MIA Facts Site

The Case of Robert Garwood, PFC, USMC

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Section V:

The Court-Martial Aftermath, 1986 - 1993; Conclusions; Lessons Learned   

This is the fifth and final section reporting the official record of the case of USMC PFC Robert Garwood.  Garwood disappeared in South Vietnam in September 1965 and was seen by several US and South Vietnamese prisoners of war, all of whom confirmed that he had "gone over" to the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese.  Garwood did not return with US POWs in Operation Homecoming, spring 1973.  Later, he identified himself to a World Bank official in a Hanoi hotel and, in February 1979, he returned to the US.

Garwood was charged by the Marine Corps with several violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  He was convicted of collaborating with the enemy and of striking another American who was in captivity.

If you have not yet read Sections I,  IIIII , or IV of this report, you may want to click on the respective links and read those sections first.  This section deals with Garwood's return to the US and the immediate aftermath leading up to his court-martial.

This report is taken directly and fully from a report prepared on the Garwood case for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence, June 1993.

Section VI, which is an analysis of Garwood's claimed sightings of US POWs in Vietnam after 1973, is my own creation and it follows this section.

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 the word NOTE.

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On 17 January 1986, the ASD/ISA (EAP) wrote Mr. Garwood's attorney Taylor that they were aware that the DOD General Counsel had been in contact with him and "has confirmed that the question of a grant of immunity by the Department of Defense is no longer an issue because Mr. Garwood's military status has been  terminated."  (ASD/ISA (EAP) letter to Taylor of 17 January 1986)  The letter then proceeded to note that DOD would not ask Garwood any verbal questions at this initial meeting since Garwood preferred written questions to which he could respond.  In responding to this letter, attorney Taylor  indicated that Garwood was willing to meet with representatives of the DOD and be accompanied by counsel (both Taylor and his partner, George Kripner), "under the terms and conditions" set forth in the 17 January letter.  The initial meeting with the DIA and Garwood counsel, therefore, was set for 26 February 1986, from 1300 - 1700 hours.  (Taylor letter to ASD/ISA (EAP) of 24 January 1986)  It had taken almost seven years for the DIA to obtain an interview with Mr. Garwood.

On 26 February 1986, Garwood and Vaughan Taylor met with DIA officials in the Pentagon.  As already noted, there were some pre-conditions to this meeting:  1) DIA had to submit all questions in writing; 2) there would be no oral questioning; and 3) the interview would be limited to four hours.  During this meeting the DIA had prepared and presented 32 pages of preliminary questions.  It appears, however, that time precluded Garwood's answering more than just a few of them.  It is important to note, however, that the live sightings which Garwood did mention were similar to the ones noted in the WSJ report of 4 December 1984.  (DIA Memo from Chief, Special Office for POW/MIAs, of 15 June 1987)


Both Garwood and his attorney agreed,  tentatively, to two additional days of interviews to be held in North Carolina during the following month (March 1986).  Vaughan Taylor was not able to locate Garwood, however, and the interviews did not take place.  According to a DIA memo (Ibid.), the DIA was unsuccessful in continuing the Garwood interviews because he could not be located even though individuals such as H. Ross Perot, Congressman (later Senator) Bob Smith (R, NH), and LTG Eugene Tighe, USAF (Ret), former Director, DIA, all indicated that they could "produce" Garwood, with various conditions for the interviews being met, of course.  According to this DIA memo, "DIA is not placing any impediment or conditions on interviewing Mr. Garwood.  The delay is with him.  We are not interested in speaking with his attorney, his various go-betweens, his friends or in reading newspaper clippings.  We want to interview him."  (Ibid.)
 DIA was not able to interview Garwood again until September 1987.  In the interim, however, General Tighe met and interviewed Garwood on 5 April 1987.  ( According to LTG Tighe, Mr. Chris Gugas, a noted polygraph expert was present at this 5 April interview.  But there is nothing to suggest that Garwood took a polygraph examination on this date.  Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that in a DIA Memorandum for the REcord of 16 April 1987, it was mentioned that "General Tighe and Dr. Chris Gugas have interviewed Garwood on the West Coast and Gugas conducted a polygraph exam of Garwood.  Both Tighe and Gugas are of the opinion, borne out by the poly exam, that Garwood is truthful."  This Memo notwithstanding, no further evidence was found to confirm that Garwood had ever been polygraphed.)

