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Congress. House Foreign Affairs Committee. American Prisoners of War. Washington, D.C. GPO, 1973.

SuDoc No.: Y4.F76/1:P93/4/973/pt.4
Date(s) of Hearings: May 23, 30, 31, 1973
Congress and Session: 93rd - 1st

African-American Representative Charles Rangel of New York testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on May 31, 1973 to express his concern about some of the characteristics of returning prisoners of war. He noticed that the majority of those returning were primarily officers, primarily white, and had been shot down while running bombing missions over North Vietnam.

The front line troops however, who were at greater risk of capture, were largely absent from the POW's being released back to the United States. Many of these enlisted men were African-Americans.
"...The Defense Department has been concerned only with officers who were shot down while on bombing missions over North Vietnam and has neglected the fate of those soldiers, mostly foot soldiers, mostly enlisted men, and to a great extent blacks, who were captured or otherwise disappeared while involved in ground combat in the south."
While Representative Rangel recognized that many of the prisoners would come from the north, where most of the POW's were Air Force officers and pilots as opposed to foot soldiers in South Vietnam, he called on President Nixon and the Department of Defense to investigate the matter.



Thursday, May 31, 1973

House of Representatives,

Committee On Foreign Affairs

Subcommittee On

Washington, D.C.

The subcommittee met at 2:10 p.m., room 2200 Rayburn House Office Building Hon. Clement J. Zablocki (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.

Mr. Zablocki. The subcommittee will please come to order.

We resume this afternoon the third and final day of the subcommittee's hearings on the question of American POW's and MIA's in Southeast Asia.

As indicated at the outset of this series of hearings, one of the subcommittee's primary objectives is to determine what is being done on behalf of the more than 1,300 men who are still listed as missing in action.

Although the Vietnam peace agreement provided specific procedures for the resolution of the status of those cases, there is ample evidence to indicate that those provisions are not being complied with.

The primary responsibility on this question, lies with the Department of Defense. We have, therefore, invited Dr. Roger Shields, Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs and Director, POW/MIA Affairs, to share with us his insights into this issue.

However, to the extent that the matter involves diplomatic negotiation, the Department of State is involved as well and we have, therefore, invited Mr. Frank Sieverts, Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of State, to also appear before the subcommittee this afternoon.

Before hearing those two gentlemen, however, we are pleased to welcome before the subcommittee our colleague, the Honorable Charles Rangel of New York.

Congressman Rangel has a deep and abiding interest, in one important aspect of the POW/MIA question. We are anxious to hear his views.

Congressman Rangel, if you will proceed, please.

Together with his New York colleagues Congressman Rangel conducted an ad hoc meeting on the POW question in New York last weekend.


Mr. Rangel. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity you have given me today to come before you and the other distinguished members of this subcommittee to discuss my deep concern with the failure of our Government to fully account to the American people for all the men who served our Nation so valiantly during the war in Southeast Asia.

As I have watched the return of American prisoners of war from Vietnam I have been struck by the fact that the overwhelming majority of these returning prisoners are officers and that an even greater majority are white.

As a black American I have asked why there have been so few black prisoners in the returning group. I have been particularly disturbed by the absence of black faces in the happy scenes of welcome portrayed on the television sets; during the course of the Vietnam war I was aware of the disproportionate percentage of blacks who were serving as infantrymen in the front lines of combat in the jungles of Vietnam.

You will recall, I am sure, the protest which arose from the black community over blacks having to fight and die in disproportionate numbers for a society which refuses to give them the full respect and opportunity here at home.

From my experience as a combat infantryman in Korea I know that it is the front line troops, predominantly enlisted men, who are most subject to capture by the enemy. Why have there been so few blacks and so few enlisted men among the returning prisoners of war!

Figures given to me by the Department of Defense show that the 771 prisoners of war returned to date, only 194, or 25 percent, were enlisted men.

Given the fact that in Vietnam, as in every other war, enlisted men in the Armed Forces predominated, especially as ground combat troops, this low percentage of enlisted returnees is incredible.

I have attempted to obtain statistical information from responsible officials in the Department of Defense in response to the question I have raised, but the information I have received does not answer the central question: Where are the ground troops, the enlisted men, who were captured by the enemy during more than 8 years of involvement by American ground forces in Vietnam?

The impression I have received from public utterances by Department of Defense officials and from the difficulty I have encountered in obtaining the information I have sought is that the Defense Department has been concerned only with officers who were shot down while on bombing missions over North Vietnam and has neglected the fate of those soldiers, mostly foot soldiers, mostly enlisted men, and to a great extent blacks, who were captured or otherwise disappeared while involved in ground combat in the south.

