Examining the Myths of the Vietnam War
SESSION 14 (Transcript)

POW/MIA Issue -- Fact Fiction and Spin

Jay Veith: Good afternoon everybody. We are going to do the POW/MIA session little differently. We are not going to have a formal presentation and Bill and I thought about this a long time. What I want to do is to sort of introduce myself and introduce Bill and he has some remarks and then we’re going to throw it open to more Q&A. Of all the issues in the Vietnam War probably none are emotional, more charged than the POW/MIA issue and probably none have more mythology surrounding it and trying to cover all the different myths that pertain to the POW/MIA issue in the short time that we have would be virtually impossible. So, what we hope to do was sort of talk from Bill’s perspective as one of the senior US Government officials on the issue for many years and myself a sort of a scholar on the issue and talk about it and then hope to really throw it up on you guys and answer any questions you might have and hopefully will spark a discussion and learn from it from that way. As opposed to try and give you another powerpoint at 3 o'clock in the afternoon when most of you are half asleep. So by way of introduction, my name is Jay  Veith, I am the author of a book called Code-Name Bright Light which is a history of the US POW rescue efforts during the Vietnam War and this is Bill Bell who was the first Chief of the US POW/MIA office opened up in Hanoi in May of 1991. We have just recently published Bill's memoir which is in the back entitled Leave No Man Behind: Bill Bell and the Search for American POWs in the Vietnam War.

Let me give you a quick background on Bill. Bill was a young infantryman in the Central Highlands in 1966 and he learnt Vietnamese. He went to Vietnamese Language School in Hawaii and became very fluent in the language. He also learnt Montagnard and eventually Lao and Thai also and a smattering of Cambodian. Because of his language skills in 1967 he transferred into the Military Intelligence Branch, worked in the Interrogation Centers in Saigon and the Chieu Hoi Center and the CMEC Department and also helped blunt the VC attack against Bien Hoa Air Base by helping to translate a document when captured talked about the attack, the Tet attack against Bien Hoa. Bill then spent years working after 1973 in the JCRC which was the follow on unit to the Joint Personnel Recovery Center which was the unit attached to US military to continue to search for American POW/MIA. Bill was also the translator for some the American officers who actually physically went to Hanoi to receive the American POWs in February and March of 1973 and then Bill returned to Hanoi as the Chief Translator of the Four-Party Joint Military Team in 1974 and Bill was actually there at the very fall of Saigon. Bill actually went with Harry Summers up to Hanoi in the C-130 to receive the last [word] from the Politburo of Americans getting out and he was on the roof of the embassy in April 1975 and Bill was actually the last officially assigned American to get into helicopter on the roof of the embassy that morning. The Marine Guard was the last guy, but he was the last officially assigned American and then by an odd turn of fate the first officially assigned American to go back to Vietnam as a Chief of the US POW/MIA office that was opened in Hanoi. In those in between years, Bill served as a Chief Field Investigator going around the refugee camps in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines interviewing boat people who had come out of Vietnam about the POW/MIA issues. So you have someone who has tremendous amount of institutional knowledge about the issue and myself who has a lot of book learning on it. So, having said all that again our goal here is to talk generally about some myths about the issue; We also Mike Benge here and Roger Hall, acknowledged expert on the issue, and again I hope there to sort of go over a few things generally and then start opening the questions and talk about it and answer any questions. Thank you very much.

 

Bill Bell: Before we dispel the myths on POW/MIA, I think it is important that we try to get the best historical perspective on the POW/MIA issue in general and the turning point as far as I am concerned in the handling of the POWs and the importance of the issue actually came about at the end of World War II. Prior to that the general policy was to capture enemy personnel and prevent them from contributing to the war effort, to deny the number of personnel. At the end of World War II, Communism began to become organized as a pretty vast system throughout Europe and Soviet Union was formed and the Independent Republics became part of the Soviet Union as well as the some of the other countries like Poland, East Germany and soforth and then we had the cooperation of the Communist Party International which included cooperation between the Soviet Union and Communist China, North Korea, North Vietnam and that point is the start of the Cold War. The first Cold War period where we had large numbers of POWs captured of course was Korea, which I consider as the first battlefield of the Cold War. We had some 8000 men who were still missing at the end of that war and some 369 men who were last known to be alive and actually in the physical custody of Communist forces who to this day have never been returned. The second battlefield of the Cold War was Vietnam. I do not think that Vietnam was a separate war per se, I think it was just another battlefield of the Cold War and perhaps the most import myth that I would like to dispel in establishing this historical perspective regarding the POW/MIA issue was the myth that says the United States lost war in Vietnam because if you listen to the media the media will tell you that Korea was a stalemate. Korea has been portrayed in the media as the first stalemate by US Military Forces in any war and Vietnam has been portrayed as the first defeat. But if you look at the statistics, you can see that as a result of the effort made by American veterans and the Vietnamese veterans, our South Vietnamese allies, the Australians, and the Thais and the South Koreans, (ROK’s) Republic of Korea. As a result of our Veterans' efforts in Vietnam, today one quarter of the population of the earth and I am speaking of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Brunei, one quarter of the population of the entire earth, is living freely under elected government. That was a very significant contribution I think. If you consider that we did not have any territory in Vietnam with the exception of may be 12 pieces of diplomatic property, of course we lost some of that diplomatic property in 1954 when we withdrew our consulate from the North, but other than that diplomatic property that we had in Saigon at the Embassy and a couple of other pieces of property, may be in Dalat belonging to our cultural organization, we really did not lose any territory in Vietnam. If we talk about casualties, we suffered 58,000 dead in Vietnam War and it is a tragedy if even one American serviceman or woman is killed in battle, I admit that. But in the case of Vietnam, we had 58,000 casualties whereas the Communists have recently admitted that they suffered 1.3 million casualties and our Allies, the South Vietnamese suffered 225,000. So if you look at this statistics on casualties there is no possible way anyone could say that we lost a war in Vietnam. Aside from the casualties, the Soviet Union provided a great deal of support for North Vietnam during that war and at the same time supported revolution throughout the world, especially in countries like Cuba and North Korea. As a result of that support to the North Vietnamese during the war and the other countries and during bombing in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union suffered economic collapse. It is obvious to me that the Vietnam War played a significant role in bringing that about in the Soviet Union and the economical collapse of the Soviet Union brought about the disbanding of the Communist Party. In the POW/MIA issue, we often hear myths that some people were POWs of the Viet Cong. Other people were POWs of the NVA or the North Vietnamese Army, that in itself is another myth because there is no difference between what we call the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. If you look at the word Viet Cong, you are looking at a term derived from two words, “Vietnam” and “Cong San” which means “Vietnamese Communists” and if you have a soldier in the North Vietnamese Army, what Americans would call the North Vietnamese Army, if he is a member of the Lao Dong Communist Party at that time or what is now the Vietnam Communist Party, he would be a Viet Cong even if he was in a North Vietnamese unit. But the truth is the North Vietnamese Military personnel began to come down into South Vietnam at the end of 1959 and at that point the military served under what was known as the Central Office for South Vietnam which was code named R, which was nothing more than a forward operating base of the Polit Bureau in Hanoi and what was called the Viet Cong at that time was actually North Vietnamese Regular Military units that were trained in the early 60s and moved down the Ho Chi Minh Trail beginning in 1963 and 1964 in large numbers. At that point they were establishing companies. In 1964 and 1965 they went to battalions and regiments and finally up in 1970-71 when they were operating own division type base but these were all Communist units from the People’s Army of Vietnam and, technically speaking, it does not matter if that person was in the Mekong Delta in the Military unit or if he was in Hanoi in the Military unit, he is still a member of the People’s Army of Vietnam, no matter whether he is a Northerner or Southerner.

