POW Nurse

I found this amongst my dad’s Vietnam stuff. The text reads: Renate Kuhnen, 27, a West German nurse, was taken from a Kontum hospital overrun by Viet Cong in a raid this week in the South Vietnamese city. She is still missing. (Source: Des Moines Register, 7 March 1968) She was captured 3 March 1968 when coming to the aid of several patients during the attack by the VC. She was freed a year later. (Source: Wisconsin State Journal, 10 March 1969)

She was a fortunate one. Current statistics on the Vietnam War from the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office: 1,655 US personnel listed as POW/MIA as of 19 Sep 2012. While the National League of POW/MIA Families lists 1,661 missing and unaccounted-for as of 1 Aug 2012. The discrepancy results from the recently identified remains of 5 U.S. military personnel, although by my math that still leaves a discrepancy of 1. Last Friday, 21 September 2012, marked National POW/MIA Recognition Day; a day set aside to honor and remember those who never came home. The DPMO office has a motto: Keeping the Promise.

I grew up watching movies such as Missing in Action and Rambo and the conspiracy theorist in me entertained the idea that maybe American service personnel were still held captive long after the war ended. I also read newspaper articles about alleged Soviet prison camps where select U.S. servicemen, captured in Vietnam, were sent. The CIA’s FOIA Electronic Reading Room  (also available here: some declassified documents on this subject. A simple keyword search for: ‘vietnam war pow’, yields over a 1000 results, although all results are not necessarily relevant.

One document: Report on alleged Soviet incarceration of US Vietnam prisoners of war (also available here: the first document listed, 12 Mar 1982. The report references a conversation by KGB Lt General Petr Ivanovich Grigoriyev who claimed that US POWs were taken from Vietnam to the USSR and retrained to later serve Soviet interests. Only a portion of the report has been declassified.

(PLEASE NOTE: If the links to the CIA FOIA docs result in ‘404 Page not found’ then use their search function to search for the article using keywords from the articles title or the title itself)

A second document: Possible POW/MIA-Associated Markings in Southeast Asia (also available here: the first document listed, 10 August 1992. This report made for some interesting reading as the Imagery Analysis Office reviews, over a period of several years after the war, markings detected by satellite that could have been indicative of a POW presence in Laos.

One very annoying aspect of the CIA FOIA reports is the redacted text of yet-to-be declassified information. Well, thanks to the Internet I was able to uncover some of the information behind those black boxes. For example, on page 5 of the Markings in Southeast Asia report there is a black box after: “67 kilometers east of thakek”, so I performed a search for: ’67 kilometers east of thakek [laos]’ and was rewarded with another CIA document available via Google Docs here (also available here: Although the second document isn’t exactly the same, it still matches the first document almost word-for-word in most parts. Both documents have redacted text but in different places so together one can get a better idea of what the report is about. There is mention of Soviet military personnel sightings and possible POW sightings in that area of Laos although not necessarily at the same time.

Additional readings: Autobiographies and biographies on Jim Thompson, Frank Anton, Robert Garwood; Other books: Inside Hanoi’s Secret Archives, Soldiers of Misfortune, Kiss the Boys Goodbye

Whether the mishandling of the POW/MIA issue was politically motivated, the result of bureaucratic ineptitude, or a communist conspiracy-at this point just make it right. Don’t blather on about keeping a promise that no man is left behind, just make it right.

*And we must not forget those POW/MIA from other wars past and present and the heroic achievements of individuals like PFC Wayne A. “Johnnie” Johnson. PFC Johnson was a POW held captive in North Korea when “The Tiger”, a North Korean Major, took over the camp in 1950. By the time the armistice was signed in 1953, there were only 262 soldiers, out of 700, still alive. PFC Johnson risked his life to record the names of the soldiers who died at the hands of “The Tiger” and in doing so everyone “came home.” Read more here:

4 thoughts on “CIA & FOIA & POW/MIA! Oh My!

  1. Wow. Great Post.
    For real there are unknown combat personel that will never be accounted for.
    Like anything and all regarding this dissaster in south east this government can never distance itself from this debacle.
    Yeah. I’m tossing my stacks($) on politically motivated cover up.
    My assigned details and MOS put me and my Marines in very secluded missions in so that what we witnessed actually turned our stomachs.
    When discussing The Vietnam War one has to take into account Cambodia and Laos. Countries we were never in. Nod Nod. Wink. Wink.
    i wrote a post more of a joke about service in countries I was never in.
    A lot of us served in secret. Signed sealed and delivered. To mention any of this service is an act of treason.
    To this day I still haven’t any answers regarding Why.
    I love your blog design. So very proffesional. You as well have a great writing style and your research is second to none.
    Thank You.


    1. Aww shucks, thanks for the kind words!

      Based on conversations with my dad the only ones who cared about the soldiers, excluding loved ones back home, were the other guys standing next to him in the firefight or sitting next to him in the foxhole, not the policymakers. Every day our lives are bartered, bought, and sold. All the government has to do is throw out some well-worn phrases like: “We are deeply saddened”, “Unfortunate casualty of war”, “You can be certain that we will use every resource at our disposal to bring these boys home” and people eat it up because they want to.

      Ours is not to question why…ours is to make a bumper sticker for it.


      1. Being an old man I’m not sure if I have replied to the above or not. I started to on 4 occasions then I hit the right mouse button for a word spell correction and my reply went away. I’m not sure if I inadvertently hit the reply button.
        Please advise.
        From a seemingly dottering old man.


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