On 13 and 14 April 1987 DIA responded to a query from Congressman Bob Smith concerning the names of all POWs mentioned in Winston Groom's book.  ( DIA Memos for the record of 13 and 14 April 1987 )  DIA provided this information forthwith along with the status of each individual identified.  All of the 23 US POWs identified in the groom book were accounted for:  14 had returned to the US; four had died in captivity/body not recovered; four had died in captivity/remains returned; and one deserter had been reported killed in an escape attempt/body not recovered.

On the following 16 April DIA had a call from H. Ross Perot concerning General Tighe's ongoing conversations with Garwood.  In these conversations, Mr. Perot noted that Garwood was "still adamant that he will not talk with a DIA representative."  DIA Memo for the Record of 16 April 1987)  Mt. Perot further indicated that he would try again to get Garwood to meet with DIA.  In a Memo for the Director, DIA, of 20 may 1987, the Deputy Director of Operations, Plans and Training noted that, concerning DIA's interviews with Garwood, "the whole episode is further complicated by the dialogue with Ross (Perot) and Bob Smith who indicate that they speak for Bobby (Garwood.)"  (BG Shufelt letter to Director, DIA, of 20 May 1987)  In LTG Tighe's letter to the Director, DIA, it was further noted that "Garwood says he was warned by the US Marines who met him in Bangkok, that he was not to speak of other Americans and he consistently got this advice from his lawyers -- who were understandably concerned for civil and legal rights of the other Americans.  Garwood said he tried to obey their advice but wasn't able to keep their advice."  (LTG Tighe's letter to the Director, DIA, of 13 May 1987)

In 10 and 11 July 1987 memos (DIA Memoranda for the Record, 10 and 11 July 1987), DIA noted that Garwood had given different renditions of his live sightings to the USG and then to the media.  In addition, it was noted that "Garwood has never, directly or indirectly, indicated that he talked to the individuals sighted."  (Ibid.)  Furthermore, other sightings "have been attributed to Garwood in the media on which he has never reported directly."  (See 11 July 1987 DIA Memo for specific information on these sightings.)

On 17 August a DIA memo noted that Garwood was now insisting on some pre-conditions prior to re-establishing contact with DIA.  In addition to requiring the Congressman Bob Smith be present at both the review of any transcript and follow-on briefings, Garwood insisted that he receive a letter signed by the Director, DIA, LTG Perroots, which would specify, among other things, that DIA was inciting Garwood to Washington to talk about "The Fate of Americans in Southeast Asia." (DIA Memo of 17 August 1987).  On 21 August 1987, a letter to this effect was sent to Garwood, c/o Taylor and Kripner, and signed by the Director, DIA.  (LTG Perroots, Director, DIA, letter to Robert Garwood.)

In early September 1987 the DIA prepared for the next Garwood debriefing, originally scheduled for 17/18 September.  The DIA representatives noted  the purpose of the debriefing  and remarked on the notion that a "detailed understanding of what happened to Garwood and why it happened will contribute significantly to understanding how military services can best prepare personnel for captivity, in both hostilities and hostage situations."  (DIA Paper on the "Purpose of Debriefing" of 10 September 1987 .)

The Garwood/DIA interviews finally were held from 17 - 20 September 1987.  DIA officials, along with a general counsel representative met with Garwood, his attorney, and Senator Bob Smith in Arlington, Virginia.  The focus of these interviews was "to clarify the record of Mr. Garwood's statements and written statements as of 27 February 1986.) (Initial DIA interview session with Garwood.  In its 23 September after-action report, DIA representatives noted that "In the final two daily sessions Garwood provided brief descriptions of occasions in which he believed he had contact with PWs; four firsthand observations from a distance; a hearsay report of PWs used in training, and a gravesite.  With slight variations, most of the information provided to date parallels that available to DIA through media sources.  Although Garwood is a reluctant source, all participants agreed to meet again to approve the current transcript and to go on with the interview hopeful in the near future."  (DIA After-Action Memo of 23 September 1987.  This memo provides a concise summary of what transpired during the 17 - 20 Garwood interview.)

In November 1987, DIA requested that LTG Tighe provide both "the tape and transcript" of his interview(s)) with Garwood (BG Shufelt letter to LTG Tighe of 24 November 1987.) and in a 22 December DIA memo it is noted that the only name provided to LTG Tighe and not mentioned in the Winston Groom book was that of USMC PFC Jon. M. Sweeney.  (DIA Memo of 22 December 1987.  Sweeney was captured in February 1969 and released in August 1970 by way of Moscow, following his own request.)