One popular myth that goes around to the POW/MIA community is that there was a concerted effort on the part of United States Government to cover-up the POW/MIA issue in Vietnam. I believe this is a myth and as some of the people who came up today and spoke indicated it was a matter of incompetence plus the chaotic withdrawal that we made in 1975 that did not allow us to follow-up on the information plus a general lack of interest in anything that had to do with Vietnam after 1975. After 1975 people began to look towards the Middle East or the other parts of the world and, if you worked for the government whether or not you are military or a civilian, the message was clear that if you want to have a career working for the US Government forget about Vietnam and move on to some other area.

Another myth [is that] large numbers of US POWs were left languishing in caves or in detention facilities when we pulled out of Vietnam. Most of those reports have been proved to be unfounded. The reports that are still under investigation are reports that may have had some merit, had to do with a small number where people were seen in caves or in detention facilities but not large numbers such as that myth would suggest.

Another myth was that the family members of the POW/MIAs try to keep the issue alive so they could continue draw benefits. They are certainly not true because a person who had someone become missing in the family, relative, a father, a son, they continue to draw benefits just like anyone else. If that person worked at Sears or J.C. Penny or Best Buy if he was disappeared or was killed or missing, they would continue to draw those same benefits. The only difference was if military personnel or civil service personnel had enough time in for retirement, their relatives would continue to draw survivors’ benefits if they were eligible but that is the same case today even in peace time.

Another myth is that there was a secret returnee program similar to the witness protection program in which large numbers or small numbers of Americans were surreptitiously removed from Vietnam and other countries and move back into the United States. This is definitely a myth. I know we have people who went out of Vietnam through Sweden, through Japan who went to Canada and later under President Carter they were given amnesty and they came from Canada back into the United States. In many cases no one knows where these people were or no one really accounted for their time, but this was not a secret returnee program and this secret returnee program is similar to the rumors that we used to hear back during the war that some men who had contracted these exotic diseases were being kept on ships, held offshore, not allowed to come home, which also proved to be a myth.

Another myth, this particular myth pertains to a Presidential Candidate right now, Senator John Kerry, and, according to what has been published in the media as a result of his service on the Senate Select Committee as Chairman, Senator Kerry resolved the POW/MIA issue. This is definitely a myth because we still have over 1800 men missing in Vietnam and Senator Kerry really was not involved that much in Korea or our previous wars.

Another myth is, and this is partially true and it is not a complete myth that US Veteran Service Organizations support the POW/MIA issue. In my opinion the American Legion has perhaps the strongest program on POW/MIA. Some of the other organizations have created foundations to provide aid and assistance to the Vietnamese but that aid and assistance goes only to the Communists. Some of the artificial limbs, prosthetic devices that are taken to Vietnam in the form of assistance from Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and others goes only to Vietnamese Communist Veterans and the most of the veterans organizations that collect money to arrange to go on trips to Vietnam, don’t even bothered to meet with our former allies, nor have they demanded the Hanoi government afford those people who fought on our side the status of veterans. They are not even considered as veterans. Their children are discriminated against in education, their relatives or wives are discriminated against in government employment and this myth will remain until the members in the Veterans Organizations demand that the leadership start showing some respect for our former allies.

Another myth is that the Vietnamese Communists have afforded the United States government superb outstanding cooperation on the POW/MIA issue. This is not just a myth, it is a farce. Because we know that they have warehoused and stored remains. They have not been honest with us in the past and even today they charge us large fees for any cooperation that we get from them.

Another myth is that the POW/MIA issue is a humanitarian issue. This is a myth created by the Vietnamese and it is a humanitarian issue for the Americans, for the American government and for the American people but it’s not for the Vietnamese Communists.

Another myth is that the Communists, this was created by Hanoi that the Communist had a lenient humanitarian policy of treatment for US POWs. We have Mike Benge sitting right here, a former POW, and he can tell you it was not very lenient, not very humane treatment that he received and that goes for the other POWs as well. We had one case where a young man Larry Aikin was being kept in the hospital -- probably used for blood transfusions since the Communists did not have refrigerators and electricity -- along with another American POW named John Sparks. John Sparks is still missing. He was also being used for, -- no doubt -- we confirmed that he was being used for blood transfusions but when a US raiding party raided this particular hospital, John Sparks was ambulatory so he was moved off into the jungle [and] hidden until the raid was completed but the other gentleman, Larry Aikin, a young PFC, US Army, because he was non-ambulatory in a hospital bed, the political officer gave the order to execute him and they chopped him in the head with a machete and he was comatose. He was rescued and brought back to United States but he died about 10 days later and he never regained consciousness as a result of their lenient humanitarian policy.

Another myth is that the Communists did not warehouse and store remains and this myth has been dispelled by a mortician who defected to the United States back in 1979. This gentleman provided very accurate information indicating that over 400 US remains had been collected and stored beginning back in the early 1960s, 1964. They preserved in inventory, and cataloged, photographed, and stored in a warehouse. We have since had remains returned exactly in the same type of boxes that were described by our sources, metal boxes. The remains or condition were exactly as described by the sources. The mortician has passed successfully two polygraph examinations. He has been debriefed by US forensic experts who testified that he is in fact a mortician as he claims to be. The number of remains I have indicated with scientific evidence with preservation and storage are about 60% of the remains that were processed. So that this means that Hanoi could at any time if they chose to do so, deliver to the United States a substantial additional number of human remains of our servicemen. 60% of the remains that were preserved and processed over 400. Only about 60% of those have thus far been returned.

