Section I: Introduction; Disappearance in 1965; to 1969
Introduction and Summary. This article, and the associated Sections, provides details of the case of former US Marine Corps Private First Class Robert Russell Garwood. Garwood disappeared from the USMC base at Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) on 28 September 1965. During the period 1965 through 1969, other US servicemen held as prisoners of war (POW) by the North Vietnamese encountered Garwood, as did South Vietnamese military personnel who were POWs of the North Vietnamese. Their testimony -- provided by those who were released before the end of the war and by those who were released at the end of the war -- gave substantial evidence that Garwood engaged in various forms of collaboration with the enemy.
In 1973, when all US POWs were released by the North Vietnamese, Garwood elected to remain in North Vietnam. Following the 1975 conquest of South Vietnam by the North, tens of thousands of former South Vietnamese military officers were incarcerated in concentration camps -- dubbed by the North Vietnamese "reeducation camps" -- in an area northwest of Hanoi. Garwood worked as a member of the staff of this camp complex where he was seen by many of the South Vietnamese personnel. Many of these South Vietnamese personnel later emigrated from Vietnam and told interviewers of their encounters with Garwood. Their testimony provides further evidence of Garwood's willing collaboration.
In 1979, Garwood passed a note to a Finnish national, who was a World Bank employee, at a hotel in Hanoi. This set off a chain of events whereby Garwood was returned to the United States. He was charged with several offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Certain of the charges were dismissed but Garwood was found guilty of collaborating with the enemy and of physically mistreating an American POW.
In his debriefings when he first emerged from North Vietnam in 1979, Garwood stated that he had no contact with Americans after he left South Vietnam in 1969. He did say that he had heard some hearsay stories about American POWs but he had no first-hand information.
In 1982, Garwood began an association with Congressman Billy Hendon (R, NC), a persistent critic of US government actions on the Vietnam MIA issue. In a 4 December 1984 article, the Wall Street Journal related Garwood's claims that he had, in fact, seen US POWs on several occasions after the POW release in 1973. Many of these "sightings" by Garwood bore a close relationship to stories that Mr. Hendon was familiar with.
Garwood's conviction was appealed through the military appellate system. His attorneys then moved the appeals into the civilian court system. Eventually, on 2 December 1985, the US Supreme Court declined to hear the Garwood appeal, thereby letting stand his conviction.
The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had attempted to interview Garwood, beginning with the time of his return to the US. His attorneys and the USMC denied repeated DIA requests for interviews over their concern that such interviews would have an impact on the legal proceedings against Garwood. Following the Supreme Court decision, Garwood agreed to be debriefed by DIA. He participated in a short debriefing session in February 1986, then refused further contact with DIA. Eventually, Garwood agreed to three more interviews with DIA: 17 - 20 September 1987, 20 - 27 February 1988, and 12 November 1990.
In these interviews, Garwood repeated his claims of having seen American POWs after 1973. He was interviewed in detail regarding these claims. Subsequent analysis of his "sightings" determined that his claims were fabrications.
(NOTE: These "live sightings will be discussed in a later section of this article.)
Beginning in the mid-1980s, a movement emerged to revise the history of the Garwood affair. Senator Robert Smith (R, NH) has adopted the Garwood case as a cause celebre. Numerous POW-MIA enthusiasts have produced reports, analysis, documents, and other claims regarding Garwood that are false, misleading, or that misrepresent facts. Garwood is now being portrayed in some quarters as a sympathetic figure, a forgotten POW left behind at the end of the war, now deserving of forgiveness for any alleged collaboration on his part.
This article, and its associated sections, provide the facts of the Garwood case. These articles are taken directly from a report prepared for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (ASD/C3I) and published in June 1993. Citations are provided in the text.
At the end of these articles I will provide my own judgment of the Garwood case.
Warning: This document is LONG. The original report was 90-plus pages, double-spaced, double-sided. I have produced it here single-spaced but I have broken it into sections because of the length. If you wish to download the sections for easier reading and printing, please do so but be warned that printing will take 70 - 80 sheets and reading it is a chore.
