Coming Home
March 7, 2011 6:48 PM   Subscribe

1699 US Military personnel are still considered as POW or MIA from the Viet Nam conflict, but one is finally coming home. The remains of James Moreland are being returned to the US, and Kathy Strong, who's worn his POW/MIA bracelet since she was 12, can now, 38 years later, take it off.
posted by tomswift (37 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by nathancaswell at 6:52 PM on March 7, 2011


Glad he's coming home.
posted by dragonplayer at 7:01 PM on March 7, 2011


uh. what the fuck. Why are there still viet nam POWs?


come on america :(
posted by rebent at 7:19 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure that there are zero Viet Nam POWs. There is, however, one less Viet Nam MIA now, and that's a good thing.
posted by Curious Artificer at 7:25 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


uh. what the fuck. Why are there still viet nam POWs?

I believe he was kille din action and then listed as missing in action.

The topic is one of some controversy:

Wikikipedia: Vietnam War POW/MIA issue

MIA Facts Site
posted by y2karl at 7:33 PM on March 7, 2011


Well, those typos are what I get for being too hasty to proofread.
posted by y2karl at 7:34 PM on March 7, 2011


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posted by clavdivs at 7:44 PM on March 7, 2011


But, while we are on the topic of the Viet Nam War:

Myth Making and Spitting Images from Vietnam

Debunking a spitting image
posted by y2karl at 7:46 PM on March 7, 2011




Nothing is over.
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posted by Flashman at 7:50 PM on March 7, 2011


This is an issue that is easy to lose track of now. There are not that many of us for whom this still resonates.

I still do bike rides with a lot of older bikers, the number that are still wearing pow/mia patches is sometimes surprising, I imagine that, when they are gone, the Nam pow/mia issue will dissipate like a soft fog...

Yes, it's likely that most of the 1699 are MIA, although the possibility of POW's (they would be in their early 60's at this point) isn't out of the question.

You can believe that those families haven't given up hope.

I entered the army in 1970, I enlisted, my draft number had rolled around, and if I enlisted I could choose a specialty that didn't involve killing people, I spent three years working with guys coming back from Nam with drug issues, heroin mostly.. I watched a lot of nasty withdrawals.

Most of the guys I went through basic training with ended up in infantry, they were from Detroit and Chicago...they had ended up in the Army because there wasn't much else for them to do... I never stop wondering...
posted by tomswift at 7:54 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why are there still viet nam POWs?

tl;dr version: politics. Even though the MIA count in Vietnam was less than 4% of the total killed in action, as compared to more than 15% in Korea and more than 19% in WWII (figures from the MIA Wikipedia article), you had a large number of people in the US who essentially wanted a do-over of the war, at least partially. The Seventies were a particularly humbling time for Americans--Watergate, the retreat from Vietnam and revelations from the Pentagon Papers, the energy crisis, double-digit inflation--and Reagan was elected on the promise of bringing a new day to America.

In addition to the sincere believers (which included many prominent politicians as well as veterans and family members), you also had plenty of people willing to exploit the POW/MIA issue, not just various movie producers but also people who claimed to be interested in mounting the sort of unauthorized, free-lance rescue missions depicted in the movies, but who turned out to be shameless self-promoters. The big Senate investigation, which included John McCain and John Kerry, turned up no solid evidence that there were any POWs left in Southeast Asia after the known POWs were repatriated at the end of the war, although Sidney Schanberg, who won a Pulitzer for his reporting on the Cambodian massacre, has continued to maintain that the Senate investigation was part of the cover-up.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:04 PM on March 7, 2011


There are very few people who believe that there are P.O.W.'s still being held in Vietnam. They are probably outnumbered by the Birthers or the 9-11 Truthers 100 to 1.

It is a poignant fact, though, that many U.S. soldiers were shot down and never recovered. And Western cultural norms call for bone fragments of the dead to bring closure to an all but certain KIA. That is why the military is still sending out teams to comb the distant hamlets of Vietnam, quizzing them about locations of downed aircraft, hoping to locate more remains to assuage the doubts of children and grandchildren of the deceased.