Another myth was that US POWs were interrogated only by Vietnamese interrogators and this is a myth because, as Mike Benge knows, Cubans were brought into Hao Lo prison in North Vietnam and are allowed to interrogate American prisoners. We have since learned that the KGB also had direct access to several American prisoners. We know that we had a substantial number of American prisoners moved from the Hanoi area up to an area on the Chinese border in a place called Bo Giuong – It’s up near the border of China. The Americans call that particular camp “Dogpatch” and it is very likely that Chinese interrogators were given access to Americans at that point but this has not yet been determined nor do we understand the reason why these people were removed up near the Chinese border unless they were concerned that we might try another raid such as the failed Son Tay raid, in 1970. Regarding the Cuban interrogators, according to the Vietnam, the myth that Communists have created was that this was nothing more than an English language training program for the Cubans to learn English. Actually it turns out that this program was a program to gain information not of technical value or strategic value or tactical value but for information of propaganda value. The Vietnamese knew far in advance that they would sit down and negotiate with us in June of 1968, May or June, I cannot remember the exact time frame but they knew that they were going to meet us at the negotiating table. They wanted to go into the negotiations from a position of strength. To support that effort they wanted a good propaganda program on an international basis, so they sent the Cubans to Vietnam in 1967 up to just prior to the Tet Offensive and the information that they gained was used for internal distribution in order to motivate the other Communist countries to support Vietnam during the 1968 Tet Offensive, which was successful as far as propaganda. Also the Vietnamese made another strategic decision to attack and annihilate Lima Site 85 in Laos which was a radar site that guide our bombers because they knew once they pulled off the Tet Offensive we would resume the bombing which had been halted prior to that. So it was an orchestrated effort with propaganda by the Cubans from the National Liberation Front Foreign Representative Office in Havana, Cuba. This is where most of the propaganda was emitted from.

Another myth is that Everett Alvarez was the longest-held American prisoner. Actually the longest held American prisoner was Colonel, at that time I think he was a Captain, Floyd Thompson. He was shot down in an OV-1 aircraft in western Thua Thien province very near the border of Laos in early 1964, some months prior to Everett Alvarez being captured in the North. Colonel Thompson was held in a camp inside Laos in the Ban Tai area, Phou Khoi Mountain until he was released in 1973 and I think he is recently deceased.

Another myth is that all of the US POWs were returned in Operation Homecoming. In fact, at Operation Homecoming, and I was there, February or March 1973, Mike Benge was there, we received 591 Americans out of almost 3000 that were unaccounted for at that point in time. A few days after Operation Homecoming concluded we received one additional prisoner that was captured in Mekong Delta, Captain Robert White and the Vietnamese used him as an elaborate ruse in order to get some of their key personnel out of Saigon, in order to get a US C-130 Aircraft to take General Tran Van Tra who later on came back to command the Final Offensive in 1975, but that was his ticket out of Camp Davis from Saigon and be able to go back to Hanoi was to take that American prisoner back on the 1st of April 1973.

Another myth, Vietnam is a first war where the US Government forces had no one crossover to the side of the enemy. Actually we had several people crossover. Some to a large degree and some not to a large degree. I think Robert Garwood is probably the most famous. He was captured in 1965. He eventually joined the People’s Revolutionary Party in South Vietnam and he became a lieutenant in the Communist forces. Some other people were captured and actually tried to escape and changed their mind later in the same camp as Robert Garwood and we have other people who were said to be deserters but we have not talked to them because they never returned and it is impossible to tell whether or not they were deserted or whether this is another ruse on the part of the Communists.

Another myth in the Vietnam War, Americans were captured through combat action rather than terrorism. Actually the Communists had terrorists units, but rather than call them terrorist units they referred to them as special action units. We had cases where female doctors, nurses, maintenance people, civilians working on volunteer projects where Christian Missionary Alliance working to help leprosy patients on medical missions and so forth were taken in the middle of the night, abducted, murdered, executed, and buried and we still have not recovered them to date. In addition, we have some 20 US military personnel and civilians who were lured to capture by Communist agents in the Danang area alone. There were incidents throughout Vietnam but the highest number of these incidents occurred in the Danang and I think we will find out eventually that the reason so many of these incidents occurred in the Danang area because they had a Vietnamese-American Association there in Hoi An and in China Beach R & R Facility where these people could be contacted and I do not think it is coincidence that the interrogator and interpreter at the camp where Garwood was held learned his English at the Vietnamese-American Association in Hoi An. The 525 Military Intelligence Group was responsible for gathering information on US POWs/MIAs in the Danang area and since the war ended we found out that the man who rented the 525 a house to establish their office there to look for this POW information, the man who rented them the house, was actually the indoctrination officer in the POW Camp for Military Region 5 and that is ironic because evidently he knew exactly what was going on all the time. Do we have any more myths, Jay.

 

Jay Veith: We are going to talk about Vietnamese Communist POW policy and how to it applies today and going into more detail about, I can make it two political lists session but Senator Kerry is current presidential advertising in which he claims to have solved the POW/MIA issue. Anything else Bill?

 

Bill Bell: No.

 

Jay Veith: I just will give you a little bit of background. During the war we captured dozens of their policy level documents and interrogated dozens of prisoners on their specific POW policies and they were quite clear in their intent on what they intended to do. They wanted to capture American POWs for propaganda purposes, to be able turn them. It was sort of an ideological thing for them where they wanted to capture American POWs and indoctrinate them into communist philosophy, release them back out into the world where they could then back to the home country and spread communist propaganda, become sort of a Fifth Column for them. That was one of the ideological goals. In terms what they wanted to do or what they were trying to achieve was they had the two-fold policy, one was live POWs could be used for diplomatic confessions. Being able to get American troops to withdraw or whatever ever purpose they served but they also had another part of the policy of less well known, that with use of remains, personal effects and another materials like that, that could actually answer the question as to what happened to someone's son or brother or father and they could use those remains or use of personal effects to gain economic concessions or a host of other things. The POW/MIA issue had evolved into on the Communist side is a moneymaking operation the Peoples Army of Vietnam and the Communist Party. So what happens is that they dole out remains, they dole out information, too often on a periodic basis in the hope to keeping us engaged that we will begin to spend money in their and the money that would actually was spent in terms of landing fees we had pay, and paying for their teams and stuff, actually goes into the coffers of the Communist Party. It is a moneymaking operation the fund the activities of the Communist Party. The US Government and the Communists agreed to open up a US POW/MIA Office in Hanoi in May 1991. Bill was appointed to be head of that. Shortly thereafter, several very famous photographs appeared in the newspapers one of the picture of three people who were supposedly three fliers down in Laos and huge hubbub occurs in the press and the Senate drafts and creates Senate Select Committee to investigate the POW/MIA issue again after a House Committee that happened in 1976. Because the Democrats are in charge of the Congress at that time, Senator Kerry for various reasons has chosen to head that Committee. Now the initial hearing that they held which Bill testified at when they asked a series of panelists whether or not they in fact believed American POWs were held back by the Vietnamese after the war? Bill in fact was asked that question and answered in the affirmative created a firestorm and it’s time again to go on and began investigate deeper and deeper and deeper into issue and finding more malfeasance in the US Government department who were actually in charge of investigating the issue. Senator Kerry began to believe and began to push for he wanted to open up diplomatic and economic relations with Vietnam and the only thing standing in the way of doing that was the POW/MIA issue. So therefore he had to downgrade the issue or change the focus of the issue away from the larger issue whether or not alive Americans were still over there or had been held back in 1973 to one where the Vietnamese were superbly cooperating and therefore President Clinton could then continued to lift the embargo, opened diplomatic relations with them and move forward. In conjunction with Senator McCain whose rationale for doing this remains a mystery to most people since he was a former POW, Senator Kerry has now characterized and has continued to characterize the Vietnamese cooperation since 1991 along with Senator McCain answer a high level people in the US Military as their cooperation with us has been superb and everything it possibly be. Nothing could be further from the truth but this is basis upon which Senator Kerry now pronounces in his television advertising that he has solved or resolved the POW/MIA issue. In fact all that we have done is expanded investigations into those crash sites or investigations into a man missing on the ground which by itself is laudable but is not solving the issue. All that is stringing the issue out because it’s a moneymaking operation for the Vietnamese and, on the US Government side, the bureaucracy has now become jobs for life. So the impetus to actually solve the issue in a timely manner is not there and so what is happening is the issue continues to be manipulated in the capitals of Hanoi, Washington, Peking, Moscow and other places because there is no great desire to see any truth uncovered as to see precisely what happened to many American soldiers. Because what happened is there are instances we have discovered, not we but investigators, where American people were captured and held off-line and then used for interrogation on various things. They were trying to understand who we worked as a culture, and they could use those information how we worked as a culture what made us tick as American and develop propaganda themes for that. So beginning from the war the Vietnamese had a very clear-cut policy of using American POWs for propaganda themes, for getting diplomatic concessions with live POWs and economic concessions with remains, dog tags, identification [media], answering what happened to that particular family. Because there is one US Government official once said there is nothing worse for us in terms of dealing with North Vietnamese on the issue as having a 1000 housewives constantly pestering us as to what happened. They knew it is not something that we could walk away from. They have continued to dole out this information over time in a very calculated manner. Senator Kerry has now commented that despite his knowledge of this effort by them, knowledge of this policy by them, he has completely brushed that aside and, instead, lauds the Vietnamese for their "superb cooperation" which enabled President Clinton to lift the embargo, open diplomatic relations, etc. Whether or not you accept those two goals as perhaps higher goals for US foreign policy to link it to cooperation on the POW/MIA issue (superb cooperation is completely false) and that is one of the main myths we want to dispel today is that Senator Kerry’s advertising again makes it political on the issue is not only false but blatantly false and misleading. I hope that quickly summarized to you at talking point understands. Anything else?

