ROBINSON, WALTER T.
Name: Walter T. Robinson
Unit: Glomar Java Sea, Glomar Marine Drilling, Electronic Technician
Date of Birth: 7 Jul 1952
Home City of Record: Prescott AZ
Date of Loss: 25 October 1983
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Status (in 1973):
Personnel in Incident: Herman Arms; Jerald T. Battiste; Sebe M. Bracey;
Patrick B. Cates; Wei Chen; Xiong Chen; Shu Guo Cheng; Jacob K. J. Chong;
David P. Clifton; James F. Cusick; Thomas J. Dixon; Shao Jien Feng; Jerald
J. Flanagan; Nigel Furness; Leonard E. Ganzinotti; La Juan A. Gilmore; Henry
M. Gittings; James K. Gittings; Terance C. Green; Jun Tian Guan; David
Higgins, Jr.; Tyronne Higgins; Hong Xi Huang; Rui Wen Huang; Yong Liang
Huang; Timothy Jarvis; John W. Jennings Jr.; Thomas J. Kofahl; Fan Xiang
Kong; Guo Zhen Lai; John W. Lawrence; Tong L. T. Lee; Chong Chang Li; Xuan
Qiu Li; Zhan Jun Liang; Jie Feng Lin; Bing Guang Liu; Edgar S. Lim; Gary
Looke; Robert M. McCurry; Jerry L. Manfrida; Raymond D. Miller; Xie Yi Mo;
Tian Xue Mo; Kenneth W. Myers; Larry K. Myers; Donald J. Ouellet; John D.
Pierce; Peter Popiel; Clarence Reed; Jewell J. Reynolds; E.J. Russell
Reynolds; Walter T. Robinson; Kenneth B. Rogers; Lawrence M. Salzwedel;
William R. Schug; Richard E. Shoff; Christopher J. Sleeman; Delmar A.
Spencer; George G. Sullivan; Chong Jian Sun; Gustaf F. Swanson; Kevin C.
Swanson; Guo Dong Tang; Michael W. Thomas; Jiang Wang; Yu Fang Wang; Dong
Cai Wang; Guo Rong Wu; jing Sheng Xia; Xing Xing; Hui Xu; Ming Rui Xu; Mua
Guang Yuan; Xing Zhen Zhang; Yi Hua Zhang; Ji Chang Zhen; Shu Rong Zhou; Yao
Wu Zhou; Jie Fang Zhou; Da Huai Zhu.
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 10 December 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. NETWORK 2020.
SYNOPSIS: The 5,930-ton American drilling ship, "Glomar Java Sea" was owned
by Global Marine of Houston, Texas, and leased to Atlantic Richfield Company
(ARCO). In the fall of 1983, the vessel was on duty about 200 miles east of
the Vietnamese coast. The ship was drilling for oil in the South China Sea
in a joint venture of ARCO and China Naitonal Offshore Oil Corporation, a
The "Glomar Java Sea" is a sister ship of the "Glomar Explorer," which,
under the guise of being utilized by the late Howard Hughes in a deep sea
mining operation in the Paficic, was really being used by the CIA and Navy
in a $350 million project to retrieve a sunken Soviet Golf-class submarine.
A large part of the submarine was in fact recovered in 1974 before details
of the project were publicly revealed.
The Glomar Java Sea, with its crew of 81, began drilling operations on
January 9, 1983 and was the first American wildcat operaton off the Chinese
coast. On October 25, 1983, the vessel was sunk during Typhoon Lex.
Documents removed from the ship by a crewman before the disaster indicate
that the vessel was being shadowed by armed Vietnamese naval craft and that
there were submarine mines beneath the "Glomar Java Sea," placed there and
retrievable by its crew. Another document indicates that the ship was
damaged prior ot the typhoon when a Chinese supply boat rammed into its
side, causing some $320,000 damage to the vessel. The Glomar Java Sea did
not leave its post for repairs.
Communications between ARCO and Global Marine, as well as telegraphic and
radio communications of the U.S. Western Pacific Rescue Coordination Center
(WESTPAC) reveal information about the search for the crew of the Glomar
The documents indicate that a number of survivors from the stricken vessel
were floundering in the water off the coast of Vietnam for hours after the
disaster. There is also indication that the men were picked up by Vietnamese
coastal patrols and are held captive of the Hanoi regime.
The crew of the Glomar Java Sea included 37 Americans, 35 Chinese, four
British, two Singaporeans, one Filipino, one Australian, and one Canadian.
From a transcript of a radio communicaton between WESTPAC and Global Marine
on October 28, three days after the sinking, WESTPAC was told: "We are
informed that the SOS transmission could not have been transmitted except by
human operators..." There were two 64-man lifeboats aboard the drilling
ship, plus smaller lifeboats.