1988 - 1990

In the subsequent Garwood interviews from 20 - 27 February 1988, held in Ocracoke, North Carolina, the focus again was to clarify statements that Garwood had made on his live sightings (as first reported in the WSJ article of 4 December 1984) and on his whereabouts in North Vietnam from 1970 - 1979.  At this interview also, DIA officials and Senator Bob Smith met with Garwood and his attorney.  ((It is interesting to note that in early January 1988 a Congressional Delegation (CODEL) of Congressmen Frank McCloskey (D-IN), Bob Smith (R-NH), and John Rowland (R, CT) desired to take Garwood with them on the CODEL to Hanoi.  See State Department telegram of 060311Z January 1988 in the Appendix.  State Department noted that the believed that the inclusion of Garwood in the McCloskey CODEL would prove harmful to US foreign policy interests in the region and that for this reason State would not provide the customary support if and when Garwood was actively involved as a member.  Ref also 20 January 1988 memo concerning DIA Asst. General Counsel and Vaughan Taylor on this CODEL.))

In August 1988, the DIA issue a memo which summarized the interviews held thus far with Garwood.  (DIA Memo for Chief, Special Office for POW/MIAs of 1 August 1988)  In a summary statement the memo noted that over 100 hours had been spent in debriefing Garwood.  It also noted that Garwood had stated that "he had extreme difficulty in remembering the information because: 1) he had undergone brain washing by machine in Vietnam; 2) he suffers from survivor's guilt and post traumatic stress; and, 3) dredging up the material from memory leads him into fugues, thus necessitating long breaks between sessions.  (Ibid.)  The memo also noted that Garwood's attorneys had read into the record statements of his "extreme psychiatric frailty" and also noted that they would like to see Garwood receive treatment similar to that received by returned US POWs.  At the same time that Garwood's attorneys commended DIA for the sensitivity with which the interviews were handled, the DIA remarked that it did not foresee talking with Garwood again.  (Ibid.)

The DIA did arrange for one last meeting with Garwood (November 1990), however, after having arranged to speak with LTG Tighe again.  In this meeting, General Tighe "appeared to accept our bottom-line conclusion that Garwood has nothing to contribute with respect to live POWs under SRV control."  (DIA Memo to Director, DIA, of 2 November 1990)

On 4 July 1990 a DIA Memorandum for the Record succinctly summarized the PW/MIA information given by Garwood to the DIA up until this time and gave a detailed evaluation of his live sightings.  Subsequently, on 12 November, the last interview between DIA officials and Garwood and his attorney was held in Annapolis, MD.  This interview was specifically aimed at gaining information concerning the presence of any other American "stay-behinds" in Vietnam whom Garwood could identify.  Although Garwood was shown many photographs of missing Americans, and many personalities were discussed, he did not categorically identify any other individuals who stayed behind in Vietnam.

In the DIA after-action report concerning this report to the ASD/ISA (DIA Memo to ASD/ISA of 13 November 1990) , DIA noted that Garwood had simply reaffirmed information which had been provided to DIA preciously, provided relatively new intelligence information, and suggested that Garwood himself may have shared information from the DIA interview with the public.  (Ibid.)  Furthermore, it was noted that DIA had attempted to offer additional motivational inducements to Garwood to assist the USG in its attempt to identify and locate any possible stay-behinds in Vietnam, by appealing to Garwood to assist the USG in "the healing process" of this nation regarding the issue of other stay-behinds.  (DIA Memo for the REcord of 11 December 1990)

1991 - 1993

On 2 August 1991 Vaughan Taylor, Garwood's attorney, wrote to Senator Bob Smith concerning a "recent " briefing about POW/MIAs to which fellow Republican Senators had been invited by the Secretary of Defense.  (Taylor letter to Senator Smith of 2 August 1991)  During this briefing, according to Taylor, the ASD/ISA had indicated that "Mr. Garwood had recanted his live sightings of American POWs in Vietnam post-Operation Homecoming."  (Memo for ASD/C3I of 3 September 1991)  Supposedly, "Garwood had recanted his live sighting reports in discussions with agents of the Defense Intelligence Agency."  (2 August letter from Taylor to Smith)

Mr. Garwood's response, according to Vaughan Taylor, was "I have never recanted and never would recant, my live-sighting reports, because those reports are absolutely true."  (Ibid.)

