Were These Signs Made By American POWs Left Behind in Laos?
Above Photo: Mysterious never-properly-explained markings on the ground in Laos during the Vietnam War.
Our film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil deals with the ongoing mystery of what happened to the POWs and MIAs who were left behind in Laos at the end of the Vietnam War.
I previously wrote about this when I was in a former US POW-holding area in Sam Neua and inside the Vieng Xai caves in northern Laos and subsequently (see links below).
The below article first appeared in the New York Times on October 16, 1992, and was written by Barbara Crossette. It’s worth republishing (although I have edited it a lot) to show the debate that was going on in the US about signs on the ground in Laos which the Administration were careful not to attribute to POWs who may have been left behind in that country.
I’ve added the photos and captions for illustration.
By Barbara Crossette
“A top American intelligence official said today that two sets of large symbols etched into the ground in Laos in 1973 and 1988 were almost certainly human-made signs intended to send a message. But the official said experts had not been able to prove or disprove that they were distress signals from stranded American prisoners of war.
In the first case, the figures “1973” or “1573” with a “TH” or “TA” were spotted, apparently by satellite, gouged into a field in the Plain of Jars in May and June 1973, after all American prisoners were reported returned. In January 1988, Central Intelligence Agency surveillance picked up a “USA” dug into a rice field near Sam Neua, along with what was possibly a “K” made of rice stalks.
Experts said the could not rule out that these were attempts to display coded symbols that American pilots had been taught to use to attract attention if they were captured.
“These symbols were clearly intended to send a signal to someone above, and we cannot explain them today,” said the official, Duane Andrews, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence. He was testifying before the Senate Select Committee on P.O.W.-M.I.A. Affairs at the start of two days of hearings, some in closed session, on intelligence-gathering and covert operations involving missing Americans.
Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and the committee chairman, cautioned today against irresponsible conclusions that would mislead families.
“The American public is listening very carefully,” he said. “If we pretend to them that something is a symbol when it’s not, we are raising false hopes.”
But two other Senators on the committee, Bob Smith of New Hampshire and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, both Republicans, were critical of the Pentagon analysts, whom they accused of trying to debunk what looked like powerful evidence. The committee has agreed to call in independent analysts to look at Defense Department material.
This weekend, President Bush’s special envoy, Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., will lead a team to Hanoi to renew discussions on the missing in the light of repeated testimony in recent months that the Governments of Vietnam and Laos know more about the fates of many Americans than they have revealed in nearly two decades.
The United States lists 2,265 Americans still unaccounted for since the war. Three former Secretaries of Defense have told the Senate committee that they believed that some Americans might have been alive in Indochina when the war ended, but were not returned or accounted for by Hanoi.
It was evident in the disagreements during the hearings today that experts are not in complete accord about the handling of some satellite imagery in cases where symbols have been detected in Indochina.
Two officials of the Joint Services Search, Evasion, Rescue and Escape Agency, which trains American service personnel in emergency techniques, said they had seen what they thought were credible photographs of coded symbols in various locations in Vietnam and Laos. But they said they had been convinced by the Defense Intelligence Agency that imagery enhancement had proved the names and numbers they saw did not in fact exist.”
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.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
Peter Alan Lloyd
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