MIA Facts Site

The Case of Robert Garwood, PFC, USMC

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Section II: In North Vietnam, 1970 - 1979   

In November 1991, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (ASD/C3I), in his role of oversight for all Department of Defense intelligence operations, directed a study of the Robert Garwood case, primarily to assess Garwood's claims after 1984 that he had seen US POWs in North Vietnam after Operation Homecoming, February - March 1973.

That study was published in 1993.  I am reproducing that study here for everyone's information.  What you see here is re-typed directly from the ASD/C3I study.  Occasionally I will insert a NOTE; these are my own comments.

If you have not already done so, visit my MIA Fact Pages for a general view of what these Fact Pages are all about.  From the Fact Pages Menu, read Section I of the Garwood report, then come back to this Section II.
CONVENTIONS.  The following conventions are used in all sections of this report.

bulletThe text is taken directly from the report to the ASD/C3I.
bulletItems in (parentheses) are footnotes to the report and are taken directly from the report.
bulletThe following items are my own creations and are not a part of the ASD/C3I report:



Large Headings


Italicized Headings

bullet(NOTE: . . . ) in parentheses with word NOTE.

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1970 - 1973

The USMC and USG (US government) were not certain of PFC Garwood's activities nor of his precise location during the 1970 - 1973 period.  First-hand eye-witness reports grew sparse after Watkins, Strickland, and Tinsledid not become available until Operation Homecoming in 1973.  They were debriefed in 1969 and additional reporting from US POWs  few reports received were those of communist ralliers and POWs who related either having had chance encounters with an American matching Garwood's description of having heard about him.

Reports Identify Garwood Working with VC/NVA Units

A former South Vietnamese guerilla who rallied to US control on 23 July 1970, reported having met an American "rallier" in late January 1969.  He saw the American with a group of Enemy Proselytizing Section (cuc dich van) of Military Region 5 (MR 5) in Quang Ngai Province, and engaged him in casual conversation.  The American was dressed just like the VC:  black pajamas, NLF medal, tire sandal shows, and a khaki jungle hat.  He was in excellent health and was called Nguyen Chien Dau.  He admitted to being an American who had crossed over to the VC cause in 1965.  (DOD Intelligence information report, 4 November 1970, CMIC, Saigon)

(NOTE:  The Enemy Proselytizing Section (cuc dich van) was the North Vietnamese organization responsible for activities aimed at American soldiers.  The cuc dich van conducted propaganda aimed at US troops and was involved with regional forces in handling US POWs.  Garwood apparently had joined the cuc dich van, see Section IMilitary Region 5 (MR 5)  is one of  the North Vietnamese military operational regions for South Vietnam.  The North Vietnamese had South Vietnam (and the North, for that matter) divided into operational areas just as we had I, II, III, and IV Corps areas in South Vietnam.  Garwood, then, was a cadre of the cuc dich van operating in MR 5, which was roughly the same area as the US I Corps, northern part of South Vietnam.)

A second rallier, an NVA lieutenant colonel (LTC), who was debriefed on 21 November 1970 (DOD intelligence information report, 21 November 1970, CMIC, Saigon), reported that while he was assigned to the cuc dich van of MR 5 in mid-December 1968, he had met an American with a group of cadre from VC Region 5 Front (MR 5) and had spoken with him for 15 minutes.  According to his report, the individual indicated that he was hoping to become a member of the Party.  (NOTE:  The Lao Dong Party, or, the Vietnamese Communist Party.) Both this and the preceding report were considered by the USMC to be live-sightings of Garwood.

In early February 1971 the USMC reported that two additional VC ralliers and one captive had disclosed that Garwood "was taken to North Vietnam during 1969 because of an unknown stomach ailment and subsequently was sent to Russia for further training." (Message from CG, III MAF, to Cmdt, USMC, of 1 February 1971)  One of these ralliers also noted that Garwood wore and NVA uniform and carried a PRC rifle.

