McDONNELL, JOHN TERENCE
Name: John Terence McDonnell
Rank/Branch: O3/US Army
Unit: A Battery, 4th Battalion, 77th Artillery, 101st Airborne Division
Date of Birth: 14 December 1940
Home City of Record: Ft. Worth TX
Date of Loss: 06 March 1969
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 161346N 1075822E (ZC177968)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 May 1990 from one or more of
the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence
with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W.
SYNOPSIS: Capt. John T. McDonnell was the aircraft commander of an AH1G
helicopter from A Battery, 4th Battalion, 77th Artillery, 101st Airborne
Division operating in Thua Tien Province, South Vietnam. On March 6,
McDonnell's aircraft was the flight leader in a flight on two aircraft on a
During a firing pass, McDonnell's aircraft was observed receiving enemy
ground fire. The aircraft disappeared into an overcast and crashed into a
mountain side. The area was searched, but McDonnell could not be located.
His pilot, Lt. Ronald Greenfield, was found and medically evacuated. Lt.
Greenfield could recall nothing from the point of impact to the following
During the search, McDonnell's helmet was found with no trace of blood along
with pieces of equipment. It appeared that McDonnell's seatbelt had been
unlocked and that he had left the aircraft on his own power. During the
search effort, numerous deserted enemy positions were located indicating
that Capt. McDonnell might have been captured. The search continued for
three weeks without success.
McDonnell was not a green soldier. On a previous tour of Vietnam then-2LT.
McDonnell was attached as an artillery expert to Detachment A324, 5th
Special Forces Group. It was at this time, on May 25, 1965, that he was
awarded the Army Commendation Medal with "V" device for Heroism. At that
time McDonnell was an advisor to South Vietnamese paramilitary forces at
Thanh Dien Forest, Republic of Vietnam. A fellow team member had been killed
by a sniper, another had been wounded. A third was missing. McDonnell's
tactical advice and bravery enabled the team to successfully complete their
search for the missing team member in the face of intense enemy fire.
There is every reason to suspect that McDonnell may have been captured. His
fate following is a matter for speculation. Returned POWs would say that
those who resisted most strongly were the most tortured and deprived. To a
man, those 591 Americans who returned home at the end of the war cooperated
at some point, in some way, with their captors. They all agree it is not a
matter of whether a man can be broken -- but only how long it will take.
Only a few were known to hold out to the end...and unfortunately, for them,
it was the end. A few were known to have been literally tortured or starved
to death for their resolute refusal to cooperate. McDonnell's training and
background may put him in that category. We may never know for sure.
Nearly 2500 Americans were lost in Southeast Asia during our military
involvement there. Since the war in Southeast Asia ended in 1973, thousands
of reports of Americans still in captivity have been received by the U.S.
Government. The official policy is that no conclusive proof has been
obtained that is current enough to act upon. Detractors of this policy say
conclusive proof is in hand, but that the willingness or ability to rescue
these prisoners does not exist.
McDonnell, if one of those hundreds said to be still alive and in captivity,
must be wondering, "Where ARE you, America?" Where are we, America, when the
life of even one American is not worth the effort of recovery? When the next
war comes, and it is our sons lost, will we then care enough to do
everything we can to bring our prisoners home?
SUMMARYY SELECTION RATIONALE
NAME: MCDONNEL, John T, CPT, USA
OFFICIAL STATUS: MISSING
CASE SUMMARY: SEE ATTACHED
RATIONALE SELECTION: The other crewmember survived the aircraft crash and
was subsequently found and medically evacuated. All signs indicated CPT
McDonnel left the aircraft under his own power. No correlated reports of
Capt McDonnel's death have been received since the incident date.
REFNO: 1402 21 Apr 76
1. (U) On 6 March 1969 CPT John T. McDonnell, aircraft commander, and lLT
[blank] pilot, were aboard an AHLG helicopter, #67-15845), as flight leader
in a flight of two aircraft on a combat mission in tne vicinity of grid
coordinates (CC) 170 960 in South Vietnam. During a firing pass over the
taret area, CPT McDonneell's aircraft: was observed receiving enemy ground
fire. The aircraft disappeared into an overcast and crashed into a mountain
side. At about 1500 hours the following day the wreckage of the aircraft
was located in the vicinity of (CC) 177 968. The area was searched,
however, CPT McDonnell could not be located. LT [blank] was found and
medically evacuated, but he recalled nothing of the incident from the time
of impact to the following morning. CPT McDonnell's helmet was found,
(without a trace of blood), along with other pieces of equipment. It
appeared that CPT McDonnell unlocked his seat belt and left the aircraft.
During the search efforts, numerous deserted emeny positions were located
in the area, indicating that CPT McDonnell could have been captured. The
search continued without success through 26 March. (Ref 1)
2. (C) On 24 July 1973 a rallier reported that he had observed two U.S.
Prisoners of War on three occasions. The prisoners was said to be officers
who had been captured by the NVA 2,nd Division in Quang Province. The POWs
allegedly were collaborating with the division's political and military
staff officer in a proselytizing effort directed toward U.S. soldiers. The
rallier made no positive identification of CPT McDonnell's photo, but
stated that his photo looked very similar to the POW who wore a large ring.
(Information in this report correlated to CPT McDonnell.) (Ref 2)
3. (U) CPT McDonnell's name and identifying data were turned over to the
Four-Party Joint Military Team with a request for any information
available. No response was forthcoming. In August 1973 JCRC proposed a
Casualty Resolution Operation at this site. American consul, Da Nang,
responded that he believed that because of nearby enemy activity, it would
be "somewhat imprudent" to conduct an operation at this site "at this
time." During the existence of JCRC, the hostile threat in the area
precluded any visits to or ground inspections of the sites involved in this
4. CPT McDonnell is currently carried in the status of Missing.
(U)- REFERENCES USED:
1. RPT (U), AVHAG-CC, 12 Apr 69.
2. RPT (C), Saigon, RVN FVS 32,810, 24 Jul 73.
* National Alliance of Families Home Page
National Alliance of Families
For The Return of America's Missing Servicemen
World War II - Korea - Cold War - Vietnam
Dolores Alfond --- 425-881-1499
Lynn O'Shea ------ 718-846-4350
E-mail ------------- firstname.lastname@example.org
Web Site ---------- http://www.nationalalliance.org
September 11, 1999 Bits N Pieces - Part One
On January 28, 1998, we presented an issue of Bits 'N' Pieces dedicated to
the misuse of mT-DNA testing, the abuse of the identification process and
how it affected POW/MIA families. At that time we said it was the hardest
"Bits" we had ever written. That was true, until today. Today, we
introduce you to:
Captain John T. McDonnell United States Army ONE OF THE MEN WE LEFT BEHIND
The next time someone asks you to name one American serviceman left behind
in Southeast Asia, name just one.... Look them straight in the eye and say
Capt. John T. McDonnell, United States Army, Last known duty station
Vietnamese Prison Camp Location Ba To, Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam.
