American POWS - Vietnam

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by threesend, Apr 5, 2011.

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  1. Ok many of us have seen the movies about attempted rescues of american POWS from vietnam.

    My question to my fellow arrsers - is there any evidence out there to substantiate that american POWS were kept by the vietnamese?...
  2. RP578

    RP578 LE Book Reviewer

    I guess the only substantiated case would be PFC Robert Garwood USMC. On his repatriation to the USA in the late 1970's he was convicted by Court Martial of collaboration, busted in rank, Dishonourably Discharged and lost his back pay. There were many American POWs who swore in court to have seen him collaborating with the enemy and as a lowly PFC driver there was little incentive for the Communists to forcibly keep him after releasing much bigger fry.

    He always maintained that he was detained against his will, but I suppose he would. I remember a made for TV film about him starring the Karate Kid actor back in the 1990s.
  3. RP578

    RP578 LE Book Reviewer

    Further to. From: The Case of Robert Garwood PFC 1979
  4. I remember watching a documentry where it was stated "as fact" that any US POWs were killed after a rescue attempt, wikipedia tells me that was Operation Ivory Coast
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  5. The book answer is yes, but comes with some qualifications.

    The release of all US POW’s by March 31 1973 was the principal US condition of the Paris Peace accords.

    Technically the North Vietnamese violated the accord because Capt. Robert T. White was not released until April 1, 1973.

    There were a number of other exceptions. The aforementioned Garwood and another US Private, McKinley Nolan, can be more properly regarded as defectors rather than Prisoners. Nolan settled down and established a family with his Cambodian wife until he was killed by the Khmer Rouge. Garwood tired of life in Vietnam and returned to the US.

    Garwood is still up to his old nonsense. His latest escapades are real Naafi Bar stuff.

    Tucker Gouglemann, a retired CIA employee. was living in Bangkok when Saigon fell to the Communists in 1975. Gougelmann’s wife and family were in Saigon and he returned to rescue them. He was arrested almost immediately. He was the only American held by the Viets after the war’s end in 1975. Gougelmann was subjected to an extremely brutal interrogation and died of the injuries he sustained while in custody.

    The number of POW’s released was lower than Defence Intelligence estimates. This led some to believe that some US Prisoners had been retained as some sort of economic bargaining chip. While Vietnam never attempted to bargain with live prisoners (because they didn’t have any) They did play silly buggers with the repatriation of MIA remains. The MIA remains recovered by the Viets were stored in a mortuary in Hanoi and these were drip fed back to the US in return for economic concessions. This became much less of an issue after the Doi Moi reforms in 1986. The co-operation now between JPAC and the Vietnamese Government is as good as it gets. In the last few years the Viets have even permitted the US teams access to the previously restricted PAVN training areas. I’m sure if a Vietnamese team wanted to wander around Fort Hood, they would be told to go shit in their hat.

    The rescue of Allied Prisoners was the principal mission given by Military Assistance Command Vietnam to their Special Operations Group. The total number of US prisoners rescued by MACV-SOG in the eight years that they were active is precisely nil. A lot of excuses have been offered by MACV-SOG’s publicists. The favourite excuse is that Vietnamese spies compromised the rescue missions. The largest Rescue operation of the war was the Son Tay raid. This operation was completely planned in the US and was launched on a US eyes only basis. It too was an absolute fiasco.

    The truth is that in 1960’s and 70’s USSF just were not very good at rescue missions. Operation Eagle Claw in Iran was another typical effort. Perhaps the Hollywood efforts were compensating for the failure in reality.

    The films like: Missing in Action, Behind Enemy Lines, Uncommon Valor, and, Rambo II, all had the basic premise that weak, leftard, US politicians had abandoned American Soldiers in Vietnam. These movies allowed Americans to gratuitously refight the war. It was on behalf of a good section of the US movie going public when John Rambo asked the question “Sir, “Do we get to win this time?” The idea of abandonment was picked up by the lunatic right in the US and it struck a chord with a good many Spams.

    Despite no evidence to support the proposition that US servicemen are still in custody in Vietnam, because of the work of Hollywood, thousands believe it to be true. Of course some other people have a vested interest in keeping the pot boiling.

    There are a number of politicians who have been latched on to the public tit for decades, mostly on account of their POW/MIA activism. Among the most brazen of these flim flam men is the Republican politician and author Bill Hendon. Now that Hendon has been given short shrift by the electorate, hopefully we will hear less of his histronic horse shit

    There are a number of .coms that benefit from the sale of ‘memorial bracelets.’TM

    The Weider History Group knows that a good POW/MIA story has the mouth breathers reaching for their wallets and does wonders for circulation.