Also littering the beautiful landscape of Vietnam are unexploded landmines, clusterbomb fragments, and DNA-distorting chemical remains. War, years later, is still hell.
posted by kozad at 8:23 PM on March 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


The problem with conspiracy theories is as symbioid wrote in the recent Zeitgeist thread:
Not that conspiracies don't exist, but "THE CONSPIRACY" doesn't and can't exist, because there'd be too many factions and it's too unstable?
That certainly would apply in spades to any Senate "cover up".
posted by y2karl at 8:25 PM on March 7, 2011


kozad, thanks, that was well written and moving.
posted by tomswift at 8:30 PM on March 7, 2011


re: the spitting myth;

I was spat upon in uniform at San Francisco International Airport in May 1968.
As reported by Col. (ret.) Pat Lang

Admittedly he was on his way to Vietnam, but the number of spat-upon soldiers was apparently non-zero.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:40 PM on March 7, 2011


Not that conspiracies don't exist, but "THE CONSPIRACY" doesn't and can't exist, because there'd be too many factions and it's too unstable?

My reaction to most conspiracy theories is, "they would if they could but they can't."
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:50 PM on March 7, 2011


Strong, now 50, still remembers the name: James Moreland.

Of course she still remembers the name, she has been wearing a POW/MIA bracelet with his name on it every day for the past 38 years. Great reporting.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:58 PM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow. Moreland was killed at Lang Vei (during the siege of Khe Sahn) one of the few times the NVA deployed tanks during a battle. Michael Herr describes the whole ordeal in Dispatches and it's absolutely chilling to read.

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posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 10:35 PM on March 7, 2011


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posted by arcticseal at 10:37 PM on March 7, 2011


Admittedly he was on his way to Vietnam, but the number of spat-upon soldiers was apparently non-zero.

There are many anecdotes. There is, however, no documentation in any news format from the time of the Viet Nam war. Except for one. One can not prove a negative -- that no such event ever happened. But the one time veterans were spat upon and it was reported in the news, it was when Ron Kovic and other Viet Nam Veterans Against the War were spat upon when they demonstrated against the war at the 1972 Republican convention in Miami, spat upon by Young Republicans. Funny how that worked out.

And the spitters in the anecdotes are almost always women. A woman approaches a man she does not know in an airport and spits upon him. It does not make sense even without the spitting. And if a man spat upon a veteran -- there certainly would have been a result and a report at the time. Yet there were none.

And no one has gone on Oprah to confess to ever doing this. So, imagine a mass phenomenom where hundreds of veterans were spat upon in airports and it was never reported at the time. ( or, indeed, until the 1980s. After Sylveter Stallone's First Blood came out and the concept entered the public mind.)

It was never reported at the time and no one has come forward to confess to doing it. All we have are anecdotes by the putative victims. But no reports at the time. One can not rule out such a thing happening once or twice, somewhere, sometime, but, as a mass phenomenon, it does not pass the smell test.
posted by y2karl at 10:50 PM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


My reaction to most conspiracy theories is, "they would if they could but they can't."

My reaction is I have worked in an office. Big secrets always meet up with human beings with no interest in keeping them secret. See also Wikileaks.
posted by y2karl at 10:54 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by illenion at 11:10 PM on March 7, 2011


> There are very few people who believe that there are P.O.W.'s still being held in Vietnam.

And yet every government building and many vehicles like fire engines in New York are required to have a black skull and crossbones POW/MIA flag on them - even though there's almost certainly not ONE POW left - even though Vietnam has gone out of its way to find every possible victim and get them home, even funding an exploratory trip for a bunch of US elected officials, some of whom actually were behind the damned Vietnam war, who went there and found nothing at all.

Every time I see one of these flags I think that there is a tangible sign of a country descended into madness.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:49 AM on March 8, 2011


uh. what the fuck. Why are there still viet nam POWs?