 

Bill Bell: Yeah, I just like to add that, I think it is important that we understand that the manner in which the Vietnamese have addressed the POW/MIA issue with us is nothing more than historical repeat of their experience with the French. When the French pulled out in 1954 they worked with the Vietnamese in places like Danang and all the major cities throughout Vietnam to jointly recover remains of French personnel killed during the French war in Indo China. The French as of 1958 realized that they were being taken advantage of the program was being exploited and they pulled out and went home and let the Vietnamese do the job unilaterally. The Vietnamese bailed the French on an annual basis a substantial number of French francs every year which finally at the end totalled over a billion dollars over 25 or 30 year period. In 1986, the French received some 24,000 remains which were exhumed, loaded on ships, and transferred back to France. Plus the cemeteries that the French maintained in the larger cities, the Vietnamese needed flat level land for their satellite system to be hooked up both for the Russian and the Australian satellite systems and they made a deal with French to excavate all the French graves and when the French excavated the graves then the land went back to the Vietnamese government for the purpose of communication satellites that was mutually beneficial deal for both parities but the Vietnamese made a substantial amount of money off the French and it was very important to them in 1954 because their economy was a basket case. It was equally important when we began to work with the Vietnamese again on this issue in 1981, 1982, because they had just experienced an attack from China and invasion on the northern border from China, their aid from the Soviet Union had been cut off because the Soviets were having economic problems and the Vietnamese were in dire straits but the amount of American hard cash dollars that we paid to them over the years beginning in 1981 and 1982 timeframe up until present has substantially helped their war effort and their effort to run their government on a daily basis.

 

Jay Veith: We wanted to sort of explain everyone on the surface the POW/MIA issue seems simple. People die in war. They go missing, you cannot recover them. Without going to great specifics here, we can only tell you from our position as having studied the issue for longtime that this issue is extraordinarily complex and when I have asked people often say were live Americans held back in 1973 or the live Americans today that while probably most important support issue is the only one among many. The intelligence on this is not black and white. It is multiple shades of gray. It is not something that is easily explained to somebody. It is not something that you can easily pickup. There is a lot of history to this and it is all wrapped up in not just, you know, as a prisoner held over here, get him, was release him out, bring him back, all wrapped up in the whole national security policy United States vis--vis Vietnam. It has a deep impact on the Paris Peasce Accords. It has a deep impact on the American Policy towards the Vietnam for 30 years and has a continuing impact today and what happens with the POW/MIA issue is not as I said not just, you know the simple fact that are there live Americans or you know what happens in war is the horrible things, let’s move on. It goes deeper than that and it is intertwined within US policy because of the Vietnamese policy of using American live POWs or their remains and effects for propaganda purposes, as a moneymaker for them for using them as concessions in their negotiations. That is sort of a broad overview in a very simplistic one but I want you to understand the sort of overarching theme that is not just people dying or they go missing or are there live Americans. There is much more to it than that.

 

Bill Bell: One of the key areas in this issue to me is the 305 last known alive Americans who were in most cases in the physical custody of Communist forces and in order to understand the frame of mind of some of the people who are missing loved ones if we use an example a Member of Congress in Washington DC, like a Member of the House or Member of the Senate, if they had a child arrested by the Washington DC Metropolis taken to a detention facility and then after several days of not hearing anything about the status of their child and if they went there and asked to see the child and were told I am sorry we do not have him but will find out and then after several more days of waiting still no information and asking for records and we are told that we had a fire and the records were destroyed or termites ate the records and if they received that kind of response they would not tolerate it and the families of our missing men they feel the same way but the Vietnamese had custody of these people and we have absolute proof that they were in their custody. We have photographs in some cases where they were in custody and now they were telling us that we lost this individual or he died and we lost his remains or the termites ate the record, this is just not adequate information.

 

Roger Hall: [Unintelligible] ___________________ on the US Government confronts them and they severely confront them sometimes. They still put up the point that if they press them too hard the government is going to shut down if they found anything and there is a real concern there. As an example, it does not contradict what I just said, is this year in June the members from the US-Russian Joint Directors spoke before the National League and National Alliance of Families stated that a previous report that the US Government outright denied is that POWs were taken to Russia from Czechoslovakia. Government reports on this tried to discredit witness yet in June they tell us that Czechoslovakia has now located two witnesses that can confirm that they had participated in the receiving of the POWs before they were sent to Russia. That accounts for 100 people. So that may be part of the 300 you had stated there plus there at least 60 POWs that the CIA track in Laos. May be they were taken to Russia. May be they were taken Vietnam in 1968 because there were POWs transferred to the Vietnamese from Laos in 1968, there were about 30 of them. So there is a lot of records and the US Government is not forthcoming on it. They have thousands of records that are withheld for national security reasons at this time. The CIA has it. The DOD has it. Each branch of the government of DOD has it. So there is a lot that is not being pursued because, and I will get back to the families now, is that they are afraid to do what needs to be done. They are dealing with the military. You are talking about if it happened in DC, the families to take legal recourse. They could get a lawyer and corner the police in a courtroom. They cannot do this with the military. The military buries relatives based on a tooth and tells them that is their son, daughter, or husband. They cannot do it because they do not have the money to take them to court and it is very difficulty and time consuming, so the government in this country is still an obstacle because there is a lot of information being withheld for national security reasons and I threw a lot out and I am trying to sorry to do it that way but it is all interwoven with a bunch of other information also.