    Several Australians served with USSF officer and uber walt Bo Gritz in Vietnam. Their tenure with his B-36 was very short. They were reassigned due to the fact that his operations were insanely dangerous and served no particular strategic or tactical purpose.

    Gritz became the most prominent of the, self appointed POW rescue Commandos. His private-sector forays into Southeast Asia were sponsored by ‘Soldier of Fortune’ Magazine. As an illustration of how ‘walting’ can be harmful, Gritz is a cracking example. Gritz’s bogus reports of "live sightings” fanned the hopes of MIA families for years.
    Gritz is pretty typical of those who seek to profit from this blood libel. While most people in the Western world who visited his website would come to the conclusion that he was barking mad. Perversely his bizarre showmanship actually gives him credibility among a section of the septic community.

    This trope will have legs for as long as there is money to be made from it. There will be money to be made for as long as America has cretins.

    • Like Like x 11
  6. thanks for that chippymick very informative post
  7. RP578

    RP578 LE Book Reviewer


    I think that's an overly harsh assessment of Op Kingpin. The raid failed, through no fault of the actual operators on the ground, but a lack of joined up intelligence that would have given up to date information as to the location of the POWs. The op itself went like clockwork, unfortunately for the Yanks, the prisoners had been moved shortly before due to the concern of flooding from a nearby river.

    On a pedantic note, MACV 'Special Operations Group', later and more famously called 'Studies and Observations Group', had sabotage of North Viet Nam as their primary mission. Strategic Recce, Psy Ops, Prisoner rescue (usually downed airmen of whom a number were retrieved) etc., were added to their remit. The 'MACV Command History' is good primary source material for this.
  8. Hi RP

    Pedantic note noted!

    If my assessment of Son Tay is harsh you must understand that the Son Tay extravaganza has to be viewed as just one in a string of MACV SOG POW rescue attempt failures. Son Tay has to be judged on its critical point of difference to the others. This was to be MACV-SOG’s “US Eyes only” intelligence triumph. It wasn’t. It was an abject failure

    I’ve read most of the “MACV Command Histories”. Interestingly the existence of MACV-SOG only came about because the Command Histories were tabled at one of the many US Senate investigations into the POW/MIA issue.

    There is a good reason why MACV turned on USSF towards the end of the war. It wasn’t because of “professional jealousy” as the Green Beanie set would have you believe. It was because enterprises like MACV SOG and the various Greek letter projects consumed enormous amounts of resources and provided **** all in terms of results.

    You are completely correct when you say that “'Studies and Observations Group', had sabotage of North Viet Nam as their primary mission”. Absolutely true and another prime example of MACV SOG over promising and under delivering.

    ALL of the teams that MACV SOG inserted clandestinely into North Vietnam were captured and turned within days. It was another abject failure. It’s all in the CIA official histories. They’ll cost you a poultice on Amazon, but you can get them for free here.

    You want volume 5 The Way We Do Things Black Entry Operations into Northern Vietnam.


  9. It is easier to believe that your MIA listed family member is actually alive and a POW, than dead - even if it's decades later and him still being a POW is pointless.

    It also makes for good movies...
  10. Son Tay raid wasn't under the Aegis of MACV-SOG. It was a JCS Operation, planned, trained in the USA. The USSF operators came from 7th Group, not the Vietnam based 5th Group.
  11. I disagree django.

    My Great Grandad went down on a coastal steamer a hundred years ago. Great Grand Pa wasn’t much of a swimmer, so odds on, he would have been shark shit within a day or so.

    Notsomuch Missing in Action but Missing in Ocean. Either way – Body not recovered.

    Oddly enough, the wreck in which he perished is now a pretty popular dive site.

    Because of the zero sum nature of US political partisanship, seemingly normal people are required to believe that US POW’s still live. Otherwise they cannot be properly regarded as decent Republicans.

    Strange but true.

    Domestic US political considerations determine that the 1200 odd Vietnam MIA’s belong to a completely different class to the 8,000 odd US Korean MIA or the 80,000 US servicemen missing from WW2.

    It is an article of faith that these 1200 are assumed to be alive, rather than pushing up daisy’s, which common sense suggests. Never underestimate the potential for national self delusion.

    For my part, I’m not holding out any hope that Great Grand Dad is about to wade ashore at Cape Bowling Green, having broken the world’s record for holding your breath underwater.


