MIA Facts Site

Charles Duke and Kit Mark:
A Serious Analysis


Summary.  In May 1970, two US civilian employees of Dynalectron Corporation disappeared in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam.  The US Embassy, US forces, and ARVN forces immediately launched search operations to find these men or to determine what happened to them.  Within a few days, information was received from several sources making it clear that both men were killed in a surprise encounter with Communist guerrillas and buried west of Pleiku on or about 30 May 1970.  The Duke-Mark case has become one of the bits of mythology used by the MIA "activist" cult -- the incident is misrepresented, and, inaccurate and untrue information is spread about this incident. 

Former MIA investigator Bill Bell wrote an article about this incident that was published in the April 2002 issue of Vietnam magazine.  Bell's article is typical of his sloppy analysis and wishful thinking.  The article also is a compilation of the inaccurate, misleading, and untrue information spread by the MIA cult regarding this incident.

One matter makes this case especially sad.  Charles Duke's mother -- Jane Duke Gaylor -- was misled, lied to, and generally jerked around by the MIA activists, many of whom used the same information Bell used in his article.  Ms. Gaylor's life as well as her mental and emotional health were destroyed by the incessant pounding she received from the activists who tried to convince her that her son was alive, that he was living in Hanoi, and that he had defected.  Ms. Gaylor died an emotional wreck -- an example of how the MIA activist community treats helpless family members.

After the publication of Bell's article, I asked former Senior Analyst Robert J. Destatte to prepare an analysis of the Duke-Mark case and a critique of Bell's article.   Bob had worked on this case for several years, including working on it in Vietnam where he made at least one trip into the area to find and interview witnesses.  What follows is verbatim Bob Destatte's analysis of the loss of Charles Duke and Kit Mark and his analysis of Bill Bell's article.

An Analysis of the Charles Duke-Kit Mark Loss Incident
Critique of the Bill Bell April 2002 Vietnam Magazine Article
- - - by Robert J. Destatte


horizontal rule

You asked me for my views about a recent article by Bill Bell in which he implies that two American civilian employees of Dynalectron Corporation, Kit Mark and Charles Duke, were captured or defected to the NVA in May 1970, and were working as aircraft maintenance technicians at Da Phuc Airfield [the military side of Noi Bai International Airport] in Hanoi, Vietnam, in the late 1970s. ("Mysterious Disappearance in the Central Highlands," April 2002 issue of Vietnam Magazine, pp. 44-48.)

 The official reference number for the incident involving Kit Mark and Charles Duke is Case 1625. Bill and I discussed this case a number of times in the early 1990s. My memory is that Bill stated his views about this case for the record for the Senate Select Committee on POWs and MIAs in 1992. He also wrote another article about this case that I believe was published in "Soldier of Fortune" magazine a few years ago.

 I have known Bill Bell for many years. We first served together in the 25th Division in Hawaii in the early 1970s. We have shared many challenges and pleasant memories in the years since.

 I recall when he joined the Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) as its First Sergeant in 1980. In August 1981 he moved to the JCRC Liaison Office (JCRC-LNO) in Bangkok to work as a debriefer canvassing refugee camps in Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, The Philippines, etc., searching for information about Americans who still were unaccounted for in SEA. Later, he retired and accepted a civilian position in Bangkok doing the same work.  Bill's efforts, often at his own initiative, to collect information from refugees about Hanoi's prisons and reeducation camps was of great value to analysts at the JCRC and the Defense Intelligence Agency's Special Office for POW/MIA Affairs.

 In early 1991, the Vietnamese government agreed to allow the United States government to open its first office in postwar Vietnam--the U.S. MIA Office in Hanoi. The Hanoi office was subordinate to the JCRC-LNO in Bangkok, and the commander of the JCRC appointed Bill to head the office. The DIA's Special Office attached me to the office in Hanoi, and Bill and I were among the six-man team that opened the office in July 1991.

 A military officer took over as head of the U.S. MIA Office in Hanoi in early 1992, after the CINCPAC established the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA). The JTF-FA absorbed the JCRC and its personnel, and re-designated the JCRC-LNO in Bangkok, and the U.S. MIA Office in Hanoi, as JTF-FA Detachments 1 and 2, respectively. The JTF-FA also established a Detachment 3 in Vientiane, Laos, and a Detachment 4 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

 The Commanding General of the JTF-FA appointed Lieutenant Colonels to command each of these detachments. I was privileged to work with the first four commanders of Detachment 1 in Hanoi. Every one was a superb commander.   (NOTE:  See my comments   at the end of this article.)

Bill speaks the Vietnamese and Thai languages fluently. He is a hard worker and an excellent debriefer. Few persons equal his skills as a Vietnamese linguist and debriefer. I admire his skills and enjoyed working with him. I was disappointed when he retired in the early 1990s.

 While I admire Bill's contributions to the accounting mission and his skill as a collector, I believe that he is not a first-rate or objective analyst. My experience is that he often uses flawed logic and frequently does not distinguish between what he wishes to be true and what truly is true. Also, I believe he tends to accept indiscriminately information that supports his views about a particular issue, and arbitrarily disregards or rejects information that does not support his views. In my opinion, his recent article in Vietnam Magazine illustrates his weakness as an analyst.

