Vietnam War: How a Marine killed in Vietnam, buried in the USA, later turned up alive in Hanoi.
Above Photo: The Hanoi Hilton.
My novel, BACK, explores the possibility that US servicemen were left behind in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam after the Vietnam War had ended. I personally have no doubt at all that they were, and some of the reasons for this belief, based on my own research and trips into remote parts of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, are dealt with in articles all around this site.
Recently, I was fascinated to read about a US Marine called Ronald Ridgeway, who was apparently killed in action in Vietnam, buried in a mass grave in the US, and who still turned up alive five years later, at the end of the war.
I did some research into this, and here’s what happened.
In February 1968, Ridgeway was patrolling with a unit of Marines outside Khe Sanh, a huge US base in South Vietnam. The patrol was ambushed, and although the ambush was in sight of the base, they were pinned down under heavy fire and attempts to reinforce them were driven back by the North Vietnamese Army, who were besieging the base at the time.
When the surviving members of Ridgeway’s unit could finally escape, they were forced to leave their dead behind, and it was several days before they could recover the bodies. Ronald Ridgeway was believed to be one of the dead. When they returned to the site of the ambush, the soldiers discovered the dead bodies had been blown to pieces by artillery and mortar fire in the subsequent fighting.
Remains of nine dead Marines were recovered, none of whom could be individually identified. Among them, according to the government forensics experts, were the remains of Ronald Ridgeway, and his remains and those of his squad were interred in a mass grave in St. Louis.
To everyone’s utter astonishment, at the end of the war, and FIVE YEARS after Ridgeway had been killed, he was actually released from the Hanoi Hilton, having been held there for much of that time. It turned out that Ridgeway had only been wounded during the attack outside Khe Sanh and he’d then been taken prisoner by the NVA.
Before being finally imprisoned in the Hanoi Hilton, Ridgeway and other POWs had been kept in smaller jungle camps run by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong.
After the war, many released servicemen said they saw other POWs in these jungle camps who were never released and who were never heard from again. What happened to them after the conflict ended is one of the war’s enduring mysteries.
Yet it seems incredible that such a shocking mistake could have been made in Ronald Ridgeway’s case, and that the US government did not know that Ridgeway was alive and being held in a prison which they knew about (The Hanoi Hilton) and which had received US visitors, press and public, during the war. Nor had the North Vietnamese bothered to pass along this information.
It makes you wonder how likely it was that other soldiers were left behind in the jungles of Asia after the war ended, held in small camps in remote area of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, far away from prying eyes, with nobody in authority knowing anything at all about it.
What happened to them is what, in part, my novel BACK explores.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
BACK Parts 1 and 2:
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