In an October 29 communicaton from WESTPAC to Global Marine, it is clearly
stated that five strobe lights were sighted by rescue aircraft in the
vicinity of 17-30 North 107-45 East. The aircraft were dispatched to the
area because strobe lights had been previously sighted. Lifejackets from the
Glomar Java Sea were equipped with strobe lights to signal rescuers.
Another October 29 communication between ARCO and Global Marine states that
ARCO's search aircraft had spotted survivors in the water at 17.27 North
107.54 East, and had attempted to divert surface vessels to this location.
The communication expressed the urgency to rescue the men before dark.
At 8:01 a.m. on October 29, ARCO had dropped a rescue raft to survivors.
Pickup would be delayed for several hours, but the "Salvanquish," a
Singapore-based salvage ship, was within one half-mile of the site.
At 8:38 a.m search aircraft reported pinpointing the survivors' positions by
dye markers released by the survivors into the water. Two survivors were
confirmed with a possible third some distance away. Plans were also made to
return to the downed vessell to offlift survivors.
Another document shows that on nine different occasions radio transmissions
were picked up from a lifeboat. They ranged from "very strong" to "weak"
with most being described as "strong."
Inexplicably, despite the successful search, no rescue was made of the
survivors. Later that day, the Chinese Navy picked up a Vietnamese broadcast
reporting that the Vietnamese had sighted a lifeboat near their coast. The
location of the lifeboat was not confirmed by friendly search parties.
ARCO-Global Marine determined that this sighting was in the vicinity of Hon
Gio Island, located about 80 miles up the Vietnamese coast from the old U.S.
base at Da Nang and about 14 miles offshore, which placed it in Vietnamese
territorial waters. It appears that rescue craft were hampered in fully
investigating the report due to its location and the hint of possible
interference by the Vietnamese military.
It is likely that survivors would have been picked up by the Vietnamese if
they had in fact drifted within Vietnam's territory.
In the years following the loss of the Glomar Java Sea, a number of reports,
all unconfirmed by the U.S., indicate that survivors were seen in captivity
in Vietnam. It is known that the Vietnamese had shown a hostile interest in
the vessel, and the Glomar Java Sea had standing orders to be alert for
Vietnamese vessels in the area. The Chinese Navy served as protection for
the vessel and stood ready to take action should Vietnamese craft wander too
close. The waters below the vessel were mined.
A month after the Glomar Java Sea went down, Chinese divers went down to the
wreckage and went through the ship with a video cameras.
In March 1984, American divers were able to retrieve 31 bodies from the
sunken vessel. Fifteen of the bodies were identified as Americans. In
addition, three British and one Singaporean were identified. The bodies of
another American and two Chinese were tentatively identified. Divers
photographed two bodies they were unable to retrieve. They also found one of
the Chinese divers that had explored the wreckage in November 1983, lashed
to the deck of the ship.
The American divers determined that one of the ship's large lifeboats was
launched and that an attempt had been made to launch another. Their film was
seen by the mother of one of the lost crewmen. She reported that the crack
in the hull of the ship at one point was a hole 48 inches across, which was
punctured inward, "as though the rig had been hit by something that
exploded." This fueled additional speculation that the vessel had, in fact,
been attacked rather that simply mortally damaged by the typhoon.
The National Transportaton Safety Board officially determined in November
1984 that an "unexplained crack" in the hull of the Glomar Java Sea was
responsible for its sinking during the typhoon. Apparently, the crack in the
hull allowed two storage tanks to fill with water, causing the vessel to
become off-balanced, making it vulnerable to the forces of the typhoon.
Officials believed it was possible that survivors may have been able to
abandon the ship before it sank. It was determined that the ship had been
improperly prepared for the storm.
During 1984, there were reports from Southeast Asia that between six and
twelve survivors of the Glomar Java Sea were being held in prisoner of war
camps in Vietnam. One of the survivors was identified by a Vietnamese
refugee as American crewman John Pierce.
Douglas F. Pierce, father of John Pierce, reported that the refugee had seen
his son, five other Americans and eight Chinese when they were brought into
a prison in Da Nang, where the refugee was being held. John Pierce gave the
refugee his father's business card and two sticks of gum.
Mr. Pierce gave the information to Defense Intelligence Agency who
determined that the refugee had not been in the camp at all, but had
received the business card by mail from a friend, not directly from Pierce.