 In the first paragraph Bill writes "...they [Kit Mark and Charles Duke] seemingly disappeared into thin air. Although a search was made for them, it yielded no information. The men's status was relegated to inactive and their records filed away by the Pentagon as Case No. 1625." He then proceeds to summarize a series of actions taken over a period of nearly five years to find out what happened to the two men.

(My note, not Bob Destatte's note:   This is a serious misrepresntation of fact on Bill Bell's part and is typical of his practice of omitting or misrepresenting information that he does not like or that does not suit his conclusion.  Bill claims that searches for Duke and Mark "yielded no information."  The opposite is true.  American officials received credible information that Communist guerrillas ambushed and killed the two men.  For example, shortly after the incident U.S. or allied forces captured two guerrillas who had taken part in the ambush.  The two guerrillas described the incident to their interrogators.  Also, in early 1975 a senior American representative in Pleiku sent someone to excavate a reported burial site for the two men west of Pleiku.  By this time, Vietnamese personnel were conducting all such excavations.  Unfortunately, advancing PAVN forces forced the evacuation of Pleiku before American officials could conclude this search.)

 Either the case was inactive or it was not. The record clearly shows that the case was not inactive.

 Also, Bill seems to be taking a gratuitous poke at the Pentagon. This is surprising because Bill knows, or should know, that the Department of State (DoS) was the agency responsible for determining the status of these two men. Certainly Bill knows that the DoS classified the two men's legal status as missing persons, and that "the Pentagon" had no authority to change their legal status. Bill also knows full well that U.S. Military and Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observations Group's (MACVSOG's), and later USDAO Saigon's, Joint Personnel Recovery Center--not "the Pentagon"--was the lead agency for planning and carrying out field investigations in Vietnam prior to 29 April 1975. In short, I think that Bill misled his readers when he implied that this case lie dormant for many years after the two men disappeared.

 Next, Bill spends nearly two pages nitpicking the work of JTF-FA field investigators and the information they received from three or four witnesses they interviewed.

 I agree with Bill that it might have been helpful if the JTF-FA interviewers had recorded more details about their sources' biographies and their roles in the deaths of Kit Mark and Charles Duke and disposition of their remains. Perhaps, as Bill suggests, efforts to obtain more details about the witnesses might have led field investigators to additional witnesses, or helped them pinpoint the location where the two men were buried, or.... But this is speculation. Since neither Bill nor I was present when the field team conducted the interviews, I think it would be very presumptuous of either of us to second guess the team's actions.

 After questioning the experience and competence of the JTF-FA interviewers and the reliability and credibility of their witnesses, Bill writes that "the [JTF-FA] investigators appear not to have correlated their findings with other reports associated with live sightings in the same general area during the same period." Bill then cites several reports that apparently he believes contradict the statements by the JTF-FA witnesses and raise the likelihood that Kit Mark and Charles Duke were captured and were working near Hanoi in the late 1970s.

 Let's examine some of the reports Bill cites.

 The first report Bill cites is a 525th Military Intelligence (MI) Group report that two of its agents visited Plei Vieng Duong village in Cambodia in October 1970, where the village chief told them that four NVA soldiers escorted two American POWs through the village in June 1970. Bill is ignoring several factors if he is implying that these two men could have been Kit Mark and Charles Duke.

 In this case Bill is asking us to accept at face value information submitted by two unidentified intelligence agents who claimed to have received the information from an unknown and untested third party--the alleged village chief in Plei Vieng Duong village.

 This 525th MI Group report and the several other reports Bill cited are reports of information obtained from human sources.  The intelligence community often refers to these types of reports as HUMINT (human intelligence) reports, and the sources as HUMINT sources.  To help readers who might not be familiar with HUMINT reporting judge the value of the reports Bill cited in his article, it might be helpful to provide a little background information about HUMINT activities in general and our HUMINT efforts in Vietnam in particular.

 HUMINT refers to intelligence information obtained from human sources, rather than other means such as satellite imagery, signals intercepts, etc.  There are many types of HUMINT sources.  At the lower end of the range we might find persons such as prisoners of war, ralliers, refugees from enemy controlled areas, and persons whose status or occupation allows them to travel in and out of areas controlled by an adversary.  At the higher end of the range are spies who occupy positions in an adversary's political and military infrastructure, its economic and scientific organizations, or other important sectors. 

 By its very nature HUMINT can contribute unique and valuable perspectives and insights on important topics that technical intelligence cannot provide.  In Vietnam, our HUMINT efforts enjoyed both successes and failures.  American forces repeatedly derived valuable tactical information from enemy prisoners of war, for example.  HUMINT also provided valuable strategic level information.  An example that comes to mind was advance warning of North Vietnamese planning for the final attack on Saigon in 1975. 

 However, in Vietnam HUMINT information sometimes proved to be false.  HUMINT reporting related to missing Americans seems to have been particularly vulnerable to false reporting by opportunistic agents or liaison agencies.

 The 525th MI Group recruited and managed some of its HUMINT sources directly.  These operations, carried out independent of and separate from the 525th MI Group's Republic of Vietnam (RVN) counterpart agencies, were called unilateral operations.  However, the 525th MI Group did not obtain all of its HUMINT information directly from its own sources.  

 The 525th MI Group obtained much of its information through liaison with RVN intelligence organizations.  These operations were called bilateral operations.  Oftentimes the 525th MI Group had no direct contact with the liaison agency's sources--in most instances the 525th MI Group probably could not even confirm that the liaison agency's alleged sources truly existed. 