On 9 August 1991, Senator Smith wrote to the SECDEF concerning the Taylor and Garwood response (Senator Smith letter to SECDEF Cheney of 9 August 1991)  and on 4 September the ASD/C3I responded to the Senator Smith letter of inquiry (ASD/C3I Duane Andrews letter to Senator Smith of 4 September 1991) noting that "I have directed that a new team of intelligence analysts, with no prior involvement in Mr. Garwood's case, review all of Mr. Garwood's reports of sightings of Americans in Vietnam after 1972 to determine if any follow up action in Vietnam can still be taken." (Ibid.)

On 18 November 1991 the ASD/C3I did, in fact, commission an independent study of the Garwood case with special emphasis placed on investigating Garwood's live sightings.  In May 1992, a team of US investigators went to Hanoi to meet with PAVN/SRV senior officials on several POW/MIA matters, including the case of Robert Garwood.  The principal Garwood investigator remained in Hanoi three weeks to visit locations of Garwood's live sightings.  During these meetings with the PAVN/SRV senior officials and throughout the time that Garwood was in Vietnam (1965 - 1979), the SRV has always maintained that he "crossed over" willingly and that he never had been a POW.

Independent research of the case of Robert Garwood was completed in June 1993 after an in-depth study of the Garwood files and after almost a month in Vietnam.  The ten (10) documents (Volume I - Volume X ) which make up the Case of PFC Robert R. Garwood, USMC, include a description of the work done during this study as well as an analysis and evaluation of the work performed by the USG prior to November 1991.  It is intended that these volumes serve as future reference documents concerning Garwood's 30-year chronology from 1963 - 1993.


The case of PFC Robert R. Garwood, USMC, is unique.  His situation is singular in that, from the very first day of his absence, there have been questions as to where he was located, why he was there, and how he got there.  Historically, and sometimes after the fact, we do know some of the answers to the many questions about PFC Garwood and his almost 14-years stay in Vietnam.  There are instances, however, in which the Garwood Case often has been clouded with confusion and innuendo due to his length of time in Vietnam (1965 - 1979), his dislocation and/or movement during wartime conditions (1965 - 1975), and his crossing over to the enemy (by mid-1967).

Records indicate that Garwood was noted as missing at the 2330 hour muster on 28 September 1965.  In addition, the record shows that the last three US military personnel (all USMC) to see him prior to that time -- PFC Geill, PFC Braverman, and LCPL Smith -- indicated that they had seen him around dusk on the 28th in the DaNang Hotel or in the DaNang USO.  Once PFC Garwood left the hotel or USO, it is not clear when or how he disappeared.  There are written and oral reports that Garwood:

  1. was captured in a fire-fight between a US convoy and Viet Cong forces;
  2. was picked up in a brothel;
  3. was ambushed on a road leading form Danang after he got lost;
  4. became lost on a main road, some 11.5 miles SE of the DaNang Air Base, and surrendered to the Viet Cong;
  5. became lost on a secondary road leading to the beach, was attacked by Viet Cong forces, killed one or more the the Viet Cong, was captured, and his jeep burned.

These are just a few of the accounts of how Garwood disappeared.

Although he vanished in September 1965, Garwood did not show up in a bona fide POW camp until mid-December 1965.  Neither records nor firsthand accounts indicate precisely where Garwood was and what he was doing from the time of his disappearance until mid-December.  Also, during his time in the camps of South Vietnam (1965 - 1969), there were periods of time in which Garwood was missing for days, weeks, and even months at a time.  This information was given by US POWs who had been in camps with Garwood.  There is no recorded information as to what Garwood was doing during those times of his absence from the camps.

Although there has been uncertainty regarding some of the events from the time of Garwood's disappearance in 1965 until his return to the United States in 1979, there are, indeed, certain conclusions which can be drawn fro the study of the Garwood case and the attending documents now available.

