Report of the
Senate Select Committee
Effect of Administration's Statements
In his deposition, Dr. Shields said that the Administration told
the Pathet Lao during Operation Homecoming that it had certain
knowledge that the LPF was holding American prisoners even though
the Administration was, in fact, not certain. The purpose,
according to Dr. Shields, was to put as much pressure as possible
on the LPF in the event that prisoners were being held.
This was not the approach taken by the Administration in its post-
Homecoming statements. The evidence is that the primary purpose of
the public statements during this period was not to put pressure on
the DRV or LPF, but rather to avoid raising the hopes of POW/MIA
During a WSAG meeting, before the Peace accords were signed, one
Defense Department official warned against a repetition of the
Korean War experience, when all missing Americans not known to be
dead were officially presumed to be alive. The DOD official argued
that such a policy raised expectations that were unrealistic and
painful and impossible to resolve.
Unfortunately, the approach that was adopted may have served
neither the purpose of pressuring our former adversaries nor the
goal of easing family concerns.
As Ambassador Lord testified:
[O]nce you announce that [all of the POWs are home, and
that you have no indications any remain alive in
Indochina,] you lose any leverage you have on the Lao and
the North Vietnamese. If you're publicly saying we have
no indication, how can you press them privately or any
other way to release? So it undercuts any leverage you
have with them. That's one aspect, leaving aside whether
it's a strange reversal of our actual calculations and
whether there's any dissembling here, but just in terms
of pressing North Vietnam and Laos, you're losing your
leverage. They'll say: Well, you announced that you
didn't have any. . . . Leaving aside the human and other
political dimensions, it's terrible [negotiating
strategy]. You lose all your leverage with the other
Meanwhile, the Defense Department's effort to keep POW/MIA family
expectations in line with its perception of the reality ran into a
wall of human emotion. The Administration's optimistic statements
about what the peace agreement would produce caused families to
expect more answers than actually were forthcoming. Although the
Administration's statements seemed designed to help families accept
the likelihood that their loved ones would not be returning alive,
many families could not--and would not--accept this conclusion
Neither Dr. Shields nor any other Administration spokesman ever
said publicly that "all our POWs are dead." They never ruled out,
in public testimony, the possibility that some POWs might have been
left behind. They expressed dissatisfaction with the lists received
from the DRV, and especially the DRV/Laos list, and stressed the
importance of efforts to account for the missing.
But the fact remains that the period for public confrontation with
the DRV and Pathet Lao over POW/MIAs ended with Operation
Homecoming. The hard questions that the Defense Department had
about prisoners were no longer raised at press conferences, but--if
at all--in private sessions with the DRV or LPF. The emphasis on
Americans known to have been captured was replaced by a far broader
and less confrontational search for the "missing." And the ongoing
accusations of violations of the agreement and threats of military
action directed against the DRV were prompted not by the DRV's
failure to comply with the POW/MIA provisions of the agreement, but
by issues of infiltration and military re-supply of the South.
Meetings between Dr. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, May/June, 1973
Due to continued allegations of ceasefire violations by all sides,
Dr. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho met in Paris in May and June of 1973
for the purpose of getting the implementation of the peace
agreement back on track.
In anticipation of these meetings, Secretary of Defense Richardson
sent a memorandum to the White House in April 1973 urging Dr.
Kissinger to lean hard on the North Vietnamese on the subject of
POWs in Laos. Secretary Richardson remained very concerned about
the possibility that live American POWs were still being held
captive by the Pathet Lao, and he wanted Dr. Kissinger to do
everything he could to obtain additional information concerning
In testimony before the Select Committee, Dr. Kissinger said that
the POW/MIA issue played an important role in these meetings:
We never accepted the proposition that they (U.S. POWs)
are all dead, continued to express our dissatisfaction
with respect to the accounting for MIAs, and pressed as
hard as we could for an execution of their commitments.
Between May and June, 1973, I conducted 12 days of talks
with the North Vietnamese. I reviewed in detail the
North's violations, incuding the failure to account for
all of the MIAs, but Hanoi sensed our leverage was
rapidly eroding. A host of Congressional resolutions made
it clear that we would have no support for military
action. On May 31st, the Senate rejected a Republican
sponsored amendment which would have made the cutoff of
American military activity in Laos and Cambodia
contingent upon the North Vietnamese making a good faith
effort to account for the MIAs.