On 17 February 1971 the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) became involved in the Garwood case for the first time.  Upon hearing the report that Garwood might have gone to Russia for further training, DIA cabled the US Defense Attaché Office (USDAO) in Moscow requesting "all available information concerning the possible presence in Moscow of US Marine defector, PFC Robert R. GArwood." (Message, DIA to USDAO, Moscow, 17 Feb 71)  DIA further noted to the DAO that one of the ralliers (noted above) stated "he heard that GArwood had gone to Moscow prior to July 1970 ... and that one VC reportedly had received a letter written by PFC Garwood from Moscow in July 1970." (Ibid.)

(NOTE:  There was no further mention of the possibility that Garwood had gone to Moscow for training of for any other reason.  No information was ever developed to indicate or to lead to the conclusion that Garwood ever went to Moscow.  Garwood has never made such claims.)

A 16 April 1971 report from the 525th MI Group in DaNang, noted that on 2 March a "coded source" observed a US serviceman in Bo village, Son Ha District, Quang Ngai Province attending a VC cadre meeting.  The US serviceman was a member of the cuc dich van and was called "Dau." The report explained that as a member of this section, Dau "teaches English to the VC officers, writes leaflets and translates propaganda documents in English and frequently writes letters for distribution to US personnel."  (Msg from CO, Det C, 1st MI Bn, 525 MI Group, DaNang City, to CO, 1st MI Bn, 525 MI Group, DaNang, 16 April 1971)

Actions by the USMC

On 30 March 1971, two weeks prior to this 525 MI Group report, the USMC POW Screening Board met again on the Garwood case and concluded that Garwood was still alive and aiding the VC/NVA.  This conclusion was based on the testimony of five former US POW s (e.g. Ortiz-Rivera, Agosto Santos, Watkins, Strickland, and Tinsley).  The Board also noted that Garwood had been promoted to PFC in September 1967, and then recommended to the Cmdt, USMC, once again that Garwood be warned of his rights under Article 31, UCMJ, prior to debriefing, should he return to US control. (Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is similar to the Miranda warning in the civilian legal system.)  The Board concluded that Garwood had, in fact, "deserted" but that a finding of desertion could not be made in absentia because of legal considerations.  The final report recommended that the case be "held in abeyance" subject to the availability of more information and subject to the "return of Garwood to US custody." (USMC POW Screening Board report, 30 March 1971)

However, the Board changed its recommendation to the Cmdt, USMC, on 8 May 1971.  It recommended that Garwood's status be changed administratively to deserter and that appropriate charges be preferred against him for "defecting, aiding and abetting the enemy, etc." (USMC POW Screening Board supplementary report, 8 May 1971)

On 7 July 1971 the USMC JUdge Advocate Division (JAD) reviewed the Board's 30 March and 8 May reports and advocated that the Garwood case not be held in abeyance. The JAD urged instead that steps be taken to terminate any pay and allowances that "may be in effect" with respect to PFC Garwood (Title 37, US Code Section 552) and that his status be changed from POW to deserter. (JAD Comments of 7 July 1971)  However, no action was taken by the Cmdt, USMC, to change Garwood's status and he remained classified as a POW.

More reports of Garwood's Activities

As the controversy concerning Garwood's legal status continued within the USMC itself, USG intelligence organizations continued to look for any information relevant to his case.  On 3 September 1971 the CIA reported that a member of the Armed Propaganda Unit of the cuc dich van, interrogated on 12 July 1971, had reported that he had first-hand information from two fellow cadre members concerning Garwood.  The first, a member of the propaganda unit and the second, a Korean language teacher, had known Garwood while they were in MR 5.  Both noted that they had spent a lot of time with Garwood to "practice their English."  The Korean language teacher added that he had received a letter from the VC MR 5 cuc dich van at the end of 1969 indicating that Garwood had been admitted as a member of the People's Revolutionary Youth Group and would be transferred to North Vietnam due to a chronic abdominal problem.  The letter further indicated that Garwood would probably go through a political indoctrination course prior to being admitted the the Lao Dong Party (the Vietnamese Communist Labor Party).  (CIA report, 3 September 1971)