Last seen in mid to late February 1973, and he was not alone! Five (5)
American NCO's were held at the same location with Capt. McDonnell.
If you want the facts, if you want the details and evidence proving Capt.
McDonnell was left behind, continue reading and be prepared to be
"REFERENCED REPORT PROVIDED INFORMATION OF URGENT POLITICAL SENSITIVITY,"
so reads a Defense Intelligence Agency message sent to USDAO SAIGON VIETNAM
on June 15, 1973. Only evidence of American POWs left behind in Vietnam
would warrant a message of "Urgent Political Sensitivity." That was the
situation facing DIA in June of 1973.
On April 10th, 1973, two days before Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr.
Roger Shields declared all the POWs home or dead, a North Vietnamese soldier
defected to the south. The defector, who held the rank of "aspirant and was
commanding officer for the 157 Co. 21st Bn, 2nd Div," provided stunning
information that six (6) American POWs remained in a POW camp in Quang Ngai
Province. He had seen the six (6) Americans as recently as late February
The source, interviewed by U.S. investigators on May 22nd, (remember this
date, it's important) described the six (6), as an American "Captain" and 5
NCOs The source never got a good look at the NCOs and could provide no
descriptions. However, the source did provide a detailed description of the
"Captain." The source said he saw and conversed with the Captain, on four
(4) separate occasions between August 1972 and February 1973.
110900A Jun 73 -- From the Department of Defense National Military Command
Center: "In August 1972, Source entered an MR-5 PW Camp.... Source contacted
members of the 12th Artillery Bn (NVA) who were at the PW Camp location to
study the operation of captured 105 MM Howitzers. Their instructor was a
captured American Artillery Officer... who was captured (estimated
1968-1969) by the 459th Sapper Regt. in Binh Dinh Province. The PW was
forced to give artillery instructions under threat of execution. In addition
to the officer, there were five (5) American NCOs referred to as sergeants
and 200 ARVN PWs.... The Americans were segregated from the ARVN PWs. Source
only caught a glimpse of the five NCOs and thus could provide no information
concerning them. Source, however, conversed with the Artillery Captain on
four different occasions, from August 1972 until late February 1973."
"Source stated the American officer was approximately 75 inches tall, with
blue eyes and blond hair. He had a high bridged nose and was thin but had a
large frame. The artillery Captain had a small mole on the upper portion of
his left lip and a scar approximately 1 1/2 inches long behind his left ear.
Subject had two tattoos- one on his right forearm... the other on his upper
left arm.... The American was married and had one girl 11 and one boy aged
5. Source states that on the four occasions he conversed with this Captain,
a Sr. LT. Hinh MR-5 interpreter, assisted him. Source states the Captain was
from Texas, the same place where President Johnson lived, and from source's
imitation of the sound of his name it may be inferred that the officer's
first name was John (sic)...."
According to the source the POW "was forced to give artillery instruction
under threat of execution." We would assume that the 5 American NCOs in camp
with the "Captain" faced the same threat of execution, if the "Captain"
failed to cooperate.
"...Source shown DIA Photo Book... and stated that the shape of the face of
photo no. W052 (James J. Wright) was similar to the Captain's. Source later
indicated that Photo No. C166 (Phillip S. Clark, Jr.) looked more like the
Captain, and could possibly be the same individual. Source claims that
according to [NAME] the communists considered releasing the ARVN prisoners
in Nhon Loc District in late February 1973, but could not do so due to heavy
fighting in the area. When asked about the Americans, [NAME] claimed they
had not been released yet because they were "needed" and added they would
probably have to be taken North before being released."
June 13th, 1973 -- the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) narrowed down the
identity of the Captain to one of two men. They were Captain John T.
McDonnell and Sgt. Glenn E. Tubbs, both of the United States Army.
June 15th, 1973 -- the DIA issued their message regarding "INFORMATION OF
URGENT POLITICAL SENSITIVITY." After declaring all the POW's home or dead,
the Department of Defense faced a unique crisis. A first hand eyewitness
provided a detailed description of an American POW alive in Quang Ngai
Province in February 1973, and he was not alone.
In DIA's words, "Analysis of the descriptive data of the "American Captain"
has produced two candidates. Although neither fits the description
perfectly, both have enough of the reported characteristics that their
photographs should be shown to the source. The two individuals are M133
(McDonnell J.T. Cpt, USA) and T046 (Tubbs, G.E. E5, USA)... Both families
are being interviewed to determine what tattoos and scars the individuals
may have had. Sgt. Tubbs is known to have had one tattoo on each arm. It is
not known whether Cpt. McDonnell had tattoos. The scar behind the left ear
fits Cpt. McDonnell. It is not known if Sgt. Tubbs had a similar scar."
July 1, 1973 - Dept. of Army Staff Communications Division - Message
discusses a photo identification by the source. The document reads "Source
on two occasions selected photo L035, Page A391, as closely resembling the
American, he spoke to prior to rallying GVN. He stated POW has grey or light
hair, but facial features in L035 closely resemble POW in question." The
message also discusses efforts to "surface other sources from Ba To area, to
develop additional information."
July 11, 1973 - Major C.W. Watson adds a comment to the above referenced
message which states: "Photo #L035 is of LTC Carter Luna, USAF, lost 10 Mar
69 over Laos (XD028815). For source to have seen Luna in grid square BS, the
PW would have had to have been moved several hundred KM SE from his loss
location - something which experience has shown was simply not done. Photo
of McDonnell in DIA photo book does not resemble photos in OACSI files but
does have similarities with LTC Luna's photo. OACSI is sending additional
photos of McDonnell and Tubbs (another Army Candidate) to USDAO Saigon for
possible ID by source."
