Article of the month: August

The fate of American POWs and MIAs

Article of the month

Former POWs returning home from North Vietnamese captivity on March 28, 1973 (Operation Homecoming)

It was 1985 when John Rambo peered through the jungle greenery and saw a bamboo cage full of aging Americans, dirty, sweaty, and bearing fresh wounds from their daily beating. Vietnamese guards paced the compound, as they had for the past 15 years, despite the war having ended over a decade earlier, and there remained little useful intelligence to be gained from interrogation.

It was Hollywood's envisioning of the rumor that American POW/MIAs (Prisoner of War, Missing in Action) are still held captive somewhere. To some, it's a way of holding out hope that a loved one is still alive and may even make it home someday. To others, it's another conspiratorial evil of the American government, which is alleged to know that the prisoners are out there but refuses to acknowledge them or make any effort to bring them home.

Are there POW/MIAs still out there somewhere? What does the military actually know? Soldiers remain unaccounted for from every American war, but those most associated with the POW/MIA movement are the Vietnam servicemen. They are the ones Rambo was searching for, and they're the ones we're going to try and find today.

So let's start by defining exactly who we're looking for. The official numbers given are taken as of Operation Homecoming, a diplomatically negotiated prisoner exchange at the start of 1973. At this time, all known American POWs were released, totaling 591 men. It is the conclusion of the official agency, the DPMO (Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office), that that 591 does represent all prisoners taken, with the exception of 113 who died in captivity. Those soldiers remaining unaccounted for at that time comprise the subjects of the POW/MIA issue.

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