Meanwhile, Back at the USMC

On or about 6 October 1971 the USMC POW Screening Board again considered Garwood's case.  The senior member of the Board reported to the Deputy Chief of Staff (DCS), USMC, that "it appeared" that Garwood was guilty of misconduct as a POW, and that sufficient evidence existed to make an administrative determination of desertion.  However, due to the "high level interest in POWs" at that time, it was recommended that prior to an official declaration by the USMC, the Commandant clear the proposed action with SECNAV. (6 October 1971 letter to USMC Deputy Chief of Staff (Manpower), from Senior Member, USMC POW Screening
Board.)  (NOTE:  This is an interesting comment by the USMC POW Screening Board.  In March 1969, the Nixon administration had launched a "go public" campaign aimed at publicizing the plight of US POWs in Vietnam.  This campaign, which used family members of men who were either missing or known to be POWs, continued right up until the signing of the Paris Accords in January 1973.  The purpose of the campaign was to garner international support for US efforts to gain further information, better treatment, and access to POWs in SEAsia.  (cf:  H. Bruce Franklin, M.I.A.: Mythmaking in America; Jim and Sybil Stockdale, In Love and War.)  Apparently the USMC was concerned that, if they declared Garwood anything but a POW, that declaration would make the headlines and would not help the "go public" campaign.)

The Deputy Director of Personnel (DepDirPers), USMC, however, was the only member of the POW Screening Board to dissent from the senior member's and the recommendation of the majority of the Board's recommendation that PFC Garwood's status be changed to that of "deserter."  He believed the evidence to be insufficient to support such a change and recommended to the DCS, USMC, that Garwood's case be reviewed quarterly "with a view toward making a recommendation to SECNAV" (Undated memo from POW Screening Board to DCS(Manpower)) and that a change in status be made upon receipt of additional information.

In order to break the stalemate, that senior member of the Board compared the advantages and disadvantages of the course recommended by the DepDirPers with that recommended by the majority of the Board members.  The courses addressed ranged from the question of whether or not Garwood should be permitted to collect back pay to the question of moral "correctness" in declaring Garwood a "deserter" six years after his disappearance.  The discussion included the question of how the USMC would respond to adverse publicity and possible criticism for "lack of fortitude: in having waited so long to make a determination.  Available documentation makes it clear that the USMC was overwhelmingly concerned with protecting Garwood's legal rights.

After due consideration the CS disclosed to the Commandant, USMC, that he "could find no pressing reason to change Garwood's status at this time" and that there were "valid reasons" why the USMC should not change Garwood's status.  Accordingly, the CS recommended that "no change in status be approved."  (Undated memo from Deputy CS (Manpower) to CS, USMC)

The debate, however, did not end there.  On 4 November 1971 the JAD reviewed the POW Screening Board's comments of both 7 July and 6 October and various legal documents relative to the Garwood case.  (Missing Persons Act, 37 US Code 556 and US Supreme Court case of Bell vs. US 366 US 393, 6 L. Ed 2nd 365, 81 S. Ct. 1230)  The most contentious issues between the JAD and the DepDirPers were 1)  PFC Garwood's absence without authority at the time he was captured; and, 2) his apparent choice to remain with the enemy when given an unconditional opportunity to return to  US military jurisdiction.  (JAD Comments of 4 November 1971)  In fact, the JAD maintained that there was sufficient evidence to warrant changing Garwood's status from POW to deserter and was convinced that the had "formulated an intent to remain away permanently from his unit." (Ibid.)  The DepDirPers did not concur.

The JAD explained that once a declaration of desertion had been made, appropriate action could then be taken to terminate Garwood's pay and allowances under the Missing Persons Act.  Additionally, if and when he ever returned, the burden of proof would be on him to prove that he had not deserted.  Were desertion not proved, al pay and allowances could then be reinstated.