Photographs of Capt. McDonnell, provided to the National Alliance of
Families, do show a passing resemblance to the photo of LTC Luna in the Pre
Capture Photo Book. It should also be noted that LTC Luna's photo appears on
page A391, Captain McDonnell's photo appears on page A390. Both pages face
Can you identify the photos of Capt. McDonnell???? Visit our web page and
view the photos.
Capt. McDonnell and Lt. Ronald Greenfield were pilots aboard a AH-1G
helicopter. On March 6, 1969 their chopper was hit by ground fire and
crashed 50 kilometers southeast of Hue and 3 kilometers southeast of Thon
Thuy Cam, Thua Thien Province.
U. S. search teams operated in the area from 1600 hours (4 P.M.) March 6th
to March 12th. They found no sign of Capt. McDonnell. On March 7th, at
approximately 1330 hours (1:30 P.M.) American search teams located Lt.
Greenfield, near the downed helicopter. Lt. Greenfield was seriously wounded
and had no memory of events after the crash. Examination of the downed
helicopter revealed that Capt. McDonnell's seat belt and harness were open
and placed neatly on the seat. Search teams located McDonnell's helmet.
There was no sign of blood in the helmet. Also located at the crash site
were maps, weapons, and survival equipment. According the "JTF-FA Narrative"
presented to the Vietnamese in 1989, this suggests "he either had to quickly
flee the area or was captured."
Sgt. Glenn Tubbs was a rifle man on a Long Range Reconnaissance patrol.
During a river crossing, Sgt. Tubbs lost his grip on the safety line. The
current was strong and he was swept away. Search efforts were complicated
when helicopters received enemy fire. Early records list Sgt. Tubbs loss
location as South Vietnam. The actual loss location, corrected years later,
Recently, we spoke with Pamela Tubbs, wife of Sgt. Glenn Tubbs. She
remembers being contacted by the Army in mid 1973. She was asked to provide
additional photos and a detailed physical description of her husband. When
we asked her if she knew why they were requesting this information, she said
she was told it would help with identification should remains be recovered.
She was never told of a possible live sighting.
Mrs. Tubbs confirmed her husband did have a tattoo, on the right forearm.
Official documentation obtained by the National Alliance of Families shows
that the tattoo described by the source does not match Sgt. Tubbs. Mrs.
Tubbs also confirmed that Sgt. Tubbs did not have a scar behind the left
ear. Based on the information we provided her, she does not believe the
"Army Captain" could be her husband.
Both Captain McDonnell and Sgt Tubbs are from Texas and married. Capt.
McDonnell has three children. Sgt. Tubbs has two. The physical description
fits Capt. McDonnell, with one possible discrepancy. There is no record of
Capt. McDonnell having tattoos.
It is interesting to note that in discussing descriptions involving tattoos,
official documentation indicates that many servicemen acquired tattoos while
in service, and therefore official records may not be accurate in this
matter. As one analyst wrote, regarding another investigation; " Files
should not be considered foolproof because service members might not have
entered all tattoos." Therefore, the presence of a tattoo or tattoos should
not negate a sources information. Records available to the National Alliance
of Families confirm Capt. McDonnell has a scar, as described by the source,
behind the left ear.
In addition to the physical description, the first name, the time frame of
capture, rank of the PW, the fact that the PW was an ARVN advisor and
artillery officer all match Capt. McDonnell. It should be noted that Capt.
McDonnell was on his third tour of duty. His first two tours were served
with the Green Berets as an ARVN advisor.
In reviewing this material one must remember that all four conversations
were conducted through an interpreter. Minor errors of translation may have
occurred regarding the number of children. It should also be remembered that
the number of children is a minor detail which the source may have been
confused. It is critical to remember that all major facts relating to the
American "Captain" correlate to John McDonnell.
Under ordinary circumstances the absence of a tattoo on each arm would raise
concerns as to our conclusion, that Capt. McDonnell was the POW in Quang
Ngai, if it were not for one additional fact. This was not the first
sighting of Capt. McDonnell in captivity.
This first sighting provides a physical description almost identical to the
description of the "Captain" in the Quang Ngai POW camp. The Joint Casualty
Resolution Center correlated that report to Capt. McDonnell, also.
February 16th, 1973 -- another North Vietnamese rallied to the GVN. This
source was a former NVA sergeant. He served as squad leader with the 5th
Company, 14th Antiaircraft Battalion NVA 2nd Yellow Star Division. A report,
generated by the Central Intelligence Agency on July 24th, 1973, provides a
firsthand observation of two U.S. Prisoners of War with the North Vietnamese
Army 2nd Yellow Star Division in Laos, on three different occasions, between
May and July of 1971.
The first sighting took place "in early May or June 1971 when he saw the two
POWs eating lunch with personnel of the Military Staff and political
offices, North Vietnamese Army (NVA) 2nd Yellow Star Division [word
unreadable] Doan 2 Sao Vang, at the 13th Commo-Liaison Station (WD876558),
33rd Binh Tram, NVA 559th infiltration line (Doung Day 559) in Savannakhet
Province Laos. He observed them for about 30 minutes."
"The second time source saw the same POWs was for about two minutes in July
"The third time he saw the POWs was for about ten minutes in July 1971,
while POWs were sitting in a hut in the division's base camp area." The
source was told that the POWs "had been captured by the NVA 2nd Division in
Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam.
Source Observed the POWs the first time from at a distance of about two
meters. Both were Caucasian, one was about 30 years old, about 1.8 meters
tall, and weighed about 90 kilos. He had a heavy build, a pink complexion, a
long face, short brownish blond hair, a receding hairline, a high straight
nose, brown eyes, white regular teeth, a round mouth, and a red mole under
his lower left lip. He was wearing a green NVA uniform consisting of a
short-sleeved shirt and trousers. He was also wearing a white metal "seiko"
wrist watch and a large gold ring with a red ruby on his left hand."
"In about October 1972, servent (sic) NAME, a radio operator in the NVA 2nd
Division, told Source that the two POWs had been sent to North Vietnam.
