MIA Facts Site

Mr. Cuong and The Mortician's Check

Summary.   This article may not mean much to the casual reader.  Here is the background:  One of the regulars on the newsgroup alt.war.vietnam is an individual using the name Paul Bylin.  I assume that this is the man's real name and I will refer to him as Mr. Bylin.  Mr. Bylin purports to have some sort of expertise on the MIA issue.  He regularly attacks Mr. Bob Destatte, long-time Department of Defense analyst on MIA affairs, a retired US Army warrant officer who served several years in Vietnam, mainly as an interrogator and translator.  Bob is one of the top two or three Vietnamese linguists in the US government.

Bylin claims that Destatte uses an alias, Mr. Cuong, and that Bob took money from the mortician.  Neither of these claims is based in fact.  Mr. Bylin's claims are rooted in a rambling, unprofessional, and essentially useless deposition taken  from the  mortician during the tenure of the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs.

Read on for this sad story of another twisted, sordid tale generated by  the MIA cult.


"The Mortician"

For the background on the mortician, please read my article on the mortician.  I will not repeat the mortician's story here as it is available by clicking here.  After reading the mortician's story, use your browser's BACK button to return.

Bob Destatte

Bob Destatte served 30 years in Army intelligence.  Bob went through the normal basic training, advanced individual training, and airborne training.  He was initially trained as a Morse intercept operator and served for a few years in Morse intercept and traffic analysis positions.  Later, he went through Vietnamese language training at the Defense Language Institute, interrogator training, and was assigned to the 173d Airborne Brigade as a translator - interrogator.

It was in this area that Bob found his calling.  His language skills developed and, for several years, he has been recognized as one of the leading Vietnamese linguists in the US government.  I will not recount Bob's assignments, credentials, or accomplishments.  I was honored to have Bob working for me and I am equally honored to call him "friend."

Beyond his professional accomplishments, there are two characteristics of Bob Destatte that are relevant here.

bulletFirst, Bob is thorough.  His thoroughness used to drive me up the wall.  Ask Bob for the time of day and he will tell you how to build a watch.  But, when all is over, there will be no doubt as to the time of day and how it was determined.  Bob applies this thoroughness, attention to detail, and accuracy to everything that he does.
bulletSecond, Bob is a gentleman in every sense of the word.  I have never known Bob to use a disparaging word about another human being.  This holds true even in the case of the MIA cultists who constantly attack Bob's analysis and his person.

Destatte and the Mortician

Bob has a long history of contact with the mortician.  When Mr. Loc came to the US, Bob met him when he arrived and helped him get settled.  Bob interviewed the mortician on numerous occasions regarding his report.  Bob has served as the mortician's interpreter in various venues and the two men have a long-term friendship.  Mr. Loc, the mortician, was not a young man when he came to the States.  Even after 20 years in the US, Mr. Loc's English is limited and he is, from time to time, bewildered by legal requirements and other things that any other immigrant would find baffling.  Bob has helped Mr. Loc through a lot of rough time.

Mr. Cuong and the Mortician's Check:  Bylin's Claim

Mr. Bylin is a regular contributor to the newsgroup alt.war.vietnam.  He is clearly in the camp of the MIA "activists" who perpetuate all sorts of unfounded, groundless claims, many of which are the topic of articles on this home page.

Some time in the spring of 1998, Mr. Bylin began to demand that Bob Destatte explain to the world two things.  Bylin claims that his source for this information is a "deposition" given by the mortician to the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs.  Bylin has demanded that Bob explain:

bulletWhy does the mortician refer to Bob Destatte as "Mr. Cuong?"
bulletWhy did Bob take a check from Mr. Loc and not give him any money?

Bob has answered these two questions on the newsgroup.  Bylin's purpose, while not stated, clearly is to lead readers to conclude that Bob Destatte has done something questionable, if not illegal.  After all, why would Bob use an alias, "Cuong" and why would he take a check from Loc?

In is articles on the newsgroup, Mr. Bylin evidences a clear inability to understand even the most common logical constructs.  That is, even when he has explained to him step 1, step 2, and step 3, he just can't grasp it.  Perhaps he has breathed too many jet fumes in his employment at Logan Airport; that stuff can lead to brain cell deterioration.