The Marine Corps JAD continued to press for a change in Garwood's "official status" out of concern that his case might deteriorate into a repetition of the SGT Jon Sweeney case.  (Sweeney was captured on 19 Feb 69 and repatriated on 17 Aug 70)  (NOTE:  There is a persistent piece of mythology that Sweeney was "transferred" to Eastern Europe and that he escaped from captivity and made his way to the US Embassy in East Germany.  The facts are that Sweeney made numerous pro-Communist broadcasts from Hanoi then asked to return to the US.  Arrangements were made with the Red Cross to have Sweeney flown from Hanoi to Moscow, then to Sweden where he would be released to the US Ambassador.  That is exactly what happened:  he flew from Hanoi to Moscow in the company of a couple of North Vietnamese foreign ministry officials, gave a press conference in Moscow, the flew on to Sweden where he was turned over to the ambassador.  Sweeney never escaped from anything.)
Sweeney was captured in February 1969 and retained by the USMC in POW status, with all due pay and allowances, and promotions in rank until his return to the US in August 1970.  Following his return and subsequent court-martial, the USMC had difficulty convincing a military court of the fact that Sweeney had voluntarily aided the VC and NVA, despite the evidence against him.  After the USG had made a prima facie case of cooperation with the enemy, Sweeney admitted that he had done certain things which appeared to be contrary to the interests of the USG and to his obligations as a Marine.  He claimed, however, to have acted under duress and the "some [had] held a gun to his head."  (JAD Comments, 4 Nov 71)  In view of the lack of response of the USMC to allegations that Sweeney was aiding the enemy during his captivity, the Court was persuaded to accept the allegation that Sweeney acted under duress and acquitted him of all charges.  In an effort to avoid a "repeat performance" of the Sweeney case, the JAD continued to press the Marine Corps leadership to change Garwood's status.

The JAD noted that a declaration of desertion would leave the USMC open to some criticism but the the controversy "was not inconsistent with the philosophy of the marine Corps or [its] traditions."  Not declaring Garwood a deserter at this time, was a way to "play it safe" rather than make an appropriate determination in view of all of the available facts and circumstances, was added by the JAD.  The JAD concluded that it was in the best interests of the Marine Corps to "make and administrative determination and declaration of desertion at this time."  To do otherwise, in view of the available facts and circumstances, was to simply play it safe rather than make an appropriate determination.  No change was made in Garwood's status, however, and he continued to be carried as a bona fide POW.

On 5 May 1972, Headquarters USMC, again reviewed the information surrounding Garwood's disappearance and again "directed that he be continued in his present status."  (Memo from COL D. E. Howard to HQ, USMC, 5 May 72)

Operation Homecoming 1973

When Operation Homecoming began in March 1973, the USMC and other USG organizations immediately began to debrief returning POWs concerning any knowledge of Garwood since 1965.  As early as 14 March, the Debriefing Control Element (DCE) for Operation Homecoming requested all officers-in-charge of hospitals in the continental United States (CONUS) to request information from former POWs concerning Garwood.  POWs who were known to have been incarcerated with Garwood were singled out:  Lewis, Pfister, Anton, Daly, Mehrer, and Kushner. (SP4 Lewis, PFC Pfister, CW2 Anton, PFC Daly, CPT Kushner)   In Captain Kushner's debrief he specifically listed Garwood's last known status as "LT NVA."  He noted that Garwood was freed in May 1967, refused repatriation, and was last seen in January - March, May - June, and November 1969.  He heard that Garwood had gone to North Vietnam in 1969.