(According to JCRC "no correlation could be made on the second POW cited in
With regard to the first POW, JCRC stated in the "Field Comment" -- "Records
indicate that source probably observed Capt. John T. McDonnell, USA (JCRC
Nr. 0176).... There is an
indication that McDonnell may have been captured.... McDonnell's description
follows: age in 1971 was 31, height: 1.77 meters; weight 75 kilos' hair;
brown; race; caucasian; wears white silver seiko watch and large ring on
left hand." A photo of Captain McDonnell wearing such a ring was provided to
the National Alliance of Families by the McDonnell family.
JCRC re-contacted the source. He was shown McDonnell's photo "mixed with 15
other photographs. However source was unable to make an identification. Then
he was shown McDonnell's photographs. After five minute of study, source
said that the photograph looked very similar to the POW who wore the ring,
except that his hair was longer and that his nose was long and nostrils were
less pronounced. He said that the shape of the face, the eyes, and the mouth
were similar to the man in the photograph, but stopped short of making a
definite identification because of the difference in the hair style and
It is important here that we remember Major C.W. Watson's comments regarding
photos of Captain McDonnell. Major Watson stated; "Photo of McDonnell in DIA
photo book does not resemble photos in OACSI files."
By June 20th, 1973, the Army was busy contacting men who served with Captain
McDonnell, in an effort to obtain additional information regarding scars and
tattoos. There is no indication of such an effort regarding Sgt. Tubbs.
April 23, 1976 -- The next record, available to us, comes in a report
compiled by the Joint Casualty Resolution Center. The report is titled
"Project X." "Project X" was a study to "evaluate the possibility of any of
the unaccounted for being alive. The conclusion reached is: There is a
possibility that as many as 57 Americans could be alive...."
Among the 57 Servicemen mentioned in "Project X" is Capt. John T. McDonnell.
The Case Summary on Capt. McDonnell cites the 1971 sighting of McDonnell
stating "information in this report correlated to Cpt. McDonnell." There is
no mention of the 1972 - 1973 sightings in Quang Ngai."
A Joint Casualty Resolution Center Biographic report, as 2 Oct 1986
summarizing Captain McDonnell's loss incident, makes no mention of the Ba
To sighting. Of the Lao sighting the Biographic report states "The rallier
made no positive identification of Cpt McDonnell's phot, (sic) but states
that his photo looked very similar to the PW who wore a large ring.
(Information in this report correlated to Cpt. McDonnell)."
In the late 1980's the name of John McDonnell was placed on the "Original
119" Vessey Discrepancy List.
What was the significance of being on the "Original 119" Vessey Discrepancy
List? In a November 15th, 1989 letter to then Congressman Bob Smith, General
John W. Vessey Jr. writes "The discrepancy cases I presented to the
Vietnamese were those in which Americans were known to have survived the
incident in which they were involved. We believed they came into Vietnamese
hands and probably were prisoners of the Vietnamese. These individuals did
not return during Operation Homecoming in 1973, nor were their bodies
returned in the intervening years and no explanation was provided by the
Vietnamese. Because these cases may shed light on the fate of an American
serviceman believed to have been alive after his loss, they are the priority
of our efforts."
On April 25th 1991, Kenneth Quinn, then Chairman of the Administration's
POW/MIA Inter Agency Group testified before the Senate Foreign Relations
Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs. In response to a question from
Senator Alan Cranston, Mr. Quinn stated "In terms of actually conducting
investigations on the ground, General Vessey has focused on 119 discrepancy
cases, which is to say those cases, which represent, from looking at all the
information we know about them, represent the greatest possibility that the
men involved might still be alive. We had evidence that they were alive
after the incident occurred where the plane was shot down or they were lost
on the ground and we don't know what happened to them and what their fate
"So those represented to General Vessey the possibility where it is most
probable or most likely that they might still be alive."
Statements by General Vessey and Mr. Quinn re-enforce our position that
Capt. McDonnell, listed as an "Original 119" Vessey Discrepancy Case, was
alive in February 1973.
The United States Government possessed strong evidence placing John
McDonnell in captivity. That evidence shows John McDonnell alive in February
1973. With the exception of "Project X," we were unable to locate any
information or intelligence dated after July 1973. In fact, as demonstrated
by Project X, the 1972- 1973 sighting was not even considered in the
evaluation of John McDonnell case. Why?
1992 - JTF-FA all but ignored the two sightings in case narratives,
presented to the Vietanmese. Of the three JTF-FA Narratives us, dated,
August 1989, July 1990, and Jun 1993, only the July 1990 Narrative mentions
the 1972-1973 sighting. None mentions the 1971 sightings, in which JCRC
concluded " that source probably observed Capt. John T. McDonnell."
JTF-FA ignored the strong evidence of John McDonnell's capture. They ignored
evidence of his imprisonment and survival along with five (5) enlisted men.
Instead, in 1992 JTF-FA chose to interview witnesses supplied by the
Vietnamese. All claimed to have witnessed the helicopter crash. None,
however, saw Captain McDonnell. None witnessed his capture. None witnessed
his death or participated in his supposed burial on March 7, 1969.
September 30, 1992 -- In their field activity report JTF-FA said, of the
Vietnamese witnesses, "Although none of the witnesses actually took part in
the capture and burial of the American, they all provided hearsay
information that he died while being escorted probably to the Tri Thien Hue
Military region Headquarters..." According to the hearsay information the
POW sustained a leg wound and died the next day. Note: Lt. Greenfield
suffered a severe leg wound.
Based on the hearsay of 4 Vietnamese the 1993 Narrative incorporated the
"corroborating hearsay testimony concerning the crash of a U.S. helicopter
in 1969 and the subsequent capture and burial of an American." We wonder,
would "corroborating hearsay testimony" be admissible in a court of law?
In other words, since the Vietnamese witnesses all told the same story, it
During Joint Field Activities in conducted in April 1998, JTF-FA surfaced
witnesses who supposedly participated in the burial of Capt. McDonnell. The
summary reads, in part; "witnesses emphatically asserted the location
previously excavated was in fact the burial location, but bombing during the
war and subsequent heavy rains and flooding completely wiped out all
evidence or remains or an grave site. Consequently, the witnesses claimed it
would be impossible for them to more accurately locate the burial site."