Garwood's Movements and Motives

Sufficient documentation exists, for example, to suggest that Garwood was picked up by the enemy on or about 28 September 1965.  What is not clear, however, is how Garwood vanished and where he was at the time of his disappearance.  It would appear implausible that Garwood would have "crossed over" to the enemy on this date since he only had 10 - 12 days to remain in Vietnam prior to his being shipped stateside.  Although Garwood had only arrived in Vietnam on 7 July, his unit had been there since late 1964 and was scheduled to return from Vietnam sometime in October/November 1965.   Garwood arrived in Vietnam many months later that his unit because he had been delayed in Okinawa, ostensibly for medical reasons; however, his tour in WESTPAC actually began when he departed CONUS for Okinawa in late 1964.  It therefore does not appear reasonable the Garwood would have gone over to the enemy for ideological reasons -- at least not at this time -- since Garwood had only been in Vietnam for fewer than 90 days and had shown no prior inclination towards Communist ideologies or propaganda.

Events which transpired between this September 1965 date and the time the Garwood decided to cross over to the enemy in mid-1967 (or earlier), although sometimes unclear, are not inexplicable.  Firsthand reports from POWs who were incarcerated with Garwood report that he was easily swayed by enemy intimidation and coercion, and naive enough to believe that the enemy would release him quickly if he just would collaborate with them in some minor matters.  Subject to a very strong instinct for survival, Garwood, the former POWs noted, increasingly assisted the Viet Cong, learned something of Vietnamese language and culture, and was given some personal attention by the enemy which he began to enjoy.  By the time that Garwood was offered his release in mid-1967, he had violated every article of the Code of Conduct.  Knowing that other US POWs, who had been released, had already been debriefed by the USMC and that USG concerning his actions with the enemy and against his own country and countrymen during his time in the camps in South Vietnam (1965 - 1969 ), it appears likely that Garwood knew what fate might await him as a turncoat if he returned home at that time.

PFC Garwood's reasons for moving to North Vietnam in late 1969 or early 1970 are also not totally clear, nor are his motives for having remained that for almost 10 years.  By the time of his departure for the North, Garwood had already spent four years ( 1965 - 1969 ) with the Vietnamese.  There is, therefore, the possibility that political indoctrination had begun to take hold and that Garwood hd developed political, as well as personal, motives for going to live in North Vietnam.

Unfortunately, after Garwood went to the North, there is essentially no first-hand information o his whereabouts until his departure from Hanoi in March 1979.  Although several US POWs who were incarcerated in Hanoi up until Operation Homecoming 1973 had stated that they heard Garwood on Radio Hanoi during some of his propaganda broadcasts, here is no record of any American having seen Garwood in the North between 1969 and 1979.  First-hand sightings of Garwood did not reach the USG until after he was repatriated and these accounts came, for the most part, from refugees who had seen him in the Yen Bai Re-Education camps that were located some 75 miles NW of Hanoi.

Garwood's "Live Sightings" of US POWs after 1973

PFC Garwood was debriefed by the USMC and Congressmen Wolff and Gilman at the Great Lakes naval Station within ten days of his return to the United States (on 29 March 1979 and 4 April 1979).  In neither of these two debriefings did Garwood ever mention that he had seen live US POWs after his departure from South Vietnam.  Indeed, he specifically noted that he had neither seen and American nor spoken English in ten years.

Almost six years after Garwood's 1979 return, on 4 December 1984, the WSJ published an article stating that it had conducted a series of interviews with him.  IN these interviews, the WSJ noted that Garwood had stated that he had seen live US POWs in Vietnam after 1973.   Apparently, neither the USG nor his defense attorneys had been apprised of this information prior to the publication of the article.

Since the WSJ publication of this information, however, several investigations of Garwood's live sighting locations have been carried out.  The USA:  1) commissioned several imagery searches of the live-sighting locations;  2) requested official documentation (files and records) on Garwood from the SRV;  and 3) conducted several investigations of the locations mentioned, to include one in June 1992 (by the DOD Garwood investigator) and another in February 1993 (by JTF-FA).  In none of these investigations was evidence found to substantiate Garwood's claims of there having been live US POWs in Vietnam after Operation Homecoming in 1973.

Several significant criteria also need to be considered and understood concerning Garwood's live sightings:  1) none of his live sightings has been corroborated by anybody else;  2) the SRV has categorically maintained that Garwood was the last American in Vietnam and the he had stayed in Vietnam "willingly" because he had been a "rallier" and never a POW;  3) not one of Garwood's live sightings led to the discovery of an additional US POWs still  living in Vietnam; and 4) almost six years passed before Garwood mentioned any of his live sightings to the USG or even to his defense attorneys.