 

Bill Bell: I am sure the Russians have the same problem with their national security concerns. You know the transfer that you are referring to there from POWs from Vietnam to Russia, a possible transfer. If I am not mistaken, General Volkogonov who was the head of the Russian side of the US-Russia Commission brought to our government's attention that he had discovered a document indicating that a plan to move American prisoners from Vietnam to Russia did exist and was for the purpose of extracting information from these people but since that time the Russians have come back and told the government that this mention of this plan was found in official documents but there is no indication that the plan was ever implemented.

 

Roger Hall: [Unintelligible] ___________________ the two witnesses that were in Czechoslovakia that these POWs, these were Americans, the three groups of Americans of about 30 each totalling approximately a 100 were transferred from Vietnam to Czechoslovakia and on to Russia and this was in the early 60s, [Unintelligible] ___________________ had defected to this country. He was a high-ranking member of the Polit Bureau, member of their military intelligence. He was not only an eyewitness to this, he was the administrator of the program and he had done the same type of program in Korea with American POWs there that was later confirmed because I found the sites of the hospital where they were interrogated and tortured. So when the government of Czechoslovakia states that they found two people that participated in the transfer program.

 

Bill Bell: The first question that comes to my mind is how long are we going to have to wait before the Russians give us some answers you know I mean.

 

Roger Hall: Well, we have a problem. To negotiate with the Communists is difficult at best. They do not live up their ends. They have their objectives in minds, they do not match with us, but we have never made them an acceptable deal because we send military people over there that are not really capable or competent negotiators, I am not the putting a person down because they are in the military but the Vietnamese look at the Americans across the table and the head of their policy office, I forgot the guy’s name, I asked him outside the Alliance meeting and he looked at me when his eyes opened up. He said these people yell at us, when we ask for live POWs, it was a reaction when he spoke to me, so they are severe when they deal with them. We need a good negotiator, you cannot take a major who does not whole lot of experience or colonel, I am not putting them down, because a general would not have any better experience, you need a trained negotiator to deal with that personality type or that political type. How to deal with them, I cannot really offer a suggestion except that if we can put a man in the moon in order to be able to deal with a few Communists, hopefully.

 

Audience: [Unintelligible] ___________________

 

Bill Bell: The number of bodies is probably up around 400 to 500. The amount of money, I think the budget at one time was like 50 million dollars a year. All of that was not going to the communist government, much of that was being spent on airline transportation, flying people back and forth from the United States, like 100 people every other month but in the case of Vietnam we were paying may be a $50.00 per person for everyone involved, all the cadre involved. You know it was like Ben Hur cast: drivers, cadre to escort security, cadre -- you are talking about hundreds of people and they were receiving about $5.00 is what they received but we paid the Communist government $50.00 per person and you know when you move from one province to another province we are charged like $1500.00 “organization fee” and nobody even knew what an organization fee was and $600.00, you know landing an aircraft even on an airfield built by US tax dollars at Phu Cat or Ton Son Nhut Air Base or Bien Hoa or where ever, $600.00 US cash money plus a fee to fly across the airspace of Vietnam.

 

Jay Veith: If you could clarify one thing, there is no unilateral turn over of remains by Vietnam since 1991 or ______. All the remains of them are covered as a result joint US-Vietnamese excavation __________ but the amount of money paid to do that is astronomical and the point to make in our book is that, that majority of the crash sites were already scoured by the Vietnamese years ago, most of the remains ____ most of the parts of the engine _____ up and reused in various parts and so we talk about the Vietnamese being able to ____ our equipment very quickly is based on longstanding US Government’s evaluation of the Vietnamese policy based upon their own captured documents, refugee____ we knew that is what they are doing yet we continued to go down the path that the French made a mistake ______anyways because it was the only way ____ and those guys be able to give Clinton close cover to open diplomatic relations and economic ____5037

 

Steve Sherman: Please use the microphone I think we are losing a lot of good conversation. Mike, why don’t you go and finish your question while he walks over to you.

 

Mike Benge: In 1957, the North Vietnamese ended up signing the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war. There was a lot of noise being made up in congress by Senator Biden and all, that unless we abide by the Geneva Agreement, that the Geneva Agreement is the only thing that is going to end up protecting our POWs from being tortured. We know that is a lie because of the amount of torture that went on in North Vietnam and also down in South Vietnam but there is a myth that you did not address and that is the myth of Laos. I think the records show somewhere between 500-550 men were lost over there at least that is what the CIA and others have admitted to and I think you said at one time 85% of those were captured in territory completely under the control of the North Vietnamese.

 

Bill Bell: At least 85%

 

Mike Benge: And yet if you look at the figures of how many of the guys went missing in other parts of the Vietnam, you look at what came out of Laos, would you address the issue of the myth of the POWs of Laos.

 

Bill Bell: I know when we went to Hanoi to pickup the prisoners from Laos, if I remember correctly we received 90 out of some 550. Many of the people on the 305 name list are actually from inside Laos. I think it is 186 of those 305 people who were lost inside Vietnam, the remainder primarily Laos. So we are talking roughly half of 300, may be 150.

 

Mike Benge: Those are the missing in Laos.

 

Bill Bell: While they are counted against what we call the last known alive discrepancy case list as it pertains to all three countries. Yes the 305 includes Laos. 186 in Vietnam, the remainder mostly in Laos, there are two or three people last known to alive in Cambodia.

 

R J. Del Vecchio: Basically, what I was asking you to do is to give me as best you can a rough estimate from 1991 to now we are talking 23 years.

 

Bill Bell: We are talking 1982 now.

 

R. J. Del Vecchio: Okay.

 

Bill Bell: I think the start off point back there was $150,000.00 cash that they got a B52 aircraft and not one piece of wreckage was recovered. Not a screw, a nut, a bolt, a zipper, a button, absolutely zero -- zip -- was recovered from the expedition, but we were charged $150,000.00 cash.

 

R. J. Del Vecchio: Best cash over all these years, these are at this point 29 years, have the North Vietnamese profited by several million dollars a year out of this thing?

 

Bill Bell: At least.

 

R. J. Del Vecchio: So for 29 years there is probably 30-40 million dollars head on this whole business?

 

Bill Bell: I say more than that. I say at least half of the 50 million per year.

