MIA Facts Site

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

  Vietnam Laos Cambodia China Total
Original Missing 1,973 573 90 10 2,646
Repatriated and Identified 728 288 42 3 1,061 (1)
Remaining Missing 1,245 285 48 7 1,585

Since then,  1,061 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, 1,585 Americans are "unaccounted for" in Southeast Asia:

bulletVietnam:   1,245
bulletNorth Vietnam : As of August 2016, DPAA is no longer listing as "North Vietnam" or "South Vietnam -- only as "Vietnam."
bulletSouth Vietnam :
bulletLaos :  285
bulletCambodia  :  48
bulletChina (territorial waters)  :  7

These figures were last updated on :  December 04, 2020
Figures include 468 at sea or overwater losses

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.

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By comparison, over 78,000 are missing from World War II and over 8,000 are missing from the Korean War.  Consider these facts:

bulletThe missing in Vietnam are slightly more than 3 percent of the over 58,000 casualties suffered by U.S. forces in Vietnam.
bulletIn WWII, the 78,000-plus missing represent over 14 percent of the casualties.  Remember, WWII was worldwide and included many naval and air engagements; if a destroyer or cruiser was sunk, several hundred men would be lost.   No such incidents occurred in the Vietnam War.
bulletIn Korea, the over 8,000 missing represent approximately 14 percent of the casualties.  A large percentage of the "missing" in Korea were actually buried by U.S. forces in battlefield gravesites or in temporary cemeteries, which were later abandoned when Communist forces drove south.  Many of these gravesites are in North Korea.  And, over 800 unidentified Americans (10 percent of the missing) are buried in the Punchbowl National Cemetery in Hawaii.

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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.

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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 namesThis 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:

bulletThe names of civilians -- American and other nationalities -- who were arrested or detained in Vietnam, Laos, of Cambodia.  For example, the list contains the names of:
bulletAlan Dawson, journalist who remained behind when Saigon fell.   He later left Saigon for Thailand.
bulletFourteen Americans and Filipinos who were captured by the North Vietnamese in the Central Highlands in March 1975, moved to Hanoi, then later released
bulletAmericans, Brits, Aussies, and other nationalities who were arrested for various crimes such as smuggling, violating territorial waters, entering the country illegally, etc.   Individuals in this category were arrested in Vietnam, Laos, or Cambodia as recently as the late 1980s.  Examples are:  (1) Sterling Brian Bono, an American who was arrested by the Cambodians for illegally entering Cambodia in May 1987; and (2) Donna Long and James Copp, a couple of MIA "activists" who were duped by Ted Sampley and found themselves on the Lao side of the Mekong River in October 1988; they were arrested and held for several weeks in a local jail.
bulletThe names of servicemen lost in 1975 in the Mayaguez rescue attempt.
bulletNames of foreigners who were of interest to the U. S. government, such as Chaichan Harnavee, a Thai, and several South Korean diplomats arrested when Saigon fell.

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.