This is Section 1, covering Garwood's disappearance in 1965 through the end of 1969.
CONVENTIONS. The following conventions are used in all sections
of this report.
Private Robert Russell Garwood, USMC, was a motor-pool driver stationed at the Marine base, Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). On 28 September 1965, Garwood was found absent at the 2300 hours bed check. No unauthorized absence (UA) was reported because Garwood was thought to have had a "late run." He was reported UA after he failed to report for muster at 0730 hours on the 29th.
Several actions were initiated:
(NOTE: These all normal actions taken when an individual is missing. The notification of the SECNAV is done by message which would be copied to the Commandant, USMC, and to the various personnel offices and commands. The CI investigation is started to determine what, if any, sensitive information the missing man may have had access to. If, for instance, a missing man had access to communications codes, those codes may have to be changed.)
Those who saw Garwood on 28 September just prior to his disappearance were some of his USMC tent mates in Da Nang. According to PFC John Geill, PFC Allen F. Braverman, and LCpl Gary Smith, Garwood was with a group of Marines at the Da Nang Hotel, or, the Da Nang USO just around dusk on the 28th. He indicated that he had to pick up his laundry outside the base and wanted to make a "skivvy run" as well. Garwood then said that he would see the group back at the tent in "about an hour." He never showed up. (Information from debriefings of Geill, Braverman, and Smith. Also, information from the Summary of Investigation.)
(NOTE: The term "skivvy run" was USMC slang for a visit to to a brothel, a "girl friend," or similar visit.)
When PFC Geill was debriefed in 1965 immediately after Garwood's disappearance, he gave a different version of his last sighting of Garwood. Geill indicated that he and Garwood had been in their tent just prior to 1800 on the 28th when Garwood came into the tent, picked up his weapon, and was supposedly going on a driver's run to pick up a USMC officer at G-2 headquarters, approximately 1/2 mile away. Garwood never showed up for that pick-up. However, the Asst. Chief Admin. Officer for the division stated that he had secured Garwood after his 1300 run was completed at 1430 and Garwood was not told to report back at 1800. PFC Geill later stated that he misspoke in 1965 as he was trying to "protect" Garwood for any possible "indiscretions" on Garwood's part. (Investigating agent's report, dated 16 November 1965.)
On 29 September, the Division Provost Marshal was notified of Garwood's absence and an all points bulletin was issued for him and his missing vehicle. This bulletin was repeated for three days with no results. Personnel from the motor pool searched areas of Da Nang that Garwood was known to frequent but no leads were uncovered. On 2 October, the division's provost marshal contacted the Republic of Vietnam's Military Security Services. Their search efforts also produced no information regarding Garwood. (Letter from CO to Cmdt, USMC, 13 October 1965.)
As these investigations proceeded, Garwood's commanding officer reported to the
Commandant, USMC, that, in view of Garwood's past record of UA, it was his opinion that
Garwood was possibly UA and this UA could have resulted in Garwood being taken POW.
Because of the lack of any evidence of Garwood's capture, however, the CO recommended that
there be no change in Garwood's status and that he remain UA until evidence to the
contrary proved otherwise. (Letter from CO to Cmdt, USMC, 13 October 1965.)
Two separate Vietnamese agents reported that the Viet Cong (VC) claimed that a US serviceman and his jeep had been picked up in the Cam Hai region, approximately 11.5 miles from the Da Nang base, after the serviceman had become lost. The American had been captured and the jeep burned. A ground and aerial search for the burned vehicle produced no results, as did four platoon search operations on 1 October. Two additional platoons swept the area in the vicinity of Marble Mountain the next morning but found nothing. (Report from 704th ITC Det (CI), 3 October 1965.)
(NOTE: A revisionist book on Garwood, Spite House,
reported a claim by a retired USMC officer that Garwood had been captured in a firefight
"visible from Marble Mountain." There is nothing whatsoever in the record
to suggest that such an incident occurred or was observed by any US observers.)