Today, the case of John McDonnell is considered fate determined. This
determination is based, in part, on 4 hearsay accounts of Vietnamese
witnesses who claimed they heard about a captured American, who died the
next day. JTF-FA routinely ignores hearsay information about live POWs.
Yet, in this case they are willing to believe hearsay information regarding
the death of a POW. A POW, who by their own records and correlations, was
alive in February 1973.
One must wonder, if these same four Vietnamese provided information that
Capt. McDonnell was in the Quang Ngai POW Camp at Ba To, would JTF-FA
investigators be so willing to believe them.
In a memo dated 23 August, 1994, we get a glimpse of how a "determination of
fate" is made. In the case of Capt. McDonnell, the memo reads; "JTF-FA did
not agree with DPMO, argued there was sufficient information to confirm
fate." In the end, the "panel voted 3 - 0 to confirm fate."
We were pleasantly surprised to find that someone at DPMO realized there was
enough evidence to keep this case open. However, that analyst was overruled.
In the end, DPMO management prevailed, along with JCS and JTF-FA and voted 3
- 0 to confirm fate. It is our opinion that when in doubt, the presumption
should be in favor of the POW and the case in question should remain open.
Instead, cases are routinely stamped "fate confirmed" in spite of evidence
We, at the National Alliance of Families, believe that based on the
information cited above, there can be only one conclusion. Capt. John
McDonnell was alive as a Prisoner of War at least until February 1973. We
further believe that Capt. John McDonnell survived in captivity, as the
Nixon Administration was declaring him, and the 5 NCOs with him, dead.
We believe that this case is ample evidence that the Vietnamese government
is not "cooperating in full faith" on the POW issue. How many other cases,
like this, are ignored?
We have been unable to locate any documentation that would indicate a
follow-up on the 1972-73 sightings. We have found no record of attempts to
investigate the MR-5 Prison Camp, referred to by the source. We have found
no indication of any intelligence gathering efforts by the intelligence
agencies of the United States government. And, sadly we have found no
record of an official inquiry of the Vietnamese regarding the 6 POWs held at
the Quang Ngai POW Camp.
However, DPMO states, in a memo dated 9 July 1998, that "our records
indicate that the source was reinterviewed several times in 1973." Requests,
by the McDonnell family, for copies of these reports remain unanswered. The
United States and the Vietnamese Government must be held responsible for the
fate of John McDonnell and the 5 NCOs with him.
Additionally, we are extremely concerned about the misrepresentation of
information on this case contained in the February 14, 1996 - Comprehensive
Case Review issued by Defense POW/MIA Office and in letters from DPMO dated
17 April 1998 and 9 July 1998..
Of the 1971 live sighting, the Case review describes it as "A wartime source
reported observing 2 U.S. POWs in 1971 in Laos. He reported the POWs were
collaborating with the NVA. He picked a photo of Cpt McDonnell as possibly
resembling one of the POWs he observed. Correlation to case 1402 is based
solely on the tentative photo ID. It is highly unlikely that Cpt. McDonnell
was seen two years after his incident in Laos. The source was very hesitant
in picking out a photo of McDonnell."
National Alliance of Families
For The Return of America's Missing Servicemen
World War II - Korea - Cold War - Vietnam
Dolores Alfond --- 425-881-1499
Lynn O'Shea ------ 718-846-4350
E-mail ------------- email@example.com
Web Site ---------- http://www.nationalalliance.org
September 11, 1999 Bits N Pieces - Part Two
In a letter dated 17 April 1998, a Defense Casualty Liaison Officer stated;
"In 1973 the Joint Casualty Resolution Center correlated the report to
Captain McDonnell based primarily on the jewelry described in the report.
During a reinterview the source was shown Captain McDonnell's photograph
mixed with those of 15 other missing servicemen, but he was unable to make a
The actual document states that the source would not make a positive ID
based on photos because of length of hair and nose. Those who have reviewed
the pre-capture book of American servicemen, Prisoner and Missing, will
agree that, many of the photos are of poor quality. Clearly, Major Watson
recognized the problem with the photo book, in 1973. Shadowing could account
for a difference in the length of a nose. Certainly, a POWs hair length
would very likely change, in captivity.
The Comprehensive Case Review ignored the physical description of the POW
and JCRC's own comments which read: ""Records indicate that source probably
observed Capt. John T. McDonnell, USA (JCRC Nr. 0176)...."
Of the 1973 live sighting the Case review describes it as "A different
source reported observing 6 POWs in an MR5 POW camp. The personal details
provided for one of the POWs superficially matches McDonnell. However, there
is no conclusive evidence to suggest he was ever a POW in MR5 given his loss
in Thue Thein."
The information provided in that second live sighting, of February 1973, is
far from superficial. Judge for yourself.
Catagory John McDonnell Ba To POW - as described by source
First Name John John
Rank Capt./Arty Capt./Arty
Captured March 6, 1969 Captured 1968 - 1969 time frame
Loss Location Thua Thien Binh Dinh
Height 70" 75"
Weight 175 lbs described by source as thin
Hair Light Brown Blond
Eyes Hazel Blue
Scars behind left ear behind left ear
Tattoos unknown 2
Home of Record Texas Texas
Married Yes Yes
# of Children 3, sons 11 & 9 2, daughter 11, & son 5 Daughter 8
Long discussed within the POW/MIA issue was information regarding a press
conference held in Saigon in June 1973. During this press conference, a
defector provided information regarding POWs not released. Until now little
was known about what went on during that press conference as it was rumored
that the story was "spiked" at the request of the American Embassy.
That defector was Nguyen Thanh Son, source of the sighting of the American
"Captain" and 5 NCOs in Quang Ngai Province between August 1972 and February
1973. During the Saigon interview, in June of 1973, attended by members of
the media representing Associated Press, United Press International and NBC,
Son spoke of POWs. To our knowledge there is only one record of that
interview. It is a short Associated Press Article from the Baltimore Sun,
dated June 9th, 1973. In that article, Nguyen Thanh Son is represented as a
"junior North Vietnamese officer" not the "commanding officer for the 157
Co. 21st Bn, 2nd Div," as described in the DIA message.
