MAJ Mark Smith's Claims:
He was the commander of the US Army Special Forces Detachment - Korea (SFDK).
SFDK had the mission of conducting secret POW rescue missions in Southeast Asia.
On one or more trips to Thailand, Smith learned of the location and condition of US POWs and was planning to rescue them when his operation was "shut down," he was shipped back to the States, and was booted out of the Army.
All this happened to him because there is a vast conspiracy to cover up the presence of US POWs in Southeast Asia.
Major Mark Smith was caught at the confluence of several forces, some of which were out of his control. However, he contributed greatly to his own collapse. To understand that happened to Smith, we need to look at:
Smith's military service
The post-Vietnam Army
Special Forces Detachment - Korea, and
worldwide reorganization of the special operations forces.
Mark Smith enlisted in the Army in 1963 and was promoted to sergeant in 1964. He was a Special Forces soldier. As the Vietnam War expanded, there was a real need for small unit infantry commanders -- second lieutenants, first lieutenants, and captains. Smith was one of many hundreds of sergeants -- E-5 and E-6 -- who were commissioned as second lieutenants. Some of these men were sent through Officer Candidate School while others were directly commissioned -- general officers in certain positions can grant direct commissions in which a solider can be directly commissioned as a second lieutenant. Smith was commissioned in Vietnam in 1968; he claims that he received a "battlefield commission." Same thing, "battlefield commission" sounds better than "direct commission."
In 1972, Smith was an advisor serving with Vietnamese units at the district capital town of Loc Ninh, in the northern part of the III Corps area of the Republic of Vietnam. During the Easter Offensive of April 1972, major North Vietnamese units attacked exposed ARVN positions; Loc Ninh was one of these and, after a major battle, PAVN overran the ARVN position. The other US advisors were either killed or wounded and Smith took over, directing the defense of Loc Ninh until he, too was overrun and captured. He received the Distinguished Service Cross -- the second highest award for valor -- for this action. Smith was taken to a POW holding camp across the border in Cambodia where he was held with other US POWs; they were released in February 1973.
After the end of the Vietnam War, the US military began to reduce in size -- known as a "reduction in force" -- RIF. I am not certain what the other services do or did, but the Army went through RIFs after WW II, Korea, and Vietnam. It's a simple matter: after a war, there is no longer the huge need for people and units thus the service must look at the people on active duty and decide who stays and who goes.
I was a field artillery officer and, upon my return from Vietnam in 1970, I transferred to Military Intelligence. I was sent to the MI school at Fort Holabird, Maryland. In late 1970, the Army started a RIF -- there was no doubt that the US would leave Vietnam, that the Army would need to reduce in size, and the RIF was underway. In a RIF, there is always a debate about keeping people with a lot of combat experience but not much else. The bottom line is that there are guys with both combat experience, college degrees, and a record of success in both combat and non-combat assignments. When RIF boards look at records to decide who stays and who goes, the guy who has only a combat record does not have much of a chance -- especially if he is an officer with no college degree.
Upon his return from captivity in February 1973, this is the situation Smith was in. He had no college degree and he had no experience as an officer in non-combat assignments. Normally, he would have been RIF'ed -- I had several classmates at Holabird who were exactly like Smith: good young sergeants, direct commission, only service as an officer was in combat -- every one of them was RIF'ed except for one who had three years of college -- the army sent him to college to complete his degree. Later, when I was assigned to the Engineer School, 1971-1972, there were a lot of engineer officers who were RIF'ed because they were helicopter pilots -- that's all they had done and there was a huge surplus of helo pilots -- it may not sound fair and it's tough on everyone but that's the way it's done. Smith was a prime candidate for RIF except for his POW experience -- that kept him on active duty.
In late summer 1986, Senator Frank Murkowski held hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee's personnel subcommittee. Murkowski was investigating Smith's claims that he had been tossed out of the Army to cover up his discovery of US POWs in Southeast Asia. To that end, Murkowski summoned asked Army personnel officials to review Smith's personnel records and come testify. A colonel from Army personnel command testified as to what happened to Major Mark Smith:
Smith was not a college graduate but he was a returned POW. His record was such that he would likely have been RIF'ed in the mid-1970's; his service as a POW saved him.
Smith was offered the opportunity to complete college on the Army's "bootstrap program." On that program, he would remain on active duty with full pay and benefits and would be assigned to go to school at any college where he could be admitted. He would use his VA education benefits and would be given whatever time he needed to complete a degree. Smith declined
Because he was not a college graduate and because of his limited background (spent solely in small infantry and special forces units), he was not selected for the Army's Command and General Staff College. ( Annually, the Army selects 600 - 700 majors to attend CGSC, a Master's-level school at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Completion of CGSC is mandatory for promotion to lieutenant colonel. ) Because he was not eligible for promotion to lieutenant colonel, Smith was retired after he completed 20 years of service. Furthermore, Army personnel presented statistics to Murkowski's committee showing that Smith was not treated any differently from others in his situation.
Thus, Smith is not telling the truth when he claims that he was tossed out of the Army because he was about to blow the lid on the conspiracy to cover up the presence of US POWs in Southeast Asia.
Smith's claims as to his experiences in the Special Forces Detachment - Korea (SFDK) are equally bogus. He was assigned to SFDK in 1982. The commander was LTC Bob Howard, a Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam. Howard had serious personal problems involving his family and his drinking. Howard was serving an unaccompanied tour in Korea -- that means his wife and family were back in the States and there were some family problems. Howard had developed a drinking problem and his family separation made things worse. He was sent back to Walter Reed for treatment of alcohol abuse and Smith became the acting commander SFDK.
