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The Strange Case of PFC Robert Garwood
 
Disappearance in 1965, to 1969
 

The following articles are taken directly from a report prepared for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (ASD/C3I) and published in June 1993.  Citations are provided in the text.

 
Garwood disappears
 
Private Robert Russell Garwood, USMC,  was a motor-pool driver stationed at the Marine base, DaNang, Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).  On 28 September 1965, Garwood was found absent at the 2300 hours bed check.  No unauthorized absence (UA) was reported because Garwood was thought to have had a "late run."  He was reported UA after he failed to report for muster at 0730 hours on the 29th.

Several actions were initiated:
 

    • On 30 September, the Secretary of the Navy was informed by message from the commanding general, Third Marine Division, that Garwood was missing and that an investigation would be conducted.

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    • Garwood's next-of-kin were notified

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    • A counter-intelligence (CI) investigation was opened to determine the circumstances surrounding Garwood's disappearance and to ascertain if there was any evidence to suggest that he had deserted, defected, or been kidnapped.

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    • USMC investigators attempted to find the last people to see Garwood prior to his disappearance.

Those who saw Garwood on 28 September just prior to his disappearance were some of his USMC tent mates in DaNang.  According to PFC John Geill, PFC Allen F. Braverman, and LCpl Gary Smith, Garwood was with a group of Marines at the DaNang Hotel, or, the DaNang USO just around dusk on the 28th.  He indicated that he had to pick up his laundry outside the base and wanted to make a "skivvy run" as well.  Garwood then said that he would see the group back at the tent in "about an hour."  He never showed up.  (Information from debriefings of Geill, Braverman, and Smith.  Also, information from the Summary of Investigation.)

When PFC Geill was debriefed in 1965 immediately after Garwood's disappearance, he gave a different version of his last sighting of Garwood.  Geill indicated that he and Garwood had been in their tent just prior to 1800 on the 28th when Garwood came into the ten, picked up his weapon, and was supposedly going on a driver's run to pick up a USMC officer at G-2 headquarters, approximately 1/2 mile away.  Garwood never showed up for that pick-up.  However, the Asst. Chief Admin. Officer for the division stated that he had secured Garwood after his 1300 run was completed at 1430 and Garwood was not told to report back at 1800.  PFC Geill later stated that he misspoke in 1965 as he was trying to "protect" Garwood for any possible "indiscretions" on Garwood's part.  (Investigating agent's report, dated 16 November 1965.)

On 29 September, the Division Provost Marshal was notified of Garwood's absence and an all points bulletin was issued for him and his missing vehicle.  This bulletin was repeated for three days with no results. Personnel from the motor pool searched areas of Da Nang that Garwood was known to frequent but no leads were uncovered.  On 2 October, the division's provost marshal contacted the Republic of Vietnam's Military Security Services.  Their search efforts also produced no information regarding Garwood.  (Letter from CO to Cmdt, USMC, 13 October 1965.)

As these investigations proceeded, Garwood's commanding officer reported to the Commandant, USMC, that, in view of Garwood's past record of UA, it was his opinion that Garwood was possibly UA and this UA could have resulted in Garwood being taken POW.  Because of the lack of any evidence of Garwood's capture, however, the CO recommended that there be no change in Garwood's status and that he remain UA until evidence to the contrary proved otherwise. (Letter from CO to Cmdt, USMC, 13 October 1965.)
 
Two separate Vietnamese agents reported that the Viet Cong (VC) claimed that a US serviceman and his jeep had been picked up in the Cam Hai region, approximately 11.5 miles from the DaNang base, after the serviceman had become lost.  The American had been captured and the jeep burned.  A ground and aerial search for the burned vehicle produced no results, as did four platoon search operations on 1 October.  Two additional platoons swept the area in the vicinity of Marble Mountain the et morning but found nothing. (Report from 704th ITC Det (CI), 3 October 1965.)

 
On 12 October, the 704th ITC Det (CI) authorized the offer of a 100,000 $VN reward for information leading to the successful recovery of the missing serviceman and additional 2,500 $VN for the recovery of his vehicle. (Ltr from CO, 704th ITC Det (CI).)