Although it can neither be proven or disproven that Garwood did, in fact, see live US POWs at certain times and places after Operation Homecoming, the searches performed and the on-the-ground investigations carried out, strongly suggest that there is no evidence to support the notion that there are any living US POWs at the Garwood live-sighting locations.

((  NOTE:  This note is not part of the ASD/C3I report.  But, after typing the previous paragraph from the report, I must point out something.  Part of the problem with the entire MIA matter is that few people within the US Government have had the courage to step up and say that something is bullshit, when it clearly is.  Instead, USG spokesmen and USG reports and USG policy statements continue to try to walk a fine, political, tactful line when, in fact, what is needed is strong statements.  The intelligence is there to support definitive statements and here is one:  Garwood's claims to have seen US POWs in Vietnam after 1973 are nonsense.   The fact is not, as the ASD/C3I report so blandly states, ". . .  that there is no evidence to support the notion that there are any living US POWs at the Garwood live-sighting locations".  The fact is that there is clear evidence to refute every one of Garwood's stories.  Furthermore, there is a clear chain of circumstantial evidence that Garwood's "live sightings" were the result of collusion between Garwood and former Congressman Billy Hendon.  I will lay out these facts in Section VI, my analysis of the "live sightings" by Garwood. Now, back to the ASD/C3I report.  ))

The United States Marine Corps' Actions

Another conclusion that becomes evident from a close reading of the Garwood documentation concerns the role played by Garwood's parent service, the USMC.  From the time that it was known that Garwood was definitely missing, the USMC made extraordinary efforts to locate him and enlisted the assistance and cooperation of other military services and USG organizations.  Clearly, the USMC acted very energetically in trying to find Garwood in the early days of his disappearance and then attempted to find out as much as they could about his whereabouts and his doings from the five US POWs (Oritz-Rivera, Agosto Santos, Tinsley, Strickland, and Watkins) who were released in early 1968 and late 1969.

It is also clear that the USMC's Judge Advocate Division (JAD) was timely in its evaluation of Garwood's collaboration with the enemy, and responsible in its recommendations for a status change for Garwood, from POW to that of deserter or defector.  As early as late 1969 or early 1970, the USMC and the USG had incontrovertible evidence from the five released US POWs and from other non-US POWs that:  1) Garwood had collaborated with the enemy; and 2) he had had the opportunity and ability to be released from the POW camp had he so desired.  In fact, having this information, the USMC JAD recommended to the Commandant, USMC, that Garwood's states be changed to deserter then to defector.  Obviously, the USMC leadership did not consider a change necessary at that time nor was a change made after several subsequent recommendations from the JAD to the Commandant.  Ostensibly, had the USMC senior leadership changed Garwood's status, the Garwood case may not have become the "cause celebre" that it has become and would most probably not be considered as one of the longest and most bizarre cases in the history of POWs and the military service.

Attorney Activities

Legal maneuvering and entanglements have persisted throughout the Garwood case.  In fact, in some instances, legal procedures have literally dominated this case.  Presumably, had the senior USMC leadership taken the recommendations and advice from the USMC attorneys to change Garwood's status -- once it had sufficient evidence to do so -- the long litany of legal maneuvers which took place after Garwood's return might never have come to pass.  In making the decision not to change his status the USMC and the USG set the stage for involvement in a legal morass which would last from 1979 until the United States Supreme Court finally decided not to hear Garwood's appeal in December 1985, almost seven years after he had returned to the United States.

The Defense Intelligence Agency's Involvement

As the senior intelligence agency for the SECDEF, it was DIA's intention to debrief Garwood as soon as possible upon his return in March 1979.  In a 5 April 1979 letter to the OASD/ISA, the DIA noted that it had requested and then received a synopsis of Garwood's debriefing by the USMC on 29 March at the Great Lakes Naval Station.  Furthermore, just as it had become involved with the returning POWs at Operation Homecoming in 1973, the DIA intended to debrief Garwood at the earliest opportunity.

Due to USMC jurisdiction, however, as well as to legal procedures taken immediately by Garwood's civilian attorneys, the DIA was not able to immediately meet with him because the USMC was concerned that any DIA debriefing of Garwood would prejudice the case.   During the actual court-martial proceedings, the DIA was not also was not permitted to debrief Garwood and subsequent to his 1981 conviction, the USMC was concerned about the appellate process.  In fact, the USMC would not consent to any DIA or USG debriefing while Garwood worked his way through the appeals courts.  It was not until December 1985 that his appeal process finally had run its course and that the DIA was able to interview Garwood (with attorneys present), several months later.