ON 20 March 1973 the Homecoming Marine Liaison (HOMIC) reported to HQ, USMC, on the debriefings of returned POWs.  Dr. Kushner's note about Garwood becoming a lieutenant in the NVA was corroborated by SSG Newell, USArmy, who also related that Garwood told him that he had become an NVA political officer. (20 March memo from HOMIC to HQ USMC)  On 21 March the Assistant Chief of Staff (ACS) sent a memo to the CS, USMC, confirming information heretofore reported about GArwood from reliable sources (the five early releasees in 1968 and 21969 and the returned POWs at Operation Homecoming).  The ACS underlined Garwood's background, stressing that he "comes from a broken home, had a disciplinary record, and has undergone psychiatric examinations since enlistment in the Marine Corps."  (21 Mar 73 memo for CS, from ACS, G-2, USMC)  In addition, the ACS noted that Garwood was last seen in 1969 in South Vietnam and that no first-hand information was available after that to indicate where he was or what he was doing.

Summary :  1970 - 1973

The primary significance of the 1970- 1973 period for the Garwood case lies in the following occurrences:

bulletThe reporting by additional non-US personnel of a "rallier" called Nguyen Chien Dau (Garwood) and his activities with the VC and NVA forces;
bulletThe initial involvement by DIA in the Garwood case;
bulletThe additional first-hand reporting, by US POWs, at Operation Homecoming, of Garwood's collaborative activities with enemy armed forces; and
bulletThe extraordinary, but unsuccessful, efforts by the USMC JAD, to have the Commandant, USMC, officially change Garwood's status from "POW" to "deserter."

Reporting by non-US personnel about Garwood's activities with the enemy increases substantially after the fall of Saigon in 1975 when hundreds of Vietnamese refugees related first-hand and hearsay reports about an American rallier working for the VC and NVA forces.  US POWs who returned to the US in 1973 told of having either been incarcerated with Garwood in South Vietnam of or having heard someone identified as Garwood over Radio Hanoi during the time of their imprisonment.  Most of these reports focused on the same theme:  Nguyen Chien Dau had crossed over to the enemy in the 1965 period, had rejected the US involvement in Vietnam, and had decided to remain in Vietnam as a "matter of conscience."

The JAD interpreted the accumulation of reporting as incontrovertible evidence of Garwood' collaboration with the enemy and, therefore, of the need to make a correct and timely adjudication of the Garwood case.  Unfortunately, the JAD was not able to persuade the marine Corps leadership to change Garwood's status.

1973 - 1975

After Operation Homecoming in March 1973, the military service secretaries had to contend with any disciplinary action brought against returnees accused of violating the UCMJ while POWs.  In June, charges were brought against two naval service officers and eight enlisted men who were accused of promoting or attempting to promote insubordination, disloyalty, or mutiny, and attempting to persuade other POWs to disobey orders and otherwise act unlawfully. In October 1973, after investigation and analysis of the evidence against them, the Secretaries of the Navy and the Army directed that no further action be taken.

Garwood was not included in this group of "charged" returnees, because he did not return to US control at Operation Homecoming.  However, this action taken by the service secretaries was late cited by Garwood's attorneys during his court-martial.  IN defending him against all charges of traitorous or mutinous behavior while in Vietnam and while attempting to have all charges dropped against him after his return in 1979, Garwood's legal team referenced the October 1973 action by the service secretaries as a precedent for disloyal behavior by POWs and as a rationale for exonerating Garwood.

On 17 April 1974 the DIA reported to ACS, USMC, and to the other military service intelligence chiefs that a review of all reports received since Operation Homecoming showed no evidence that any US personnel were still being held prisoner.  (DIA letter to service intelligence chiefs, 17 April 1974)  Of course, no mention was made of Garwood's whereabouts because the last first-hand information that the USMC and the USG had about him was obtained from the debriefs of the POW returnees during Operation Homecoming in 1973.  And, in 1974, it still was not known if Garwood was dead or alive.