Garwood remained in UA status until 15 October when his CO recommended to the Cmdt, USMC, that Garwood's status be changed to "missing" despite his having probably been UA initially. (ltr from CG, 3d MARDIV)  On 4 November 1865, the Cmdt concurred and directed that Garwood be carried as "missing" since sufficient evidence was not available to establish UA at the time of disappearance. (Msg from Cmdt, USMC, 4 Nov 65)


On 3 December 1965, India Company, 3d Battalion, 3d Marine Regiment found a document entitled Fellow Soldier's Appeal (dated 20 October 1965)  with Garwood's signature on it, on a gate near DaNang (click here  to read a transcription of the document).  The document recommended, among other things, that US troops stop fighting in Vietnam and return home.  The signature -- B. Garwood -- may have been made by a rubber stamp and the English usage in the letter suggests that it was not written entirely by a native English speaker.  A second version of this document was found on 18 July 1966 in the DaNang area,  but it appeared to be on better quality paper and the signature was at a different angle. 

In view of this information, Garwood's status was changed from "missing" to "presumed captured" on 17 December 1965.

On 23 December 1965, the CG, FMFPAC (Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific) directed that a counterintelligence case on Garwood be opened, that the Fellow Soldier's Appeal be evaluated for "subversive content and authenticity," and that Garwood's service record book (SRB) be reviewed.  Following this review, the USMC concluded that:
 

    • It was considered doubtful that Garwood personally composed the document;

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    • The authenticity of Garwood's signature could not be ascertained but it appeared that a rubber stamp was used to make the signature;

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    • Garwood was listed in the document as a Chaplain's assistant when he was a motor pool driver;

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    • Garwood's family background, and his education and disciplinary backgrounds demonstrated a possible susceptibility to propaganda and indoctrination efforts.

     

      (Memo from Asst Chief of Staff/G-2, to Cmdt, USMC, 23 December 1965.)

Garwood's "Appeal" Gains Wide Distribution

On 4 January 1966, fourteen ARVN POWs were released by the North Vietnamese in observance of the Tet holiday.  These POWs produced a letter from Garwood to his mother, written on 27 December 1965.  The released ARVN also reported that US Army Captain William F. Eisenbraun (Ike) was being held with Garwood at a prison camp called Camp Khu.  According to the ARVN, Eisenbraun and Garwood had arrived at the camp within a week to ten days of each other.

With this new information in hand, the CG FMFPAC directed the 3d CI Team, 3rd MAR DIV to conduct a second investigation of the Fellow Soldier's Appeal.  This investigation reached essentially the same conclusions concerning the document as did the initial investigation. (Report from Asst Head of CI Branch to Asst Chief of Staff/G-2, 18 January 1966)

On 22 January 1966, the head of the investigating team reported that at least one of the ARVN officers released from "Camp Khu" claimed that Garwood himself has shown him the propaganda letter which he (Garwood) had allegedly signed.  The ARVN officer could not say definitely if Garwood had personally signed the document.  On 3 March 1966, the contents of the Fellow Soldier's Appeal were broadcast over Radio Hanoi.  The announcer who read the Appeal was reported by Foreign Broadcast Information System (FBIS) station in Okinawa to  be a foreign national whose English pronunciation "had a French accent."  Although the announcer claimed that "he was reading a statement attributed to Robert R. Gouch," the text was identical to that of the 20 October letter with Garwood's signature. (3d CI Team, FMF PAC report, 21 Mar 66)

(NOTE:  At least two former US POWs held in Hanoi reported that they had heard Garwood himself on Radio Hanoi during the time that they were held captive.  Both Naval aviators, Captain John Fellowes, captured on 27 Aug  66, and Commander Everett Alvarez, captured on 5 Aug 64, stated in personal interviews in November 1992 that Garwood identified himself as "Bobby Garwood" in the broadcasts and stated that he was a US Marine who had "crossed over."  The two returnees stated that Garwood never in the broadcasts they heard used the word "captured" to refer to himself.)