 Not surprisingly, it was not unusual for opportunistic RVN intelligence officers to create ghost sources, fabricate reports from these nonexistent sources, and sell the information to American intelligence officers.  I have personally encountered this problem.  In one instance in early 1967, the head of a 525th MI Group office passed a report from a HUMINT source to the Commander and G-2 of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in early 1967.  The 525th MI Group had received the report from an RVN counterpart office near Bien Hoa.  The report consisted of a hand drawn map that depicted the movement of a Communist main force battalion and Allied units.  The RVN counterpart office claimed that one of its agents who was a member of the Communist battalion had secretly obtained the map.  According to the RVN counterpart office its agent had described the map as an imminent plan to set up an ambush against an Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) unit at a location identified on the map.  The head of the 525th MI Group office spoke highly of the reliability of the source of this report and encouraged the brigade Commander and G2 to deploy a unit to the target area and ambush the Communist battalion as it moved in to set up the ambush.  The 525th MI Group office and the brigade G2 office had no one who could read Vietnamese, so I was asked to translate the considerable amount of information on the map.  The information showed the map to be a Communist after action report on a battle that had taken place months earlier.  Furthermore, the commander of an ARVN infantry unit had made a handwritten note in the upper right-hand corner of the document that described when, where, and how his unit had captured the map on the battlefield.  An opportunistic RVN intelligence officer at a headquarters above the ARVN infantry unit then sold a false story about how he obtained the map and what the map depicted to a trusting and unsuspecting officer in the 525th MI Group.

 This leads to another factor that influenced the quality of information we obtained from HUMINT operations in Vietnam.  Military intelligence offices normally paid for information on a piecemeal, or production, basis.  We seldom, if ever, paid salaries to our agents or those of our RVN counterparts.  For the agents and counterpart offices that meant no reports, no pay.  Consequently, some opportunistic agents and counterpart officers became proficient at fabricating information on subjects they knew American case officers were interested in.  A term used to describe agents who manufactured false reports was "paper mills."

 You can read a comprehensive and authoritative first hand account of how opportunistic agents and RVN counterpart agencies exploited our HUMINT organizations in a book that is coming out in May, titled "Of Spies and Lies," by John Sullivan, a retired CIA polygraph operator who served in Vietnam for four or five years. It is being published by University Press of Kansas and can be purchased from their web site or on amazon.com.

 While HUMINT collection operations were not without problems, they often filled in gaps and explained anomalies in technical reporting and produced accurate information on important issues that could not be obtained from other types of intelligence operations. 

 Which brings us to another problem that HUMINT collectors encountered from time to time.

 Every HUMINT officer I know, including myself, has personally experienced instances in which HUMINT reporting was on target and accurate but was discounted or ignored by analysts because of prejudice against HUMINT reporting, because it was not confirmed by technical reporting, or because it did not jibe with the analysts' own conclusions.  In the 1967 incident I described above, the brigade G2, seduced by the folk lore and glamour of the 525th MI Group officer's "secret agent" story, discounted my translation and persuaded the brigade commander to deploy a unit to intercept the Communist battalion at the supposed target location.  Not surprisingly the Communist battalion never materialized.   The unit found only a lot of spent cartridges, a few rusting helmets, and other detritus from the old battle described in the Communist battalion's after action report.  In his book "Decent Interval," Frank Snepp notes that analysts also discounted HUMINT reporting on North Vietnamese planning for the final attack on Saigon in 1975 (see pp. 130-132, First Vintage Books Edition, August 1978, in paperback).

 So how is all of this related to the 525th MI Group report and other HUMINT reports that Bill cited in his article.

 From Bill's description of the 525th MI Group report, we learn that in October 1970 two unspecified persons entered deep into an NVA base area in a remote largely uninhabited mountain forest region of Cambodia, west of Kontum Province, where they allegedly spoke with a village chief who told them that four NVA soldiers escorted two Americans through his village in June 1970.  We can infer that the residents of this village were ethnic minority montagnards.  We can infer also that the two sources--if they were real persons--probably were members of the same ethnic minority group.

 While our intelligence officers were keenly interested in obtaining information about activities in this base area, they undoubtedly found it extremely difficult to find and recruit agents who were both willing to enter this area, and able to do so safely.  I worked as an editor of HUMINT reports at Headquarters 500th MI Group for nearly a year in 1973.  Typically agents were described as ethnic minority wood cutters or hunters or members of local guerrilla units who were able to enter such areas as B3 Front's base area in Cambodia.  Most of the reports we received from Vietnam contained information our case officers obtained from RVN intelligence offices.  While the simplicity of their source descriptions was seductive, they sometimes described fictitious agents.  (NOTE:  See this map of the Communist organization in South Vietnam for location of the "Fronts" to which Mr. Destatte refers.)

 We also know that the U.S. Department of State, U.S. military authorities, and Dynalectric Corporation representatives made extensive efforts throughout Pleiku and Kontum Provinces to obtain information from local ethnic minority groups, RVN civil and military authorities, RVN intelligence organizations, and our own intelligence units about Kit Mark and Charles Duke during the weeks and months immediately following their disappearance.

 In these circumstances, it is not inconceivable that an enterprising agent or RVN intelligence officer saw an opportunity to sell the Americans a concocted story about two alleged agents who obtained vague second hand information about two Americans moving through Plei Vieng Duong village in June 1970.  The story was plausible.  It also was vague enough that it could not be easily refuted.  And in view of the inaccessibility of Plei Vieng Duong village, an opportunistic agent or RVN intelligence officer could fabricate such a story with little fear that it would ever be proven false and his credibility challenged.

