Oral History Program (OHP)

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During the November 1991 Senate Select Committee Hearings on  POW/MIA Affairs, Senator John McCain, AZ, asked Bill Bell, then the   Chief of the U.S. Office in Hanoi for POW/MIA Affairs, for a list of steps   the Vietnamese could take to increase progress. One of the steps Bell proposed was an Oral History Program (OHP) to interview individuals who,
based on their wartime assignment, had potential knowledge of specific U.S. POW/MIA losses or on overall POW policy.
Bell also presented this OHP idea to Senator John Kerry, MA, who at that  time was Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, as one part of an overall process to expand the accounting effort. Senator Kerry agreed that the program had the potential to increase our understanding of the Vietnamese POW system.
In September 1992, Sen. Kerry formally presented to the Vietnamese a  proposed Oral History Program, and the first interviews took place in January 1993.
Initially, these interviews were conducted by Bell, who by then had become  the Special Assistant (SA) to the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA)  Commander, Brigadier General Thomas Needham. A list of 83 individuals to  interview, was compiled by Bell and the DIA archival researcher, Robert DeStatte. The list called the "KERRY" list was developed from Bell's institutional memory of wartime cadre, as well as from captured enemy documents, wartime interrogations, and Signal Intelligence (SIGINT).
The interviews provide two general categories of information. First, information relating to Vietnamese policies and procedures for handling U.S. POW/MIAs, and second, specific information relating to both resolved and unresolved cases. After the program was placed in the hands of young, inexperienced JTF-FA personnel, Bell resigned from the JTF-FA. Unfortunately, the U.S. personnel who conducted the remaining interviews failed to capitalize on the opportunity presented by the program.
Further Oral History's were completed in 1994-1996. The latest DOD figures as of June, 1996 mentions a total of 174, not including 22 interviews done in Cambodia. Only 53 of the Kerry list of 83 will be presented here. Bear in mind that some numbered items consist of interviews with several different individuals. The people not done could not be found, were deceased, or declined to be interviewed.
After reading the paper entitled POWs and Politics: How Much Does Hanoi Really Know?, the combination of the captured documents, CMIC interrogation reports, and Oral Histories should provide any researcher a decent background into North  Vietnamese wartime POW/MIA strategy.

 

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