On 5 May 1966, FBIS monitored a Radio Hanoi broadcast to American servicemen in South Vietnam that was identical to the 3 March broadcast.  The broadcast also noted that "a US Marine captured in a raid on Cam Hai, had called on his mates to stop terrorizing the South Vietnamese people and burning their houses, gardens, and rice fields."  On 13 May 1966 the international service of Radio Hanoi broadcast the same message with the same wording and the text was later released by the Liberation Press Agency in English.  (FBIS Okinawa reports of 5 May and 13 May 1966)

Reports  Emerge of Garwood's Imprisonment

Following the publication of the document, nothing was heard from or about Garwood until late in 1966.  On 9 November, one ARVN lieutenant and two enlisted men reported that they had seen Garwood on or about 1 October 1966 while they were prisoners of the VC.  They identified Garwood's photograph from a photo line-up. (COMUSMACV 135th MI Group msg 15 Nov 66)

On 9 January 1967, an ARVN Special Forces soldier was debriefed.  He reported that he had been in a POW camp with Garwood and Eisenbraun in late 1965.  In early 1966, in celebration of Tet, all the POWs in this camp were released, except for the two Americans and four ARVN officers.  The ARVN SF soldier claimed that Garwood handed him one of his dog tags and asked him to return it to US authorities.  The ARVN did not have the dog tag in his possession.

On 21 February 1967, an ARVN Military Intelligence unit reported that a "coded source" had said that two American POWs were being detained in Quang Ngai Province, RVN.  The source did not identify the US POWs, the Marines concluded that the two included Eisenbraun, Garwood, and now LCpl Edwin Russell Grissett, captured on 22 January 1966.  Another unidentified ARVN source reported that he had been held by the VC from December 1966 until his escape in March 1967 during which time he claimed to have been held with three US POWs; he could not communicate with them.  (Evaluation reports from COMUSMACV, 149th MI Group, 21 Feb 67 and 6 Mar 67)

End of 1967 Summary

By this time, US agencies and forces had accumulated a considerable amount of information regarding POWs being held by the VC and NVA in South Vietnam.  While they were generally aware of the number of US POWs being held, information was not sufficient to pinpoint their locations.  Information on Garwood suggested that he was collaborating with the enemy but such collaboration could not be confirmed.

At this point of the Garwood report, we need to pause and consider three items:

First.  The real circumstances surrounding Garwood's disappearance in September 1965 are yet to be told; only Garwood and the people who captured him know.

Second.  It is likely that Garwood was on an unauthorized trip to a local village, probably to visit a brothel or a girl friend.  Claims that Garwood was captured after a firefight are bogus.

Third.  The USMC searched diligently for Garwood following his disappearance.

The real circumstances surrounding Garwood's disappearance may never be known  but the following should be considered.
 

  • In a letter reportedly written just before he disappeared,  to a high school friend, also a Marine stationed in Vietnam, Garwood allegedly expressed how happy he was to be "going home" within 10 to 12 days. (Transcript of September 1992 telephone interview with Gunnery Sgt. (Ret) Leo Powell)  It does not appear logical that Garwood would have defected to the other side if he had only 10 to 12 days left in country.

  • Garwood told his biographer to write that he had been captured after he had become lost, while enroute to Marble Mountain, near Da Nang, to pick up a USMC officer. (Groom, Winston.  Conversations With the Enemy.  New York:  G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1983)

  • SGT. Willie Watkins, US Army, incarcerated with Garwood in a POW camp in South Vietnam, stated that Garwood told him that "he had been captured in a brothel."  (SGT Watkins' debrief, November 1969)

  • PFC Geill, possibly the last American to see Garwood prior to his disappearance, told debriefers that Garwood told debriefers that Garwood said he was going to pick up his laundry and make a "skivvy run," likely in a village close to or contiguous with DaNang base.

  • Senior People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) officials told US investigators in Hanoi in June 1992 that Garwood was not captured, but that he "crossed over" willingly.  Hanoi has consistently maintained that Garwood was never a POW but rather was a "rallier" to the North Vietnamese cause.

  • One of the ARVN POWs released in December 1965 stated in his debriefing that Garwood told him that he had been "captured after he had drunk a coca-cola and was driving a military vehicle near the city of Da Nang."  This ARVN POW added that Garwood was not wounded.