On 12 October, the 704th ITC Det (CI) authorized the offer of a 100,000 $VN reward for information leading to the successful recovery of the missing serviceman and and additional 2,500 $VN for the recovery of his vehicle. (Ltr from CO, 704th ITC Det (CI).)
On 3 December 1965, India Company, 3d Battalion, 3d Marine Regiment found a document entitled Fellow Soldier's Appeal (dated 20 October 1965) with Garwood's signature on it, on a gate near Da Nang (click here to read a transcript of the document). The document recommended, among other things, that US troops stop fighting in Vietnam and return home. The signature -- B. Garwood -- may have been made by a rubber stamp and the English usage in the letter suggests that it was not written entirely by a native English speaker. A second version of this document was found on 18 July 1966 in the Da Nang area but it appeared to be on better quality paper and the signature was at a different angle. (6 Dec 65 ltr from CG, III MAF to Cmdr, US MACV, and 10 Dec 65 agent report.)
In view of this information, Garwood's status was changed from "missing" to "presumed captured" on 17 December 1965.
On 23 December 1965, the CG, FMFPAC (Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific)
directed that a counterintelligence case on Garwood be opened, that the Fellow
Soldier's Appeal be evaluated for "subversive content and authenticity," and
that Garwood's service record book (SRB) be reviewed. Following this review, the
USMC concluded that:
On 4 January 1966, fourteen ARVN POWs were released by the North Vietnamese in observance of the Tet holiday. These POWs produced a letter from Garwood to his mother, written on 27 December 1965. The released ARVN also reported that US Army Captain William F. Eisenbraun (Ike) was being held with Garwood at a prison camp called Camp Khu. According to the ARVN, Eisenbraun and Garwood had arrived at the camp within a week to ten days of each other.
With this new information in hand, the CG FMFPAC directed the 3d CI Team, 3 MARDIV to conduct a second investigation of the Fellow Soldier's Appeal. This investigation reached essentially the same conclusions concerning the document as did the initial investigation. (Report from Asst Head of CI Branch to Asst Chief of Staff/G-2, 18 January 1966)
On 22 January 1966, the head of the investigating team reported that at least one of the ARVN officers released from "Camp Khu" claimed that Garwood himself has shown him the propaganda letter which he (Garwood) had allegedly signed. The ARVN officer could not say definitely if Garwood had personally signed the document. On 3 March 1966, the contents of the Fellow Soldier's Appeal were broadcast over Radio Hanoi. The announcer who read the Appeal was reported by Foreign Broadcast Information System (FBIS) station in Okinawa to be a foreign national whose English pronunciation "had a French accent." Although the announcer claimed that "he was reading a statement attributed to Robert R. Gouch," the text was identical to that of the 20 October letter with Garwood's signature. (3d CI Team, FMFPAC report, 21 Mar 66)
(NOTE: At least two former US POWs held in Hanoi reported that they had heard Garwood himself on Radio Hanoi during the time that they were held captive. Both Naval aviators, Captain John Fellowes, captured on 27 Aug 66, and Commander Everett Alvarez, captured on 5 Aug 64, stated in personal interviews in November 1992 that Garwood identified himself as "Bobby Garwood" in the broadcasts and stated that he was a US Marine who had "crossed over." The two returnees stated that Garwood never in the broadcasts they heard used the word "captured" to refer to himself.)