In response to my presentations, Le Duc Tho disdainfully
read me editorials from the American press and speeches
from the Congressional Record. . .
Despite all these obstacles, strenuous negotiations
resulted in a joint communique on June 13th, reaffirming
and strengthening all the POW provisions, including those
with respect to missing in action of the original
agreement. It was again violated and ignored. We made no
secret of our outrage with Hanoi's violation. During
1973, we delivered at least 30 separate public statements
or private messages to that effect.
The record does, indeed, reflect that the United States protested
frequently the DRV's unwillingness to fulfill its obligations under
the PPA concerning Americans missing in Vietnam. These protests
were ordinarily delivered through the Four Party Joint Military
Team and are discussed below.
During his discussions with Le Duc Tho, Dr. Kissinger pressed his
view that Article 8(b) of the Paris Peace Accords, dealing with
accounting for the missing in action, was applicable not only in
Vietnam, but throughout Indochina. Specifically, Dr. Kissinger
asked Le Duc Tho for a private pledge that the DRV would assist in
obtaining an accounting of Americans missing in Laos. Le Duc Tho
replied only that "we have to cooperate with our Lao friends
because it is their sovereignty." Le Duc Tho also said that if Dr.
Kissinger wished to assert, "for the purpose of public opinion,"
that article 8(b) is applicable to all of Indochina, the DRV "will
say nothing about it."
In addition, the record indicates that during a May 23, 1973,
meeting with Le Duc Tho, Dr. Kissinger asked the North Vietnamese
to state publicly that there were no more live American POWs in
Laos. As part of a "Draft Understanding on Laos," Dr. Kissinger
proposed that the following language be made a part of the joint
communique: "The DRV side has been informed that there are no U.S.
prisoners being held in Laos."
Dr. Kissinger:. . . we would still like a sentence from
you which I don't understand why you can't give us--which
says that "the DRV has been informed there are no U.S.
prisoners being held in Laos--that all the prisoners held
in Laos have been released." It would be very important
Le Duc Tho: I have acknowledged to you that all of them
have been released.
Dr. Kissinger: Then why can't you write it down?
Despite Dr. Kissinger's request, Le Duc Tho refused to say publicly
that no live U.S. POWs remained in Laos. As during the pre-Accords
negotiations, Le Duc Tho would not agree to make any public
statements which indicated either explicitly or implicitly North
Vietnam's control of the Pathet Lao.
Dr. Kissinger was asked about this exchange during a hearing before
the Select Committee:
Sen. Kerry:. . . So here you are in May with Le Duc Tho
saying not. . . we need an accounting, but saying, give
us a sentence that says there's nobody alive in Laos, it
will be helpful to us.
Dr. Kissinger: You know, Mr. Chairman, it is a really
bizarre situation when the people who were parading and
keeping us from doing the things we needed to do are now
telling us what sentences we should have used after all
our leverage was taken away from us.
Sen. Kerry: Sir, this is a filibuster. I mean, I am not
doing that. I am asking you why it is that you did not
present the case but said just give us a sentence that
there is no one alive.
Dr. Kissinger: I presented the case, Mr. Chairman, in
Sen. Kerry: Why would you have been satisfied with a
Dr. Kissinger: I wasn't satisfied, Mr. Chairman. I was
dealing here with a man who knew reality. I had no means
of pressure left. I had no economic aid left. The
Congress was in the process of passing a series of
resolutions that banned military action, and all I could
do was bluff my way through this due to the actions that
were taken by the Congress of the United States, and as
I said in my statement, it does not behoove the Senate to
blame me for what sentences I may or may not have used in
circumstances which would have been totally--
Sen. Kerry: But this goes to the gravamen of the issue,
Mr. Secretary. It really does. If you were to be
satisfied with a sentence that says no one is alive,
it'll help us, rather than to suggest to him that if you
don't tell us what happened we can resume the bombing,
there's a difference about what was being done about
POWs, and the fact is that subsequent to this, despite
the fact that you sit here and now say to me, our
leverage is being taken away, you recommended bombing
after this meeting to enforce other elements of the
ceasefire, but not POWs.
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Chairman, you're just playing with
Sen. Kerry: I'm playing with the facts.
Dr. Kissinger: Of course, you take the position that
people who were meeting with families all during the war,
who had every incentive to get these--to want these--and
every obligation to get these prisoners returned were
bombing for one reason rather than another reason.