In a made-for-TV-movie, shown in the US in 1993, Garwood is shown asking directions to Marble Mountain from sentries at the Da Nang gate, getting lost on a coastal road, being surrounded by VC, then getting involved in a firefight.  This movie version is also reflected in Spite House and other revisionist material on Garwood.  (The Last POW?:  The Bobby Garwood Story; ABC television, 28 June 1993) There are serious problems with the claim that Garwood was "on duty" when he was captured, or "rallied."

    • The claim that Garwood had an 1800 hours run to pick up a USMC officer is refuted by the statements from the 3 MAR DIV Asst AO to the effect that Garwood was relieved of duty following his mid-day run and was not required to report for the 1800 run.  The debriefings of Geill and Braverman also make it clear that Garwood was not planning to make the 1800 run.

     

    • Even if Garwood did have to make an 1800 pickup at the G-2 -- which he did not -- the G-2 in 1965 was located approximately 1/2 mile from Garwood's tent, within the same defensive perimeter.  That is, Garwood would never have had to drive outside the wire of Da Nang to make the 1800 run.

The record demonstrates that the USMC made a serious, continuing, all-out effort to find Garwood.  No rescue mission was ever launched because it was simply impossible to pinpoint where he -- or any other US POWs -- were held.  Communist prison camps in the south were often mobile and tended to be in double and triple canopy jungle in remote regions.  The were virtually impossible to detect from the air and were difficult to detect on the ground.

Eyewitnesses to collaboration:  1968 - 1969

In January 1968, PFC Jose Ortiz-Rivera, US Army, and LCpl Jose Agosto Santos, USMC, were released from communist captivity in the South.  Both reported that they had been imprisoned with Garwood and that he had "officially crossed over" to the enemy in May 1967 at which time Garwood:

    •  Participated in a "liberation ceremony;"

    • Refused repatriation for reasons of "conscience;"

     

    • Allegedly accepted a commission in the North Vietnamese Army (NVA); and,

     

    • Took the Vietnamese name "Nguyen Chien Dau" (Nguyen the Fighter).

        (Debriefs of Ortiz-Rivera and Agosto Santos, January-February 1968)

The  USG was to determine later, from other released US POWs (after Homecoming) and from captured documents, that Garwood actually had been actively involved in aiding the VC and NVA prior to May 1967:
 

    • By carrying arms and ammunition as well as supplies for them;

    • By assisting in the interrogation of US POWs; and,

    • By living in the guards' quarters.

The reported commissioning ceremony was particularly condemning, and, if authentic, represented a clear turning point in the case by signaling that Garwood had decided to take up arms against his own country.

Regardless of whether or not Garwood accepted a commission in the NVA, the USMC clearly had sufficient evidence at this time to change his status from POW to deserter as soon as the seriousness of his offenses became known.  However, Garwood's POW status was not changed in 1968, or at any time following.

During their debriefings in early February 1968, both Ortiz-Rivera and Agosto Santos indicated that Garwood was a "POW now working with the VC." (Debriefs of Ortiz-Rivera and Agosto Santos, January-February 1968).  Corroboration of Garwood's activities with the VC came on 20 February when an official of an ARVN intelligence unit informed US authorities that thirteen ARVN returnees, recently released by the VC, had reported that they had been in the 5th VC Regional Camp with US POWs.  One of the Americans, they revealed, was called by the Vietnamese name Nguyen Chien Dau and he was scheduled to be released by the National Liberation Front in "June or July 1967, but he requested to join the National Liberation Front to begin work with a VC Enemy Proselytizing unit (cuc dich van) near Da Nang." (Information Report IR/I/1/0025/68/IN, 20 February 1968).