 The foregoing comments are not intended to suggest that the reports Bill cited were not credible simply because they contained information received from HUMINT sources.  HUMINT can and does provide valuable information.

 The foregoing comments do, however, call attention to the need to examine HUMINT reports carefully.

 Now, back to Bill's article.

 Bill noted that the 525th MI Group collectors believed their sources were credible based on two years of previous reporting. Anyone who understands the nature of HUMINT collection operations knows that the collectors seldom have access to data that would permit them to confirm the accuracy of the information they receive from their sources. Even if we assume that the 525th MI Group's sources were reliable, the 525th MI Group's collectors would not have had a basis for judging the reliability of the unknown third party in Cambodia from whom their sources obtained the information.

 Nevertheless, let's assume that the information the 525th MI Group reported was accurate, and test the information to see if it necessarily relates to Kit Mark and Charles Duke.

 First, it would be helpful to know what should have happened to these two men during the hours and weeks immediately after they were captured--if they were captured.

 First, their captors would have moved them as quickly as possible to the POW camp subordinate to Communist B3 Front Headquarters. B3 Front (aka the Western Highlands Front) was the command element for Communist forces operating in Kontum, Pleiku, and Dac Lac Provinces in South Vietnam. The B3 Front POW camp was located in Cambodia, a few dozen kilometers northwest of the location at which Kit Mark and Charles Duke disappeared, and several kilometers south of the location Bill described as Plei Vieng Duong [geographic coordinates 1427'N, 10725'E].

 One might ask, how do we know their captors would have moved them to the B3 Front POW camp? We know because every American POW who is known to have been captured in B3 Front before and after Kit Mark and Charles Duke disappeared was taken to the B3 Front Camp. How do we know that? Because many of those POWs told us so after they came home. Additionally, we have considerable amounts of other wartime and postwar information that tells us that Americans captured in B3 Front were moved to the B3 Front POW camp as quickly as possible after capture.

 So, we might conclude that it is possible that Kit Mark and Charles Duke might have passed through Plei Vieng Duong village sometime in June 1970--if they were captured. 

 Possible.   But is it plausible? Not really. Plei Vieng Duong village is several kilometers north of the B3 Front POW camp, and separated from the camp by very rugged terrain. Kit and Charles disappeared at a location a few dozen kilometers southeast of the B3 Front POW camp.  Their captors--if they were captured--could have moved them to the POW camp along fairly direct and secure routes through relatively easy terrain west and northwest of the location where they disappeared. There would have been no reason for their captors to take them on the more dangerous, circuitous, and longer route over very rugged terrain that would have led them through Plei Vieng Duong village.

 We should ask also whether Kit Mark and Charles Duke were the only American captives who could have passed through Plei Vieng Duong village in June 1970? The answer is that there were other Americans who could have passed through that village in June 1970.

 Bill should know that three of those Americans had been in the B3 Front POW camp since early 1969. Additionally, he should know that two more American POWs who had been captured following separate incidents in B3 Front on 2 November 1969, entered the camp in mid-November 1969. (The following month, in December 1969, Hanoi's front organization called the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam released two other Americans who had been captured after the incidents on 2 November.)

 On approximately 25 May 1970, about five days before Kit Mark and Charles Duke disappeared, these five POWs departed the B3 Front POW camp and began the long trek north to Hanoi.

 Meanwhile, three other Americans had been captured in B3 Front in three separate incidents several kilometers northeast of Plei Vieng Duong village in April 1970.  Their NVA escorts were moving them toward the B3 Front camp when they joined up with the five POWs who were en route to Hanoi. The eight POWs then traveled together, more or less as a group, toward Hanoi.

  One of the five men who had been in the B3 Front Camp died on the trail. The seven POWs who survived this march arrived in Hanoi on or about 24 July 1970. They returned home in 1973.

 So, if we assume that the hearsay story the 525th MI Group's two sources reported was true, we might conclude that it is possible that two of the several POWs that we know were moving around in the B3 Front area could have passed through Plei Vieng Duong village in June 1970.

 Possible.   But is it plausible? Yes. There is no credible information that Kit Mark and Charles Duke survived their loss incident.  U.S. investigators have received several wartime and postwar reports that guerrillas killed Kit Mark and Charles Duke on a road west of Pleiku, but not a single report that they were captured.  On the other hand, we know that several American POWs were moving around in the general vicinity of Plei Vieng Duong village.  It is plausible that two of the several known POWs could have been the subjects of the 525th MI Group report--assuming that the report was accurate to begin with.

 Next Bill cites a CIA report that "two Americans captured in South Vietnam were detained in a camp at Ban Tam Prin about 43 kilometers north of Dak Chung in Laos." Bill states that the physical descriptions recorded in the CIA report closely match those of Kit Mark and Charles Duke. Bill speculates that the two men might have been moved into Laos from POW "Camp 102" in Cambodia to prevent a joint U.S.-Montagnard operation from rescuing them. 

 My earlier comments about HUMINT reports in Southeast Asia apply to this report as well. Nevertheless, let's test Bill's speculation to see if it is reasonable.

