Remembering Those We Left Behind
by Joseph D. Douglass, Jr.
December 18, 2002

As we prepare to send tens of thousands of young men into war against Iraq, it seems only fitting that we honor and remember those left behind in prior wars.

Navy Capt. Red McDaniel, who survived 6 years as a POW in North Vietnam, sums up the issue: "I was prepared to fight, to be wounded, to be captured, and even prepared to die, but I was not prepared to be abandoned."[i]

This is what happened to over 30,000 American servicemen, beginning in WW I and continuing through the first Gulf War. With the exception of the Gulf War, all were left behind in the hands of Communist regimes, whose brutality exceeded by any measure that perpetrated by the Nazis in World War II.

Little has been said by Washington officialdom to acknowledge the men left behind. An exception to the rule is Sen. Herb Kohl. After studying the evidence in 1992, he wrote: "This [Final Report of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs] demonstrates that the government has not kept its promises to those who served in Vietnam. Even more disturbing, is the evidence which suggests 'strongly suggests' that that the government failed to keep its promises to those who served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War as well."

What lies behind this embarrassing state of affairs is well-connected treachery and connivance. The directing forces are not easily pin-pointed. Col. Millard Peck, who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) POW/MIA office in 1989-1991, explained the problem: "The issue is being manipulated by unscrupulous people in the Government, or associated with the Government... [they] have maintained their distance and remained hidden in the shadows... this issue is being manipulated and controlled at a higher lever, not with the goal of resolving it, but more to obfuscate the question of live prisoners, and give the illusion of progress through hyperactivity... any soldier left in Vietnam, even inadvertently, was, in fact, abandoned years ago... the farce that is being played is no more than political legerdemain done with 'smoke and mirrors', to stall the issue until it dies a natural death."

Reviewing the Record

In 1920, shortly after WW I, Russia was hit by a devastating famine. Just prior, the Russians had denied holding American captives. When the Russians asked for food and medical assistance, a wise U.S. official gave them an offer they could not refuse: Release the American prisoners you hold and we will send you food. Russian officials agreed to return the men when the food shipments commenced. We started shipping food, and they released 100 men. Then, they stopped. Although many more were held captive, no more were released; but the U.S. continued shipping food, ignoring the Russian duplicity. The official position adopted by the State Department was that no American servicemen were still held captive. This was a blatant lie.

Following the victory in Europe in 1945, both Presidents Roosevelt and Truman sent directives to U.S. command in Europe that said there would be "no criticism of treatment [of American POWs] by the Russians" and that there would be "no retaliatory action to Russian failure to cooperate," which referred to Russian failure to give the United States access to American POWs in the German POW camps the Russians had captured. As a result, only the 4,165 American prisoners were released, those from the one POW camp U.S. officials were "allowed" to visit (at Reisa). The 21,000 American prisoners in the remaining four German camps taken over by the Russians were abandoned to the Russians. They were put on trains and shipped to Russia to lives worse than death. Records were then falsified by U.S. and British intelligence (31,000 British POWs were also abandoned) in an effort to hide what had happened.

Following the Korean War, Col. Philip Corso was on Eisenhower's White House staff. He was in charge of the POW issue. In Senate and House hearings in 1992 and 1996, he explained how Eisenhower made the decision to leave the missing American POWs behind after he, Corso, had explained to Eisenhower that thousands were missing, that US intelligence knew that hundreds had been shipped to Russia and China, and that achieving their return would be difficult.

U.S. policy was clear, Corso explained: "We couldn't put pressure on the Soviet Union or the satellites, we couldn't" they had our prisoners and we couldn't put pressure on them. That was it. Our policy forbid us from doing it. If you did it, you were disobeying national policy." In implementing this policy, U.S. executive agencies -- State, Intelligence, and Defense -- subsequently denied any American POWs were left behind. This is still taking place today.

In 1973, at the time of Operation Homecoming following the end of the Vietnam War, President Nixon was told by Secretary of Defense Laird's point man on the POW issue, Dr. Roger Shields, "Mr. President, we, we do have two missing for every man who did come home." President Nixon said, "Right," and then changed the subject. U.S. policy issued the following day by the State Department said that no American captives remained in Vietnam.  President Nixon said all our men in Southeast Asia were now home. Both statements were lies.