On 5 May 1966, FBIS monitored a Radio Hanoi broadcast to American servicemen in South Vietnam that was identical to the 3 March broadcast. The broadcast also noted that "a US Marine captured in a raid on Cam Hai, had called on his mates to stop terrorizing the South Vietnamese people and burning their houses, gardens, and rice fields." On 13 May 1966 the international service of Radio Hanoi broadcast the same message with the same wording and the text was later released by the Liberation Press Agency in English. (FBIS Okinawa reports of 5 May and 13 May 1966)
Following the publication of the document, nothing was heard from or about Garwood until late in 1966. On 9 November, one ARVN lieutenant and two enlisted men reported that they had seen Garwood on or about 1 October 1966 while they were prisoners of the VC. They identified Garwood's photograph from a photo line-up. (COMUSMACV 135th MI Group msg 15 Nov 66)
On 9 January 1967, an ARVN Special Forces soldier was debriefed. He reported that he had been in a POW camp with Garwood and Eisenbraun in late 1965. In early 1966, in celebration of Tet, all the POWs in this camp were released, except for the two Americans and four ARVN officers. The ARVN SF soldier claimed that Garwood handed him one of his dog tags and asked him to return it to US authorities. The ARVN did not have the dog tag in his possession.
On 21 February 1967, an ARVN Military Intelligence unit reported that a "coded
source" had said that two American POWs were being detained in Quang Ngai Province,
RVN. The source did not identify the US POWs, the Marines concluded that the two
included Eisenbraun, Garwood, and now LCpl Edwin Russell Grissett, captured on 22 January
1966. Another unidentified ARVN source reported that he had been held by the VC from
December 1966 until his escape in March 1967 during which time he claimed to have been
held with three US POWs; he could not communicate with them. (Evaluation reports
from COMUSMACV, 149th MI Group, 21 Feb 67 and 6 Mar 67)
By this time, US agencies and forces had accumulated a considerable amount of information regarding POWs being held by the VC and NVA in South Vietnam. While they were generally aware of the number of US POWs being held, information was not sufficient to pinpoint their locations. Information on Garwood suggested that he was collaborating with the enemy but such collaboration could not be confirmed.
At this point of the Garwood report, we need to pause and consider three items:
First. The real circumstances surrounding Garwood's disappearance in September 1965 are yet to be told; only Garwood and the people who captured him know.
Second. It is likely that Garwood was on an unauthorized trip to a local village, probably to visit a brothel or a girl friend. Claims that Garwood was captured after a firefight are bogus.
Three. The USMC searched diligently for Garwood following his disappearance.
The real circumstances surrounding Garwood's disappearance may
never be known but the following should be considered.
In a made-for-TV-movie, shown in the US in 1993, Garwood is shown asking directions to Marble Mountain from sentries at the Da Nang gate, getting lost on a coastal road, being surrounded by VC, then getting involved in a firefight. This movie version is also reflected in Spite House and other revisionist material on Garwood. (The Last POW?: The Bobby Garwood Story; ABC television, 28 June 1993) There are serious problems with the claim that Garwood was "on duty" when he was captured, or "rallied."
The record demonstrates that the USMC made a serious,
continuing, all-out effort to find Garwood. No rescue mission was ever
launched because it was simply impossible to pinpoint where he -- or any other US POWs --
were held. Communist prison camps in the south were often mobile and tended to be in
double and triple canopy jungle in remote regions. The were virtually impossible to
detect from the air and were difficult to detect on the ground.
In January 1968, PFC Jose Ortiz-Rivera, US Army, and LCpl Jose Agosto Santos, USMC, were released from communist captivity in the South. Both reported that they had been imprisoned with Garwood and that he had "officially crossed over" to the enemy in May 1967 at which time Garwood:
|Took the Vietnamese name "Nguyen Chien Dau" (Nguyen the Fighter).|
The USG was to determine later, from other released US POWs (after Homecoming)
and from captured documents, that Garwood actually had been actively involved in aiding
the VC and NVA prior to May 1967:
The reported commissioning ceremony was particularly condemning, and, if authentic, represented a clear turning point in the case by signaling that Garwood had decided to take up arms against his own country.
Regardless of whether or not Garwood accepted a commission in the NVA, the USMC clearly had sufficient evidence at this time to change his status from POW to deserter as soon as the seriousness of his offenses became known. However, Garwood's POW status was not changed in 1968, or at any time following.