 First, you might wish to know that the camp Bill calls "Camp 102" was the B3 Front POW Camp. Second, it would be helpful if Bill had told you that the NVA made a decision in the fall of 1969 to transfer all American POWs captured in B3 Front to Hanoi. Also, you might wish that he had told you that the NVA sent twelve American POWs from the B3 Front camp to Hanoi in early November 1969. The three remaining Americans in the B3 Front Camp were too ill and weak to travel with the group that left in November.  Those three POWs and another five POWs who had been captured in the interim began the journey to Hanoi nearly seven months later, on or about 25 May 1970.

 Now, lets return to Bill's speculation that the NVA might have moved the two alleged POWs into Laos from POW "Camp 102" [i.e., the B3 Front POW camp] to prevent a joint U.S.-Montagnard operation from rescuing them. Bill did not, as I mentioned above, share with his readers the fact that the NVA had decided in the fall of 1969 to no longer hold American POWs in B3 Front's POW camp, and that they would evacuate all existing and future American POWs captured in B3 Front to Hanoi as soon as practical. The NVA might have anticipated the US/GVN incursion into Cambodia, but I believe it is more likely they were reacting to US cross-border forays in the B3 Front's main base area in Cambodia. Almost certainly, the decision to move the last remaining American POWs in B3 Front to the North in May 1970 was a reaction to an incident in which a MACVSOG force nearly stumbled onto the B3 Front POW camp that same month.

 An American helicopter crashed without loss of life in a grave yard near B3 Front's V211 hospital on 6 May 1970. Based on debriefings of returned POWs it appears that the B3 Front POW camp was located not more than 2,000 meters from that hospital. Shortly after this helicopter crashed, an Allied force entered the area and, among other things, captured NVA Dr. Pham Huu Duong. Also, on 19 May 1970, an Allied force captured approximately 2100 signal documents that belonged to the B3 Front medical section. While these events were going on, the NVA moved the POWs about five hours walking distance from the camp. A few days later, the NVA moved them to Hanoi. These were the last American POWs held at the B3 Front camp for more than a few days before being evacuated to Hanoi.

 As I mentioned earlier, the seven survivors in this group arrived in Hanoi on or about 24 July 1970. The journey took two months, including a ten-day stop at a location in Laos while one member of the group received medical treatment.

 Since Hanoi had decided to no longer keep captured Americans in B3 Front, and clearly was taking action to move American captives from B3 Front to Hanoi as quickly as possible in May 1970, we might conclude that Hanoi would have moved Kit Mark and Charles Duke to Hanoi immediately after they were captured--if they were captured.

 We might also conclude that the two men might have caught up with the slow moving group of POWs who started the journey a few days ahead of them--if the two men had been captured. 

 But there is yet another problem with Bill's assessment of the CIA report.

 The location Bell cites, Ban Tam Prin , which was located at coordinates 1554'N 10700'E, is not on the north-south corridor of the Ho Chi Minh Trail or on any of the east-west feeder routes between the main corridor and the South Vietnamese border. In fact, it is not on any route that NVA escorts or American POWs would have followed en route to North Vietnam. The main corridor of the Trail was about 20 nautical miles west of Ban Tam Prin. South of Ban Tam Prin many miles, the nearest east-west feeder route was NVA Route B46 between Cha Van in Laos, and Kham Duc in South Vietnam. Route B46, linked the Ho Chi Minh Trail with B1 Front (B1 Front, aka Military Region 5, was comprised of the coastal provinces from Quang Nam to Khanh Hoa province). North of Ban Tam Prin many miles, the nearest east-west feeder route was NVA Route 45. This Route linked the Ho Chi Minh Trail with B4 Front (Tri-Thien-Hue). Americans captured in B3 Front would not have traveled on Routes B46 or 45 and would not have passed through or stopped over at Ban Tam Prin.

 But Bill doesn't stop here. He suggests a possible link between the CIA report of two Americans in Ban Tam Prin and a MACVSOG operation called "Operation Tailwind." Bill states that "Camp 102" [i.e., the B3 Front POW Camp] and the nearby V211 Hospital were located in "the same area that figured in the 1998 Tailwind fiasco...."

 Not true. Operation Tailwind was a mission in which MACVSOG inserted a force into an area on the main corridor of the Ho Chi Minh Trail about 20 kilometers SE of Chavan, Laos, on 11 September 1970. Chavan was the location where NVA Route B46 [see above] joined the main north-south corridor of the HCM Trail. Men and material passing through Chavan could either move east into Communist B1 Front (western Quang Nam Province) or southeast to Communist B3 Front (Western Highlands), or continue south to B2 Front (approximately the southernmost 1/3 of SVN). The Operation Tailwind target area was easily 80 kilometers road distance north of the B3 Front POW camp and perhaps 100 kilometers south of Ban Tam Prin.

Implying that Operation Tailwind lends credence to his speculation that Kit Mark and Charles Duke might have defected to the Communists, Bill complains that the JTF-FA investigators placed absolutely no emphasis "on the credibility of that part of the [CNN] story relating to the reported American defectors [in southern Laos]." Bill's complaint is surprising, since he knows or should know that there is compelling evidence that the allegations about defectors that were aired on CNN's Operation Tailwind program in 1998 were false. The Operation Tailwind mission was to disrupt NVA operations on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was not related in any way to a search for POWs or defectors.

 The last Americans who passed through the Operation Tailwind target area were the seven men mentioned earlier who arrived in Hanoi on 24 July 1970.