Vietnam remains a bitter example of our government's failure to honor its commitment to those who served our country. There has never even been a full accounting of those missing. The official numbers of those missing are only about a third of what they should be. Thousands of the missing are not counted, including special operations forces, military deployed in civilian garb, those listed as killed-in-action-body-not-recovered who were not killed but rather captured, intelligence operatives and administrators, State Department and AID employees, civilian contractors, and even many so-called deserters who were missing -- not because they deserted but because they were captured as in the case of Bobby Garwood.

Similarly, there has been no attempt to identify or count those captured during the 40-year Cold War. These missing Americans should include not only those captured while on missions in or over enemy territory but also the hundreds if not thousands of men and women who were abducted in neutral and friendly countries and then drugged and taken away behind the Iron and Bamboo curtains. These captives may number in the thousands, but no one in Washington has cared enough to even try and add up the totals.

 U. S. Government Cover-up

Government officials have lied about those abandoned, hidden information, swept live sighting of POW information under the rug, and ordered people who knew what happened to remain silent. First-hand experiences of government deceit and duplicity are legion and documented by nearly every investigative reporter who became interested in the POW issue. One by one, dozens of investigators have become enraged as they witnessed first hand how the government ran roughshod over honor and principle, and over many of the investigators.

In all cases, the official government position, or policy, has been that no men were knowingly left behind and, thus, none will be found. This is why so little has been accomplished in the $100 million per year search for bones. This archeological search remains a living example of Col. Peck's illusion of progress through hyperactivity.

At the same time, the unofficial word has been, "Sure we left hundreds behind, but what do you want us to do, start another war?" Or, "Sure there are hundreds still captive, but we cannot say anything because it might mess up our efforts to try and get them back." Or, "Please do not go public with what you know, it might make matters worse for those still help captive." Or, as President Reagan told one of his senior staff, now a member of Congress, "We know that there are hundreds of POWs still alive. But these guys are leading very different lives. They have local wives and we just don't want to shed light on them at this point."[ii]

A Particularly Heinous Example

One of the most deplorable, yet representative, examples is what happened to Bobby Garwood, who was captured when on a mission for a U.S. general in intelligence. He did not return from the mission, which was only a week prior to his scheduled return to the States. When he did not return he was simply listed as a deserter. Evidently no one wanted to tell what really happened and explain why he was sent into a known hostile region without an armed escort. Later, U.S. intelligence painted him a deserter and instigated a special forces mission to assassinate him. Fortunately, it was not successful.

When informed in 1978 that Garwood was still a prisoner, the State Department discarded the message. Only when Garwood managed to get a second message out in 1979 was he released. He managed to slip a note to a Finnish executive who was in Hanoi. The Finn made the note public and Garwood was released to avoid the embarrassment. Upon his return, the Marine Corps put him on trial for behavior unbecoming a prisoner of war and seized all his back pay. Then they rigged the trial and prevented those who could attest to his prisoner status, such as the former North Vietnamese official Col. Tran Van Loc, from telling the truth at the trial.

Former POW Col. Ted Guy later explained, "Garwood had to be discredited so that he would not be believed." Among other things, Garwood had personally witnessed roughly 100 American POWs still in captivity in Vietnam in 1979, as reported by the Wall Street Journal's Bill Paul in a feature news story in 1984.

The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Gen. Tighe, tried to stop the court marshal after Garwood was released. He believed Garwood was telling the truth and that Garwood should be carefully debriefed because of his valuable knowledge about missing Americans. But, no one else in the government wanted to know what Garwood knew, especially the Marine Corps brass. Later, after he retired, Tighe himself debriefed Garwood and attested to the reliability and importance of Garwood's knowledge. Then, the government did its best to discredit Gen. Tighe.

Not a nice story. But it is an excellent and representative example that accurately characterizes our government's handling of the POW/MIA issue for the past fifty years. When will it stop? Certainly not until the American people decide to bring it to an end and not let the government continue to obfuscate the question of live prisoners, create the illusion of progress through hyperactivity, and stall the issue until it dies a natural death.

