At the end of Operation Homecoming in the Spring of 1973, 2,646 Americans did not return from Southeast Asia -- they were "unaccounted for." (See below for a discussion of the number 2,583.)
UPDATE: As of early 2015, the Defense POW-Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) is now the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). In mid-2016 DPAA changed the format used in reporting the current status of the effort to account for Americans missing in SEAsia.
Current Status of Unaccounted-for Americans Lost in the Vietnam War per DPAA reporting
Since then, 1,032 have been "accounted for" by (1) recovering and identifying remains; (2) returning alive * ; (3) recovering the remains of several individuals as a group whose remains are not separately identifiable.
Currently, 1,606 Americans are "unaccounted for" in Southeast Asia:
These figures were last updated on :
July 20, 2017
Note 1: Of the Americans missing in Vietnam (North and South), 470 are in a "non-recoverable" category. This means that as a result of rigorous investigation, we have conclusive evidence the individual perished, but do not believe it possible to recover his remains. On rare occasions, new leads can arise that bring a case back to an active status.
* Did Americans really return alive after the end of the war? Yes. I may not have them all listed here, but the ones that I remember are:
Robert Garwood: USMC; returned in 1979, convicted of collaboration.
Douglas Beane: USMC; in the brig in Saigon, went to hospital, escaped; got phony R&R orders, went to Australia, lived there until 1986(?) when he turned himself in to US Embassy, Australia, and came home. Charged with desertion, charges dropped.
Veto Baker: Army; deserted in 1972; lived with his Vietnamese common-law wife, avoiding arrest by US forces. In November 1975, Vietnamese picked him up, turned him over to Red Cross, sent him back to US.
Large number of Americans, Brits, Aussies, a Greek, and other nationalities who were arrested at various times (1973 to the present) for various reasons in Vietnam, Laos, or Cambodia. They were charged with smuggling, violating territorial borders, and other common crimes. Imprisoned and later released.
By comparison, over 78,000 are missing from World War II and over 8,000 are missing from the Korean War. Consider these facts:
The number 2,583 "missing" at the end of the war is somewhat misleading. At the end of the war, there were 1,095 men whose status was Killed In Action/Body Not Recovered (KIA/BNR). This designation means that these men died but their bodies could not be recovered. In these cases, there were eyewitnesses to their loss and/or search efforts that determnined that these men were dead and could not be recovered. Thus, there were really only 1,488 men who could have been considered "missing." It was only after the end of the war that these two categories -- KIA/BNR and missing -- were combined, primarily for political reasons to make the number of missing appear higher, thereby increasing public interest in the MIA issue.
Finally, there is another number that must be dealt with.
The Department of Defense publishes a listing of Americans who were prisoners and missing in Southeast Asia. The version that I have is dated March 1995; I do not know if a later one has been published. The document is entitled U. S. Personnel Missing, Southeast Asia (and Selected Foreign Nationals), Alpha, Chronological and Refno Reports. The document is not classified and is available by writing or calling the Defense Prisoner of War and Missing Persons Office.
The document contains the name of every American who was ever missing or captured in Southeast Asia listed alphabetically by last name and chronologically by date of loss. The document is also a REFNO listing. Each loss is identified by a reference number -- REFNO -- that identifies the loss and the individual in it. For example, if there were two men in a lost aircraft, the loss incident might be REFNO 1234. One guy would be 1234-01 and the other 1234-02.
Now, this document lists 3,753 names. This brings up a question: If there were 2,583 missing at the end of the war, 591 returnees at Homecoming, fewer than 100 early releasees and escapees, that only adds up to 3,200 and something. Where did the other 500 or so come from? There must be some hidden POWs somewhere. Or, at least that's what several MIA "activists" have told me. They use the 3,753 number to "prove" that the "government is lying."
Not so fast. The document in question contains, not only the names of POWs and MIAs, but it also contains:
When these names are added to the U.S. servicemen, the number in the list reaches 3,753. So, as with everything else that the "activists" claim, there is nothing to it. The number 3,753 includes more than just American sservicemembers lost during the Vietnam War.