 While Bill might hope to impress uninformed readers by citing a "CIA report," he will not impress analysts who have learned from experience that many agent reports received in Southeast Asia were inaccurate--if not outright fabrications. While HUMINT activities often provide valuable information, HUMINT reports cannot be accepted at face value.  The information in HUMINT reports needs to be weighed carefully regardless of what agency published it. 

A detailed discussion of each of the reports that Bill cited is beyond the scope of this note; but two additional reports he cited do bear commenting on. 

 Near the end of his article, Bill writes "Another refugee in Hong Kong said he had seen Americans remaining in Vietnam during 1982. According to him, the Americans were seen near the Central Military Court and Office 22,...."

 If I am not mistaken, the source of this report was a fellow named Dao Viet Cuong. Bill knows perfectly well that this source's story has been proven false beyond any shadow of doubt. I am amazed that Bill would cite this story as evidence that Kit Mark and Charles Duke were captured and were alive in Hanoi in the late 1970s. I would be less amazed, however, if this was the only false story that Bill cited in his article.

 Bill also resurrects an old story that has circulated among POW/MIA activists for several years; that a Vietnamese person commonly referred to as "The Mortician" identified Charles Duke as an American he observed in Hanoi after the war. Like many of the stories the activists promote, this story is rubbish.

 "The Mortician" is a former resident of Hanoi. He left Vietnam in 1979. Shortly after he arrived at a refugee camp in Hong Kong he told American interviewers that he had seen three Caucasians that he believed were Americans in Hanoi on several occasions after the war. I interviewed "the Mortician" extensively in 1979 and several times since then. He always was careful to point out that he had no first hand knowledge that any of the three Caucasians was an American. People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) officers and enlisted persons who seemed to know the three men told "the Mortician" that the three men were Americans.

 After meeting former USMC Private Robert Garwood, who had defected to the Communists during the war and returned home in 1979, while Private Garwood was being tried by a military court martial in the United States, the "Mortician" confirmed that Private Garwood was one of the three Caucasians he had seen in Hanoi.

 I have spoke with several of the persons who "the Mortician" claimed had told him that all three of the Caucasians were Americans. Those persons readily acknowledged that they knew and had spoke with "the Mortician" on various occasions in Hanoi. They readily acknowledged that they had known Private Garwood when he lived in Hanoi. In fact some of them counted Garwood as a personal friend.

 They all insisted that Garwood was the only American who remained in Hanoi after the war. They also noted that it was not unusual to see Caucasians at the building where "the Mortician" saw the three Caucasians he described. For example, Vietnam News Agency maintained an office in the building. It was not unusual for foreign journalists to visit that office. Also, a couple of military intelligence organizations located inside the Citadel (the secure Ministry of Defense Headquarters compound), less than two blocks away, maintained a duty office and meeting room in the building. Soviet bloc advisors had to come into this duty office in order to make contact with their PAVN counterparts who worked in the secure Ministry of Defense compound. Also, it was not unusual for PAVN personnel to meet with their Soviet bloc counterparts at this building rather than escort them inside the Citadel.

 Could PAVN personnel have deliberately misled "the Mortician?" Perhaps. The "Mortician" was a former petit bourgeois and an ethnic Chinese. After the Communists took control of the North in 1954, they nationalized his family's funeral business and allowed him to work in the Municipal Cemeteries Management Committee, performing functions that were roughly equivalent those of a skilled technician. Hanoi expelled most of its ethnic Chinese Community to China in the late 1970s. From time to time "the Mortician's" office detailed him to the PAVN office that was coordinating the recovery of American remains. He was tasked to help that office prepare skeletal remains for storage. PAVN soldiers might have found this task distasteful. In view of the class and ethnic prejudices that existed in Communist North Vietnam in the 1970s, it probably would not have been out of character for some of the ethnic Vietnamese officers and enlisted persons in the remains recovery office to exploit opportunities to tease or mislead the corpulent former petit bourgeois Chinese worker from the Municipal Cemeteries Management Committee.

 After I finished debriefing "the Mortician" in November 1979, he worked with an artist from the USAF Office of Special Investigations (OSI) to develop artist sketches of the three Caucasians he observed in Hanoi. One of the sketches bears a resemblance to an old photograph of Charles Duke. Activists have seized on this fact to build the myth that "the Mortician" saw Charles Duke alive in Hanoi after the war.

 In 1979-80, three OSI identification specialists separately compared each of the "Mortician's" three sketches with pre-loss photographs of every American who still was unaccounted for in SEA. The theory was that if at least two of the specialists correlated the same sketch to the same photograph, this might provide a lead for further investigation. In the end, each specialist equated each of the sketches to a different person. This should not surprise us.

 Experts know from experience that identifications from photographs oftentimes are not accurate. As I mentioned earlier, the "Mortician" subsequently confirmed that Robert Garwood was the man depicted in one of the artist sketches.  However, the "Mortician's" sketch of Robert Garwood did not bear the slightest resemblance to Garwood.

 I believe that the resemblance some persons see between one of the "Mortician's" sketches and an old photograph of Charles Duke is accidental.

 In accepting as fact the myth that the "Mortician" saw Charles in Hanoi after the war one would have to ignore not only the compelling wartime information about the death and burial of Kit and Charles, the misrepresentations of the "Mortician's" story, and the statements by the persons the "Mortician" cited as the sources for his account. One would have to ignore also what is known about the disposition of Americans who were captured in the region where Kit Mark and Charles Duke disappeared.