Is the Defense Department prepared to say that the Vietnam war was solely an air war and that the only American soldiers taken by the enemy were the pilots who flew over the North? In Korea, ground combat invariably meant the capture of infantryman, most of whom were enlisted. We had 8 years of ground combat in Vietnam involving more than 2.5 million American troops and I cannot believe that in this period the enemy was able to capture only 194 enlisted men.

My experience in Korea and the experience of previous wars indicates to me that the full story of our prisoners of war and missing in action has not been told. I have repeatedly called upon the Pentagon to undertake an immediate investigation of the fate of those soldiers who have not yet been accounted for and who appear to have been forgotten for the convenience of the U.S. military.

Instead of initiating the investigation I requested, the response of the Defense Department has been an attempt to write off as quickly as possible the 1,359 soldiers who remain, at this date, listed as missing in action.

About a month ago, it was rumored that the Defense Department had announced that all of the missing in action were dead and that an extensive investigation showed that there was no reason for continued hope that these men might be found alive in some of the remote areas of Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos.

It was only an outcry from the thousands of relatives and loved ones of these men that forced the Defense Department to retreat from this position and to once again state the possibility that some of these men may remain alive and that, at the very minimum, they should not be written off as dead without some firm proof of their death.

I understand the Department of Defense has backed off from this posture.

Now we have come full circle and the administration is evidencing its concern over the fate of the missing in action in its usual cynical manner.

President Nixon now proclaims that we must remain in Southeast Asia through our illegal and unconstitutional bombing in Cambodia and Laos for the sake of our missing men.

I have called upon the President to go beyond using the MIA's as a cynical excuse for his bombing policies and to show some real concern for the missing in action by initiating further negotiation with the North Vietnamese and representatives of the Communist forces in other areas to obtain further information on the fate of these men. Such a course will do more to answer the unanswered questions than his manipulation of the emotions of the American people to justify our continuing warmaking in Southeast Asia.

Even the figures released by the Defense Department on the missing in action do not answer my central question. These statistics reveal that of the 1,359 men listed as missing in action, 983 or 72.3 percent are officers and only 376 or 27.7 percent are enlisted men. These percentages, like those of the prisoners of war, are disproportionately high in favor of officers, and the discrepancy is even more remarkable in relation to the MIA's than it is when applied to the POW's.

In my earlier communication with the Department of Defense before those figures were released, I was told that the MIA figures, being mostly those men captured in the South, would be predominantly enlisted men. Yet the figures clearly show approximately the same percentage of officers among the MIA's as were found among the POW's.

After seeing the MIA figures, I can only repeat my demand for an explanation of why the percentage of enlisted men reported by the Defense Department as prisoners of war and missing in action is so significantly lower than the percentage of enlisted men captured or missing in previous wars.

Mr. Chairman. I think it is clear the American people want more than assurance that we have won "peace with honor" in Southeast Asia. Our involvement for over a decade in this conflict has been tremendously divisive and has affected this Nation in ways so profound that I am sure we are still now unable to assess its full impact.

We need to end this involvement not by papering over the questions which remain with patriotic rhetoric and extravagant wining and dining of the returned prisoners of war, but with an honest inquiry into the fate of all of the men who served this Nation with honor and distinction in this unpopular war.

I commend you and this subcommittee for holding these hearings and for assuming congressional leadership in asking the difficult questions that I believe the Nation wants and deserves to have answered.

Mr. Zablocki. Thank you for your statement, Congressman Rangel.

Mr. Rangel. Mr. Chairman, I would like to show you how some of the information that is being received from the Department of Defense is just incredible to those of us who have served in combat, regardless of in what crisis. It is claimed that we have evidence of only three American soldiers killed in captivity.

That is, with over 2 1/2 million soldiers involved in ground combat, the Pentagon is prepared to say that the enemy killed only three whom they captured.

As I pointed out, when we reach a point that 5,662 blacks were killed in action, how can I go back to my district and say that only 16 were prisoners of war?

Mr. Zablocki. We will attempt, as we have in the past, to obtain the answers to the question that you posed. But it would be helpful if you would supply some data for the subcommittee.

On page 2 of your statement, you say "About a month ago the Defense Department announced that all of the missing in action were dead and that an extensive investigation showed that there was no reason for continuing to hope." Do you have that announcement of the Defense Department?