 

R. J. Del Vecchio: So in terms of their foreign exchange that is a serious chunk of their income.

 

Bill Bell: You know, back in 1982 if you consider that the Chinese invaded them in 1979 and destroyed their economy and by 1980-1981 they were completely broke. And if it had not been for this program they probably would have far more problems than they experienced.

 

R. J. Del Vecchio: Do you foresee any end to this or just going to go on for ever?

 

Bill Bell: It is political decision. A political decision, I do not know who the politician would have enough guts to say enough is enough but you know at some point in time, we have to consider the sacrifice that our fellow service man made over there is being degraded by continuing this course and I hate to dispel anyone's hopes of getting their son back but we are down to the point that we are looking for bone fragments and paying out taxpayer dollars and allowing these missing men to be manipulated. At some point down we need to create a monument to the MIAs and call it quits and go home.

[Applause]

 

Jay Veith: Let me just clarify your point. If you were the Vietnamese and one of the major sources of what has become unofficial foreign aid from the United States Government to you was this issue, would you be in any hurry to close the door on that?

 

R. J. Del Vecchio: No I would not, but then again I actually believe in humanitarian things as a person so I might consider something besides this squeezing money out of people's agony.

 

Bill Bell: Humanitarian systems in Vietnam is factored into the economy. I mean it is a source of income and no aid organization, no non-government organization (NGO) has the authority to deal directly with the people and whether it is material assistance, whether it is cash assistance, whether it is medical assistance, everything that goes to Vietnam in the form of aid and assistance goes through the Communist Party and the Communist Party make sure that it goes only to Communists and the Communist Party makes sure that they get credit, political credit for this assistance but it is manipulated just like POW/MIA issue. It is all a form of revenue enhancement.

 

Lee Lanning: From your figure of 400 remains that the mortician claims were there, you say 60% of those have been returned to 160.

 

Bill Bell: Number of remains equating to approximately say 60% has been returned with the scientific evidence of warehousing and storage and preservation.

 

Lee Lanning: Between that number and 300 and something known live sightings what do you think has happened to those remains?

 

Bill Bell: I think they are still being held and I think what happened was the mortician defected and managed to escape from Vietnam and that messed up their plans. I mean they had the intention of doing to us the same thing that they did to the French and they have done to a certain extent, but had that mortician not escaped from Vietnam and explained that plan that they had formulated to us in advance we would be far worse off now than we are.

 

Lee Lanning: And probably 1200-1400 remains are in fact just lost, lot of us are here aware of people that were lost in combat that probably nobody in rivers etc., etc. right?

 

Bill Bell: Right. The 305 figure was actually, this figure was arrived at by analysts going through the cases and finding the cases that the Vietnamese did most reasonably be expected to resolve and at the same time whether Vietnamese government would have knowledge of the case and it was set aside, these 305 cases, and it was described at that time as a yardstick to measure progress but the idea was to take a reasonable figure and present this to the Vietnamese and do not go at them with the entire 2500 and expect them to do a miracle because it will be asking too much. Let us be reasonable. They got 305 which we know and they know that and then we will base our evaluation and we give them on their amount of cooperation and progress, we will base that on how they handle this particular field of candidates and out of that 305 thus far we have received less than 50 remains which have been identified.

 

Lee Lanning: Are the half dozen or so that have been identified Garwood types that in fact did go over to the other side and have been cited living or am I factual. I understand there has been at least a half dozen.

 

Bill Bell: There were quite a few people who went over to the other side who voluntarily stayed in the Vietnam for various reasons. Some because they had problems with the law enforcement. Some because they had problems with girls. Some because they had Vietnamese wives who did not have American citizenship or passport who did not come to United States, but most of those people trickled out of there throughout 1975 and after the fall, and late 1975 up to 1976 and then finally Garwood came out in 1979. Some people actually died in Vietnam and were buried and I think we have the remains of some of those people who decided to join the Revolution what they called but we received the remains of most of those people.

 

Jay Veith: Well, in terms of actual number of people who defected, the US government only currently acknowledges to Robert Garwood and McKinley Nolan.

 

Jay Veith: We hope to turn this into a Q&A session. We have plenty of time. I hope we have explained a little about our background and our knowledge that of the issue but to give us a brief overview of the current situation with Senator Kerry but from overall perspective what is happening in the issue. Please if you have any questions?

 

Max Friedman: I want to go back a little bit on the POW/MIA issue because I testified about this in 1971 but I was dealing with the US peace groups using extortion to get families of POWs/MIAs to cooperate with antiwar movement and I probably know more about that than most people because I had known the people in the antiwar movement. I know who they are, and how they operated because I have never seen the government come out with this other than what the Congressmen were asking me in the hearings. Have you found any information during the source of all your research and investigations, questioning of anyone who knew how the North Vietnamese were operating this backdoor extortion program through Cora Weiss Committee of Liaison, the prisoner release, the mail that had been hidden and then trickled out everytime there is something coming up the letters would end up with Senator Kennedy. There is a lot of covert operations and subversive operations that had never been explored fully in the congressional hearings other than what a few of us, Mr. Schuman, Dale Doss and couple of the others talked about 1970, 1971 and 1972 and then issue died because by exploring this I suspect we are going to find a lot of other communist operations concerning the POW/MIA issue as a propaganda operation or an operation against the morality of United States and that would may not bring anyone back. I think it may help some of the families understand what was being done to them by the loss of their loved ones over there.

 

Bill Bell: We have two organizations primarily dealing with POW, one is called the Dich Van or the enemy proselytizing element and the other one is the Binh Van which is the Military Proselytizing Element and it is kind of misnomer because as it turns out to Binh Van is actually oriented more towards deserters, are people who would sway to join the revolution as the communists call it and on the other hand you have the Dich Van which is enemy proselytizing which is the exploitation of prisoners of war for military information and detention, processing, evacuating, and so forth. The enemy proselytizing organization is run strictly by the Politboro. We have had cases to give you an example, a young soldier by the name of Edward Reilly and he was the member of the First Division in Tay Ninh Province and he actually stumbled on to the security camp of the Central Office for South Vietnam and was captured. Reilly lived in (his home was back in Kentucky) if I remember right, Fort Knox and he had a wife there. After Reilly was captured one of two Vietnamese females who were working for the Communists after they were might not have been captured but went over to the other side, he was interrogated by the use of a Vietnamese female from Saigon who could speak English. The order was given from the Central Office for South Vietnam Security Committee that he be executed as soon as he was interrogated and he was executed and we have his remains back. But way back at the time of his execution, the US Government had no information and no knowledge of his status, but two oriental females showed up at this wife's house back in Fort Knox, Kentucky and told his wife that he was dead and she should protest war and because of what happened to her husband and we look at that as intimidation and coercion and this is typical military proselytizing ploy which you are basically talking about is intelligence and security services but the ability to strike terror in the heart of your opponent and it is a little stronger medicine. There were cases where people were beheaded and their head put on a pole to bring fear and terror into the hearts of people who cooperated with the GVN and there were cases such as Edward Reilly and the Vietnamese that we have dealt with over the years have told us that there are certain circumstance when American prisoners can be executed and the order is given by the political side of the operation and one of those is if that person tries to escape, in another case for execution is if that American or foreign prisoner becomes aware of secret identities of the Communists. In other words, if he sees the face of some of their personnel who were working in covert operation they have the authority to execute and they have done so in many cases.