 Perhaps one of the most telling gaffs in Bill's analysis is his statement that "During an annual meeting of the National Alliance of Families on U.S. POW/MIAs held in Washington, D.C., in 1995, a former ARVN major reported that he had seen Garwood and three other Americans in POW Camp 1, Duong Quy village, Van Ban district, Hoang Lien Son province, during August 1977."

 Bill knows that Private Garwood worked with the staff of People's Army of Vietnam Group 776 during 1976-78.  Garwood's principle duty was to operate and maintain an electrical generator that supplied power to the headquarters element of Camp Group 1 (Lien Trai 1), one of several groups of re-education camps administered by Group 776 in Hoang Lien Son Province.

 Bill also knows that well over 300 former officers of the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces have told American field investigators about personal encounters with Robert Garwood while they were inmates in the Group 776 re-education camps.  A few of these Allied officers mistakenly thought that a Thai defector named Chuert Sayburi who lived with Garwood at Camp Group 1 was an American.  Otherwise, with the exception of about a half a dozen persons, these Allied officers knew of only one American--Robert Garwood--who was ever seen in Group 776's camps.

 My memory is that at least one of these half-a-dozen or so exceptions was shown to have told a false story.  I recall that I and an FBI agent interviewed a former ARVN officer who I believe is the same person Bill referred to.  While I don't recall the specifics of the interview, I recall that this person's story when examined in detail was not credible.

 Bill chose to share with his readers questionable information received from one source whose own credibility is questionable, apparently because that source's information supports Bill's speculation about the fates of Kit Mark and Charles Duke.

 Apparently he has discounted credible information supplied by several hundred reliable sources because that information did not support his own conclusions about Kit Mark and Charles Duke.

 This is not the only credible information Bill has ignored.

 As I mentioned earlier, we know that Americans who were captured in B3 Front's area would have been evacuated through PAVN commo-liaison routes to the POW camp for Americans located near B3 Front Headquarters. The B3 Front POW camp was located only a few dozen kilometers from the area where Kit and Charles disappeared.

 Our field teams have interviewed several former cadre of the B3 Front POW camp. None of these persons had any knowledge of these two men. Our field teams also have interviewed various other former B3 Front personnel who might have had knowledge of American POWs. For example, B3 Front medical units would have treated any Americans POWs captured in this area who were seriously injured or wounded. Our teams have interviewed numerous persons, including doctors, medics, and administrative personnel, who worked in B3 Front medical facilities. Again, none of them had any knowledge of these two men.

 As I mentioned earlier, B3 Front had transferred all American POWs in its POW camp to Hanoi in two increments in November 1969 and May 1970, respectively. Other Americans were captured in this region at later dates. They were taken to B3 Front's POW camp immediately, and then moved to Hanoi as soon as practicable. Those who survived were released during Operation Homecoming. None of them had seen or heard of Kit Mark or Charles Duke.

 Since 1975 American POW/MIA investigators have canvassed thousands of refugees from SEA for information about Americans who might have stayed behind after the war. Hundreds of refugees have provided accurate information about the 70 American civilians who remained or were stranded in Vietnam after 29 April 1975. All of these persons are accounted for. Many also have provided accurate accounts about Americans and other Westerners who wound up in Vietnamese jails in the postwar years; many of them yachtsmen or drug traffickers arrested while sailing through seas off the coast of Vietnam. All of these persons are accounted for. Several hundred former Republic of Vietnam officers have volunteered information about Robert Garwood and his activities in reeducation camps in North Vietnam after 1976. Some even provided information about the former Thai pilot who lived with Garwood for a time in the late 1970s (there is a fascinating story about this man that I might tell another time). Since 1987, our field teams have canvassed residents of nearly every district and most of the villages in Vietnam.

 Obtaining accurate information, mostly from HUMINT sources, about Americans in postwar Vietnam has never been an insurmountable task. Yet, we have not found a single shred of credible corroborated information that could sustain a belief that any American who disappeared during the war, other than Robert Garwood, remained in Vietnam after April 1975.

 If the information the JTF-FA obtained from the witnesses they interviewed is accurate, then Bill's speculation that Kit Mark and Charles Duke were captured or defected and were working with the Communists near Hanoi in the late-1970s cannot be accurate. If, however, the JTF-FA interviewers and their witnesses could be discredited, Bill's speculation might appear plausible. It seems to me that Bill's chief objective in writing the article that was published in the April 2002 issue of Vietnam Magazine was to discredit the JTF-FA interviewers and their witnesses.

 I don't place any credence in Bill's speculation that Kit Mark and Charles Duke defected.   Both men had served honorably in the U.S. armed forces.  By all accounts they were patriotic loyal Americans who loved their families.  I am disappointed that Bill would ignore the evidence that they were killed on the battlefield and suggest that they might have defected to the enemy in time of war.

 During the nearly five years between their disappearance and April 1975, American officials received credible information that Communist guerrillas ambushed and killed Kit and Charles. For example, shortly after the incident U.S. or allied forces captured two guerrillas who had taken part in the ambush. The two guerrillas described the incident to their interrogators. Also, in early 1975 a senior American representative in Pleiku sent someone to excavate a reported burial site for the two men west of Pleiku. By this time, Vietnamese personnel were conducting all such excavations. Unfortunately, advancing PAVN forces forced the evacuation of Pleiku before American officials could receive the remains.