Clearly, part of the rationale for the delay in DIA meeting with Garwood was the USMC's concern -- especially after the court-martial in 1981 -- that any DIA interview with Garwood might:  1) preclude or contravene any kind of re-trial;  2) if immunity were given, preclude further prosecution of Garwood for any activities from 1970 - 1979 for which he had not been tried;  and, 3) impinge upon the possible disbursement of outstanding monies (almost $150,000) which Garwood's attorneys continued to appeal for.  These concerns were certainly valid and because of their seriousness Garwood was not available to be interviewed by the DIA in early 1986.

The Defense Intelligence Agency's Continuing Role

In its role as the DOD's intelligence agency, DIA has been the USG repository for documents and reports concerning PFC Garwood and has maintained an extraordinary array of both historical and current documentation.  Furthermore, DIA has been the focal agency for government, military, and special-interest requests concerning the Garwood case.  In this intelligence capacity, and in matters dealing with Garwood and his long residence in Vietnam, the DIA has performed its duties in a timely and professional manner.  Unquestionably, it is largely due to the special efforts by the DIA that the Garwood file is both exclusive and extensive:  exclusive in the sense that that it holds documents from many sources and agencies that have been involved in the Garwood case; extensive in that the number of records and files held on Garwood make DIA the primary locus for an present, and perhaps future, inquiries concerning him and the time  he spent in Vietnam.
(( NOTE:  This report was completed  prior to the formation of the Defense POW-MIA Office (DPMO).  The DIA Special Office for POW-MIA Affairs, which was the repository for the DIA Garwood file, was absorbed into DPMO.  Thus, after July 1993, the Garwood file was in DPMO, not DIA.  The preceding passage is still accurate and applicable but DIA no longer maintains files on Garwood. ))

The Garwood case is unparalleled in many ways and all of the answers to the case complexities may never be fully known since, among other reasons:

  1. too much time has passed;
  2. Hanoi has been uncooperative in providing information and official records about Garwood; and,
  3. many individuals and organizations -- special interest groups, attorneys, the media, Hanoi, and others -- have had their own agendas because of the POW issue in general, and in some instances, the Garwood case in particular.

Lessons Learned

There are several important lessons to be learned from the Garwood case at this time, and special studies in the future might unveil even more.  Certainly, one of the most significant lessons is that military service secretaries must take timely and decisive action to change "POW status" when sufficient evidence exists that a service member has collaborated with the enemy.  It is not clear why senior military leadership chose not to change Garwood's status after it was well known that he had collaborated with the enemy in many ways.  Regardless of which rationales were used not to change status, the fact remains that Garwood had involved himself in traitorous activity and had crossed over to the enemy.  The longer, therefore, that Garwood remained in POW status, the better the possibility for significant USG problems should he ever return to the United States.  Had Garwood not returned to the United States, however, the change in status might have remained moot, at worst.

Consideration must also be given to the negative impact upon military morale by not changing Garwood's status as well as to how this case undermined the significance of the Code of Conduct itself.  It the Code is to have any meaning at all, it must be learned and then enforced, both reasonably and appropriately.  In Garwood's case, his violation of the Code had been reported by all of the early US POW releasees as well as by other non-US personnel, at least by late 1969.  Had action been taken after this date the change Garwood's status from POW to deserter and then to defector, many of the problems encountered in this case might never have come to pass and his being dead or alive would ostensibly have had no bearing on the matter.

When the news came, however, that Garwood was still alive and wanted to come back to the United States in early 1979, neither the State Department nor the USMC was prepared for the legal ramifications associated with his return.  The underlying general feeling had been, perhaps, that Garwood never would return home, and that there never would be any legal procedures or entanglements to deal with.

PFC Garwood did come back to the United States, however, and there were hard legal lessons to be learned from the reality associated with his return.  These lessons were manifested by the early involvement of civilian legal counsel into the case, an occurrence that did much to initiate the legal chain of events which were to unfold from the very beginning of Garwood's return to US custody.  These legal events, in fact, set the stage for a series of point-counterpoint episodes between defense attorneys and the USG prosecution.  And, in many cases, the legal sparring which ensued overshadowed the gravity of the case itself and Garwood's years of collaboration and involvement with the enemy.