Mr. Son spoke of North Vietnamese plans to infiltrate the South and
discussed a North Vietnamese "plan not to launch a general offensive until
1976 - before the U.S. presidential elections." " Right now, they don't want
to launch an offensive. They're afraid of the reaction of world opinion as
well as President Nixon," he said.
Perhaps the Nixon resignation in August of 1974, allowed the North
Vietnamese to move up their time table.
On the subject of POWs Mr. Son, according to the AP article, stated "he also
believes the North Vietnamese are still holding some American prisoners in
effect as hostages to insure that all mines are removed from North
Vietnamese waters and that Hanoi receives United States reconstruction
money. They want to keep U.S. prisoners because there are many problems to
be settled with the U.S. government. They want to keep prisoners in case the
U.S. government launches war again, they will have some prisoners."
That quote is followed by standard DoD debunking -- "Defense Department
officials said they had no information from returned prisoners or any other
source to support the defectors claims concerning U.S. POWs." The article
went on to say that "Mr. Son refused to elaborate further," on the subject
If Mr. Son did not have information deemed credible, why did the Defense
Intelligence Agency, on June 15th, 1973 issue their message of "URGENT
POLITICAL SENSITIVITY." Why did the Embassy in Saigon go to extreme lengths
to have the story killed? The bigger question is why did the media in the
person of UPI and NBC agree and kill the story.
A telegram dated June 11th, 1973, from the American Embassy Saigon to the
Secretary of State Washington D.C., states " NVA rallier/defector Nguyen
Thanh Son was surfaced by GVN to Press June 8 in Saigon. In follow on (sic)
interview with AP, UPI and NBC American correspondents, questions elicited
information that he had seen six prisoners whom he believed were Americans
who had not yet been released. American officer present at interview
requested news services to play down details; AP mention was consistent with
embargo request, while UPI and NBC after talk with Embassy Press Officer
omitted item entirely from their stories."
"Details on rallier's account being reported septel (sic) through military
channels by Bright Light Message today, [word missing] White House."
No where in the Associated Press article is the number of POWs mentioned.
Nor is it mentioned that Mr. Son actually saw the POWs over an extended
period of time. Or that he spoke with one of them on 4 different occasions.
Instead a carefully crafted sentence states "he also believes the North
Vietnamese are still holding some American prisoners..."
When questioned about the Baltimore Sun article, DPMO stated, in the 17
April 1998 letter; "We are not familiar with the referenced newspaper
article." We find that interesting, as the article was discovered by a
member of the McDonnell family, during a routine review of the casualty
file, while in Washington D.C. for the annual briefings. That's correct!
The article DPMO claims no knowledge of is in Capt. McDonnell's Army
Not only do we have our first clear evidence of Americans left behind but we
now have evidence of media complicity in government efforts to "play down"
details of Americans left behind. The U.S. and Vietnamese governments know
what happened to John McDonnell and when it happened. Only his family and
the American public remain in the dark.
In their 9 July 1998 memo, DPMO discussed Nguyen Thanh Son's press
conference. According to DPMO; "Of note, during his first interview this
source never mentioned seeing six American prisoners.... It was not until
his news conference a few days later that the source came up with the story
of the six American POWs at the MR-5 camp. Following the new conference he
was reinterviewed, resulting in the data reported in IR 6 918 5058 73."
This statement is completely untrue. The information contained in IR 6 918
5058 73, regarding six American POW was obtained by U.S. officials on May
22, 1973. The press conference referred to, was held on June 8th, 1973. That
is 17 days after the information was acquired by U.S. officials. Records
indicated that the information released during the press conference was
reported back to Washington D.C. on June 11th, 1973. That June 11th report
clearly reads; "Place and date of AQN; Saigon, RVN, 22 May 1973."
The DPMO attempt to make Nguyen Thanh Son's disclosure of POWs at Ba To look
like some stunt to draw publicity, is at best incompetent, at worst it is
Almost 25 years later, on November 19, 1997, a Freedom of Information Act
request filed with the Central Intelligence Agency for the National
Interrogation Center debriefing report of Nguyen Thanh Son, was denied. (It
is interesting to note that in a 17 April 1998 letter, to the McDonnell
family, DPMO claimed no knowledge of National Interrogation Center Records,
stating; "This request is somewhat confusing. Although the United States and
our allies had interrogation facilities in Vietnam during the war, they did
not maintain flies on missing U.S. Servicemen." Again, this statement is
misleading, at best.)
According to the CIA, they could "neither confirm nor deny the existence or
nonexistence of records responsive to your request on the basis of Freedom
of Information Act exemptions (b) (1) and (b) (3)." (Note: Exemption (b) (1)
applies to material which is properly classified pursuant to an Executive
order in the interest of national defense or foreign policy. Exemption (b)
(3) applies to the Director's statutory obligations to protect from
disclosure intelligence sources and methods, as well as the organization,
functions, names, official titles, salaries or number of personnel employed
by the Agency, in accord with the National Security Act of 1947 and the (1A
Act of 1949, respectively;)
While we have no documentation to prove it, we believe it possible, that
Nguyen Thanh Son was working for the United States Government as a
"Controlled American Source" (CAS). That might explain the "defection" of an
NVA officer after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. Perhaps his
defection was actually an extraction. This would also explain the CIA denial
of our FOIA based on "... Director's statutory obligations to protect from
disclosure intelligence sources and methods, as well as the organization,
functions, names, official titles, salaries or number of personnel employed
by the Agency..." Since Nguyen Thanh Son spoke publicly of his defection and
the intelligence information he provided, denial based on protection of
source and methods is ridiculous. Denial of the debrief is also in direct
violation of two Presidential Executive Order signed by Presidents Bush and
Clinton to declassify all POW/MIA related material.
On April 12th, 1998, the Central Intelligence Agency denied our FOIA appeal.
The Agency Release Panel determined that the CIA "must neither confirm nor
deny the existence or nonexistence of any records.... Such information, that
is, whether or not any responsive records exist, would be classified for
reasons of national security.... the fact of the existence or nonexistence
of such documents would relate directly to information concerning
intelligence sources and methods..."
Is this document truly classified for reasons of national security or is it
classified based on national embarrassment?