What Happened to our Missing Men?

The efforts within all branches of the executive to attack information that men were left behind (that is, "debunking" live sighting reports and related intelligence) and especially information that describes the war crimes and atrocities the Communists have committed in their use of American captives has been especially disconcerting. In the process of diverting attention away from the full truth, numerous stories respecting the fate of the American POWs have been propagated. First, the men were sent to Chinese and Russia slave labor camps, or as referred to in Russia, the GULAG. This was the story before the full brutal nature of the Russian GULAG was revealed in several books.

Following the Vietnam War, the explanation quietly publicized was that those missing were only deserters who were now involved in the illegal drug trade and did not want to come home. On a more benign note, beginning in the latter days of the Reagan Administration the story was concocted that those missing had taken wives, were raising families, and did not want to return, or, as emerged during the first Bush Administration, were living nicely in Russia in make-believe American towns where they were helping to train Russian spies, such as is depicted in the novel The Charm School.

All these stories did contain elements of truth, but only a minimal portion. What they did not tell was the devastating part of the reality, which concerns. the scale and magnitude of the atrocities our abandoned American POWs suffered at the hands of the Communists. The brutal, repressive, and inhuman nature of the Communists leaders was well known, as early as the 1920s. This was not just the imprint of the Communists who seized control of the government but the combination of the Communist terror coupled with the Russian culture as handed down by leaders such as Ivan the Terrible and the intelligence services of the Czars.

Prisoners were tortured by the thousands. Even worse was the use of prisoners in medical experiments -- for example, the development of assassination techniques and work with chemical and biological agents -- that had begun at least by 1928. In the late 1940s U.S. intelligence knew that Russia deliberately built chemical and biological warfare laboratories near prisons and GULAG facilities to be near a supply of human guinea pigs. There was also intelligence on the shipment of American POWs to facilities where these experiments were conducted during and following World War II.

More details of the horrendous nature of the Russian experiments became known to U.S. intelligence, military, and political officials early in the Korean War, as Col. Corso testified to Congressman Bob Dornan's Committee in 1996. During the Korean War, Corso was on CINCPAC intelligence staff. His responsibility included obtaining intelligence on captured Americans. Corso explained, "I received numerous reports that American POWs had been sent to the Soviet Union. These POWs were to be exploited for intelligence purposes and subsequently eliminated."  He also told about medical experiments that were performed "Nazi style," about which he was particularly upset. "The most devilish and cunning were the techniques of mind altering... many of our POWs died under such treatment... I was getting reports that came from enemy territory in Korea, that they had some sort of a hospital up there... we sent out agents to try to get the information and I never did get much information on the hospital itself." I passed that [intelligence on the mind-control and other experiments] on to C. D. Jackson [a special assistant to President Eisenhower] and other administration officials when I was at the White House.

Shortly after the Senate Select Committee for POW/MIA Affairs was established in late 1991 to investigate the missing American POW/MIAs issue, information from a top-level Czech official who had defected to the United States in 1968 began to surface. This source, Gen. Maj. Jan Sejna, had been personally involved in sanitizing the Korean War hospital that Corso (above) had targeted in North Korea. Sejna explained that the hospital was built for the purpose of conducting medical experiments upon captured Americans. The Americans were used as guinea pigs to learn what high levels of atomic radiation did to the human body. They were used to test the effects of chemical and biological warfare agents and as expendable subjects in the development of an important new class of chemical warfare agents: psychoactive drugs for use in covert behavior modification and influence operations. They were also used as live cadavers upon which the military doctors could practice various operations such as amputations and organ removal, all without any anesthesia. Finally, they were used in graduated torture experiments to determine the limits of psychological and physiological "stress" the Americans could endure.