Well, there aren't. There weren't all that many even during the war because of the disordered nature of the NVA and the fact that they often didn't take prisoners. There were probably no POWs as early as the mid 1970s and the chance that there are any now is zero.

It isn't really about that. It's part of a feeling by many Vietnam veterans that the government *would* leave POWs behind if it was convenient. Most American Vietnam war veterans that I have met have a level of skepticism about the Pentagon hierarchy that is quite unmatched by that of most non-combatant pacifists.
The United States did not repatriate the bodies of those who died in WWI and WWII, and I've never heard from men who fought in WWII the level of hatred for the terrain and the land that Vietnam veterans often have. Part of what is so emotionally painful for these men is the idea that even the bodies of their friends are still in the fucking jungle.

It's also true that in WWII, the United States won. There were never unreleased American POWs in those wars, and in any case most of the territory where they fought was and remains allied to the United States.

More than that though, after WWII everyone knew that there had been a war on. Even if the privations at the home front never went beyond a rubber shortage, there were still daily reminders that there was a war that everyone was fighting. WWII vets did not come back to a country that considered their war an unfortunate embarrassment, no-one ever asked a sailor on leave in Baltimore whether "That war was *still* going?".

Basically I think the reason that the MIA issue is so potent is mostly the belief that the Pentagon was basically capable of leaving prisoners behind if it suited them and that the American people were bored of a war that had cost these soldiers so much (and that the elected civilian leadership was responsible for). Whether there ever were prisoners left behind doesn't have any bearing on this feeling of betrayal.

lupus_yonderboy,

I always think of those flags as being for the MIA, whose bodies will never be recovered. I'm sure most of the men flying those flags know that there aren't any living POWs.
posted by atrazine at 2:04 AM on March 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Every time I see one of these flags I think that there is a tangible sign of a country descended into madness."

No. I see those flags as a sign of a country that ascended into sensibility. I was 12 years old and wearing a MIA bracelet with the name Sgt. Eugene Handrahan on it when the Vietnam war ended.

Because of guys like Gene and James Moreland, guys like me were not drafted and sent off to kill foreigners. Kathy Strong and I are of the generation that got to live our lives and grow up.

I am acutely aware of this and when I meet a Vietnam vet, or stop by the wall in Washington to say hi to Gene, and say thank you I really mean it.
posted by three blind mice at 2:08 AM on March 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


The POW/MIA flag has a picture of a serviceman held in a concentration camp. The Defense organization that deals with this is called the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Persons Office. There are numerous other sites regarding this issue. I read through half a dozen of them. All of them start with POW. Not one of them states or implies that there are no POWs left.

> the level of hatred for the terrain and the land that Vietnam veterans often have.

And yet Vietnam is in fact a beautiful country, and not one Vietnamese ever offered harm to one American before the US invaded their country...

The reasons that these jungles were hostile to Americans is that they were filled with the locals who were determined to defend their homeland at any cost - and that cost included two million of them, and 44,000 Americans.

Note that Vietnam never got a penny in war reparations from the US, and yet this tiny, impoverished country continues to pay the US for the money that Thieu borrowed to conduct the US's war - essentially war reparations from Vietnam to the US.

And two generations later their children continue to pay a heavy price in massive birth defects because of the huge amount of toxic chemicals with which the US flooded their country - though the war is never allowed to be discussed in that country for fear of angering the US.

> Because of guys like Gene and James Moreland, guys like me were not drafted and sent off to kill foreigners. Kathy Strong and I are of the generation that got to live our lives and grow up.

Can you explain your reasoning?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:25 AM on March 8, 2011


Can you explain your reasoning?

The Vietnam war and the American draft ended in 1973. Because of the way America fucked over the previous generation of teenagers, my generation was left alone.

44,000 Americans.

The generally accepted figure is more like 58,000.
posted by three blind mice at 3:02 AM on March 8, 2011


> Because of the way America fucked over the previous generation of teenagers, my generation was left alone.

That's the part I didn't understand. Surely it was the widespread protests against the war and the draft that stopped it, not those people who cooperated with it?

> The generally accepted figure is more like 58,000.