I tell you, Mr. Chairman, if we had had the authority, we
would have had another major negotiation. In the context
where every newspaper, where every Congressional
Committee was preventing us from exercising the leverage,
I -- it is very easy to second-guess 20 years (later). .
. things taken out of the whole stream in which you don't
even know what I said to Le Duc Tho in private
conversations because the record will--well, the record
won't show it, because generally when I threatened Le Duc
Tho I did not do it on the record.
The legal adviser to Dr. Kissinger during the May/June talks with
Le Duc Tho was George Aldrich. His recollections indicate that,
although the question of missing Americans was discussed, the
possibility that some POWs might still be alive was not.
Mr. Aldrich: My memories and my notes on those meetings
indicate that the principal discussions of nonreturn of
prisoners related to the nonreturn of prisoners between
the Vietnamese parties, not ours. Our concern as
expressed was about the accounting in Laos. It was not a
concern about nonreturn.
Sen. Kerry: But at that time there was an issue of
Mr. Aldrich: Not in my view. I was not told there was any
Sen. Kerry: You had no recollection of any issue at that
time, then, and no one had put in front of you at that
time in May a question about people not accounted for in
Mr. Aldrich: It was not, as far as I can recall, ever
suggested to me that prisoners in Laos had not been
On June 13, 1973, the United States and the DRV signed a joint
communique pledging mutual support for full implementation of the
Paris Accords. Point 8 of the communique states that:
In conformity with article 8 of the Agreement, (a) any
captured personnel covered by Article 8(a) of the
Agreement who have not been returned shall be returned
without delay, and in any event within no more than 30
days from the date of signature of this Joint Communique.
in conformity with Article 8(b) of the agreement, the
parties shall help each other to get infornmation about
those military personnel and foreign civilians of the
parties missing in action to determine the location and
take care of the graves of the dead so as to facilitate
the exhumation and repatriation of remains, and to take
any such other measures as may be required to get
information about those still considered missing in
In his statement to the press, Dr. Kissinger interpreted the
communique as requiring both sides to make "major efforts to help
each other to account for the missing in action throughout
Indochina." As promised, Le Duc Tho said nothing to contradict Dr.
Kissinger's statement. Unfortunately, the Committee found no
evidence that the DRV undertook the "major efforts" hoped for by
Status Change Policy
Federal law provides the secretaries of the military services with
exclusive authority to determine initially and later change the
casualty classifications of personnel captured (POW), killed (KIA)
or missing in action (MIA). Although the status classification
process is subject to guidelines set forth in the statute and to
certain constitutional due process guarantees, it nevertheless
remains within the exclusive jurisdiction of the service
Throughout the course of the Vietnam War, status changes were made
in accordance with the conventional practice. On May 22, 1973,
however, acting Secretary of Defense William Clements received a
routine memorandum from the DIA concerning Americans unaccounted
for after Operation Homecoming. The memo stated that:
The Military Services are not considering any status
changes at this time from missing to captured. However,
one case involving an American civilian--Mr. Emmet Kay
who was lost over Laos on 7 May 1973--is under review by
the Department of State and this Agency for possible
change of status from missing to captured.
For reasons that remain unclear to the Select Committee, Secretary
Clements wrote on the bottom of the memo:
I want a memo sent to all departments (Services-ASD-DIA-
JCS) etc. that any reclassification from MIA to POW must
first be cleared by me/MIA to KIA ok within each service
and no review by me.
The requested memorandum was prepared by Assistant Secretary of
Defense Robert Hill and was issued over Secretary Clements'
signature on June 8, 1973. As ordered, the memo directed that the
service secretaries present to him for his personal review and
approval all proposed status changes from MIA to POW. No such
requirement was imposed for proposed status changes from POW to MIA
or KIA, or from MIA to KIA. The memo, in its entirety, reads:
I request that all actions which recommend
reclassification of military personnel from missing in
action to captured status be submitted to me for
approval. Proposed reclassification actions should be
first routed through the Assistant Secretary of defense
for International Security Affairs for preliminary review
before referral to me.
In his deposition, Mr. Clements said that the service secretaries
presented between 50 and 75 cases to him over the next several
months pursuant to this directive. In each case, according to Mr.
Clements, it was recommended that a serviceman's status be changed
from MIA to POW. Mr. Clements recalled that, in his judgment, the
intelligence information in every one of these cases fell short of
his standards for POW status. Mr. Clements accordingly denied the
status change request in each instance.