More documents; document examination

Additional revelations concerning Garwood's collaboration with the VC came to light on 9 February 1968 when documents captured by F Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment included four personal letters and five propaganda statements attributed to him.  Three of the latter were "allegedly" written and signed by "Bobby Garwood" and two had no signature. (Report of the 5th Counter-intelligence team, 6 March 1968)

The USMC requested that the FBI examine the documents and compare Garwood's signature with that on the captured documents.  In their letter to the FBI requesting the assistance, the USMC noted that information had been rec eived by HQ, USMC, which "indicated that Garwood apparently defected to the VC during May 1967.  Since that date there have been numerous reports in South Vietnam of a Caucasian assisting the VC in the propaganda and proselytizing programs" (6 March 1968 letter, USMC HQ to FBI).  Over a year later, in September 1969, the USMC requested that the FBI re-examine the documents and compare the various Garwood signatures with writing samples previously provided.  In addition, the USMC asked that the FBI examine an additional eight-page undated "Declaration" allegedly written by Garwood, found during December 1968, and a letter dated 18 January 1969. (HQ USMC letter to FBI, 8 September 1969).  In their response, the FBI indicated that the writing, in some of the documents, appeared to be that of PFC Garwood; in other places, the orthography appeared to be somewhat Cyrillic. (FBI response to USMC, 6 October 1969)

The USMC then requested that the CIA carryout an even more technical and graphological analysis of the documents.  Upon examination, CIA experts stated that they thought that at least six of the documents had been written by Garwood.  They also reported that they discerned some personality traits in the writing they analyzed that concurred with observations about Garwood's personality "found in the personnel reports in Garwood's file," concerning his lack of emotional stability, low sense of responsibility and loyalty, and the need for security.

More Firsthand Witnesses to Collaboration

The USMC gained more first-hand information concerning Garwood's prison camp activities when three more US POWs were released in early November 1969.  SGT Willie Watkins,  PFC James Strickland, and PFC Coy Tinsley, all US Army, stated in their debriefs that they had last seen Garwood on or about October 25, 1969 just prior to their departure from a POW camp in South Vietnam.  Not only did they corroborate previous statements made by Ortiz-Rivera and Agosto Santos almost two years before (Jan-Feb 68), but SGT Watkins related that Garwood had told him that he (Garwood) was going to North Vietnam to meet one of the leaders of the Black Panther Party  and Black Muslims in August or September 1970. (Debriefs of Watkins, Strickland, and Tinsley)  Watkins also stated that Garwood had bragged of having been in a firefight with the VC against US troops and that only he and one VC had escaped.  Watkins also stated that Garwood wore a Ho Chi Minh button and carried an AK-47 rifle. (Watkins debrief, November 1969)

Garwood Goes North

After Homecoming, during which all returning US POWs were debriefed, the USG was to ascertain that PFC Garwood had, in fact, gone to North Vietnam in late 1969 and that Watkins, Strickland, and Tinsley were possibly the last US POWs to see him prior to his departure.

Summary:  1968 - 1969

The significance of this period in the Garwood chronology lies in the fact that evidence emerged attesting to Garwood's collaboration, supporting the premise that he had crossed over to the enemy.  The evidence included documents that graphological examination concluded belonged to Garwood; the testimony of released ARVN POWs; and the testimony from Ortiz-Rivera, Agosto Santos, Watkins, Strickland, and Tinsley.  When US POWs were debriefed during Operation Homecoming in 1973, their eyewitness accounts corroborated the accounts of the men released during the 1968 - 1969 period.

Just as significant is the reaction by the USMC.  There was sufficient documentation and eyewitness accounts, as early as 1968 and easily by 1969, for the USMC to change Garwood's status from POW to deserter/collaborator.  Apparently, the leadership of the USMC did not consider a change propitious.  A USMC POW screening board report dated 5 May 1969 noted that PFC Garwood possibly enjoyed the attention given him by the VC and, therefore, defected and aided them in their proselytizing and propagandazing programs.  The Board chose to minimize Garwood's defection while protecting his rights when they recommended that Garwood be advised of his rights under Article 31, UCMJ (an Article 31 advisement is the military version of the Miranda warning) prior to any debriefing and that a thorough investigation be conducted to determine his actions while in enemy hands, should Garwood ever return to US control.

This recommendation by the USMC POW screening board clearly demonstrates that the USMC was more concerned with protecting Garwood than with prosecuting him, as they should have been, until his return and all facts disclosed.  No change was made in his status.

Fellow Soldier LetterActual Soldier Letter

Garwood 1970 -1979

Garwood Comes HomeGarwood DeBunks the DeBunkers

Garwood Summary