In addition to the lessons learned from the continuous legal activities going on between Garwood's attorneys and the USG prosecution, there were other instructional benefits that this unprecedented case provided the USMC and the USG.  For example, there was (and still is) the media interest in the Garwood case. Since information on Garwood's return from Vietnam became available in February 1979, and up until the present, the media have provided Garwood and his attorneys with a forum for giving Garwood's version of his story.  As official documentation shows, however, the Garwood version has not always been the most accurate rendition of what happened to him during his almost 14-year stay in Vietnam.  Also to be considered is the fact that the USG -- to protect information obtained from classified "sources and methods"  -- very often has not been able to provide appropriate responses to media-reproduced versions of what Garwood or his attorneys have reported.  The reason, therefore, for some media inaccuracies, has been the lack of precise answers or comments from the USG with reference to what Garwood or his attorneys have stated. Although government agencies, and specifically intelligence community organizations, will always be at a disadvantage in responding to unsubstantiated or inaccurate claims, due to the very nature of intelligence activities, a more deliberate effort must be made in the future to provide better and ore accurate public relations (PR) coverage to the media in general, and the public in particular.

More accurate PR coverage would have been especially meaningful in responding to Garwood's claim that he was treated differently from the POWs who had returned in Operation Homecoming in 1973.  USMC and USG documentation indicate that since Garwood continued to be listed as  a POW, he was to be treated in like manner.  Officially, at least, Garwood should have been treated like any other POW insofar as intelligence debriefings, legal and medical assistance, and resettlement to civilian life were concerned.

What transpired in reality, concerning Garwood's complete post-repatriation treatment, may never fully be known.  What is known from intelligence reports is that, in Garwood's initial debriefings by the USMC and Congressmen Wolff and Gilman ( on 29 March and 4 April 1979 respectively ), Garwood was asked several times if he know of any other live US POWs still in Vietnam.  When he indicated that he did not have any first-hand knowledge of any live Americans and that, indeed, he had not seen another American or even spoken English in 10 years, the debriefers assumed that Garwood would have no significant information of any kind to pass on to the USG.  Unfortunately, it seems that fact that Garwood had been a unique resident in a Communist country for almost 14 years was of no further interest to any intelligence debriefers, at least not at this time.

At a later time, there also were apparently no additional attempts to debrief Garwood by USMC intelligence officers or by any other USG intelligence agencies.  During the more than 18 months that Garwood worked as a file clerk at CAmp LeJeune, NC, according to Colonel (then CAptain) Joseph Composto, Garwood's first military defense counsel, no USMC or USG intelligence officers sought to debrief or interview Garwood.  Even if intelligence officers had attempted to debrief him, defense counsel Composto would have denied the request to do so; that notwithstanding, no evidence could be found from the official documents or records to indicate that any effort had even been made to debrief Garwood further.

Is is also regrettable that no additional USG attempt was made either to speak to or further debrief Garwood during this early post-repatriation period.  for eve if, as he stated, Garwood had no valid information on live US POWs after 1973, he certainly could have been able to give a special perspective on life in a Communist country where he had spent the previous decade and ore.

Other lessons to be learned from the Garwood case should include a recommendation that the Judge Advocate General ( JAG ) corps of all military services, as well as other personnel involved in the military justice process, note the legal highlights, maneuverings, and entanglements that were involved throughout the long trial and post-trial process.  A thorough examination of these criteria should help preclude any repetition of cases similar to Garwood's.

If, indeed, past is prologue, then a recurrence of a garwoodesque scenario should not occur since the USG will have learned the hard lessons which this case has provided:

    1. strong leadership, with respect to a required change in POW status, must be paramount;
    2. timely and definitive responses to media, concerning how and when a POW collaborated with the enemy, should be a part of a well-defined PR program;
    3. reasonable and realistic enforcement of the military Code of Conduct must be maintained if the Code is to be significant and effective;
    4. the USG should assign seasoned senior attorneys, with proven competence, to such cases of special sensitivity from the outset; and,
    5. strong and timely efforts must be made to fully debrief all returning POWs, collaborators, and defectors, at the earliest possible time, for complete intelligence reporting.

Careful study and analysis of the Garwood case should help the USG and the military services react more quickly and more dynamically to episodes of future POWs who do not understand that they are responsible for their actions and, as armed forces personnel, are military representatives of their country both at home and abroad.

Go to:  Section VI, Garwood's Alleged "Live Sightings"