What Did They Know
|The two crewmembers of an F-4 ejected when their aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam. Both landed safely and were in radio contact with rescue forces. Because of heavy anti-aircraft fire, they could not be rescued and, after about 24 hours, they were no longer on the radio. What happened to these men? Were they captured or were they killed evading capture? It was not until the early 1990's that definitive evidence was obtained proving that these men were indeed shot and killed while evading capture.|
|The pilot of an F-105 ejected when his aircraft was hit. His wingman saw him hanging, motionless, in his parachute as the chute descended and landed. The man lay on the ground and did not move. Enemy troops were seen dragging the parachute, with the US pilot still in the harness, into the woodline. What happened to this man? In the late 1980's, his remains were returned -- he had died in the ejection or in his landing.|
Over 450 Americans were "missing" in Laos at the end of the war and only nine US POWs who had been captured in Laos were released from Hanoi. US officials had expected more men to return as POWs from Laos. ( For a detailed discussion of Laos, see this article. ) Thus, there were questions as to the fate of Americans lost in Laos and there was concern that some of them may still be prisoners.
As one would expect, relations between the US and the North Vietnamese were tense, unfriendly, and filled with suspicion. After all, we had just left without a clear victory. After the North Vietnamese conquest of the south in 1975, we were humiliated and angered and the atmosphere between our two nations was poisoned. We looked at the North Vietnamese as barbarians capable of unspeakable crimes.
The feelings of hatred, mistrust and suspicion were mutual. For years after 1975, refugees from the former Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) continued to come to the US where many of them formed emigre organizations that pledged to overthrow the communist regime in Vietnam. The ruling communist party believed that the US government supported these groups and they were convinced that we were attempting to overthrow them. In international bodies, we opposed all proposed aid and assistance to the Vietnamese.
The atmosphere between our two countries was poisoned with neither side trusting the other -- vestiges of these attitudes remain to this day (June 2001).
Add to this mixture of uncertainty and mistrust the impact of reports coming in from various sources claiming that US POWs were being held in Vietnam, Laos, or Cambodia. Many of these stories sounded legitimate and only after thorough investigation were they found to be bogus or mistaken identity.
For example, there is the "Tell the world about us" tale. In the late 1970's -- I do not recall the date -- a Swedish engineer who had been working on a road project in northern Vietnam surfaced with a compelling story. He claimed that he had seen a group of Caucasian men being used as forced labor on a road project -- one of them had shouted to him "Tell the world about us!!" This story -- which first surfaced in a Hong Kong bar -- flashed around the world and raised the question as to who or what did this man see. As it turned out, he saw a group of former South Vietnamese military officers who were being forced to labor on public works projects in the north. None of them had spoken to him, though some had waved at him -- he had told the straight story and it was embellished by his comrades as they told it.
With this background it is clear to see what is going on here. Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, Assistant Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, Henry Kissinger -- all of them know the above information. The prudent, responsible, and logical conclusion for them to reach was that it was possible that US POWs were still being held in SEAsia. They had no proof or evidence of who, where, how many, and why, but they could not ignore what they knew at the time.
Thus, when one asks these men -- who held their positions in the 1970's -- what they knew about US POWs in SEAsia, they respond -- prudently and logically -- that they had reason to believe that US POWs were possibly still being held. In view of what they knew and when they knew it, this is what they should have concluded. They had no specific evidence of who, what, when, where, and how many, but in light of what they did know, they could not rule out the possibility.
Today, when the MIA "activists" cite remarks by these former officials, it is important to remember that you are hearing hearing opinions formed 20 or more years ago. We know much more today than we did then and the conclusions are much different today.
Since 1973, we have learned volumes about the fates of missing men and it is clear that those who did not return in Operation Homecoming (or the few who were released or escaped during the war) all died in their loss incident, died in captivity, of died evading capture. If you did not return at Homecoming, you were dead. (There were a few exceptions -- see this article for examples of those. ) What have we learned and how have we learned it?
|Returning prisoners were debriefed as to their knowledge of missing men.|
|Intelligence collection aimed at SEAsia continued.|
|The hundreds of thousands of refugees coming from Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia were screened for knowledge of missing Americans.|
|US organizations and officials maintained contact with the Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians and were able to return remains of missing Americans and learned the fates of many missing.|
|Since the late 1980's:|
|Every piece of evidence collected during and since the war is reviewed time and again.|
As a result of all this work, we know much more now than we did at the end of the war, in the 1970's, and even up into the early 1990's. This is a fact that the MIA "activist cult" does not want to recognize. They prefer to live in the past -- they prefer to trot out statements made by senior officials who did not know what we know today. These men were not fools or liars -- they were simply stating what they knew at the time -- and time has moved on.
William Casey served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1982 until his resignation in 1987; he died shortly after he resigned. In early 1987, former Congressman Billy Hendon and his henchman Congressman -- now Senator -- Bob Smith -- requested a meeting with Casey. Hendon had one of his bogus MIA sighting stories and he was trying to interest Casey in some sort of CIA covert action. According to other CIA officers who were in the meeting -- and with whom I spoke a few days later -- Casey was polite, asked Hendon to turn over his information, and the agency would review what Hendon had. What he had was typical of the bogus stories that floated around the refugee camps in Thailand.
After Casey's death, Hendon went public and claimed that Casey had said to him and to Smith: "We left them (US POWs) there and everyone knows it."
This claim by Hendon has become a staple on the MIA "activist" list of claims. It is bogus. Casey never said such a thing -- he did not even come close. Then Hendon emerged with this tale -- AFTER Casey was dead. Casey's executive assistant was in the meeting and, as usual, took notes. Not a single one of the CIA officers in the meeting heard Casey say such a thing and the notes of the meeting do not reflect such a comment. It's all a Hendon lie.
In conclusion, the MIA "activist" crowd will continue to tell us that Kissinger said this, Schlesinger said that, Casey said something else and that proves we left men behind. Not so. These men were speaking based on what they knew at the time -- except for Casey about whom Hendon made up a lie -- they did not know what we know now.