelligence indicates
that after 1968 or 1969, all prisoners captured in Laos were turned
over to the North Vietnamese, regardless of where they were
captured. DIA can confirm only 16 POWs were captured by the Pathet
Lao during the war; this is less than 2 percent of the number
missing in Laos. Of the 16, one was immediately turned over to the
North Vietnamese; six were subsequently released; two escaped; and
seven remain unaccounted for.
The fact that all the confirmed Pathet Lao prisoners were captured
before 1966, or after the war ended, is further indication, in
DIA's view, that it is unlikely that men were left behind in Laos.
Few losses occurred in Pathet Lao-held territory after 1966 because
U.S. operations concentrated on the Ho Chi Minh trail. In
addition, by the late 1960s it became apparent that the Pathet Lao
did not have the capability to care for captured U.S. prisoners and
thus the Pathet Lao were called upon by communist regimes in the
region to turn all U.S. prisoners over to the Vietnamese,
regardless of where they were captured or by whom. DIA also argues
that only 160 of the live sighting reports received to date relate
to Laos and that fewer than 10 of these remain unresolved.
Finally, DIA maintains that interviews of sources who saw American
POWs in caves and ad-hoc detention facilities in Laos affirm that
there were no Americans in these areas after the war.
DIA's views were supported by the testimony of William Gadoury, a
former JCRC official and now a member of the JTF-FA team in Laos:
...I have talked to hundreds and probably thousands of
refugees, Lao refugees predominantly, in the camps and
they include low land refugees, Hmong, hill tribes people
from all over Laos, from North to South. I have not
received any credible reports of live Americans after
1973 with the exception of Emett Kay [who was returned in
On the other hand, it's been brought up many times. It's
hard to prove a negative. But there's nothing that I
have seen from my interviews with refugees, from my field
activities, that has indicated that anyone remains
Since before the war ended, U.S. officials have focused special
attention on a relatively small number of Americans who were either
known to have been taken captive, or who were lost in circumstances
under which survival was deemed likely or at least reasonably
possible. The first major attempt to press the case of these
Americans resulted from the release in December 1970 of a
supposedly comprehensive list of U.S. POWs held by the North
On January 20, 1972, a document containing the summaries of 14
cases of U.S. military personnel who were not on the December 1970
list was presented to North Vietnamese officials in Paris. When no
response to the document was received, Secretary of Defense Melvin
Laird decided to dramatize the issue by holding a press conference.
During the March 1972 press conference, Secretary Laird said, "All
14 men were known to be alive, on the ground in North Vietnam, or
were at one time actually identified by the North Vietnamese as
having been captured."
Although the United States did not have firm information in each
case that the individual had been taken prisoner, Administration
officials believed strongly that the North Vietnamese should at
least have information about whether or not the missing American
was alive or dead. At his press conference, Secretary Laird was
surrounded by large poster boards containing photographs of the
missing Americans and, beneath each, the logo: "Hanoi refuses to
disclose the fate of this man."
The "last known alive" cases arose again at the time of Operation
Homecoming. The U.S. Government identified 87 individual cases to
be raised specifically with the North Vietnamese; most were thought
to have survived their incidents, some were known to have been
taken into captivity, and none was included on the POW or "died in
captivity" lists released when the Peace Agreement was signed.
During his visit to North Vietnam in February 1973, Dr. Henry
Kissinger presented 19 of these case files to the North Vietnamese,
and the remaining cases were presented soon thereafter.
During the period after the war, the list of cases of special
concern was modified by several factors. In some instances, cases
were resolved through the repatriation of remains. This was true,
for example, with respect to nine of the 14 on the original "Laird
list." Meanwhile, additional analysis of intelligence prompted
other cases to be added to the list of those "last known alive."
As discussed above, in his February 1977 briefing of members of the
Woodcock Commission, Dr. Shields explained that DoD had established
five categories for missing Americans, ranging from those about
whom DoD was sure Vietnam could provide information to those about
whom DoD had no reason to believe Vietnam could provide
information. A separate category contained the names of individuals
known to have died whose remains were not recoverable.
At the time of the Woodcock Commission briefing, 179 Americans were
listed in category 1 by DoD. Among those in the first category
(confirmed knowledge) was Navy Lieutenant Ronald Dodge. Lt. Dodge
was shot down on May 17, 1967 in North Vietnam. Evidence that Lt.
Dodge was captured included a photograph of him in captivity that
appeared in a 1967 edition of Paris Match magazine. (The remains
of Lt. Dodge were repatriated, without explanation, in 1981.)
Priority attention to cases of Americans "last known alive" or
thought possibly to have survived was the goal of the Reagan
Administration throughout its negotiations with Vietnam and some of
these cases were, in fact, resolved through the repatriation of
remains between 1982 and 1986.