DIA further determined that the incident had occurred in late October 1983
(shortly after the Glomar Java Sea went down). The refugee gave Mr. Pierce
the original letter, which contained the names and addresses of two mutual
No followup was conducted on the two names in the letter by DIA, and DIA
discounted the information provided by the refugee. It was not until 1990
that it became apparent that the Defense Department felt no responsibility
for the Americans lost on the Glomar Java Sea. At that time, DIA reported
that the responsibility for these civilians belonged to the U.S. State
Mr. Pierce did not stop there. He uncovered a U.S. State Department document
that revealed that Cheng Quihong, the secretary and wife of the Director of
China's Visa Office, was overheard telling her companion at a Hong Kong
dinner that survivors from the Glomar had been picked up and were held by
Pierce also learned that a JCRC report sent to DIA dated November 6, 1984,
reported that a former prisoner from Pleiku prison had been held with a
Chinese man who claimed to have been off the Glomar. The man said he was one
of three men who were captured, and that the other two were Americans.
Pierce adds that to his knowledge, neither of these reports were followed up
by U.S. officials, and Pierce has received no reply to his queries regarding
In 1989 a Japanese monk named Yoshida was released from prison after being
held for years by the Vietnamese. Yoshida was shown a photograph of John
Pierce and stated that Pierce looked very familiar, and that he had either
seen him or someone who looked very much like him.
In November, 1990, Vietamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach traveled to
the U.S. and spoke with U.S. officials on a variety of matters. At this
time, he announced that there was a black American named Walter T. Robinson
living illegally in Vietnam, and invited U.S. representatives to come and
help find him. Thach provided a social security number and two photographs.
The Pentagon told "The Washington Times" that the two photographs of
Robinson provided by Thach are of a black man. However, the Pentagon has
since admitted that the photos "are not very well developed" and appear to
be of either a black man or a dark Asian. Photocopies of old newspaper
articles concerning Robinson, obtained by Homecoming II, show a dark-haired
man of relatively dark complexion.
The Pentagon has not released the photographs to the press.
The Defense Department determined that Walter T. Robinson had never been
listed as missing in Vietnam. Thach had provided a social security number,
and according to DOD, this information correlated to a white American living
in the Midwest. They concluded that the Thach information, therefore, was in
Later information indicated that a Walter T. Robinson was listed on the crew
roster of the Glomar Java Sea. When queried, the Defense Department reported
that they were aware of this Robinson, but that civilians were the
responsibility of the State Department.
It seems apparent that the U.S. is not vigorously looking for the men
missing from the Glomar Java Sea, and that like the missing and prisoners
who served in military and civilian capacities during the Vietnam war, they
have been abandoned.
UNREPATRIATED AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR
Homecoming II Project
WALTER T. ROBINSON
In October, 1990, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach became
the first SRV official ever to visit the United States for direct
discussions with representatives of the U.S. Government. After
discussions with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, Thach met with
"Special Presidential Emissary" for matters involving prisoners of war
and missing in action, General John Vessey. Thach reportedly told
Vessey that several Americans, including a man named Walter T.
Robinson, were "living illegally" in his country. According to the
Pentagon, this was the first time Hanoi had ever "provided information
on a possible live American."
A Pentagon official later told a reporter for the Washington Times
that Thach gave Vessey two photographs of a black man whom Thach
identified as Robinson. The Pentagon official also said that Thach
supplied Robinson's service number or Social Security number. Thach is
said to have invited U.S. officials to come to Vietnam to look for
A U.S. team from the Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) in
Bangkok, Thailand, reportedly went to Thanh Po Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) --
three weeks later -- to investigate, but left after two days "without
seeing an American." Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Edward
Lundquist announced: there are seven Robinsons missing from the war in
Indochina, but no Walter; there is a Walter T. Robinson with the
serial number provided by Thach who served in the Vietnam War; he is
now living in the midwestern U.S., and was never a prisoner of war. In
spite of these discrepancies, Lundquist assured America, the report
would be checked thoroughly. The Washington Times was reportedly told
by an anonymous "military intelligence officer" that the U.S. response
was "prompted both by the unique language of the information and by
the high level of the source."
A DIA official later told a reporter that Thach also provided to
Vessey the names of two other Americans allegedly living in Vietnam,
as well as a letter which purported to be from Walter T. Robinson. The
DIA official also claimed that Thach indicated at the time he met with
Vessey that the Vietnamese government had received the information
from Vietnamese citizens living in Saigon and that Thach did not
himself consider the information to be particularly credible, or
DIA claimed that the JCRC team went to Saigon and met with the
Vietnamese who allegedly had forwarded the information to the
Vietnamese government. According to DIA, those Vietnamese refused to
produce Walter T. Robinson or any other American but offered to sell
information. (The alleged offer to sell information could well have
been an attempt by the Vietnamese to inquire about collecting a $2.4
million reward which has been offered by 21 U.S. Congressmen to any
Indochinese citizen who turns over a living American prisoner of the
Vietnam War. JCRC-Bangkok is known to have told a number of
Indochinese citizens in the past that no such reward exists.) The JCRC
team reportedly left Saigon without learning anything useful.