Several thousand Americans were killed in these experiments in the North Korean hospital. Their bodies were cremated. At the conclusion of the Korean War, roughly 100 Americans who were still of experimental value were shipped to Russia through Prague. The process continued in Vietnam. Czechoslovakia assisted the Russians in the development of chemical and biological warfare agents and psychoactive drugs and in the human experiments conduced in North Korea, and then Vietnam, Laos and Russia. Sejna himself was an eye-witness to 600 American POWs as they transited through Prague on their way to Russia. Sejna monitored the Czech participation and the operational results. (Extensive details provided by Gen. Sejna on the Soviet operations and development projects that used the American POW guinea pigs are now available in the book Betrayed: The Story of Missing American POWs, written by this author.)

Punishing the Messenger Who Brings Bad News

At the time his information began to surface in 1992, Sejna had a 20-year record following his defection in providing valuable information to U.S. and allied intelligence. The response of the various executive agencies was not to learn what Sejna knew. Rather, their response was to try and discredit him, silence him, and bury his testimony. CIA even told the Czech and Russian intelligence services what he was saying so that they could police up their own records and sabotage any sources that might confirm or extend his information. None of this was a case of examining what Sejna had to say and then rejecting it as not credible. No, in all cases none of those involved wanted to know. Their only mission was to silence Sejna and discredit him so that no one would get interested in what he knew.

There was one exception. In 1996, Congressman Bob Dornan asked Sejna to testify respecting his knowledge before Dornan's House committee, which Sejna agreed to do. This is when a 1992 DIA memo surfaced. It was signed by DIA director, Lt. Gen. Clapper. The memo stated that when Sejna's knowledge about what happened to American POWs began to surface in 1992, Sejna was subjected to a [4-hour hostile] polygraph, during which he "showed no signs of deception." Another internal DIA memo surfaced in which a senior official in the intelligence directorate of DIA offered to help debrief Sejna and corroborate his testimony. The official had worked with Sejna in the past on several projects, including one on international terrorism, and knew how open Sejna was and how valuable the information he had provided over twenty years had been. His offer, needless to say, was not accepted. Nor did Sejna hesitate in fulfilling his decision to testify before Dornan's committee about what he knew -- even after he was threatened three times that he would be killed if he testified. The last threat came before he left home on the very morning he was to testify. Slightly less than a year following his testimony, he was dead.

This, too, should come as no surprise. Only people who have tried to surface the truth have "suffered grief," as Col. Peck explained. There seems to be a succession of people who became warriors in the search for the truth only to have received numerous threats, lost their jobs, had their careers ruined, and ultimately become most disheartened and discouraged.[iii] Alternatively, never have any of those who lied, including under oath, blocked the release of information requested under FOIA, destroyed information and files, threatened witnesses, directed many with personal knowledge to keep silent or lose their jobs, and all the other nefarious activities encountered by the numerous investigative researchers ever been punished or held accountable. Only those who tried to get at the truth have suffered grief.

Even worse, it now appears that various efforts to find and rescue missing men have been carefully and consistently compromised, sabotaged, or simply cancelled. This applies to efforts during the Vietnam War as well as after. In his study of rescue attempts, Code-Name Bright Light, Jay Veith could not find one example where a prisoner was found and freed. What he found was tremendous problems in getting intelligence out of CIA, command lack of attention, and, most disturbing, compromise. Upon review, the long succession of failures underscores the comment a special forces major gave to Red McDaniel. Following a talk Red gave on missing POWs, the major and several members of his special forces team approached Red. "Someone in our government doesn't want those men to come home," the major quietly told Red. "In the past eighteen months we have planned two different rescue missions into Southeast Asia. We knew where the men were. We knew how many men were there. We were ready to go. We were excited about it. But, at the last minute, both times, someone cancelled the mission."

The Process Continues

Live-sighting reports and intelligence continues to indicate American POWs remain captive in North Korea, Vietnam and Laos, China, Russia, and Iraq. Those still missing and alive could number in the hundreds. Yet only one in Baghdad is acknowledged and his family went through a ten-year fight just to get his status changed from killed in action, body not recovered, to POW. [iv]

Every year more and more of the truth is surfaced as unwitting investigators become curious and, before they know what is happening, get emotionally involved because of the horrendous duplicity and deceit levied upon those who were called to serve their country and upon their wives and families. Each investigator has been able to recover a bit more of the truth and the evidence grows as the list of investigative books lengthens.[v] 
Today, the basic facts are in evidence:


thousands of Americans were abandoned,

this was not due to accident or lack of intelligence,

the men were subsequently denied,

information on their fate was buried or destroyed,

families of the missing men were lied to and stonewalled,

efforts to recovery POW/MIAs have been little more than a charade, designed to frustrate public and surviving family interest while waiting for the issue to die a natural death,

silence respecting the crimes of the Communists is carefully maintained, especially where economic interest might be adversely affected and,

never let the fate of servicemen left behind interfere with business and commerce.