 

Audience: _____ request on the two women of Vietnam ____.

 

Jay Veith: While there is little documents released in Edward Reilly's case. The problem with the Reilly case is that the only known, I do not think we know this because his wife was smart enough to report this immediately to the police. There was investigation done at Fort Knox about what happened and they can never find these two women but we just find it amazing that a very short time like a month or two months after his capture and execution information relating to him was transmitted to United States to these few people to his hometown who went to his wife's house and tried to enlist in her antiwar cause. There is no information as to how that transpired.

 

Max Friedman: Let me give you an idea. What year did they do this?

 

Jay Veith: 1967.

 

Max Friedman: Okay. At that time the antiwar movement as I talked about yesterday was basically controlled by the Communist Party. The Troskyites had done something in 1965, the smaller workers of all party, socialist workers party was just gearing up. It would not be hard at that time to find out which Vietnamese women, some of them may have been wives of Americans who were in this country and who were in the antiwar movement or in the perifery. They just did not go running around. I had a Vietnamese co-student at Temple University who was on a scholarship as she was the only one in the school. If they were Vietnamese, the State Department had records of people coming into this country even if it only on a visa of some type which narrows down the search and I believe it when they came in they have to be photographs of the individual with the visa applications. The police would also probably know something because they will have descriptions. So there was not a big pool of Vietnamese in United States at that period of time to look for and within the antiwar movement, I only know of a handful. Many of them were wives of some of the protest leaders.

 

Jay Veith: The problem is that his wife just said two oriental females, we do not know if in fact they are Vietnamese.

 

Bill Bell: _____ they may have Japanese.

 

Jay Veith: No he was from Philadelphia PA by the way -- Reilly.

 

Max Friedman: Okay. I can talk to you about that later.

 

Jay Veith: The other thing, there is a well-known case that is James Rowe. Now Rowe had told his captors (Nguyen Chi Cong the head of the MR9 camp) down every year that he was a simple engineer at the camp and he was not Green Beret and he had nothing to do with all the stuff and therefore you know and that he managed to convince them for a while, then in 1967, they came to him and said we have learned through our friends in United States that in fact you are not a simple engineer but you are in fact a Special Forces lieutenant. Now no one has ever determined as precisely who uncovered Rowe’s secret but the suspicion would have been Tom Hayden because Hayden had been in Cambodia great deal and actually had been received three other guys who came out of Rowe’s camp, Johnson, Jackson, and Pitzer but no one ever has ever investigated to my knowledge as precisely how that knowledge got uncovered, transmitted to the Vietnamese and all way gone to the Mekong Delta Camp.

 

Max Friedman: I made a statement now. I do not have all the documentation but the antiwar movement at that point in time where Hayden was just beginning to operate, they are still operating within the Communist party aspects, because he is with _____ he went to Hanoi on his first trip. They had their own intelligence operations. SDS later established one called 10910______ but the communist party also had intelligence people in this country. They had a security in with Frank Donner and Frank Wilkinson who was well known to congressional testimonies and the American Friends Service Committee had people released later on who military told this to me were going into the refugee camps with literature asking people to go back home. So there was a handful of people who acted as intelligence or information gatherers for the North Vietnamese and names, we can probably find names, and some of the documents I have in my briefcase from ‘76 also deals with the relationship between the antiwar movement and the North Vietnamese embassy in Cuba. So it is very logical that the Communists would setup an intelligence gathering system on military leaders, POWs, people who went to Sweden, possibly people in Canada but what we have to do is a puzzle, you got to narrow the field by the existing records and see who was available at that point in time to do this and it is going to be a long shot.

 

Jay Veith: ___ 100% as a matter of fact it is one of the great mysteries of issue and hence sort of our questioning about the true nature and purpose of the Cuba interrogators because Mike has also talked about the Cubans a great deal in congressional testimony but we have believed for sometime without any great proof, it served as a speculation at our point that that the Cubans where there for more than just, you know, it is English Language Training program, it is not more than just how much can Americans can take in terms of torture, there was a propaganda flow going back from Hanoi to Havana and into United States and a deliberate process of gaining information on American POWs about how we take to society so they could use to develop propaganda themes. Now this is Mike may have more details than I do but has there been a detailed study on this, I am not aware, one of you?

 

Mike Benge: No.

 

Jay Veith: And it’s something you and I have talked about over years and Mike has talked about in congressional testimony.

 

Mike Benge: No, well actually the guy who I identified as the camp commander of the camp I was in where the Cuban program was, was called “The Lump” because he had a fatty tumor right in the middle of his forehead. He also showed up quite often down in Cuba. There was a very good chance that he was Communist International because he was identified by the House Un-American Activities Committee as the man in-charge and that was in Cuba, he was with the embassy there that was funneling to the antiwar groups in the US, KGB money and this was identified by him, same guy he had a lump on his head and he was not Vietnamese as what came out in some of the reports but there is very possibility he may have been half Vietnamese and half Cuban. They had a training camp in Cuba of young people being infiltrated into the US through Canada and down through Maine and they had a training camp in the Cuba, training antiwar individuals that were coming up through Cuba and if you have someone to respond then I got a question on the _____.

 

Jay Veith: I just want to emphasize that we are beginning to see a glimmer of the complexity of the issue, this is not the fun fantasy of JFK conspirators up here. This is not like you know where there is a third gunmen on the grassy knoll, there are wide open analytical questions that remain unsolved today and the place that was in the context of the known Vietnamese policies of exploring American POWs and all of a sudden simple case of a guy going missing is not so simple anymore. It becomes suddenly a wide open analytical question of the fact that what happened to this guy and you start tying in sighting reports and all of a sudden then things become much more cloudy. It is not just as simple as a guy die in war and go missing. There is a purpose behind the Vietnamese efforts and that purpose is designed during the wartime anyways for propaganda, exploit these guys and then afterwards exploit their remains for money is my concern.

 

Mike Benge: No, no, ____

 

Bill Bell: We have researchers who have found documentation in the archives in the party of the former Soviet Union indicating that the Russians and the Chinese both were with the Vietnamese for exploitation of technology on weapon systems, avionics, and high performance aircraft and there was in fact quite a bit of competition between the Chinese and the Russians to get to these crash sites and to do reverse engineering on our aircraft which saved them actually saved them billions of dollars in research and technology and that is a very key area and I guess you can imagine if you have a sophisticated aircraft system like an F-111 as an example, if you have the pilot, then you can accomplish a great deal with the pilot and the aircraft and we have cases where they actually went out in the ocean with huge cranes and hoists and lifted up entire aircraft and put them on to Lo-Boys and hauled them all the way to North Vietnam up to the missile base in Haiphong.

