Breaking down the POW/MIA "issue"


by CDR Chip Beck, USNR (ret) December 26, 1997

The following observations and comments are supplemental to those recently provided to a "newcomer " to the POW/MIA arena by Gunny Fallon. They are based on my service in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) from 1969-1975; my official assignment as a POW investigator with DPMO from 1995-1996; and my unilateral POW research since 1996. I repeat this summary for other interested newcomers in 1998.

The POW/MIA "issue" can be broken down into two separate categories, namely "POW" and "MIA." Both have political, practical, and intelligence characteristics unique to each grouping.

As a former DPMO insider, I broke ranks because both parts of the POW/MIA issue were not only not receiving equal attention, but because the POWs were being virtually ignored at all costs, while the MIAs were being actively pursued for economic and political reasons.

The recovery of MIA remains is extensively conducted, as it should be, by CILHI, JTFFA, and DPMO. However, the reasons for various dupliative recovery efforts has as much, or more, to do with political goals, economic trade with former adversaries, and convenience, as it does with honor or closure.

The return of MIAs, most of whom were killed in battle and never held prisoner, serves the interests of the US Administration(s) as well as those of the Russian (Soviet), Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese regimes. "Cooperation" in this realm does not embarrass the past political positions of either side, and therefore promotes the goals and objectives for the future.

POWs, particularly "Unrepatriated POWs," are a different matter. Since 1918, and the Allied Intervention in the new Soviet Union, American and other foreign POWs have been illegally detained and withheld inside the Soviet Union and allied Communist countries. It is a matter of record that American military personnel, intelligence operatives, and civilians have been imprisoned, and even executed, in the Gulag throughout the 72 year history of the USSR.

Records of individual POWs are not available because the exploitation of foreign POWs was part of a long-term clandestine and covert intelligence operation on the part of successive Russian Intelligence Services (OPGU, NKVD, MVD, KGB, SRVV). However, revealing historical records and conservative estimates indicate approximately 9000 American servicemen were transferred to the USSR during WWI, the Depression, WWII, the Cold War, Korea, and the Indochina Wars.

The bulk of these Unrepatriated POWs were from WWII (6000-7000) and Korea (500-2000). Dozens to a couple of hundred may have been transferred to the USSR during the Indochina Wars, or withheld. The operational secrecy established by the communist bloc powers, including future NATO members, has been sufficient to guard the details of the project.

Considerable testimony, circumstantial evidence, anecdotes, oral histories, and estimates by defectors are available to confirm the existence of the Soviet Transfer Program of US and Foreign POWs. However, unlike the MIAs, the fate of the Unrepatriated POWs is viewed by both the U.S. and former/present communists powers to have the potential for interrupting existing political and economic policies.

As a POW investigator, I saw how the managers of DPMO opposed the objective investigation of the POW issue from within, to the point where specific officials sabotaged authorized investigations to prevent additional information, and the truth, from surfacing. The manner in which this was done was made a matter of record in 8 hours of closed session testimony to the Dornan Subcommittee on Military Personnel by myself and 4 other colleagues on 1 OCT 1996.

Any Senator or Congressional Representative should have access to that testimony which now rests under the jurisdiction of Steve Buyer (R-Ind).

As to whether any Unrepatriated POW is still alive today, no one can say with certainty until a POW is recovered, or the Russian intelligence service opens up its highly classified covert intelligence files, which cover the entire range of the 70 year operational sequences

. To say that no POWs remained in Vietnam after 1973 is simply false. I flew with pilot Emmet Kay, who was captured in Laos and subsequently released after Operation Homecoming. I talked to Jim Lewis on the day he was captured, as Saigon was falling, who was held by the North Vietnamese as a POW until December 1975. Tucker Gouglemann was a colleague who was captured during the fall of Saigon, and who died in captivity in late August, 1976. There are other reports, unconfirmed but from reliable sources, that indicate there were many other POWs who were held back, not only in Vietnam, but in every war in which the communists were adversaries. This applies even to WWII, where they were nominal allies, but only for a time and a circumstance.

Even if every Unrepatriated POW ever held, is by now dead, this nation still owes it to their memory, honor, and service, to identify what really happened to them, and to reveal their fate for the record. Each of these men, until the day they died, were not "MIAs." They were POWs, and active duty servicemen, until the day each of them passed away.

After that, they still did not become "MIAs." They became deceased POWs, and the distinction is more than a matter of semantics. It is a matter of precision, honor, dignity, and justice.

To resolve the POW issue, the mistakes and past deceit of all sides must be admitted and overcome with a full investigative undertaking. A full accounting can only be achieved by a full commitment.

Such a commitment does not exist on the part of the US Government at this time. It is time to install leaders into the bureaucratic structure who know what to do, how to do it, and have the courage to commit the resources.

. . .And politics, not the POWs, should take a back seat.

Music playing is Hey You by Pink Floyd. The lyrics talk about standing all alone. Let us not ever let our comrades in POW camps stand alone.....................Here is a mixed edited segment of some of the lyrics.... Hey You, out there in the cold getting lonely getting cold .... Hey You don't help them bury the light. Don't give in without a fight.......... Hey you there beyond the wall........ Don't tell me there is no wall at all. Together we stand divided we fall..

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