The Sources of Mythlogy
Summary. The case of the loss of CDR Donald Hubbs, USNavy, is often cited by members of the MIA activist cult as proof that the U. S. government knew that men who were in captivity in Vietnam were abandoned and remained in Vietnam after the war. In this case, a member of Hubbs's family claims that he is depicted in a photograph taken during the war and that information collected by U. S. intelligence indicates he was still alive years after the war ended.
None of these claims is true. This article relates the facts of the
case and illustrates how a myth is created and how it continues to live.
The Facts of the Case
The case of Navy CDR Donald Hubbs is often cited by MIA activists as proof that Americans, known to be alive, were abandoned in Vietnam. Let us review the facts of this case. This case has a little something for everyone and it illustrates the range of information that must be dealt with and how that information is collected and analyzed.
CDR Hubbs was the pilot of an S2E with a crew of four, lost over water off the coast of NVN during a surveillance mission, March 17, 1968. A wide-ranging SAR mission was launched with no results; SAR units did observe fishing boats in the general area of where the S2E was believed to have gone down. A piece of wing, possibly from an S2E was recovered, but never able to prove the source of the wing. Within a few weeks of loss, the crew's status was changed to KIA-Body Not Recovered. This was never a MIA case and DIA did not open a file on it; just maintained a few papers giving the basics of the loss.
Now, let me digress and describe two groups of photographs and films: the Hanoi Parade and the Christmas Parties.
The Hanoi Parade
On 6 July 1966 the Vietnamese lined up the US POWs in Hanoi and marched them through the street, complete with screaming crowds lining the streets, to a stadium in Hanoi. Why? Not certain but it was a bleak time in Hanoi and maybe the Vietnamese thought they needed a public display to keep up morale. The parade almost backfired. The Americans in the parade reported, after their return, that they were very frightened as they were paraded through the streets that the crowd was going to go wild and kill them. Most of the returnees also reported that the guards were as frightened as they were as the crowd got more and more out of hand. Eventually, they made it to the safety of the stadium and the Vietnamese did not try that trick again. The parade was photographed, both still pictures and movies, and the photos and movies were shown around the world. We were able to identify some guys from the photos and movies. There were some men in the photos who could not be identified because of shadows, hidden faces, poor quality picture, whatever. But, when the returnees came home, they were shown piles of photos, including the parade photos and every man in the parade has been identified by others who were there and every man in the parade photos returned. That is, a returnee would look at a photo of the parade and say: "I am the guy in the middle and the guy to my right whose face is partially hidden is XXX and the guy behind me is . . . ."
The Christmas Parties
For several years, the Vietnamese gave Christmas parties that US POWs were forced to attend. The parties were complete with tree, presents, carols, religious services, etc. And, photos and movies were taken and shown around the world as proof of how humane the Vietnamese were. We identified men from the photos. Some could not be identified but, after Operation Homecoming, the men in the photos identified everyone. None of the men pictured in the Christmas party photos is missing -- they all returned.
So, what does this have to do with CDR Hubbs?
A member of his family has picked out a man in one of the photos (either the parade or the party, I do not recall which) and claims that that man is Hubbs. This is the source of the claim that Hubbs was photographed in captivity. The man alleged to be Hubbs is not. I do not recall who he is but the man claimed to be Hubbs is a returnee who has been identified by other returnees and who has identified himself. There is no photograph of CDR Hubbs in captivity. ((Am I not attacking a family with this statement? No. During the war, we would collect photos, mostly photos shown in various world press that were distributed by the Vietnamese. If we could not identify the photos, we would send them to the services who would show them to family members. Virtually every photo had many positive identifications attached to it. I recall one photo where 21 different families claimed the same photo to be their missing family member. When the POWs came home and the men in the photos identified themselves, this individual was not one of the 21, in spite of the fact that members of 21 different families all said this was their man. What would I do if my son/brother/father were missing and I saw a photo? I would probably see him, too.))