At the same time, every year it has become increasingly difficult to capture serious high-level attention because of the growing fraternity of top-level officials who have become compromised, because of the devastating impact of the decisions to abandon the men, because of the experience and justified arrogance of the faceless army of bureaucrats who have maintained the silence, and because families and investigators have become increasing frustrated and distant from the suffering of those still captive, comforted by the belief that most are dead or living new lives with families and don't want to be disturbed.

The Trials Ahead

In the days following 9-11, we became awakened to a massive “new” enemy whose size is hard to judge because it is so diffuse, distributed, secretive, and because of the politics involved in trying to figure out what countries and leaders are for us, or against us, in the war. The war ahead will be long and difficult, as repeatedly all the war cabinet principals have made clear. With or without Iraq, and whether or not that war that is growing closer is a repeat of the first Gulf War or something disastrously different, the war will grow.

For the most part, the new Bush Administration in the war on terrorism has shown a determination to address problems that have been ignored for the most part for a good thirty years. President Bush certainly sees himself as a no nonsense, "can do" President. Thus, while it will be difficult because of the controlling bureaucracy, officials whose focus is on the developing war, and the long history of deceit and duplicity that no one wants to expose, there still may be a window of opportunity in which to encourage a change in our government's POW/MIA policy and attitude.

The issue of Scott Speicher and others missing from the Gulf War and those missing from Afghanistan is gradually gathering increased attention in the press. Additionally, the hard truth, as expressed by Sen. Herb Kohl in 1992 still holds: "If, after all, the government does not keep its promises, then why should our soldiers honor their pledge to follow orders, even at the risk of their own lives?"

Aside from the obvious need to find and free those still held captive, there is an equally compelling reason for re-assessing the whole POW/MIA tragedy. Navy Capt. Red McDaniel's wife in her book After the Hero's Welcome: A POW Wife's Story of the Battle Against a New Enemy has captured this reason, which Red understood so well:

"If our government does not keep its end of the bargain with our fighting men, it violates one of the principles that made America. We can have the biggest force in the world but we'll lose the battle if we lose our integrity. The POW issue is a question about the erosion of our country's fundamental values. The people Red McDaniel had talked with across the nation understood this and held fast to the same principles that had pulled him through the ordeal of Communist captivity. "Dorothy," Red said as he laid down in bed that night, "we have to keep trying to solve the riddle of the POWs. For the men in Delta, for all the others who still serve, who want to believe in their country, we have to keep trying."

Isn't it time for all Americans to stand straight and demand the full release of all information respecting the men we left behind? Isn't it time to make the finding and release of all those men who remain captive a task that is at least as important as finding, capturing, and bringing to justice those responsible for 9-11? Isn't it time to end the charade and false images of cooperation and for the American government to start keeping the promises it made to those it called to serve their country in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and, looking ahead, in the growing war on terrorism and terrorist regimes? Else, why would anyone want to serve?

What Can Be Done?

As with most other problems, the POW/MIA problem will not disappear with time. It will only get worse and the same practices will infect other issues.

It should be clear that the government, neither the executive nor the legislative branches, have done anything other than talk for fifty years and this will not change.

There will be no corrective action taken until the American public starts making their presence known. Abandoning those Left Behind will not stop until it is made an issue. Only the public can do this, the media will not do it until the public is "up in arms." This means that the public--you and I--have to start reading and learning about the issue.

Sit down and read one or two of the two dozen books identified in the footnotes. If you want a summary of the findings presented in these books, read Betrayed and then read some of the others to let the details and the deceit and duplicity of the government, both executive and legislative branches sink in.