During the 1997 government briefings, held in Washington D.C.,
representatives of Army Casualty and the Defense POW/MIA Office were
presented the information relating to Nguyen Thanh Son. Also provided was
the name of the camp interpreter. The family requested that an effort be
made to locate these men for the purpose of a re-interview. The response of
the DPMO's representative was an incredulous "you mean you want us to do a
live sighting investigation?"
Information was also requested on the live sighting report from Laos and
the reason John McDonnell was among the 57 missing servicemen evaluated as
"possibly alive" by the Project X study.
The response came in November of 1997. According to DPMO the first sighting,
in Laos was a fabrication. They came to this conclusion, stating "JCRC
analysts believed one of the POW's described was Captain McDonnell. They
apparently based this belief upon the physical description and the source's
agreement that one of the POWs resembled a photo he was shown of Captain
McDonnell. Aside from the identity of the alleged POWs, in looking at the
substance of the sources claims our analysts question the validity of the
information. At the heart of the report, and most particularly suspicious,
is the source's claim that the two American POW officers were clad in PAVN
uniforms, wearing wearing "Seiko" watches and gold rings..." In conclusion
DPMO stated "Based upon the information contained in the report, DPMO
analysts have not correlated it to any American and view it as a fabrication
on the part of the source."
However, in 1973, JCRC stated in the "Field Comment" -- "Records indicate
that source probably observed Capt. John T. McDonnell, USA (JCRC Nr.
0176).... There is an indication that McDonnell may have been captured....
McDonnell's description follows: age in 1971 was 31, height: 1.77 meters;
weight 75 kilos' hair; brown; race; caucasian; wears white silver seiko
watch and large ring on left hand." In 1986, JCRC maintained its position
that "information contained in the report correlated to Cpt. McDonnell."
No mention was made of "Project X."
Of the 4 sightings reported by Nguyen Thanh Son, DPMO stated "In regard to
the analyst notes comparing Captain McDonnell with Army Sergeant Glenn
Tubbs, the notes refer to a scar behind Captain McDonnell's left ear, but do
not list any tattoos."
Ignored is the fact that two independent sources provided almost identical
descriptions of a POW, whom we believe the evidence shows is Captain John
As of this date, DPMO has deemed both source reports as fabrications.
Requests to have Nguyen Thanh Son and the camp interpreter, Sr. Lt. Hinh,
located and reinterviewed were denied. In the words of DPMO, "The camp where
Lt. Hinh allegedly worked didn't exist at the time and location cited by the
source, thus the existence of the interpreter is moot."
The Camp - DPMO insists that the camp we believe existed in the Ba To area
of Northwestern Quang Ngai Province was not operational in 1973. Yet, CIA
"Intelligence Information Cable" #314/03268-73, distributed 10 April 1973,
the very day Nguyen Than Son rallied, states, in part; "As of early March VC
Prisoner of War Camp centered on BS3128 was located in Kontum Province to
the West of Gia Vuc in Ba To District, Quang Ngai Province. This camp held
both GVN Military and civilian official prisoners from Quang Ngai Province.
This camp was subdivided into eight compounds. Some of the prisoners, the
total number of whom is unknown, were used as laborers on nearby
agricultural production sites. The camp was managed and guarded by a staff
of about (unreadable)5 people."
Another CIA "Intelligence Information Cable" #311/01523-73, distributed 6
April 1973, discusses activities in the Sa Huynh area during the period 28
January - 15 March 1973. The cable states the camp held "Government of
Vietnam (GVN) prisoners who had been captured at Sa Huynh in Duc Pho
District Quang Ngai Province, during late January and early February 1973.
On three different occasions between 28 January and 14 March POW's arrived
at the POW camp. The first group, consisting of 83 Prisoners, arrived at the
POW camp on 29 January 1973. The second group, consisting of 100 POWs
arrived on 2 February. En route to the camp two POWs from this group were
shot and 10 died from injuries. The third group, which included 80 prisoners
arrived on 13 February...."
During his Press Conference, Son stated that; "the Viet Cong's Provisional
Revolutionary Government plans to establish its capital in South Vietnam in
Ba To district of Quang Ngai Province, about 20 miles northwest of Sa
In the limited reports available to us, Nguyen Thanh Son describes the Ba To
camp as housing 200 ARVN military (GVN Military), who were housed separately
from the American POWs. According to Son the American NCOs were required to
grow their own food. Growing their own food might indicate "agricultural
production sites," described in the CIA "Intelligence Information Cable,"
distributed 10 April 1973.
By our calculations 251 GVN POWs were at the camp described in the CIA cable
distributed 6 April 1973. This is reasonably close to the figure of 200
reported by Nguyen Thanh Son. The cable goes on to say; "...The whole camp
was located under dense jungle foliage to prevent aerial observation, there
was only one trail leading to the camp. The trail originated in Nghia Hanh
District and terminated at the camp...."
Clearly, a POW camp, or camps, existed in the Ba To area. Could one of these
camps be the camp described by Nguyen Thanh Son, as holding 6 American POWs?
On June 9th, 1973, the day the Baltimore Sun Article was published, records
indicate that the Navy flew a reconnaissance mission in the area, we believe
the Ba To camp was located. The only written reference to this mission comes
in the form of a handwritten note which
reads; "Aerial photographs: An area [blacked out] photograph, classified
[whited out] , is available in CDD-PT for viewing in addition those
pictures in the target folder."
Two photocopies of the photographs available to us are of extremely poor
quality. With no experience in photo analysis, we would describe these
photos by saying they show a large dark area (perhaps dense jungle canopy)
with pinpoints of light escaping. These pictures show no evidence, to our
untrained eye, of a POW camp. However, this does not mean the camp did not
It simply means, as the CIA cable states; "...The whole camp was located
under dense jungle foliage to prevent aerial observation..."
DPMO's dismissal of the Ba To camps existence is premature. It is a fact
that during the war U.S. intelligence was unaware of several operational POW
camps. This was discussed in a study done in May 1982 by Colonel Harold E.