Mr. Rangel. We have the announcement that they had changed the previous decision, that is, that MIA's would not be listed as killed in action. However, as a result of the hearings that we held in New York, many of the witnesses there testified – and some that were there have indicated – and some that are here today in front of your committee have indicated that while their loved ones and members of the family had heretofore been listed as missing in action, that status has been changed to presumptively killed in action without any additional evidence being submitted to the family.

Mr. Zablocki. In your statement you said there was a Defense Department announcement in this connection. Could that have been the announcement by Dr. Shields that was quoted in the Associated Press story of April 13, 1973, to the effect that they had no further evidence indicating that there are any more U.S. prisoners still alive?

Mr. Rangel. Mr. Chairman, the stenographer would indicate that I changed the wording of that to indicate that this had been rumored, but I still stuck to the written statement as to the report that the Department of Defense has changed that. But I did make a change as I went through the testimony because I had no evidence to substantiate that the initial declaration had been made even though my office does have information to indicate that the decision was to hold out longer before —

Mr. Zablocki. We are deeply interested if there was any evidence of such a statement and we want it for the record.

Mr. Rangel. I will provide to this committee the evidence to show that the MIA's would be converted to KIA's, that there was a change in policy, that even today they are converting MIA's to KIA's without any additional evidence.

[The material referred to follows:]


[From the Washington Post, May 21, 1973]

U.S. Is Ruling 200 MIAs Dead

(By Kenneth J. Braddick)

San Francisco, May 20 (UPI) – The Pentagon, working with what it says is new intelligence, is reclassifying as killed up to 200 American servicemen listed as missing in Vietnam.

A top Defense Department official disclosed the major review of the missing in action rolls at a private meeting with representatives of the families of missing men at Oakland, Calif., last week, according to women at the meeting.

Brig. Gen. Russel G. Ogan, director of prisoner of war and missing in action affairs at the Pentagon, is quoted as saying that about 50 men previously listed as missing have been reclassified as killed since April 10.

Another 150 cases are "pending" and the files of other men will be reviewed, the general is reported to have told the meeting with members of the National League of Families.

When the Vietnam cease-fire was signed in Paris last Jan. 27, 1,363 Americans were listed as missing in action in the two Vietnams, and neighboring Cambodia and Laos.

On orders of President Nixon, a joint casualties resolution center has been set up in Thailand to hunt out any possible traces of missing men and clarify their status. An American team has been in North Vietnam twice to inspect the grave sites of 23 men the Communists said died in captivity.

Kathlyn Seuell, the wife of Air Force Capt. John Seuell, said in Tucson, Ariz., that she had been told by a Pentagon official she declined to identify that the military did not expect to get into North Vietnam to search for missing men. Her husband was shot down in an area the United States now has access to, she said, and "there's no excuse for their not finding the wreckage and learning what happened."

"It's obvious that they're going to change the men's status a few at a time," Mrs. Seuell said. "They won't declare 1,200 men – some of whom may still be alive – to be killed in action in one day."

Sam Dunlap, whose son, William, has been on the MIA list for four years, said he and other families have been told by Pentagon officials that all men listed as missing in action will be changed to killed in action within a year.

A Defense Department spokesman said the approximately 50 changes for missing to killed was a result of information that had been gathered since U.S. military involvement came to an end in Vietnam.

"We have access to information sources that we did not have before," the spokesman said. "Prisoners of war provided information that we were not able to get before."

Because fighting is still going on in Laos, Cambodia and some parts of Vietnam, he said, "There are areas we simply haven't got access to. We hope to get in there."


[From the New York Times, May 22, 1973]

The Missing in Indochina: No Evidence Any Live

Bangkok, Thailand, May 21 (AP) – There is no indication that any Americans listed as missing in action in Southeast Asia are still alive, the general in charge of locating them said today.

The Pentagon has listed 1,300 Americans as missing in action and has declared 1,100 others dead, although their remains have not been recovered.

Brig. Gen. Robert C. Kingston, who heads the Joint Casualty Resolution Center, a 175-man unit charged with locating crash sites and graves and recovering the remains of Americans lost in Indochina, said his men had inspected three crash sites in South Vietnam, but he refused to disclose whether any remains had been found. Reliable sources said, however, that none were discovered.

The information about findings at crash sites would be communicated through regular military channels to the next of kin of the men involved, General Kingston said. He explained that relatives of men lost in air crashes often knew where their planes went down through correspondence with other men in the units.