During their debriefings in early February 1968, both Ortiz-Rivera and Agosto Santos indicated that Garwood was a "POW now working with the VC." (Debriefs of Ortiz-Rivera and Agosto Santos, January-February 1968). Corroboration of Garwood's activities with the VC came on 20 February when an official of an ARVN intelligence unit informed US authorities that thirteen ARVN returnees, recently released by the VC, had reported that they had been in the 5th VC Regional Camp with US POWs. One of the Americans, they revealed, was called by the Vietnamese name Nguyen Chien Dau and he was scheduled to be released by the National Liberation Front in "June or July 1967, but he requested to join the National Liberation Front to begin work with a VC Enemy Proselytizing unit (cuc dich van) near Da Nang." (Information Report IR/I/1/0025/68/IN, 20 February 1968).
Additional revelations concerning Garwood's collaboration with the VC came to light on 9 February 1968 when documents captured by F Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment included four personal letters and five propaganda statements attributed to him. Three of the latter were "allegedly" written and signed by "Bobby Garwood" and two had no signature. (Report of the 5th Counter-intelligence team, 6 March 1968)
The USMC requested that the FBI examine the documents and compare Garwood's signature with that on the captured documents. In their letter to the FBI requesting the assistance, the USMC noted that information had been rec eived by HQ, USMC, which "indicated that Garwood apparently defected to the VC during May 1967. Since that date there have been numerous reports in South Vietnam of a Caucasian assisting the VC in the propaganda and proselytizing programs" (6 March 1968 letter, USMC HQ to FBI). Over a year later, in September 1969, the USMC requested that the FBI re-examine the documents and compare the various Garwood signatures with writing samples previously provided. In addition, the USMC asked that the FBI examine an additional eight-page undated "Declaration" allegedly written by Garwood, found during December 1968, and a letter dated 18 January 1969. (HQ USMC letter to FBI, 8 September 1969). In their response, the FBI indicated that the writing, in some of the documents, appeared to be that of PFC Garwood; in other places, the orthography appeared to be somewhat Cyrillic. (FBI response to USMC, 6 October 1969)
The USMC then requested that the CIA carryout an even more technical and graphological analysis of the documents. Upon examination, CIA experts stated that they thought that at least six of the documents had been written by Garwood. They also reported that they discerned some personality traits in the writing they analyzed that concurred with observations about Garwood's personality "found in the personnel reports in Garwood's file," concerning his lack of emotional stability, low sense of responsibility and loyalty, and the need for security.
The USMC gained more first-hand information concerning Garwood's prison camp activities when three more US POWs were released in early November 1969. SGT Willie Watkins, PFC James Strickland, and PFC Coy Tinsley, all US Army, stated in their debriefs that they had last seen Garwood on or about October 25, 1969 just prior to their departure from a POW camp in South Vietnam. Not only did they corroborate previous statements made by Ortiz-Rivera and Agosto Santos almost two years before (Jan-Feb 68), but SGT Watkins related that Garwood had told him that he (Garwood) was going to North Vietnam to meet one of the leaders of the Black Panther Party and Black Muslims in August or September 1970. (Debriefs of Watkins, Strickland, and Tinsley) Watkins also stated that Garwood had bragged of having been in a firefight with the VC against US troops and that only he and one VC had escaped. Watkins also stated that Garwood wore a Ho Chi Minh button and carried an AK-47 rifle. (Watkins debrief, November 1969)
After Homecoming, during which all returning US POWs were debriefed, the USG was to ascertain that PFC Garwood had, in fact, gone to North Vietnam in late 1969 and that Watkins, Strickland, and Tinsley were possibly the last US POWs to see him prior to his departure.
The significance of this period in the Garwood chronology lies in the fact that evidence emerged attesting to Garwood's collaboration, supporting the premise that he had crossed over to the enemy. The evidence included documents that graphological examination concluded belonged to Garwood; the testimony of released ARVN POWs; and the testimony from Ortiz-Rivera, Agosto Santos, Watkins, Strickland, and Tinsley. When US POWs were debriefed during Operation Homecoming in 1973, their eyewitness accounts corroborated the accounts of the men released during the 1968 - 1969 period.