Mr. Clements' memorandum and testimony during his deposition
concerning it were peculiar for a number of reasons.
First, the memo reflected a departure from legally required
procedures under which status changes were the exclusive
prerogative of the service secretaries.
Second, the policy reflected in the June 8 memo is contrary to
another memo, sent by Secretary Clements to President Nixon on July
17, 1973, in which he said that decisions about status changes
should continue to be made by the service secretaries "as
established by law and experience." The Secretary did not
inform the President that he had, himself, ordered the Department
to follow a different policy.
Third, Mr. Clements opened his public testimony before the Select
Committee on September 24, 1992 by stating that status changes were
handled exclusively by the services throughout his tenure at DoD:
Within DoD, the services control classification, in the
sense that when you have your POWs or MIAs or KIAs, those
classifications are service-classified. The Department
of Defense, as you would think of my position in the
office of the Secretary of Defense, we do not do that.
We did not then do that. Now, exactly what they would do
at this time, I don't know. But at that time, those
classifications were held within the services. In other
words, the Navy classified their people, Army did theirs,
and the Air Force did theirs.
I want to make that very clear because it's important
that your committee and the public at large understand
that the office of the Secretary of Defense and/or the
State Department and/or the National Security Council,
nor the President. . . had any control whatsoever over
classification. That was strictly within the
Fourth, during the public hearing, Mr. Clements did not recall or
at any rate seem to grasp the significance of the June 8, 1973
Sen. Smith: Why did you, Governor Clements, make a
decision to not allow your service secretaries. . . to
upgrade an individual from an MIA category to a POW
category? Why did you make that decision?
Governor Clements: I don't think that I made such a decision.
Sen. Smith: You did not make that decision. Is that your
Governor Clements: I have no recollection of making a decision
of that kind. Let me tell you something, Senator, it is very,
very clear that only classification can be changed within the
service. And let's don't get that confused.
Sen. Smith: (reads text of June 8 memo aloud) That was June
Governor Clements: That's right.
Sen. Smith: With your signature.
Governor Clements: And there's nothing wrong with that. . .
Sen. Smith: Governor, you directed the Secretaries to route it
all through you on June 8th. And on July 17th, you wrote to
the President of the United States and you said: In my view,
the status determination process, as established by law and
experience, should be allowed to function as prescribed. . .
Governor Clements: I agree with that.
Sen. Smith: That is what you said to the President, but that
is not what you said on June 8th to the service secretaries.
Governor Clements: I disagree completely.
Sen. Smith: Well. . . I am not going to argue with you,
Governor. It is a part of the record.
Governor Clements: Well, you don't have to argue with me,
just read it again. . .
Sen. Smith: Governor, I have got it in your own
handwriting. . . "I want a memo sent to all departments,
services, ASD, DIA, JCS, that any reclassification from
MIA to POW must first be cleared by me." That is what you
Governor Clements: I want to review--
Sen. Smith: In your own handwriting.
Governor Clements: I want to review every one of them.
That's exactly right. This was a very, very delicate
The most peculiar aspect of all this is that the Select Committee
has discovered no documentary or testimonial evidence to indicate
that Mr. Clements ever actually reviewed any particular status
classification cases, let alone the 50 to 75 cases he cited in his
deposition. Indeed, Dr. Shields, who would certainly have known if
such a review ever occurred, told the Committee:
Mr. Chairman, I don't want to interject here, but. . . I
can't recall of a single case where they (the services)
wanted to reclassify a missing person to prisoner
Finally, the Committee located a July 17, 1973 memorandum from Mr.
Clements to the President and an August 17, 1973 memorandum to the
Service Secretaries concerning further status changes. The July 17
Presently, there are 1,278 military personnel unaccounted
for. . .Of this number, 67 are officially listed as
prisoner of war based on information that they reached
the ground safely and were captured. . . The rest have
remained in a missing status. . .In a significant number
of cases only faint hope was ever held for the
individual's survival. Although our returned prisoners
could confirm the death of less than 100 men, they are of
the firm opinion that none of the other missing men
entered the captivity system. . .
In addition, high level officials from the other side
have repeatedly emphasized that none of the missing are
still being held captive. Absence of new information
indicating a man is alive constitutes implicit
confirmation of prior evidence in those cases where
chances for survival were deemed small. A determination
of death should now be made in those cases.