What DIA refused to tell America was that a Walter T. Robinson was one
of 37 American crewmen aboard the "Glomar Java Sea," an American oil
drilling ship which sank during a typhoon in 1983, 100 miles east of
the coast of Vietnam. The ship was owned by Atlantic Richfield
Company (ARCO), which was engaged in a joint oil drilling venture with
Peoples Republic of China's state-owned China National Offshore Oil
Documents which record radio transmissions at the time of the disaster
indicate that on nine different occasions radio transmissions were
picked up from one or both of two 64-man lifeboats aboard the Java
Sea. In addition, the Chinese Navy reported the interception of a
Vietnamese broadcast of an unconfirmed sighting of a lifeboat,
apparently in or near Vietnamese territorial waters, near Hon Gio
Since the incident, there have been numerous reports of sightings of
alleged Java Sea survivors in captivity in Vietnam. The U.S.
government calls these many reports "unconfirmed."
DIA has since admitted to being fully aware of the name Walter T.
Robinson as one of the Java Sea crewmen, but discounted correlation
because allegedly none of the information provided by Thach matched
with any information known about the Java Sea crewman by that name.
DIA made no attempt to show the photographs to [the Java Sea] Walter
T. Robinson's family, or, as far as is known, to contact them at all.
One of DIA's claims -- that Thach did not consider the information
particularly meaningful -- is clearly a deception, either by DIA or by
Thach himself. One thing is certain: the Vietnamese Foreign Minister
did not choose the historic occasion of the first SRV official visit
to the U.S. to casually hand over information whose meaning and
significance he did not know. It is a certainty that every move and
statement Thach made and every question he asked during his visit were
exhaustively discussed at the very highest levels of the Vietnamese
government before he departed for this country. There is definitely
meaning in the information he provided, but exactly what that meaning
may be is hard to know. DIA is quite likely aware of its true
A NEW PAGE?
The disastrous condition of Vietnam's economy has provided powerful
motivation for the Vietnamese to seek improved relations with the
United States, which has effectively enforced an economic blockade
against Vietnam for the past 18 years. The 1990 death of Senior
Communist Party hardliner, Le Duc Tho, may have opened the door in SRV
government circles toward more aggressive pursuit of an accommodation
with the U.S., which could pave the way for trade, aid, loans and most
importantly, foreign investment.
Many years ago the Vietnamese had only four alternatives in their
handling of American prisoners: sell them, release them, keep them, or
kill them. Initially, and for a long time thereafter, they believed
that America placed such a great value on the prisoners that they
could surely be sold for a very dear price. As the next five years
went by, the Vietnamese must have thought that the U.S. Government's
refusal to negotiate for the prisoners' release, refusal to admit
publicly that the prisoners existed, eventually even a refusal to
speak of the prisoners' certain existence in private conversation with
SRV officials, were all a part of some clever master plan to obtain
the prisoners' freedom at a bargain price.
Then, in 1977-78, a Carter Administration team met in Paris with SRV
officials and suggested the normalization of relations with no
preconditions. The Vietnamese refused, saying, in effect, "Why would
we wish normal relations with a country which has not fulfilled its
promise to heal the wounds of war by providing reconstruction aid and
Eventually, perhaps only in the past two to three years, the SRV must
have finally gotten the message that the U.S. officials with whom they
have been dealing don't want the POWs released at all. That
realization clearly eliminated for them the option to sell. This left
the Vietnamese in a real box. The Vietnamese Communist Party has
always attempted to govern by consensus, and unanimous agreement
either to kill or unilaterally release the prisoners has been
impossible to achieve. By default, the only alternative has been to
Thach's departure from the SRV's 17-year-old policy of providing no
information regarding living Americans may indicate a willingness on
the part of Vietnam to turn a new page regarding their handling of the
problem. It may have been a trial balloon intended to test U.S.
This would explain DIA's initial haste to point out who Walter T.
Robinson is not, and the refusal to mention who he could be. By
responding as they did, they not only deceived the American people and
press, they sent Vietnam a strong message as well: "We'll come and
look around, but we can tell you right now we've looked at our files
and the man you say you have doesn't exist. Furthermore, if you're
giving any thought to releasing prisoners, don't bother -- we're
definitely not interested."