Now, The Story Gets Weird
In the mid-1980s, a source reported to DIA that he met a man who had met a Montangard from the Dalat area who met an American who gave him (the Montangard) a piece of paper with the name Donald Hubbs written on it. The American with the paper is supposedly Hubbs and he is working in a factory in Dalat with 13 other Americans. And, there is an address written on the piece of paper that is Hubbs's wife's address -- but it is the address to which she moved AFTER he was lost (How would he know that address?).
We used "intelligence sources and methods" and determined that there is not / was not a factory in Dalat with 13 -- or even one -- American employed there. There are, however, a couple of other twists to this tale.
Sometime circa 1973, Hubbs's wife had run ads in a Saigon publication seeking information on her husband. Those ads listed her name and address -- the same address that showed up on the paper seen by the Montangard. Also, in the early 1970s, she had written letters to her husband in Vietnam, after his loss (No, this is not strange. There have been other family members who continued to write to their missing man in care of the Vietnamese government.). Those letters presumably would have had the address.
Thus, the fact that someone had -- or claimed to have -- a piece of paper with the wife's previous address on it is not remarkable. Our source indicated that he was a bit uncomfortable with this whole story, as we were. You see we had clear, convincing evidence of several Vietnamese intell operations that were set up to lure in US sources. Following the fall of Saigon, the government was paranoid about US CIA and SF stay-behinds, US efforts to infiltrate units back into country, etc., etc. They were convinced that we were coming back in. And, when you look at the activities of pro-South Vietnamese "resistance" groups, some operating out of the US, they had some reason to worry. Anyway, we were convinced that a certain percentage of the "live sighting" or "live American" reports were floated out by the SRV intell services to see if we would send in a controlled agent or a recon team or someone that they could bag. If they could catch a US agent nosing around, what publicity they could get off that!! They never caught us but they kept floating out stories that they thought we would bite on. This caper had something of a bad odor to it.
Back to the story
Since the early 1990s, we have had Americans stationed in Vietnam, going through their archives, interviewing wartime eyewitnesses, etc. Bob Destatte was by far the most competent of these. We have learned a lot about the Vietnamese record-keeping system.
The Vietnamese Records of U.S. Losses
One of the sets of records we have found -- and these are not in one place -- they seem to be scattered around at province and district level -- are documents that have long columns with details of US aircraft losses. The sheets are divided into columns where, neatly written, is date, time, place of loss, type of aircraft, how it was downed, and what happened to the crew -- body destroyed, captured, buried, died and buried, whatever. As we study these lists, we find some interesting entries. For example, there are lots of cases where they list a US aircraft loss with the annotation the the body or bodies were recovered and buried. In fact, these men's bodies were returned by the Vietnamese and some of them showed signs of storage (see my article on the mortician). We conclude from this that they buried these guys, went back later and exhumed them then turned them over to the mortician for processing, then returned them to us. In other cases, there will be annotations of bodies buried but the remains have never been returned. What has happened? Did they lose these guys? Could they not find the graves when they went back to look? Are they recovered and still in a warehouse? Did someone make a wrong entry? Is he still buried out there where we could go recover him?
These cases are known as the Special Remains Cases and we have raised these with the Vietnamese time and again. Somewhere down the line someone apparently knew enough about this man to note that his remains were destroyed, or buried, or whatever. We want to see the backup documents -- where is the report from which this compilation was made? Maybe those documents (if they still exist) will tell us where he was buried or give us the name of an eyewitness who determined that his body was destroyed or give us something other than a simple annotation "body shredded," "buried," or what have you.
Hubbs's Name Appears in the Records: Body Destroyed
That's the end of the tale.
You will read in other places -- other websites, MIA activist literature -- the claim that Hubbs has been identified in captivity, he was known to be alive, etc., etc. None of this is true. The photo claimed to be Hubbs has been identified and it is not he. There is no photo of him. The story that popped up in the Central Highlands can be attributed to either a SRV attempt to lure in a US agent, or some information sourced to the wife's 1973 ads, or both. The appearance of his name on a remains list in Vietnamese archives indicates that someone had some knowledge of his loss, at least enough to determine "remains destroyed."