The August 17 memorandum directed:
the Secretaries of the Military Departments to proceed as
prescribed by law with changes in status to deceased,
where warranted, of servicemen who did not return from
Phase-out of the POW/MIA Task Force
In an internal Pentagon memorandum dated February 13, 1971,
Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird established a POW/MIA Task Force
to serve as the coordinating body within DOD for all POW/MIA-
The primary function of the Task Group will be to provide
close and continuing coordination of all activities in
DOD in the PW/MIA area. In accord with policy guidance,
it will ensure that responsible offices and agencies work
together in planning, programming, assessing, and
carrying out all required actions.
Secretary Laird placed the Task Force under the direction of the
Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs
and appointed Roger Shields as chairman of the Task Force.
In a follow-up memorandum dated December 3, 1971, Secretary Laird
reemphasized the importance of coordination within DOD and directed
that all POW/MIA issues be forwarded to Dr. Shields:
The best interests of the Defense Department, the men,
and their families require the closest and most thorough
coordination of every aspect of the conduct of prisoner
of war/missing in action affairs. To this end, Dr. Roger
Shields, of the office of the Assistant Secretary (ISA),
has been tasked with overall Department of Defense
coordination responsibility for all PW/MIA matters. I
ask that you direct all elements of your organization to
coordinate with Dr. Shields, or his staff (PW Task
Force), all actions related to prisoners of war or
missing in action. I consider this to be the only way in
which we can satisfactorily handle this difficult
problem, and I earnestly solicit your cooperation to this
Consistent with Secretary Laird's directives, Dr. Shields acted as
DOD's leading policymaker for POW/MIA issues right up through the
aftermath of Operation Homecoming. Dr. Shields served as DOD's
primary POW/MIA spokesperson with the Congress, the families and
the public; as the coordinator of the Department's intelligence
assets assigned to the POW/MIA issue; and as coordinator of
Nevertheless, DOD moved to abolish the POW/MIA Task Force almost
immediately after the completion of Operation Homecoming. In a
memorandum dated April 25, 1973, acting Assistant Secretary of
Defense (ISA) Lawrence Eagleburger recommended that the Task Force
be phased out over a four-month period:
With the recent ceasefire agreement in both Vietnam and
Laos and the return of our servicemen held captive by the
Communist side, the PW/MIA situation no longer warrants
the retention of the PW/MIA Task Force in its present
size or configuration. Accordingly, this Task Force
should be phased out over the next four months and those
functional areas currently being performed by the Task
Force should be reassigned to the Military Departments,
Joint Chiefs of Staff, and OSD Component Staff Agencies,
Secretary of Defense Elliot Richardson approved Mr. Eagleburger's
recommendation on May 1, 1973 and issued a memorandum ordering the
phase-out of the POW/MIA Task Force by August 31, 1973. Secretary
The recent peace agreements in Vietnam and Laos, along
with the withdrawal of our military forces from Vietnam
and the return of our prisoners of war provide a basis
for the phase-out of the Prisoner of War/Missing in
Action Task Force and the functional reorganization of
the DoD PW/MIA program. In this regard, I hasten to add
that the phase-out of the Task Force in no way infers
that those on-going programs and long-range actions on
behalf of our returned servicemen, their families, and
the missing in action will be terminated. Instead, a
need exists for a redistribution of functional
responsibilities currently being accomplished by the
PW/MIA Task Force.
The Select Committee looked closely at the rapid phase-out of the
Task Force to try to determine whether it was indicative of a
larger U.S. Government effort to downplay lingering doubts about
the completeness of the release of American POWs from North Vietnam
and Laos. Both of the memoranda cited above appear premised on the
view that no live American POWs remained behind in Indochina--a
premise possibly at odds with information known to the
Administration. Yet, Secretary Richardson, Secretary Schlesinger
and Dr. Shields all testified that the phase-out order was a mere
bureaucratic shuffling of resources within DOD that did not result
in any real decrease in the Department's deployment of POW/MIA
assets. In fact, Dr. Shields was soon promoted to Deputy Assistant
Secretary of Defense, and he remained at DOD in charge of POW/MIA
matters through 1976.
Joint Economic Commission
As discussed earlier, the formation of the Joint Economic
Commission (JEC) was announced on February 14, 1973 following Dr.
