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From: Beck Chip To: email@example.com BCC: AIIPOWMIAI (Bob Necci)
Editor, Hartford Courant
I am a veteran of several wars ranging from Indochina to Desert Storm. Before I retired in 1996, I was a POW Special Investigator for the US Joint Commission on POW/MIAs. I offer the following Letter to the Editor in response to Tom Condon's letter of 12 Nov. I hope you will print it as a counter viewpoint.
CDR. Chip Beck, USNR (Ret)
I am a Desert Storm veteran. Long before that battle, I served in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, from 1969 until the fall of Indochina in April 1975. I also experienced Cold War conflicts in a dozen other countries. Throughout, I was involved in special operations, including 23 years as a CIA Clandestine Service officer. After I retired from the CIA, but before I retired from the Navy, I spent from 1995-1996 as a POW Special Investigator for the US - Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs.
What I saw and experienced in Indochina, the Cold War, and as a POW investigator, causes me to take issue with Tom Condon's viewpoint, "Lower Flag On Myths Of POW-MIAs" (Courant, Nov. 12).
I cannot say, based on hard evidence, that any American POWs are still alive in Indochina, North Korea, China, or Russia. Neither can I say all are dead. Two Japanese W.W.II POWs, well in their 80s, and three Korean POWs, have turned up alive in the past 3 years.
But that's not even the point. What does matter, is that an estimated 9000 "Unrepatriated POWs" were alive at the end of various wars, not just Vietnam, and were not allowed by their captors or circumstances to return home.
This is why the POW/MIA Flag still flies.
Many of these men survived years, even decades after the wars were over, only to die in the Soviet Gulag camps, and possibly prisons in China, North Korea, and North Vietnam. The fact that they might all be dead does not mean that the truth about their immense sacrifices and untold heroism should not see the light of day.
My research as an intelligence officer, and the investigations of other professional investigators and historians, indicates that approximately 9000 American POWs were illegally detained or taken into the USSR over a period of 57 years (1918-1975). Moscow never accounted for any of these secret detainees, which it exploited for intelligence and political purposes along with at least a million other foreign POWs it harbored, in the midst of 30 million of its own citizen-prisoners.
Beginning with the 1918-1920 North Russian and Siberian Expeditions at the end of WWI, to suppress the Bolsheviks, between 43-200 American POWs were secretly detained and not returned. It was the first time Moscow kept American citizens and learned it could get away with the act.
In the 1930s, American citizens ranging from leftist sympathizers to American intelligence agents were kidnapped in Moscow and imprisoned "incommunicado." One of these agents escaped in 1941, after 5 years in Siberian camps, and walked 4000 miles to safety -- in India. It took him a year. I've debriefed the only known survivor who escaped with him.
At the end of WWI, the Soviets secretly incarcerated, until they died, 7000 American GI's that they obtained from German Stalags. Stalin's motive was revenge for tens of thousands of Soviet citizens that the Allies would not repatriate to Moscow. US Army documents from 1945 admit that the missing 7000 POWs were placed in the "MIA column" of accounting (joining the total 78,000 missing from that war) so "the numbers would balance."
During the Cold War, 134 American pilots and airmen were shot down over the USSR, some killed, some captured. Because the US did not admit to violating Soviet airspace, Moscow did not need to account for these men. Russia today has not accounted for the fates of the detained captives or returned the remains of those killed.
In the Korean War, an estimated 2000 POWs were transferred to Siberia via Manchuria. A Hungarian military officer reported seeing 200 of these American POWs as late as 1964, working on a road-building project. Another 200 POWs were transported directly to Moscow from Korea, via Prague and East Berlin, where they were subjected to a series of psychological, biochemical warfare, medical, and nuclear experiments. An eyewitness to this operation, former Czech General Jan Sejna, testified in Congress to this in 1996. He swore to the truthfulness of his statements to me on his death bed in August 1997.
The transfer of American POWs to the USSR continued, he said, in lesser amounts, into the Vietnam era. General Dmitri Volkogonov, the head of the Russian side of the Joint Commission, knew this, but was not allowed to reveal the secrets he knew while he was still alive. Instead, he revealed part of what he knew in his just-published autobiography, "Reflections."
As for the Unrepatriated POWs, alive or dead in Indochina, it matters that the truth about what happened to these men comes out. I knew two men personally who were captured and held after Saigon fell. One was Jim Lewis, who was released nine months later and died in Beirut. The other was Tucker Gouglemann, who died in late 1976 in NVA prisons. His remains were eventually returned, and forensics verified he was tortured and killed.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 American POWs were reportedly executed around the same time that Gouglemann was killed. There are indications that another 20 survived at least until 1979, just before Bobby Garwood came out.
Having spent more time than most in Indochina, I too am skeptical of most of the live-sighting reports. However, as a former clandestine service officer, I also know that Indochina is an excellent place to cover-up what really happened to the unrepatriated POWs, and it is this information -- the fate of our men -- that we need to determine.
We have not been told the truth about America's Unrepatriated POWs, not in the Indochina War, nor the wars preceding it. As I testified twice before Congressional committees, this lapse in full disclosure extends to components in both the US and Russian governments.
I found boxes of unclassified documents that were being improperly hidden from the public and families within the DOD's own POW/MIA Office. Defectors from the Soviet military and intelligence professions have reported that US POWs were taken into the USSR. These transfers of Americans remain classified secrets in Russia today, as Volkogonov told us from the grave, controlled by the same professions in the SVRR who ran the KGB.
The only myth about the POWs is that we've been told the truth. Until that myth is exposed for the lie it is, keep the POW/MIA flag flying right up underneath Old Glory. It's meant to keep us honest.
CDR. Chip Beck USNR (Ret)
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