Thanks! So, 60K Americans and 2 million Vietnamese. Of course, many, perhaps most of the Vietnamese killed weren't directly killed by Americans - perhaps as little as a 10:1 kill ratio in practice...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:07 AM on March 8, 2011


Metafilter, will there ever be a time when your trolls can stay in their caves for rational folks to actually discuss the topic, or will we forever get plagued by the Anti's? This isn't a thread about someone who said they were spat upon (btw, my father was spat upon) or about someone who was drafted and didn't, in the wake of korea and WWII, decide not to fight. It's about bringing a dead soldier home where he belongs.

And lupus, French Indochina was already no novice at conducting terroristic, guerilla warfare against itself and whatever foreign occupier happened to be around at the time. It certainly wasn't all poppys and rice paddies before the US showed up.
posted by TomMelee at 4:29 AM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My reaction to most conspiracy theories is, "they would if they could but they can't."

My reaction is I have worked in an office. Big secrets always meet up with human beings with no interest in keeping them secret. See also Wikileaks.


You are referring to the Wikileaks case where 1 person out of about 3 million people with access to the state department's half-assed secrets publicly leaked information? You undermine your own argument.
posted by srboisvert at 7:07 AM on March 8, 2011


TomMelee, I'm not sure why you think that the discussions here constitute trolling. The discussion of whether or not it's reasonable to consider the personnel officially listed as MIA as possibly being POWs is relevant--given the numbers that I cited above, there are far, far fewer MIAs from the Vietnam era, both in absolute numbers and in percent of casualties, than in previous conflicts, and yet they've been given far more attention than those from any previous conflict--and the discussion of how that became a national obsession is also relevant.

The spitting controversy is also relevant in that it's part of that great historical revisionism that took place in the eighties regarding Vietnam: according to the new paradigm, politicians left POWs to rot in the jungle while hippies spat on returning veterans. It's not irrelevant--if you look at the links that y2karl posted above, the spitting myth (and, sorry, your dad's claim notwithstanding, it's still true that we don't have contemporaneous accounts of such) got traction in 2004, when it was used against John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam vet himself. And, as of 2010, Sidney Schanberg is still flogging his POW cover-up story.

None of this is meant to disrespect James Moreland or other soldiers whose fate is still officially unresolved. In fact, I think that, if we really do respect them, we have to resolve that their fates aren't used to push someone's political agenda.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:16 AM on March 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Isn't the comparison to previous conflicts some sort of logical fallacy wherein two things that aren't related are compared as such? It's only part of the conversation here because you brought it up. I also cannot possibly see what there is to be upset about that POW's and MIA's get attention? I see that you're arguing that the greatest generation folks didn't get that kind of ink in the 20 years following the conflict, but that's kind of like saying Pompeii didn't get much coverage after it erupted but man Kiloauea sure gets ink when it blows its top.

The answer is that we actually have NO IDEA how many folks didn't come home, or how many were left in jungles, or whatever. My dad (and yea, I'm touchy because it's my family) had body-soup pouring detail, where mass graves and long-dead were discovered and they found, for example, 7 dogtags and so the liquid pile of putrefied remains was divided into sevenths and poured into 7 body bags and sent home to 7 families. Now he's got hepatitis for his trouble, and I've got a mitral valve prolapse from his exposure to Agent Orange. I'm not apologizing the war or our involvement, I'm saying that, IMHO, a story about bringing home a soldier is not the place to pile-on about whatever fragment of anger you're holding onto about another war you can't justify.

There's political revisionism on every possible topic you can imagine, but unfortunately the inability to prove something doesn't mean it didn't happen. Ergo...dark matter, right? There's another logical fallacy for you. And regardless of the spitting, we brought home a generation of soldiers a-la "Restrepo" who had daily encountered firefights that left them so crippled that 40 years later leave them crippled by every backfire and cannot possibly be awoken by a gentle shake, lest they try to kill you. Again, I'm absolutely sure that anything that can be used for political fodder WILL be used for political fodder whenever possible, but I'm ALWAYS against it as it pertains to bringing home dead soldiers.