    • Like Like x 1
  12. Having recently visited WW1 battle sites, including the Thiepval memorial, there was never any suggestion that those missing from WW1 would still be sititng sausage side in a POW camp - but maybe that's because POWs were declared?

    Your Grandad went MIA at sea - the MIAs in Vietnam presumably could have been captured - yes, it is perhaps daft of the families to believe they are still alive somewhere (why!!!) as POWs, but maybe that heps them in some way. Yes, probably most of them have been hoodwinked by someone with an agenda, fuelling the POW fire, rather than extinguishing the MIA flame by finding some evidence.

    I'm sure I read somewhere (or maybe even watched something - could even be as obscure as NCIS - incredible I know, but based on fact?) that limited forays into Vietnam and even Korea to visit well known battle sites and try to recover dog tags/identification had recently been allowed by the respective (unfriendly?) governments.

    Back to WW1, the battlefields there are still giving up secrets 90 years on, with artifcats and bodies found even now. I presume as no-one ploughs the jungles of Vietnam (as they do the Flanders Fields), they wont come across any fresh evidence.

    Having seen the POW/MIA stands in Washington, I can see how people would want to support that, but why would personnel from a conflict 30+ years ago still be held by a complletely different government, in secrecy, to what end??
  13. Obfuscation.

    POW rescue was a MACV SOG mission. The fact that the troops used were 7th rather than 5th is immaterial, for the reasons I’ve stated above.

    Oplan34Alpha was initially a 7th group MACV SOG mission as well.

    How did that go and when exactly did they give up on it? Wiki doesn't say.

    Was it something 5th ever got involved in?

    There is no escaping the fact that the scoreboard still reads POW’s rescued NIL.
  14. Its not obfuscation, the Son Tay Raid was never under the control of MACV-SOG. SOG wasn't even aware of the Mission until it had been launched.

    At no time did MACV-SOG have control of whether the mission launched, or of its personnel. This was a JCS op. Gen. Wheeler the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs gave the go ahead for the mission prep, not the MACV-SOG Cdr.

    The Mission was planned in the USA, training for the Mission was conducted in the USA. Army Personnel for the Mission came from the USA, not Vietnam based units. Nixon himself authorized the mission launch. Claiming it was a MACV-SOG mission is Ludicris, no one in the MACV-SOG chain of Command was involved in it, or had any responsibility for it.

    And since we are getting pedantic, yes no US POW's were rescued by SOG. However Numerous ARVN POW's were rescued by US/ARVN forces

    Cranberry Bog rescued 45 ARVN POW in August 1968
    Vietnam War Operation CRANBERRY BOG
    SEAL tm 1 under Dick Couch rescued 19 ARVN POW's in 1969.
    USNA Faculty Profiles: Faculty Profile

    Sgt William Taylor was rescued on May 6th, 1968 during an attack on a camp he was being held at in South Vietnam.

    Name: William Brooks Taylor
    Rank/Branch: E5/US Army
    Unit: 221st Aviation Company, 16th Aviation Group
    Date of Loss: 20 March 1968
    Country of Loss: South Vietnam
    Loss Coordinates: 102602N 1044221E (VS642510)
    Status (in 1973): Escaped POW
    Shot down in an O-1 by the enemy on March 20th, 1968.

    On May 6, 1968, a force of armed helicopters attacked a guerrilla camp with
    machine guns and rockets, unaware that Sgt Taylor was in the camp. Sgt
    Taylor, who was still recovering from a compound fracture to one leg, a
    shattered knee, and numerous abrasions and burns he suffered in an air crash
    on 20 March 1968, received additional wounds from one of the rockets; yet he
    still managed to take advantage of the confusion during the air attack to
    crawl out of the camp and into a clearing where he signaled the crew of one
    of the helicopters. One Cobra swooped in and Taylor grabbed the skid. As
    they lifted off, Taylor was shot off the skid by the Viet Cong. The Cobra
    returned, crew threw him in the helicopter with his leg irons still on and lifted
    off. He is the ONLY survivor of 28 military escapees to get out alive
    through such an escape during the entire Vietnam war.
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  15. Goldbricker

    I disagree with you, strongly.

    What flash was the UK's favourite USSF soldier, Dick Meadows, wearing on his Beret when he landed at Son Tay?

    The 'yes, but we garnered plenty of ARVN' doesn't cut it either. It's not like you gave a rats arse about the ARVN any other time.

    Scoreboard still reads MACV SOG primary missions

    Insert covert teams into North Vietnam - No result

    Rescue US POW's - No result.

    Resources consumed - Massive