In April 1975, after Saigon and the Republic of Vietnam fell,  the USG continued its search for any possible "unrecovered" US personnel in SEAsia.  On 7 August the DIA notified the heads of the military service personnel departments, and the State Department, that it was interested in the last-known status of all unrecovered US personnel who were known to be or suspected of having been held as POWs or detainees and who had never returned or been released to US control.  The DIA then added that this would be a continuing intelligence requirement (CIR) and that this information would be used by Military Service CAsualty elements in their search for all unidentified US personnel from the SEA conflict. (CIR, 7 Aug 75)

In its final report, the "House Select Committee on MIAs in SEA" of the US 94th Congress (US House of Representatives, 94th Congress, Second Session, "Final Report of the Select Committee on Missing Persons in Southeast Asia," dated 13 December 1976, published January 1977) reported that "pursuant to its congressional directive of 11 September 1975" it had investigated and then concluded after its 15-month tenure, that "the committee had been led to the belief that no Americans are still being held as prisoners in Indochina, or elsewhere, as a result of the war in INdochina." (Ibid., p. 238)  There was a notation, however, "that at least one deserter and one defector, the latter currently listed as a POW, were alive, in Indochina in the early 1970s and may still be alive, and that a small number of other deserters and civilians may still reside in South Vietnam."  (Ibid., pp. 238 - 239)

Interestingly enough, the USMC never classified Garwood as a "defector" but the Committee's report assumed him to be one, despite his being listed as a POW at the time.

Summary:  1973 - 1975

The significance of the 1973 - 1975 period for the GArwood case is the USMC's and the USG's continued search for GArwood and other "unaccounted for" servicemen from the Vietnam conflict.  Although there was no reporting on Garwood during this time, and the USG would not be able to ascertain his whereabouts until his return in 1979, the USG never "closed the book" on him nor on the case of any other MIA or former POW who had ot returned during Operation Homecoming.

In a closed society, as found in the SRV (Socialist Republic of Vietnam), information about any Americans or former servicemen held by the Hanoi regime was difficult to obtain.  In Garwood's case, reports from refugees who fled Vietnam confirmed USG suspicion that Garwood might still be alive.  Significant refugee reporting on Garwood did not really begin, however, until a mass exodus of refugees from Vietnam began in the 1978/79 period, almost a decade after Garwood had gone to North Vietnam.

1976 - 1978

On 13 December 1976, the "House Select Committee on Missing Persons in SEA" submitted its final report in which it was recommended (House Select Committee Report,. p. 243) that the military service secretaries begin individual case reviews of those military personnel who had not been accounted for at Operation Homecoming in 1973.  Even before the DoD promulgated guidelines concerning such a review of the Garwood case, the USMC had convened a Board of Review on/about 5 July 1977 for the purpose of "reviewing all available information concerning Garwood's actions as a POW" and to recommend a possible change-in-status for him.  (Review Board appointment letter from Cmdt, USMC, to president of the board, 8 July 1977)

The Review Board's final report to the CS, USMC, is comprehensive.  There are 34 "Findings of Fact" concerning Garwood's disloyal activities as a POW which were corroborated by the early releasees in 1968 and 1969, as well as by at least six other 1973 returnees.  (Review Board Report to the CS, USMC)  The Board's opinions noted that Garwood had deserted from the USMC in violation of Article 85, UCMJ, on/about May 1967 when he refused voluntary repatriation.  Furthermore, the Board stated that on/about July 1968, Garwood further violated Article 85 when he joined the armed forces of the NVA/VC and that he may have violated other articles of the UCMJ.

On the basis of its review and findings, the Board recommended that "action be taken to administratively classify Private First Class Garwood as a deserter from the United States Marine Corps as of 1 June 1967."  (Ibid.)  Although the Board's report indicated that it had carried out a rather comprehensive review of the Garwood case, and had made appropriate recommendations in concert with its findings, no change was made in Garwood's status.  He remained classified as a POW until his return in 1979

(NOTE:  The next section, Section III, will begin with Garwood's return to the US in early 1979.)

Go to Section III: The Return, 1979