 Bill asserted in his article that "there was no indication that the reported grave was in any way related to the disappearance of Duke and Mark."  I believe Bill is mistaken.  A few years ago I spoke with a former U.S. official who was in Pleiku at that time and who knew about the effort to excavate the reported grave site.  My memory is that he explicitly linked this site with Kit Mark and Charles Duke.

 In more recent years, JTF-FA field teams have conducted numerous investigations searching for information about the several Americans who became unaccounted for in the Pleiku area and surrounding region in the old B3 Front area. These investigations have yielded additional information to the effect that Communist guerrillas stumbled onto Kit Mark and Charles Duke unexpectedly, organized a hasty ambush, killed them, and buried them near where they were killed.

 In my opinion, there is no mystery about their disappearance. I believe both men were killed in a surprise encounter with Communist guerrillas and buried west of Pleiku on 30 May 1970.  

 Even if Kit and Charles were captured, it seems clear that they did not survive long enough to make it the few dozen kilometers to the B3 Front POW camp.

 Our field teams have worked diligently during the past several years to locate and recover Kit Mark and Charles Duke's remains. Until they succeed, however, this case is likely to continue to fuel the myth that we left men behind after the war.

End of Mr. Destatte's comments and analysis

horizontal rule

NOTE:  You may ask why was Bill Bell replaced as Commander of the US Detachment in Hanoi if he was such an superb linguist and had several years experience in collecting information about missing men in SEAsia.   The answer is simple:  The job expanded far beyond what Bill or anyone else of his grade and experience could manage.

When the U.S. opened the U.S. MIA Office in Hanoi in mid-1991--the first official U.S. office in postwar Vietnam--the office was subordinate to the JCRC-LNO in Bangkok.   The JCRC appointed Bill to head its office in Hanoi. The DIA's Special Office for POW/MIA Affairs attached bob Destatte to that office. Bill and Bob and a Lieutenant Colonel from the US Army Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, scouted out the location for the U.S. MIA Office and signed a lease for it in May 1991; Bill and Bob were among the six-man team that opened the office in July 1991. 

Bill was replaced as head of the U.S. MIA Office in Hanoi by a military officer in early 1992, after the CINCPAC established the Joint Task
Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA).  The JTF-FA absorbed the JCRC and its personnel, and re-designated the JCRC-LNO in Bangkok, and the U.S. MIA Office in Hanoi, JTF-FA Detachments 1 and 2, respectively.  The JTF-FA also established a Detachment 3 in Vientiane, Laos, and a Detachment 4 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  The Commanding General of the JTF-FA appointed Lieutenant Colonels to command each of these detachments.   The demands on the commanders of these detachments were far beyond simple interviewing and translating.

The eligibility requirements for appointment as the Commander of Detachments 1 and 2,   included being both Airborne and Ranger qualified, and to be either a recent graduate or to have been selected for attendance at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, PA.  This latter criteria insured that the Commanders of these detachments would be senior Lieutenant Colonels who were destined on the basis of past performance to become at least full Colonels. For example, the first Commander of Detachment 1 had served as an enlisted
rifleman with the USMC in Vietnam during the war.  After finishing his enlistment in the USMC he returned to college.  Upon graduation he accepted a commission in the U.S. Army.  He had commanded the Ranger Training Brigade, and had extensive experience in sensitive intelligence operations before taking command of Detachment 1 in Hanoi.  He was promoted to Colonel not long after he completed his tour in Hanoi.   He retired in early 2001, but almost certainly would have been selected for General if he had remained on active duty for another year or two.  Today, he is the head of the Air Marshal program. 

The newly-established (1992) Joint Task Force-Full Accounting was a far more complicated and extensive operation than had been the Joint  Casualty Resolution Center.  The JTF-FA was commanded by a brigadier general and consisted of over 150 personnel.  JTF-FA makes monthly trips into Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia to assess loss sites, and excavates crash sites and grave sites.  JTF-FA detachments in Hanoi, Vientiane, and Phnom Phen conduct research, interviews, and other activities to find information pertaining to missing men.  The JTF-FA is a complex organization requiring extensive long-, medium-, and short-range planning; complex logistics; extensive coordination with the host nations; and, coordination among all supporting US military services as well as the US Embassies in each country.

In the JTF-FA, Bill Bell could have been a senior linguist and interviewer but he simply could not have been the commander.  Bill tells folks that he was let go because of animosity between himself and the new organization.  Not so.  He was let go because he would not accept a non-leadership position AND one other reason.   Bill was close with the Executive Director of the National League of Families. She had suddenly lost most (if not all) her influence in Washington because of changes brought on by the establishment of the JTF-FA and the DPMO.  Bill was feeding information to her back-channel.  Basically, if something happened that Bill did not agree with, he called the League Executive Director and gave her his version of the story.  She then called all her friends in Washington, including members of Congress and senior officials in State and Defense in an attempt to shoot down whatever Bell did not like.  No senior officer -- military or civlian -- will tolerate this sort of back-channel sniping and by continuing to do this, Bill shot himself down.

In sum, actions to account for our missing men changed dramatically over a short period and Bill Bell could not adapt to the changes.  He continues to claim that he left JTF-FA because of some evil on the part of the organization -- not so.

. . . and there is nothing more to say.