One of General Vessey's top goals as the President's Emissary to
Vietnam, was to obtain agreement from Vietnamese officials to
permit in-country investigations by the U.S. Government of
high-priority "discrepancy cases." According to DIA:
There are three categories of discrepancy cases:
1. individuals who were carried as POWs by their
respective services during the war, but did
not return during Operation Homecoming;
2. individuals who were known or suspected to
have survived their loss incidents and might
have been taken prisoner; and
3. other cases in which intelligence indicates
the Indochinese Government may have known the
fate of a missing man.
According to testimony to the Select Committee in December 1992,
the DIA and DoD's JTF-FA have identified 305 discrepancy cases; 196
in Vietnam, 90 in Laos, and 19 in Cambodia. In 61 of the Vietnam
cases, the fate of the individual has been determined through
investigation, leaving 135 cases unresolved. The first round of
investigation of all 135 is expected to be completed in January
1993. A second round which will proceed geographically by
district, will commence in February.
Because of the number of Americans lost in areas of Laos and
Cambodia controlled at the time by North Vietnamese forces,
resolution of the majority of cases in those countries will depend
on a process of tripartite cooperation that has barely begun. The
Committee notes its strong recommendation in its Executive Summary
that the U.S. pursue tripartite meetings with Laos and Vietnam.
The Vice Chairman's List
On December 1, 1992, the Committee's Vice-Chairman, Senator Robert
Smith, released a "working" list of 324 still listed as officially
unaccounted-for. The Vice-Chairman described the list as follows
during the Committee's hearing on that date:
Approximately 300 of these personnel were last known
alive in captivity in Vietnam and Laos, last known alive,
out of their aircraft before it crashed, or their names
were passed to POWs who later returned. A handful of the
cases involve incidents where the aircraft was later
found on the ground with no sign of the crew. This
listing is based on all-source U.S. intelligence and
casualty reports, lists of POWs and/or last known alive
personnel prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency,
and other information made available to the
Senator Smith further stated that the listing was based on
information and lists he had reviewed from the DIA, NSA, JTF-FA,
and from a dated Air Force summary of POW debriefs conducted in
1973, and on other information.
The Vice-Chairman added his view that, given the large number of
MIAs at the end of the war, it was probable that MIAs not on his
listing could have survived their incident without the U.S.
Government being aware of that fact. Therefore, Senator Smith
stated that his list was "at best, conservative."
On December 4, 1992, the DIA provided a response to the list
prepared by Senator Smith in testimony by Robert Sheetz. According
to the DIA:
The office of Senator Bob Smith based its list on several
factors, some of which are indeed valid indicators of
possible survival of the incident, capture and captivity.
Others, however, are based on incomplete, out of date, or
inaccurate information, or on data taken out of context.
The 324-name list consists of a mix of cases that include
individuals whose remains have been repatriated and
identified, persons known to have died during wartime or
in captivity, persons for whom there is no analytic basis
to indicate survival, and still others who can be
considered potential candidates for having survived the
loss incident, capture and/or captivity. The individuals
among the last group--those who can be considered
potential candidates for live prisoners--make up less
than 50 percent of thos on the 324 name list. All of
these persons have previously been identified by the
Department of Defense as priority discrepancy
The DIA analysis of the 324 names indicates that in more than half
of the cases, the individuals either died in their incidents or no
analytic basis exists to indicate survival. In five cases, the
remains of the individuals have been returned to the families.
This analysis is consistent with the views of DIA presented above
concerning the possibility that American POWS were left behind in
As of the date of publication of this report, Senator Smith notes
that because of his trip to Southeast Asia and North Korea in
December, 1992, he has not further reviewed the cases which he
selected in his working document of December 1st. The Senator also
notes that he cannot accept DIA's analysis on 50 percent of the
cases on his list without further reviewing the actual casualty and
intelligence information noted next to the names on his list. As a
result, Senator Smith continues to have questions pertaining to
Criticisms of U. S. Government Accounting
Over the years, the U. S. Government has been severely criticized
by some members of the public and POW/MIA families for failing to
obtain a more complete accounting for those Americans lost as a
result of the war in Southeast Asia. U. S. Government officials,
from President Nixon on down, have been accused of misleading the
American public and of failing to make the POW/MIA issue a matter
of "highest national priority," despite pledging to do so. The
Defense Department has been criticized for its unwillingness, until
recently, to dedicate adequate manpower and resources to POW/MIA
efforts. Its accounting process has been described as sloppy,
inaccurate and uncoordinated. DIA has become the focal point for
those who find the U.S. Government's process wanting. DIA
officials have been accused of having a "mindset to debunk" and of
being part of a Government-wide conspiracy to keep the American
people in the dark about the fate of Americans unnacounted-for in
In investigating the U.S. Government's process of accounting, the
Committee sought to determine to what degree these charges are
valid. At the same time, however, the Committee understood that
the United States cannot achieve the desired goal of a fullest
possible accounting on its own. This objective ultimately depends
on the cooperation of the Governments of Vietnam, Laos and
Cambodia. Without it, a faultless process from the U.S. side--and
to be sure, the U.S. process certainly was not faultless--could not
and will not guarantee success.