I completely understand that understanding what happened is respectful. I just feel it's a little cavalier to toss around that everything was perfect until the US showed up and ruined everything and left it in shambles.

And as for a political agenda, I'm sorry, but every war at its core is a political agenda. Oil, counter-Communism (really, a war to ensure access to raw materials on the global market), nation building, whatever...it's always someone in a throne sending someone else to die. Always.
posted by TomMelee at 7:58 AM on March 8, 2011


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posted by MarshallPoe at 8:27 AM on March 8, 2011


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Regarding the POW thing: Whether or not there are still POWs living in Vietnam in 2011 (hard to imagine), it's entirely easy to imagine that many were still held and died in captivity in the immediate years after the American withdrawal.

I have no problem with those black flags or stickers. Dying on a battlefield is bad enough. The notion of dying in a prison seems even worse.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:53 AM on March 8, 2011


uh. what the fuck. Why are there still viet nam POWs?


come on america :(


OK, here's what happened. Nixon wanted to keep fighting in Viet Nam, but the country and the entire congress was against him. So he had a whole political operation ginned up where the POW-MIA issue allowed him to keep bombing North Viet Nam.

Well, it got out of hand. Why do you ask, does Kathy Strong wear the bracelet of a man she never met? Because it was put out there by Nixon's people and others just ran with it. At first, for example, only the actual relatives of the POW or MIA could joint the association for the uncounted for. However, in the late 1970s a resolution was rammed through at the organizations annual meeting whereby persons could "adopt" a POW/MIA. The organization was soon taken over by right-wing operatives.

I've had a lot of people tell me there were still POW's. All of them were wrong. I was fortunate enough to go to graduate school with the former U.S. Army S-2 for all of Viet Nam at the end of the war. A life-long military intelligence professional, he left Saigon 2 weeks before it fell. He said that the whole POW issue was bunk and that the NVA paused outside of Saigon to ensure that all of the Americans could get out because they did not want any Americans left to provide any justification for a return by US troops.

But think of it this way, there are only 1,719 missing US soldiers from Viet Nam. There are 78,000 missing US soldiers from the Second World War. We aren't exactly accusing Germany and Japan of holding our prisoners to get a better deal, are we?

I suggest reading H. Bruce Franklin's MIA or Myth-Making in America. It will turn your stomach.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:53 AM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The stab in the back first gained currency in Germany, as a means of explaining the nation's stunning defeat in World War I. It was Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg himself, the leading German hero of the war, who told the National Assembly, “As an English general has very truly said, the German army was ‘stabbed in the back.’”

Like everything else associated with the stab-in-the-back myth, this claim was disingenuous. The “English general” in question was one Maj. Gen. Neill Malcolm, head of the British Military Mission in Berlin after the war, who put forward this suggestion merely to politely summarize how Field Marshal Erich von Ludendorff—the force behind Hindenburg—was characterizing the German army's alleged lack of support from its civilian government.

“Ludendorff's eyes lit up, and he leapt upon the phrase like a dog on a bone,” wrote Hindenburg biographer John Wheeler-Bennett. “‘Stabbed in the back?’ he repeated. ‘Yes, that's it exactly. We were stabbed in the back...’”

It didn't matter that Field Marshal Ludendorff had in fact been the virtual dictator of Germany from August of 1916 on, or that the empire's civilian leaders had been stunned by his announcement, in September of 1918, that his last, murderous offensives on the western front had failed, and that they must immediately sue for peace. The suddenness of Germany's defeat only supported the idea that some sort of treason must have been involved. From this point on, all blame would redound upon “the November criminals,” the scheming politicians, reds, and above all, Jews.

...Hermann Göring, the most charismatic of the Nazi leaders after Hitler, liked to speak of how “very young boys, degenerate deserters, and prostitutes tore the insignia off our best front line soldiers and spat on their field gray uniforms.”
Stabbed in the back! The past and future of a right-wing myth
posted by y2karl at 5:08 PM on March 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


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