Here are the answers to Bylin's two questions.  I trust that you readers will be able to understand what is going on here.

Mr. Cuong

Bob's introduction to the Vietnamese language was as a student at the Defense Language Institute, Monterey, California.  DLI is some of the finest language instruction in the world; I studied Chinese Mandarin there in the 1970s.  I do not know what goes on in other classes, but in the Chinese and Vietnamese classes, the instructors give each student a name in the language that they are studying.  The names are given after a few days in class.  The principal instructor selects a name that (1) if possible, sounds like the student's English name, and, (2) has a meaning that, in the eyes of the instructors at least, illustrates the student's character.

My Chinese name was (using Yale Romanization) Shi Li De (Schlatter, a name of German origin,  pronounced "slater").  Bob's Vietnamese principal instructor could not transliterate Destatte into Vietnamese so she selected a Vietnamese family name, Cuong, as Bob's name.  Over the years, Bob would find himself in conversations with Vietnamese who asked his name.  Pronouncing "Destatte" is difficult for Vietnamese so Bob often uses his old DLI student name, Cuong, in his conversations with Vietnamese.  Mr. Loc, the mortician, knows Bob as "Mr. Bob" and "Mr. Cuong."

Bylin has had this explained to him in articles that Bob has posted to the newsgroup yet, Bylin continues to demand from Bob an explanation of the name "Cuong."

 The Check

Another "sin" that Mr. Bylin tries to lay on Bob's head is some sort of  claim that Bob took a check from the mortician and never gave him any money for it.  To understand the origins of this claim, one needs to go back to a deposition that the mortician gave to staff members of the SSC.

The Deposition

Mr. Bylin has, in his possession,  a copy of a 220 page "deposition" that Senator Bob Smith, Smith's staffer Dino Carluccio, and Bill Codinha, one of the SSC attorneys,  took from the mortician in November 1991.  The deposition is rambling, incoherent, and unprofessional.

bulletThe three "debriefers" didn't do their homework.
bulletThey obviously did not understand the time line of events the mortician witnessed or heard about.
bulletThey obviously did not understand the PAVN organizations and personnel the mortician had worked with, and when and where.
bulletThe interpreter obviously was paraphrasing the mortician's responses.  The interpreter obviously did not understand much of the terminology, nor the subject matter.
bulletThe three "debriefers" obviously did not have a coherent interview plan beyond an obvious effort to entice the mortician into making statements they could use or manipulate (1) to attack Bob and other members of DIA's POW/MIA office who had disagreed with Bob Smith, et. al., (2) to make Bobby Garwood appear to be a prisoner of war rather than the defector he was, and (3) to create an illusion that the mortician affirmed Hanoi continued to hold American POWs after the war.
bulletThe debriefers frequently asked leading questions -- i.e., tried to put words in the mortician's mouth by making statements then asking him whether he agreed with the statements.  Much of the time he recognized their ploy and phrased his answers in his own words to show that he did not agree with their statements.  Nevertheless, either because the question was confusing or vague, or possibly because the interpreter was confused, the "debriefers" managed to evoke a small number of responses that they could exploit.

". . . everyone here is bound by secrecy. . ."

The following is a quote taken directly from the "deposition:"

     QUOTENow, I have explained to you that everyone here is bound by
secrecy.  I have explained to you that the deposition transcript is not
public.  Other people won't be able to see it.  I have explained to you that
all of the people in this room are bound by secrecy and can't talk about
anything that you say and that there are penalties that can be imposed on
anyone who should break that obligation and should talk about anything you
say.  Now, Mr. Mortician, for the record, would you tell us your full name?

Now, let me raise a simple question.  If the mortician was deposed by Senator Bob Smith, Smith's staffer, and a staff member of the SSC, and if these individuals stated that this deposition is a secret matter, how is it that Mr. Paul Bylin has a copy of the deposition?

And, how about we pose another question:  Exactly how far should we trust persons who would make such a solemn, firm commitment and then violate it?

If one were cynical, one might suspect the questioners never intended to honor their commitment to the mortician.  Regardless, the questioners violated their commitment and possibly
the law by making the transcript public so persons like Bylin and his colleagues could manipulate and exploit.