 

Mike Benge: There was also in Cuba a training school for Vietnamese prison guards on how to extract information. I got that from a Vietnamese.

 

Bill Bell: Cubans and Vietnamese cooperated fairly closely on intelligence and security matters because now they perceived the other as a regional threat. They could, you know, share information and have confidence in their relationship due to the proximity and due to the fact that they have similar backgrounds. The Cubans were in Vietnam in large numbers, but primarily in addition to the team that was interrogating, well they also served as medical technicians, doctors, and so forth all the way down to the DMZ in the military hospital there and they also served in capacity of logistics up in the railheads and the ports in the Northern Vietnam.

 

Mike Benge: And also on the Ho Chi Minh trail and they had an ambassador ______down in South Vietnam. Ike [Camacho] was interrogated down there by the Cuban. My question was there is a report out that there were about six Americans in East Germany and they were being offered to the Americans for trade for two British spies that were then in prison for stealing atomic secrets. The US ended up turning down the swap from what the report was and then later the Brits got two guys out of prison and they ended up trading for some of their agents. What was the veracity of that report?

 

Bill Bell: We have plenty of indications of prisoner swaps during the Vietnam War between the Vietnamese, the Americans, the South Vietnamese, the North Vietnamese, and the Americans and most of these particular swaps are close-hold type information, very little has been revealed. We do know that for example, General Ben Bac Dang, his wife was captured back in 1969 and she was exchanged as a Vietnamese Communist prisoner for South Vietnamese prisoner and I think in one case an American was released in exchange for Vietnamese Communist prisoner, but you know what was called as tiger cages off the coast of Vietnam there was a large number of people there and in Chi Hoa prison in Saigon perhaps 200 people who were not released by the South Vietnamese at the time of the Operation Homecoming and the reason that those people were not released according to the GVN Government is because these were intelligence and security personnel and they were not soldiers, so they did not release them.

 

Max Benge: Do you have any information on those reported in Germany and they were supposedly amputees or at least part of them were?

 

Jay Veith: I can talk about this. I covered this pretty extensively in my book Code-Name Bright Light. The people we are talking about, there is an East German Lawyer named Wolfgang Volgo who had approached the Americans in Berlin in late 1966 and offered to exchange American POWs for two of their spies in the Kroger an husband and wife team that the Brits had captured and the Brits refused to give them up because they had really done some pretty bad damage to him. Now the reports that Volgo gave the American State Department people was that there was a handful of American POWs, flier types, in East German Hospitals that they were ill in East German Hospitals. When the Americans continued to press Volgo for exchange of these guys slowly he began to back away from that. Now I talked about a great deal in my book Code-Name Bright Light but eventually it fell apart. I think the Brits did eventually give the Krogers up in exchange for their own people, but they refused the Americans the Krogers in exchange for these guys. Now a year later another East German lawyer named Stangel also approached the Americans with a trade for American POWs but there was never any names put to it, the numbers were just sort of vague and there was never any real definition to it now. I always been very curious myself internally whether that was a sort of Vietnamese sting operation, how this whole things has been progressed but Volgo himself had been involved in some very high level exchanges and was known as the guy or person that they could exchange spies with the East Germans, he has done it on several occasions and he was sort of a man and he came forward with lot of excitement and government around this but eventually dragged it over 6 or 7 months and eventually we were nowhere but the whole Volgo-Kroger thing to me has been one of the great unknown questions though, exactly what precise that was behind his offer to the Americans.

 

Bill Bell: Prisoner swaps are very nature of the activity and very complex and if you take as an example Captain Gary Powers who was shot down in a U2, what you have there is a situation where an Embassy in Washington DC is dealing with the State Department and the US Government through a very open and above board channel where communications are readily available and as indications of Captain Powers he was traded for Soviet Colonel who was arrested in the Washington DC conducting activities incompatible with his status which means that he was spying and that was a simple trade, one man for one man. In the case of Vietnam, the people involved in these swaps would have to put messages in the daily newspaper because there was no routine communication because you are dealing with people out in a jungle camp in the middle of nowhere and the Communists would put an ad in the papers saying I would like to meet with John or I would like to meet with whoever on Wednesday and that was a signal for our CIA personnel to meet with the other side and that is how some of the swaps were arranged but some did not materialize. There were other swaps that military units attempted to do and received permission, authority to do up in the Central Highlands for example but they never came about.

 

Steve Sherman: Slightly off the immediate subject, one thing came up to during this conference, Admiral Denton’s talk mentioned that his captors questioned him about the Mekong River Development Plan. That is the first time I have heard those words used in this connection something that I have really argued for a very long time because I probably have the only civilian copy of that Joint Development Task Force Plan Program. The dollar amount suggested in there converted into the dollars of those years really indicates that Nixon’s promise for North Vietnamese called reparations was specifically the Lillienthal Plan implementation, not reparations, not anything else, but a plan solely designed to function as long as the level of warfare went down to the point where you would not build a dam and get it blown up the next day and Admiral Denton, mentioning those words to me, gladdened my heart because I do not think Henry Kissinger would ever tell me.

 

Max Benge: I believe that is one of the myths of the Vietnam war because as far as what I know the promise was if they did that they would have Mekong Development, like a giant TVA program. It was not aid to North Vietnam, it would be part of China, be part of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and…

 

Steve Sherman: It was a very, very specific program. I would spell that in great detail over large number of volumes and I got the summaries of those and the dollar figure and Nixon’s promise come right together. The second thing is, if anybody really wants a project to do, one time I was trying to get a translation of Cubans on the Ho Chi Minh Trail which after I finally got some kind of translation that turned out to be really boring but the title was good but a Cuban contact suggested that I find somebody who could speak Spanish which I cannot, who would go into the University of Texas in Austin or any other place that has a good library that would have copies all of their, the Cuban Military Magazine and look at the awards that are listed in the Cuban military magazine for the period of time of the Vietnam war and you would be able to build up as I have for Special Forces, you would be able to build up the Cuban order of battle both in Vietnam and/or Angola. Now may be somebody in the Federal Government did that but they are not sharing with me so if anybody wants to do it on their own, I give it freely to you as a project to do.

Max Benge: Also to add to that when we hit and captured Grenada liberated it, that same unit, Cuban unit, that was on Grenada was the unit in Vietnam and we captured their records. What happened to those records I do not know, but they would reflect a lot of the work of that unit over in Vietnam.

Steve Sherman: The service ribbons and the awards given are listed apparently in this Olive Verte and you can go down through the list and you see the references and it becomes apparent who is where and doing what to whom.

Jay Veith: Does anybody else have any questions?

Steve Sherman: Let me add one more thing to close out. Jay is leaving tonight and we still have copies of his book. They’re signed and if anybody wants them and any special love notes from Jay, you better standup and move to the back of the room and grab them away, you have an opportunity. Dolf has already got his.

Jay Veith: Thank you very much.

[Applause]

Steve Sherman: Before you all run off here I want to try and make a little bribe to you guys. let me ________

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