Let me first tell my personal background with this book's subjects: Ted Schweitzer and the Vietnamese records on Americans who fell into their hands.
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In working to determine what happened to missing men, and in trying to find missing men, we knew all along that the answers did not lie in Washington. Those who claim that American POWs were abandoned in Vietnam or elsewhere and that there is some sort of cover up to hide this abandonment would have one believe that all we need to do is open up the "secret" files in the Pentagon and the answers will spring forth. Nonsense. We knew all along that the answers lay in Southeast Asia -- on the old battlefields and in the records and memories of our former adversaries, principally the Vietnamese. When I was chief of the DIA POW-MIA Office, the dilemma we constantly addressed was how to gain access to those records.
We had seen tantalizing evidence. From time to time, the Vietnamese would turn over to us various items that could only have come from the pockets of missing men: identification cards, maps, family photos, and the like. However, when we asked the Vietnamese officials for more, or asked them where they got these items, they provided useless non-answers.
After General John Vessey was appointed by President Reagan as Presidential Emissary to Hanoi on the MIA issue, we would brief him on various matters, answer his questions, and provide him with material. Vessey would often ask us what he should talk to the Vietnamese about and what he should try to get from them. We told him time and again of our belief that there were Vietnamese records that we needed to see. He asked for proof; we had only analytic conclusions; he wanted hard evidence. He was prepared to play hardball with the Vietnamese but he had to have ammunition.
We devised all sorts of schemes, including trying to recruit a Vietnamese official as a spy. Enter Ted Schweitzer. I had met Ted in 1987 or '88. He headed a humanitarian organization that collected surplus medical equipment and supplies that he took to Vietnam as contributions. His humanitarian work had gained him a degree of entree' into Vietnam. I had told Ted about our need to get into their archives; he asked a few questions but that was about the end of it.
In 1989, Ted came to my office in the Pentagon, having just returned from a trip to Hanoi. He handed me two rolls of film and told me that these might be of interest. I had the film processed and called Ted back to explain to me what he had photographed. Ted had photographed the Vietnamese archives.
Ted claimed that he told the Vietnamese that he wanted to write a book about the American POWs from the Vietnamese perspective and asked them if they could help him with some documents and facts. They told him that they could do so but he would have to pay for their time for file research. He agreed to this and they came back the next day with the documents that he photographed.
The photographs showed a large -- approximately 5 x 8 inches -- " index card" with notations on it. It was a listing of what they had recovered from a crash site from which Americans were missing. The top of the card had a number, date, and location. Listed on the card were descriptions of items with a serial number assigned to each one. (For example, the card may have been numbered 1234. Item 1234 - 1 was an identification card; 1234 - 2 was a map; 1234 - 3 was a photograph; etc., etc.) He was also shown -- and photographed -- identification cards of Americans (some whose bodies had been returned, others who were still missing), family member photos, paper money, and all sorts of other artifacts that clearly had been recovered from Americans -- dead or alive.
Ted said that the Vietnamese told him that he could have access to their records for his research. The rest of the story is in the book.
When you read Hanoi's Secret Archives, you need to be aware of one thing. The subject -- Ted Schweitzer -- has an elevated view of himself. Also working in Hanoi was a Defense Intelligence Agency researcher, Mr. Robert J. (Bob) Destatte. Ted did not care for Bob; Bob tolerated Ted, mainly because of Ted's self-serving attitude and his unprofessional behavior. In the book, Ted is portrayed as a hero and Bob as a villain. Bob Destatte is a hero of the highest order. Also, in the book are some photographs that Ted pulled out of the Vietnamese archives. Some of these are misidentified. I do not know if the misidentifications are on purpose or are simple errors. For example, one of the photos is identified as the wreckage of a F-111 from which the crew is still missing. In fact, it is the wreckage of an F-111 from which the crew was captured and returned in 1973.
In spite of these errors, and the overblown portrayal of Schweitzer, the book is a valuable contribution to Vietnam era POW-MIA literature. As a result of Ted's work, the US gained access to the Vietnamese archives. Since the early 1990s, US researchers have lived and worked in Hanoi, searching wartime records, interviewing former Vietnamese military personnel, and otherwise searching records that contain information about Americans lost in Vietnam.
From this archival research, we have found -- and continue to find -- answers to the fates of missing Americans. Read this book in conjunction with Paul Mather's history of accounting efforts, M. I. A.: Accounting for the Missing in Southeast Asia.
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