Kissinger's visit to Hanoi. Formal meetings began the next month in
Paris with Maurice J. Williams heading the American delegation. The
public position taken by the Administration was still that no
specific dollar figures had been discussed with the North
Vietnamese; that the provision of aid would depend on DRV
compliance with the ceasefire and other terms of the PPA; and that
no assistance would be provided without authorization from the
By the end of March, although it was not revealed publicly at the
time, the two sides had reached tentative agreement on a detailed
five year plan for reconstruction. All that was lacking was an
agreed mechanism for DRV reporting on how the aid would be used.
On April 5, 1973, the U.S. Senate voted 88-3 to bar the use of any
previously-appropriated funds for the purpose of providing
assistance to the DRV. Although the amendment did not prohibit the
President from proposing a reconstruction program for North
Vietnam, the tone of the debate indicated that such a proposal
would not have much support.
On April 19, the JEC talks were suspended by the U.S. as a result
of alleged violations by the DRV of the ceasefire. Talks did not
resume until after the joint U.S.-North Vietnamese communique of
June 13, 1973 pledging adherence to the terms of the PPA. Talks
were then held from June 19 until July 23, after which they were
suspended indefinitely due to the DRV's failure to stop military
actions directed against South Vietnam.
Four Party Joint Military Team
The Four Party Joint Military Team (FPJMT), based in Saigon, came
into existence immediately after the end of Operation Homecoming
and was charged with responsibility for implementing article 8(b)
of the PPA. Article 8(b) provides for mutual assistance in
obtaining information about those considered missing in action,
determining the location of graves and providing for the
repatriation of remains.
On April 14, 1973, Ellsworth Bunker, the U.S. Ambassador to South
Vietnam, outlined proposed priorities for the FPJMT in a cable to
the Secretary of State. Ambassador Bunker said that the first
priority would be recovery of the remains of those listed by the
DRV and PRG as having died while in captivity. The second priority
would be to seek information on the so-called discrepancy cases--
Americans thought by the U.S. to have been captured alive. The
third priority would be to negotiate a process for the air and
ground search of crash sites.
Although meetings of the FPJMT were held regularly beginning in
early April, very little was accomplished. Colonel Laurence Robson,
who served as Deputy Chief of the FPJMT, testified that folders
describing 104 cases of American POW/MIAs about whom the DRV should
have information were turned over to the North Vietnamese. Many of
these had previously been brought to the DRV's attention during Dr.
Kissinger's visit to Hanoi in February. In April, as in February,
however, the U.S. received no response. Despite two visits to
purported U.S. POW grave sites in North Vietnam, no remains were
According to Col. Robson, part of the DRV's refusal to cooperate
may have resulted from the opposition demonstrated in Congress to
the provision of reconstruction aid. And in testimony before the
House Committee on Foreign Affairs in December, 1973, Assistant
Secretary of Defense Roger Shields characterized the actual
meetings as consisting of "propaganda speeches, boycotts, walkouts,
and general stalling tactics by the Communist delegations."
Efforts to Gain an Accounting in Laos
At the time Operation Homecoming was completed, there remained hope
within the U.S. that Pathet Lao officials would admit holding at
least a small number of U.S. POWs and provide information on any
who might have died in captivity. There was particular attention
given to individuals, such as David Hrdlicka, Eugene DeBruin and
Charles Shelton, who were known to have been taken captive by the
LPF. American hopes were based, to a significant extent, on
previous admissions that the LPF did hold U.S. prisoners.
Beginning in early April, however, the LPF position changed.
On April 5, U.S. Embassy officials were told by Soth Petrasy in
Vientiane that the LPF held no U.S. prisoners. The same message was
conveyed by Soth the following day in a meeting with Senator Edward
As a result of these meetings, the U.S. Ambassador to Laos,
McMurtrie Godley, cabled the State Department that:
Although. . . U.S. PW's may be held in remote areas of
PL (Pathet Lao) zone of control, we. . . received
negative response. Embassy activity is currently being
directed toward program of accounting for MIAs. . .
Although U.S. Mission through the years has utilized
every possible means to obtain valid information
concerning MIA's in Laos, we have been unable to identify
conclusively any U.S. personnel being held captive or
identify conclusively a specific detention facility for
U.S. Prisoners. . .
On April 23, at a press conference, Soth Petrasy was asked whether
it was possible that American prisoners were still being held. He
It is not possible. First of all, we do not recognize
your list. All who were captured have been released. They
came to massacre us and we had to defend ourselves. If
they reached the ground alive, they could still die
without ever being found. But if they were captured, they
were released. If they wanted to stay alive, they should
have stayed in the United States.