The findings of this phase of the Committee's investigation
. By far the greatest obstacle to a successful accounting effort
over the past twenty years has been the refusal of the foreign
governments involved, until recently, to allow the U.S. access
to key files or to carry out in-country, on-site
. The U.S. Government's process for accounting for Americans
missing in Southeast Asia has been flawed by a lack of
resources, organizational clarity, coordination and
consistency. These problems had their roots during the war and
worsened after the war as frustration about the ability to
gain access and answers from Southeast Asian Governments
increased. Through the mid-1980's, accounting for our POW/MIAs
was viewed officially more as a bureaucratic exercise than as
a matter of "highest national priority."
. The accounting process has improved dramatically in recent
years as a result of the high priority attached to it by
Presidents Reagan and Bush; because of the success of Gen.
Vessey and the JTF-FA in gaining permission for the U.S. to
conduct investigations on the ground in Southeast Asia;
because of an increase in resources; and because of the
Committee's own efforts, in association with the Executive
branch, to gain greater cooperation from the Governments of
Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
. After an exhaustive review of official and unofficial lists of
captive and missing Americans from wartime years to the
present, the Committee uncovered numerous errors in data entry
and numerous discrepancies between DIA records and those of
other military offices. The errors that have been identified,
however, have since been corrected. As a result, the Committee
finds no grounds to question the accuracy of the current,
official list of those unaccounted for from the war in
Southeast Asia. This list includes 2,222 missing servicemen
except deserters and 42 missing civilians who were lost while
performing services for the United States Government. The
Committee has found no evidence to support the existence of
rumored "secret lists" of additional missing Americans.
. The decision by the U.S. Government to falsify "location of
loss" data for American casualties in Cambodia and Laos during
much of the war contributed significantly both to public
distrust and to the difficulties experienced by the DIA and
others in trying to establish what happened to the individuals
. The failure of the Executive branch to establish and maintain
a consistent, sustainable set of categories and criteria
governing the status of missing Americans during and after the
war in Southeast Asia contributed substantially to public
confusion and mistrust. During the war, a number of
individuals listed as "prisoner" by DIA were listed as
"missing in action" by the military services. After the war,
the legal process for settling status determinations was
plagued by interference from the Secretary of Defense,
undermined by financial and other considerations affecting
some POW/MIA families and challenged in court. Later, the
question of how many Americans remain truly "unaccounted for"
was muddied by the Defense Department's decision to include
"KIA/BNR's"--those known to have been killed, but with bodies
not recovered--in their listings. This created the anomalous
situation of having more Americans considered unaccounted for
today than we had immediately after the war.
The Committee's recommendations for this phase of its investigation
. Accounting for missing Americans from the war in Southeast
Asia should continue to be treated as a "matter of highest
national priority" by our diplomats, by those participating in
the accounting process, by all elements of our intelligence
community and by the nation, as a whole.
. Continued, best efforts should be made to investigate the
remaining, unresolved discrepancy cases in Vietnam, Laos and
. The United States should make a continuing effort, at a high
level, to arrange regular tri-partite meetings with the
Governments of Laos and Vietnam to seek information on the
possible control and movement of unaccounted for U.S.
personnel by Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese forces in Laos
during the Southeast Asia war.
. The President and Secretary of Defense should order regular,
independent reviews of the efficiency and professionalism of
the DOD's POW/MIA accounting process for Americans still
listed as missing from the war in Southeast Asia.
. A clear hierarchy of responsibility for handling POW/MIA
related issues that may regretably arise as a result of future
conflicts must be established. This requires full and rapid
coordination between and among the intelligence agencies
involved and the military services. It requires the
integration of missing civilians and suspected deserters into
the overall accounting process. It requires a clear liaison
between those responsible for the accounting (and related
intelligence) and those responsible for negotiating with our
adversaries about the terms for peace. It requires procedures
for the full, honest and prompt disclosure of information to
next of kin, at the time of incident and as other information
becomes available. And it requires, above all, the designation
within the Executive branch of an individual who is clearly
responsible and fully accountable for making certain that the
process works as it should.
. In the future, clear categories should be established and
consistently maintained in accounting for Americans missing
during time of war. At one end of the listings should be
Americans known with certainty to have been taken prisoner; at
the other should be Americans known dead with bodies not
recovered. The categories should be carefully separated in
official summaries and discussions of the accounting process
and should be applied consistently and uniformly.
. Present law needs to be reviewed to minimize distortions in
the status determination process that may result from the
financial considerations of the families involved.
. Wartime search and rescue (SAR) missions have an urgent
operational value, but they are also crucial for the purposes
of accounting for POW/MIAs. The records concerning many
Vietnam era SAR missions have been lost or destroyed. In the
future, all information obtained during any unsuccessful or
partially successful military search and rescue mission should
be shared with the agency responsible for accounting for
POW/MIAs from that conflict and should be retained by that