Pick any of the books at random, they are all good. This is essential. Only in these books will you learn the truth about what has been happening since World War I. Nor will the full depth of the truth sink in until you have read several of the books, because they all come at the problem from different directions, different wars, and different backgrounds.

The rest is simple, pass your copies of several books to friends to read and then pass on to other friends. Encourage those you know in the news media to look into the story themselves. Those of you who are veterans, ask your service school libraries and bookstores to carry the books and feature some of them in a display. Tell your friends who are still in the service to read about what's been happening, especially with those who have children of draft age.

It really is up to all of us Americans. That's why this horrendous practice has been going on through five major wars: because the American public has not fought back. Indeed, that's why we have most of the problems we have today.

Dr. Douglass is a national security affairs analyst and author. His latest book, Betrayed: America's Missing POWs, is available through book stores (ISBN 1-4033-0131-X) or from the publisher at on the Internet or toll free by phone at 1-888-280-7715.
[i]  Sources can be found in Betrayed: The Story of Missing American POWs by Joseph D. Douglass Jr. 

[ii] "Reagan Admitted Hundreds of POWs Left Behind,", September 2002, p. 50.

[iii] This is amply documented in the works identified in note 5 below.

[iv] Quoting a Pakistani paper, a Russian paper reports that the number of Americans missing from the war in Afghanistan has just increased from 40 to 45 following the recent capture of five more American soldiers by the guerrillas.

[v] For a start, see Missing In Action: Trail of Deceit by Larry J. O'Daniel, "Robert Garwood Says Vietnam Didn't Return Some American POWs" by Bill Paul in Wall Street Journal, 60 Minutes, "Dead or Alive" produced by Monica Jensen-Stevenson, We Can Keep You Forever produced by Ted Landreth, A Chain of Prisoners: From Yalta to Vietnam by John M. G. Brown and Thomas G. Ashworth, Kiss the Boys Goodbye: How the United States Betrayed Its Own POWs in Vietnam by Monica Jensen-Stevenson and William Stevenson, An Examination of U.S. Policy Toward POW/MIAs by Foreign Relations Republican Staff, The Bamboo Cage: The Full Story of the American Servicemen still held hostage in South-East Asia by Nigel Cawthorne, After the Hero's Welcome: A POW Wife's Story of the Battle Against a New Enemy by Dorothy McDaniel, Missing in Action: The Soviet Connection produced by Ted Landreth, Americans Abandoned produced by Red McDaniel, Numerous Newsday articles by Sydney H. Schanberg, Soldiers of Misfortune: Washington's Secret Betrayal of American POWs in the Soviet Union by James D. Sanders, Mark A. Sauter, and Cort Kirkwood, Moscow Bound: Policy, Politics and the POW/MIA Dilemma by John M. G. Brown, The Men We Left Behind: Henry Kissinger, the Politics of Deceit and the Tragic Fate of POWs After the Vietnam War by Mark Sauter and Jim Sanders, Last Seen Alive: The Search for Missing POWs from the Korean War by Laurence Jolidon, Left Behind and One Returned radio interview tapes produced by Dr. Stanley Monteith, The Medusa File by Craig Roberts, Leading the Way and Everything We Had by Al Santoli, Why Didn't You Get Me Out by Frank Anton, Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam by Monika Jensen-Stevenson, Code-Name Bright Light George J. Veith,: One Day Too Long: Top Secret Site 85 and the Bombing of North Vietnam by Timothy N. Castle, Trails of Deceit by Larry O'Daniel, Korean Atrocity: Forgotten War Crimes by Philip D. Chinnery, Left Behind and One Returned radio interview tapes produced by Dr. Stanley Monteith, and Betrayed by Joseph D. Douglass, Jr.

Reprinted with permission ©2002 Joseph D. Douglass, Jr.

Joseph D. Douglass, Jr., Ph.D., is a defense analyst, author of The Soviet Theater Nuclear Offensive and co-author of CBW: The Poor Man’s Atomic Bomb and America the Vulnerable: The Threat of Chemical and Biological Warfare. His most recent books are Red Cocaine: The Drugging of America and Betrayed: The Story of America’s Missing POWs.