On May 31, 1973, Mr. Frank Sieverts, special assistant to the
Deputy Secretary of State for Prisoners of War and Men Missing in
Action, testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs
regarding efforts to account for Americans missing in Laos:
In Laos, U.S. officials have been in direct contact with
representatives of the Lao Patriotic Front (the Pathet
Lao) to press for additional information on Americans
missing or captured in Laos. We have told the communist
side of our concern at the small number of Americans
listed as captured in Laos, in view of past hints that a
larger number were held by Pathet Lao forces, and in view
of evidence that at least two others had been captured in
Laos. The communist side has repeatedly told us and has
recently stated publicly that there are no more Americans
captured or held in Laos. They have also said that
further accounting for the missing must await the
formation of a coalition government, as specified in the
February 21 Laos ceasefire agreement. Our efforts to
convince the Communist side to proceed with this
accounting without waiting for a new government to be
formed has been in vain.
On September 14, 1973, the Protocols to the February 21 Laos
Ceasfire Agreement were signed between the Pathet Lao and the Royal
Lao Government. Article 18 of the Protocols called for the "return
of all persons regardless of nationality who were captured and
imprisoned for cooperating with the other side during the war (to
be) accomplished in three stages and completed at the same time as
the withdrawal of foreign troops and military personnel." The
protocol also required an exchange of lists of prisoners and those
who died in captivity within 30 days of the signing of the
agreement on September 14, a provision that was subsequently
disregarded by the LPF.
At the end of the 30 day period for the lists of prisoners to be
exchanged, a group of POW/MIA family members traveled to Vientiane,
Laos in anticipation of receiving information on persons
unaccounted for in Laos. The family members met with Soth Petrasy,
but no information concerning their loved ones was provided.
On December 5, 1973, Mr. Sieverts again testified before the House
Foreign Affairs Committee:
The Lao Patriotic Front has repeatedly stated, publicly
and directly to senior U.S. officials, that there are no
more American prisoners captured or held in Laos--with
the exception of a civilian, Emmet Kay, a pilot for
Continental Air Services, Inc., whose plane went down in
Northwest Laos May 7, 1973. . .
Our representatives have. . . provided the Communist side
with a detailed listing of our POW/MIA's in Laos,
including those listed as dead whose bodies were not
recovered, with the request for information on those men.
We have also called particular attention to the cases of
men who were previously acknowledged as captured in Laos,
or for whom there are indications that they survived
shootdowns. . . As is clear form the foregoing, our
representatives in Vientiane have maintained continuing
pressure on the communist side on this subject. . .
The Pathet Lao representative, however, . . . said no
information would be forthcoming until. . . the coalition
government was formed.
On the question of JCRC access to Laos, the Pathet Lao
representative flatly stated that no outside element
could concern itself with POW/MIA's in what he described
as the "liberated zone.." . .
The vast majority of crash and potential grave sites in
Laos are located in areas under the control of North
Vietnamese forces. Thus, North Vietnam effectively
controls the basic information on this subject.
We have attempted to raise it with them in the FPJMT in
Saigon, but they have insisted that POW/MIA's in Laos
must be discussed with the LPF.
Although the Lao Provisional Government was finally formed in April
1974, no information concerning U.S. POWs or MIAs was forthcoming
from the new government.
In a report dated August 16, 1974, the DIA reported that 294
Americans remained unaccounted for in Laos, of whom 5 were known to
have been captured. According to the report, Special Intelligence
(SI) indicated that:
. Navy pilot Barton S. Creed may have been captured but was
. Air Force pilot David Hrdlicka, a known captive, was believed
to have died in mid-1966;
. Eugene Debruin, acknowledged as captive by the Pathet Lao, had
probably not survived;
. Air Force pilot Charles Shelton, a known captive, had probably
died in mid-1966: and
. the civilian pilot Emmet Kay, downed in May, 1973, remained in
captivity. (Kay was released in September, 1974).
During his de-brief, Emmet Kay stated that he had no knowledge of
any other Americans being held in Laos. He also said that he had
been told by the Pathet Lao that he was the only American being
held there and that all U.S. POWs were released in 1973 during
The coalition government in Laos was replaced in December, 1975 by
a government controlled entirely by the Pathet Lao.