Just as significant is the reaction by the USMC. There was sufficient documentation and eyewitness accounts, as early as 1968 and easily by 1969, for the USMC to change Garwood's status from POW to deserter/collaborator. Apparently, the leadership of the USMC did not consider a change propitious. A USMC POW screening board report dated 5 May 1969 noted that PFC Garwood possibly enjoyed the attention given him by the VC and, therefore, defected and aided them in their proselytizing and propagandazing programs. The Board chose to minimize Garwood's defection while protecting his rights when they recommended that Garwood be advised of his rights under Article 31, UCMJ (an Article 31 advisement is the military version of the Miranda warning) prior to any debriefing and that a thorough investigation be conducted to determine his actions while in enemy hands, should Garwood ever return to US control.
This recommendation by the USMC POW screening board clearly demonstrates that the USMC was more concerned with protecting Garwood than with prosecuting him. No change was made in his status.
Transcribed below is the text of the document "Fellow Soldier's
Appeal." This was the first document found bearing Garwood's signature. I
have merely re-typed it here. When I an able to, I will scan the document and put up
an image of the document, complete with Garwood's signature.
I was captured in Quangnam on the 28 th. of Sept. 1965. Since my capture I'm well and have been treated with extreme kindness.
As time went along from day to day, I slowly started to realize that the South Vietnamese people were not out for blood shed and killing of the Americans, but only for independence, freedom, peace and neutrality. These people are only doing what your and my ancestors did during the revolution of 1783 against the British invaders. If you will only look into the background of the South Vietnamese people, you will see that they have been fighting for their freedom for 10 years and they won't lay down their arms until their country has been liberated, no matter what the costs. They will certainly win in this war because of their just cause, their unity and the hearty support of all the peace-loving people in the world.
From my contact with the Vietnamese people, they don't want war or do they hate the American people; all they want is or the U. S. imperialists to leave their affairs alone and return to America.
The South Vietnamese affairs should be handled by the South Vietnamese people themselves and the U. S. Should not intrude upon their affairs. We would certainly not want the South Vietnamese people to invade the U. S. affairs, so in turn the U. S. government is very much out of place intruding on the Vietnam affairs.
I myself think that the U. S. government is acting very foolishly and certainly without thinking of the consequences while spending about $ 2 million dollars per day in order to keep the war going in South Vietnam.
I'm calling on you TO STOP TERRORIZING AND MASSACRING THE PEOPLE OF SOUTH VIETNAM. DON'T BURN THEIR VILLAGES, BOMBARD THEIR RICE FIELDS AND HOES OR RUN THE TANKS THROUGH THE FIELDS; THESE ARE THEIR ONLY MEANS OF LIVING.
OPPOSE THIS DIRTY WAR OF AGGRESSION CAUSED BY THE O. S. IMPERIALISTS IN SOUTH VIETNAM. YOUR PLACE IS NOT IN THE BATTLE FRONT BU IN YOUR SWEET HOME BESIDE YOUR PARENTS WIFE AND CHILDREN.
REFUSE TO FIGHT AND YOU WILL BE SENT BACK TO THE U. S. WHERE YOU BELONG.
I must say I.m vry glad I have this chance to get to know and understand the South Vietnamese people and my decision as of now is to help them on their war against the U. S. imperialists in any way I can.
I wish more Americans could have the same view-point of this people as I have an opportunity to have.
I'm sure I'll be released soon and then maybe I'll be able
to tell you and all the people of America what I have learned about the patriotic struggle
of the Vietnamese people and the policy of the South Vietnam National LIberation Front and
its just cause in serving the people of South Vietnam.
|NOTE: This document was transcribed exactly from the original, complete with misspellings.|
Go to Section II: In North Vietnam, 1970 - 1978