So show me the money

As for the money that Mr. Bylin drones on about.  The "debriefers" wanted to know
whether the DIA paid the mortician for his information.  The interpreter
paraphrased the mortician's responses as follows:


     QUESTION:  Has he in fact received payment from DIA?

     ANSWER:  Not even one penny - - one dime actually.  He mentioned to
something else, he did give Mr. Bob one check about more than 100 Hong Kong
dollars for Mr. Bob to cash it for him.  He never get it back.  So meanwhile,
he was told that he must receive big money.  The check from a company in Hong
Kong pay his daughter for some services and they could not cash it before they
come here, so he mentioned to Mr. Bob and Mr. Bob take it, trying to cash it
for him, but he never heard again.  That's the pay check from the electric
company in Hong Kong, American company in Hong Kong.  So that's why he give to
Mr. Bob to cash for him.

 QUESTION:  Has he ever - -

 ANSWER:  It's from '79.

     SEN. SMITH:  How much in U.S. dollars?

     MR. VU (the interpreter):  He's not sure, maybe $50-$60, but he just mention it for you
that's all.


I have questioned Bob Destatte about this incident and this is his response:


I vaguely recall him asking me to cash such a check in 1979.  I don't recall
whether I reimbursed him for the check, or gave it back to him because I
couldn't find a bank that would cash a Hong Kong check.  Certainly such a
check was of no value to me.  I would have had no reason to keep the check
unless I reimbursed him for it.  If I reimbursed him, I would have had to
enclose the check with my voucher after I finished the debriefing.  Without
the check, I wouldn't be reimbursed and the money would have come out of my
own pocket.  It was not uncommon for me to take money out my own pocket to
help refugees.  Personally, I think either the mortician's memory failed him
or the interpreter was confused.

And there you have it, friends.  Bob's use of the name "Cuong" is not part of some sinister plot or attempt to confuse people as to his actual identity.  The check was drawn on a Hong Kong bank and the mortician, who found himself in the States, needed help cashing the check.  Bob tried to help and honestly does not recall anything more of the matter.

What do we learn from this affair?

These are the lessons I draw.

  1. Senator Bob Smith is deeply involved in misleading the American public regarding key elements of the MIA issue.  On this home page I have several articles that provide the details of Smith's antics.
  2. bulletHe surfaced a Vietnamese émigré who provided a phony story of a goup of US POWs living in a cave in Vietnam.  Smith misrepresented his attempts to contact DIA regardng this individual.
    bulletIn 1993, Smith collaborated with former Congressman Billy Hendon to produce a completely bogus story involving former USMC PFC Robert Garwood during a Smith-Garwood visit to Vietnam.
  3. Smith's purpose, and the purpose of his staff, throughout much of the SSC tenure -- and continuing to today -- has not been to illuminate the MIA issue but , rather, to use the powers of his office to harass and attack those whose opinions differ from him.  Does the name "McCarthy" come to mind?
  4. The "MIA activists," as represented by Mr. Bylin, are no more interested in the truth than are Smith and Carluccio.

And these are the people who claim to truly care about our missing men and their families.  They care about nothing more than generating false accusations that they can hurl around.  In Bylin's case, it's much more exciting to be able to quote from secret depositions and to appear to be an "expert" than it is to commute daily to a job at Logan International.  It's a free country.

Footnote.  While I was on active duty in the POW-MIA assignments, I did a lot of public speaking to family groups, vets' groups, and other groups.  I made several trips to Massachusetts and one of the regulars whom I met every time I went there was a really nice lady named (I will not post her name) who drove a van absolutely plastered with POW-MIA bumper stickers.  She was not a family member, but a concerned citizen.  While she did not always agree with me, I could always count on her to be straightforward, honest, and friendly.  She was well-known throughout the MA POW-MIA community.  Also in MA are two families, both of whom have family members who are/were MIA and who were Special Forces troops.  These two families are well-known throughout the MA POW-MIA community, also.  I figured that, because Mr. Bylin is a MA citizen, he should know these folks.  I asked him  in an e-mail about these folks and how they were.  He knew nothing of the lady with the van, had heard some vague something about one of the families, and had occasional contact with the other family.  And this man is the resident expert?