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With July 11, 1993 return of former Marine private Robert Garwood, former
N.C. congressman Billy Hendon, and Sen. Bob Smith (R-New Hampshire) from
Vietnam, more evidence has been revealed that Vietnam continues to lie about
American POWs still in their possession.
Garwood has been the center of controversy since his return to the United States from Vietnam in 1979, six years after the United States government told the American public there were no prisoners left in Vietnam and 14 years after his capture in 1965.
When Garwood secured his release through the efforts of the Red Cross, he came home and was court-martialed for collaborating with the enemy, desertion, assault on a fellow prisoner and other charges. He was found guilty of assault and collaborating with the enemy, was dishonorably discharged from the Marine Corps and forfeited 14 years of back pay.
The Vietnamese have claimed Garwood was no longer a prisoner after two years in captivity and was offered in 1967 the chance to return to the United States, but Garwood refused. The same offer was extended to nearly all U.S. prisoners with a stipulation that the prisoners must first become good "progressive" prisoners.
Garwood refutes the testimony of those who are now accusing him and in his recent visit, made angry comments to the Vietnamese envoy saying he was never their friend and they have always lied about American POWs.
Sen. Smith told reporters in Bangkok that all of Garwood's testimony concerning prison camps had turned out to be absolutely accurate despite the fact the U.S. investigators have for years, denied the prison camps existed. Smith says Garwood was able to locate each one.
U.S. officials have tried to discredit Garwood's stories of having seen live POWs as late as 1979 before he returned to the United States, saying Garwood's military history as a convicted collaborator allows him no credibility in regard to the live sightings.
Garwood says he tried to tell government officials when he first returned about live American prisoners, but that he was ignored told that public policy regarding POW/MIAs was that they had all been officially accounted for and the issue was laid to rest.
Smith said he is convinced Garwood knows the truth and the United States government should have used Garwood's information when he was first returned to the U.S. Smith told reporters he was "more convinced" than ever that some missing U.S. servicemen were still alive as recently as last year. Basically U.S. officials have tried to debunk nearly all of Garwood's information and one of the loudest voices of all comes from the ranks of the former POW, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) who recently ranted to fellow senators about the Garwood made-for-television movie which aired June 28.
In a wordy tirade, McCain accused Garwood of being a traitor and a liar and continuing the anguish of the POW/MIA families by "lying" about having seen live Americans. "These efforts and other constitute an enduring betrayal of his country. And anyone who may be manipulating Garwood for their own ends is a co-conspirator in this betrayal."
McCain's version of Garwood's imprisonment is that Garwood took up arms against American forces, guarded other American prisoners with rifles, used a bullhorn to encourage American soldiers to surrender and made propaganda broadcasts for the Vietnamese.
McCain used testimony of Garwood's fellow prisoners to add fuel to the fire, one of which was Gustav Mehrer, a former POW who said Garwood tried to recruit him into the North Vietnamese Army. But Mehrer's claims fall short in the credibility scale in light of the fact that U.S. Veteran Dispatch has CIA declassified documents which clearly show Mehrer was believed to be the same SP4 Gustav Mehrer (also known as Gus Maddox) who was an American prisoner of war working for the Viet Cong near Quang Nam Province. According to the document, Mehrer was reported AWOL from his unit on Dec. 25, 1968. The report also says Mehrer went AWOL to avoid being court-martialed for repeated use of marijuana. The document also says Mehrer had tried to pass himself off as an officer because he had a brother who was a major and Mehrer, when captured, was thought by the Viet Cong to have been an officer.
Debunking Garwood's information on POW/MIAs has been the name of the game when it comes to government or senate investigations. Ever since his return in 1979, government-appointed POW/MIA task forces, headed by various congressional leaders, have spent most of their efforts focusing on Garwood the collaborator rather than using Garwood's information to help bring home live POWs. Garwood had a wealth of information when he returned from Vietnam.
In December 1984, Garwood told the Wall Street Journal about living Americans held captive in Vietnam. Shortly afterward, he met with Ted Sampley who was the deputy director of the National Vietnam Veterans Coalition. The two continued to meet and talk and on March 22, 1985, held a joint press conference in Washington, D.C. Garwood, despite his preferences for a private life out of the public eye, continued to help provide and offer information regarding live American prisoners. At the press conference, Garwood issued the following statement: "Over the past several months, I have made it known to appropriate government officials that I want to share with them information concerning prisoners of war in Vietnam that I knew were alive during the time frame of 1970-1978. "When I got out of Vietnam in 1979, I was immediately informed of my rights and instructed to remain silent. Later I was charged and prosecuted. Because of that experience, I have had to seek protection from any attempt to further prosecute me. The officials in the Department of Defense who could grant me immunity are obviously unwilling to do so, at least at this time.
"I have called this press conference to tell you that I have decided to share this information because of its importance even without the protection of immunity. I have already turned over to Congressman (Bill) Hendon an outline of what I know for transmittal to President Reagan. "The information being entrusted to Congressman Hendon contains maps, names, dates and locations..."
In a May 17, 1985 article in the Jacksonville Daily News, the following information, disclosed to government officials by Garwood, was printed:
-Beginning in October 1973 during a three-month period at Bat Bat POW camp 35 miles northwest of Hanoi, Garwood said he saw 15 to 20 American prisoners.
-During March 1975 at Bat Bat he saw 22 U.S. POWs planting vegetables along a river.
-During July 1977 at Yen Bai prison camp 80 miles northwest of Hanoi, Garwood said he saw 30 to 32 Americans being unloaded off a train. Garwood also knew their names.
One of the most important pieces of information which Garwood disclosed but the government labeled as completely false was Garwood spotting 20 American prisoners on an island in Lake Thac Ba in 1977. Until this year, the Defense Intelligence Agency has said Garwood made the story up because there was no Lake Thac Ba, no island, no prison camp. But a senate investigative team lead by Senator Smith, Hendon, and other investigators not only found the lake, but the island and the camp as well.
Their findings and their call for action, lead by Sen. Smith, has hit a nerve with U.S. senate conspirators who can only propagandize against Garwood rather than use his important information. Everything single bit of information regarding prison camp locations, debunked repeatedly by DIA, was proven true in this recent visit to Vietnam by Garwood and Smith.
Given that Garwood has been the target of hostilities from nearly everyone from the DIA, senate members, POW/MIA task force teams, investigative committees, veterans groups, and a host of others, it stands to reason he would be reluctant to once again face a flood of allegations and insults leveled at him from the senate floors and newspaper columnists.
But Garwood knows the truth just as the Vietnamese know the truth. Senators Smith and Hendon and others know the truth. We suspect Senator McCain knows the truth - not only about Garwood's information, but about his own POW activities which have been scrupulously deep-sixed. We suspect the Vietnamese know the truth about the "progressive" McCain too.
So knowing the truth, Garwood continues to push forward, gaining some support from POW/MIA activists, veterans leaders, senate leaders, and drawing a whole lot of fire from others who can only concentrate on "Garwood the collaborator who knows nothing and can only lie."
All in all, Garwood's "lies" have been proven as truths and Senator Smith will bear witness to this when he reveals his findings to the POW/MIA Senate Select Committee.
Garwood has been accused by McCain and others of using the POW/MIA issue for personal gain. It's difficult to rationalize that allegation when Garwood has so far been called a liar by his own country and the Vietnamese.
Someone's not telling the truth. We know the Vietnamese aren't and we don't like to think that we're being lied to by our own government - but facts are facts, and that's the deck of cards Garwood is forced to play with right now.