If details are revealed prematurely, this would "get the next of kin very anxious," he said. "We are not going to announce whether we found remains or not."

General Kingston said that the North Vietnamese had been "extremely cooperative."

He said he expected the United States would get approval to carry out operations in Vietcong-held territory, although the Provisional Revolutionary Government had not yet been asked.


Mr. Zablocki. We will pursue that of course.

One page 1, would you please amplify on your statement regarding the impression that you have received from public utterances by Department of Defense officials and about the difficulty you have encountered in obtaining the information you have sought. Your statement charges that the Defense Department has been concerned only with white officers who were shot down while on bombing missions over North Vietnam and has neglected the fate of most of the foot soldiers, and to a great extent blacks, who were captured or otherwise disappeared while involved in ground combat in the South.

Would you please amplify and could you supply some defense.

Mr. Rangel. Yes; I can do that.

Mr. Zablocki. That is a serious statement, you know, and we would like to have it substantiated.

Mr. Rangel. I will. Again the record would indicate as I gave my statement that I omitted "white," not that it is really that important, but I really did not want to have the Chair disturbed over color rather than the fact that we were dealing with American fighting men.

The truth of the matter is that the statement did come from Dr. Roger Shields, whom I understand will be testifying before this committee today, that the type of war in which we were engaged in Southeast Asia allowed only for the prisoners to be taken in the North – those people who were a part of the U.S. Air Force – and so that way any ground troops were confined to combat in the South.

So looking over the list of the prisoners of war, were we find that 75 percent of those who have returned were Air Force personnel, one reaches a conclusion that this was what we were negotiating for in winding down the war. Basically, we received U.S. officers involved in bombing raids rather than having the negotiations involve the ground prisoners of war. The statistics are just jolting as they show the large discrepancy which is involved in who came home and who went over there.

We have figures to show, and these come from the Department of Defense, that 41,003 enlisted men were killed in action in Southeast Asia during the 8-year involvement. Only 4,955 officers were killed in action, which brings the total to close to 46,000.

Yet, we find when we are dealing with prisoners of war – that is, those who were not killed and those who are not missing – we find it is entirely reversed, and only Air Force officers or 75 percent of the prisoners of war are officers.

So mustn't you join with me in concluding that, where we find 90 percent of our killed in action, enlisted men, and 75 percent of our prisoners of war, Air Force officers, obviously there is a large group unaccounted for?

Mr. Zablocki. I must agree with you that there is a large number unaccounted for, and that is the purpose of having these hearings. I would like to ask one final question.

In testimony received from returnees, and we have had officers as well as an enlisted man, they expressed the view that there are no missing in action or prisoners of war in Southeast Asia at this time that they believe are alive. They hold little hope that we will have any additional returnees.

Their views are based on their own personal experience; on how they were treated and others were treated while they were captured.

What is your particular view of that possibility?

Mr. Rangel. You certainly can't get any better expertise on this subject matter than those members of the Armed Forces who were actually engaged in combat in Southeast Asia. There is very little doubt in my mind that we may not have any more prisoners of war, at least in South Vietnam.

Mr. Zablocki. May I add that I did not ask the question because I am pessimistic, or that we shall flag in our efforts to try to see that we will have a full accounting of our MIA's.

Mr. Rangel. But my problem, Mr. Chairman, is, if in fact we must reach that conclusion, then certainly the American people and this Congress must have some evidence on which this conclusion was based. Because if we find that 46,000 men were killed in action – and no one is disputing that – and such a small handful of people were actually captured by the enemy, then it means this enemy did not take prisoners and did in fact kill those people who wanted to surrender. If in fact they did take prisoners, they killed them in captivity.

I think that the American people should know exactly the nature of the enemy we were dealing with before they are asked to invest the money in rebuilding the nation of the so-called enemy.

Mr. Zablocki. I totally agree with you. I agree we must not spend 1 dime in rehabilitating the enemy's country or to repair the damage without having a full accounting of our MIA's to our satisfaction.

Mr. Rangel. What really bothers me, Mr. Chairman, is how people representing the United States of America can sit down at a negotiating table with the so-called enemy and accept the facts as they relate to missing in action and prisoners of war, statistics which they give, and then come back and report to the American people that there are no more prisoners of war and that we have a very little hope for the missing in action.

This should be based on an investigation and evidence that has been found by our country before we can actually give this type of information to those that still have some little hope.

Mr. Zablocki. Thank you, Mr. Rangel.

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