Smith's tenure as acting commander SFDK was marked by the near disintegration of the detachment. Army Brigadier General Leuers (I forget his first name) oversaw the SFDK and had considerable experience with Smith. Murkowski had Leuers testify before his committee and General Leuers described how Smith spent too much time chasing around Thailand and not enough time running the detachment in Korea.
In response to one of Murkowski's questions, General Leuers described how Smith had been assigned to a staff liaison role during a joint US-Korean exercise. He stated that Smith was totally incompetent to serve in this position -- which should have been a piece of cake for a captain -- and he was relieved of the position in an exercise!! When Murkowski asked Leuers to comment on Smith, Leuers stated: "He was a good soldier but not competent as an officer."
SFDK was required to maintain training in tropical operations; for this reason, troops from SFDK went to Thailand on training missions with Thai Special Forces troops. On some of these trips, Smith encountered the usual phony stories, dogtag reports, and other scams that center on missing Americans. For background on these phony stories, read these articles: "False and Misleading Reporting," the "live-sighting reports," and "selling the bones." Basically, Thailand was the location of several refugee camps housing people who fled from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The rumor in these camps is that if you have information about missing Americans, you will be rewarded and will be issued a US visa. Spurred by this rumor, a cottage industry has developed among the refugees involving phony POW reports, animal bones, fake dogtags, fake photos, and the like. Smith collected some of this information.
SFDK had no mission to collect information on US POWs in Southeast Asia, other then the general mission that every soldier has to report information of interest. After one of his trips to Thailand, Smith prepared an "operations plan" and an "operations order" for a POW rescue mission. He typed it himself and presented it to General Leuers who testified that he tore it up and told Smith to pay attention to the SFDK. Smith spreads around copies of this "plan" and claims that it was a top secret plan that was squelched as part of the cover-up.
When Smith returned from his various training missions to Thailand, he turned in his POW information to the 501st Military Intelligence Detachment - Korea. The 501st sent the information to the Defense Intelligence Agency where it was recognized as bogus reports, most of which had been hard time and time again. Smith was told that the reports were bogus -- but that did not deter him.
In the late 1970's -- early 1980's, the Department of Defense turned its attention to its special operations forces. Previously special ops mission,s organization, training, and deployment had been based on the WW II experience of behind-the-lines operations in Europe and the Pacific. Prior to -- and to some extent, during -- the Vietnam War, US Army SF units were populated largely by émigrés from Eastern Europe. Their mission was to be prepared to go back into Europe, behind Soviet lines, and help liberate the oppressed peoples of Eastern Europe. As time went on, their mission evolved into one of training indigenous forces in nations faced with insurgencies. Coming out of Vietnam, one of the questions was the future of special operations.
The re-focus and re-organization of US special operations forces in the 1980's is a matter of record. Here, it is sufficient to say that the Special Forces detachments were re-organized, missions were realigned, and personnel were moved around in some instances.
In Smith's case, it all came together in 1985:
he had completed over 20 years of service; he was not eligible for promotion to lieutenant colonel and that promotion is mandatory for continued service much beyond twenty years;
he had no college degree, was not a CGSC graduate, thus, his future in the Army was zero;
Special Forces were being reorganized, including the SFDK, and he was essentially out of a job and a career. He returned to the Sates and retired in 1985.
In September 1985, Smith and a former SF sergeant, Melvin McIntyre, filed suit against various US government officials, claiming that they had conspired to suppress evidence of US POWs. The defendants were President Reagan, SECDEF Weinberger, SECSTATE George Schultz, DIA Director Leonard Perroots. This suit became a classic in the MIA cult gospel and it eventually attracted a who's-who of MIA "activists." Eventually, the suit was dismissed but it is still considered gospel in MIA cult circles.
In January 1986, Smith appeared before a Senate committee claiming that he had positive proof of US POWs in Southeast Asia. He never produced the proof and things mounted to a climax in a June 1986 Senate hearing where Smith produced some National Geographic maps with most of the major towns of Laos circled and three photographs. The photographs depicted three Caucasians standing, smiling, on a river bank. The men were dressed in typical casual clothes and in one photograph they were holding weapons. Senator Alan Simpson had had enough and exploded, denouncing Smith's "evidence" as "pretty light-weight stuff" (a conclusion that everyone else had reached also).
That was about it. Smith's "evidence" was shown to be nothing, McIntyre distanced himself from Smith, and Smith moved to Thailand where his military pension allows him to live comfortably -- along with other income he generates from scamming would-be "POW hunters." ( In her book, Prisoners of Hope: Exploiting the POW/MIA Myth in America, author Susan Katz-Keating does a fine job of laying out the details of Smith's 1986 attempted scam. )
The following is snipped from the previously-quoted interview between Smith and Reed Irvine.
He formerly headed a top-secret Special Forces unit based in South Korea, that in the early 1980's was tasked to search for American MIAs in Southeast Asia.
We met Smith when he was in Washington to speak at the annual conference of the National Alliance of Families, headed by Dolores Alfond of Bellevue, Washington. Her brother is an MIA. Both Smith and Alfond appeared on our TV show.
Smith's efforts seemed about to bear fruit in 1983, when he was promised the release of three Americans.
Then superior officials whom he cannot identify
intervened, and he was abruptly stripped of his assignment and forced out of the army on
Disgusted, he moved to Bangkok, Thailand in 1985 and has been trying to do on his own, what his government refuses to attempt.
That about sums up Mark Smith's claims. All bogus, all fairy tale.
Mark Smith has his own web site, and a real thing of beauty it is. On that site are articles that, I assume, are written by Smith. I managed to read most of them although while reading I spent a lot of time ROTFLMAO (that stands for "Rolling On The Floor Laughing My Ass Off") at Smith's claims. One of my favorite parts of his site, though, is Smith's claim that he was Bo Gritz's case officer from 1980 to 1984 while Gritz was working for the DIA on MIA missions.