Johnson USAF. The study titled "I will never forget.... An Analysis of the
POW/MIA Episode in the War in Southeast Asia" was done for the Air War
College. Col. Johnson's credentials are impressive. According to his
biographical sketch Col. Johnson is a "graduate of the USAF Squadron Officer
School (1964), the Air Command and Staff College (1974), and the Air War
College (1981.)" In addition to his impressive credentials, Colonel Johnson
has first hand experience with the Vietnamese, having spent almost six (6)
years as a Prisoner of War, in North Vietnam.
Colonel Johnson describes how after the unsuccessful POW rescue attempt, at
Son Tay on November 21, 1970, prisoners throughout North Vietnam were
consolidated. He goes on to describe what happened about one (1) year later.
Col. Johnson stated "over 200 of us were blindfolded, bound and moved
stealthily in covered trucks at night. We were taken to a camp near the
Chinese border at a point north and west of Dong Khe. The camp was
constructed among the Karst ridges and had surrounding barbed-wire-tipped
walls and building made of solid stone. It had been obviously constructed
especially as a permanent prison facility. There was not any surrounding
barbed-wire-tipped walls and building made of solid stone. It had been
obviously constructed especially as a permanent prison facility. There was
not any electricity, and we depended on the stream flowing down the mountain
for our water supply. We named the camp Dog Patch in association with our
mountainous surroundings and primitive living conditions. We remained in
this camp until January 1973, when we returned to Hanoi to be released. The
U.S. did not know the location of this camp until after the returnee
Col. Johnson discussed the brutal treatment of POWs and the constant threat
of trial as "war criminals." His study also mentions how in 1968, all
references to trials stopped. Col. Johnson hypothesed as to why the
Vietnamese dropped their threat of trial against the known POWs.
According to the study, Col. Johnson stated ".... perhaps the communist
captors made other arrangements." Col. Johnson continued "the Communists
could have decided to designate certain individual PWs or entire PW camps as
inmates for eventual repatriation. Other PWs kept in camps secreted in the
hinterlands could have been designated as recipients for the proposed
trials. All loyal cadres could be instructed on the underhanded plans, and
further references to and emphasis on the subject could be dropped. Such a
plan would have required meticulous cross referencing to insure what
released POWs had been in contact with or knew each other to reduce
possibilities of repercussions about those remaining being designated by
name and supported by specific testimony after the big release." Col.
Johnson acknowledges this is "pure conjecture" on his part but continues
"... but it makes sense from my experience in looking at it from a Communist
In his conclusion Col. Johnson writes; "during annual torture sessions we
call purges, the interrogators were always interested in whom you had been
communication with and who else you knew in the rest of the camp. Their
records were fairly complete, so they could cross reference the information
to confirm which prisoners knew each other. Names of POWs confirmed as alive
at the time a propaganda release was made could have designated that group
for eventual release, thereby reducing their worth as possible pawns in
Col. Johnson continued "When I began this study, I had a firmly-held
personal opinion that all the living POWs had been returned or completely
accounted for as a result of the returnee testimonies. I do not believe that
any more. It is my humble opinion, based on my research, common sense,
personal experience, and a gut feeling, that there are still some live
Americans pigeonholed by the Communist somewhere in Southeast Asia.
Testimony by refugees and other people about live sightings of Americans are
too numerous and accurately described to be complete fabrications. I feel
that the identification question relating to specific identities having to
be accurately tied to the reports of live sightings is irrelevant. If any
non-indigeous personnel are currently sighted as groups in captivity there,
the overwhelming probability is that they would be Americans. Why should
their presence be such a surprise?"
Indeed, why should their presence be such a surprise and why should we be
surprised to learn that "Codeword Classified" information may exist relating
to Capt. McDonnell. A partial index of documents from Capt. McDonnell
classified file contains the notation "This Material Contains Codeword."
Could that be a reference to Codeword Classified Intelligence on Capt.
The National Alliance of Families challenges the Clinton Administration,
represented by the Defense POW/MIA Office (DPMO) to live up to the
commitment of a full and truthful accounting. A good place to begin is with
the case of John McDonnell and the 5 NCOs in the Quang Ngai Prison POW Camp,
in February of 1973.
We challenge every Senator and Congressperson to stand up and ask
Where is John McDonnell?
The evidence outlined above is overwhelming. On behalf of the McDonnell
family and the families of all our POW/MIAs, we:
Request a reversal of the determination of fate and return the case of John
McDonnell to the priority case list of last known alive.
Request JTF-FA present this case to the Vietnamese detailing all available
information and get answers that are "truthful and "fully cooperative."
Request JTF-FA locate and re interview the source of the 1971 Lao sighting.
Request JTF-FA locate and re interview Nguyen Thanh Son, the source of the
August 1972 - Feb. 1973 sighting.
Request JTF-FA locate and interview Lt. Hinh, the interpreter at the MR-5
POW Camp in Quang Ngai Province.
Request explanation of Bright Light Report IR No. 6-797-0251-72, dated 10
Nov 72 "Sighting of Three (3) American PWs" Quang Ngai - Why is this report
filed in Capt. McDonnell's Army Intelligence file and his Casualty File?
Request explanation of Bright Light Report IR No. 6-797-0153-72, dated 11
Aug 72 "Sighting of Three (3) sus PW's with 48th Main Force Battalion Quang
Ngai" - Does this report also relate to Capt. McDonnell??????????
Request copy of classified (C) letter dated 22 August 73
Request actual copy of IR 6 918 5058 73
Request explanation as to why there is no follow-up documentation relating
to the 1973 re-interviews of Nguyen Thanh Son, in Capt. McDonnell's files.
Request copies of all reports of re-interviews referred to by DPMO, of
Nguyen Thanh Son.
Request an immediate all agency search of documents relating to Capt.
McDonnell and their immediate declassification and release to the McDonnell
Request immediate CIA compliance with Presidential Executive Orders to
declassify all POW/MIA related documentation starting with the immediate
release of the debriefing of Nguyen ThanH Son.
Request an investigation as to why the Defense POW/MIA Office misrepresented
the Details of the two live sightings in their Comprehensive Case Review,
done in compliance with the 1994 Defense Authorization Act, for presentation
All the evidence indicates John McDonnell and 5 NCO's were alive in a Quang
Ngai POW camp, in mid- to late February 1973.
How much longer must they wait to come home? How much longer must our
POW/MIA families wait for the truth?