News with a view
Perspective and personal views on current and cultural affairs
Star Tribune
August 5 / 1994

02/US Air Force
44th Tactical Airlift
Ubon Airfield
Toledo, OH
Date of Loss:
24 NOV 69
Country of Loss:

Status: MIA
04/U.S. Air Force
42nd Tactical
Electronic Warfare,
Korat AB, Thailand
New Orleans
Date of Loss:
2 APR 72
Country of Loss:
South Vietnam
Status: MIA
04/U.S. Air Force
20th Tactical
Udorn AB, Thailand
Auburndale, MA
Date of Loss:
12 AUG 66
Country of Loss:
North Vietnam

Status: MIA

Synopsis: While on mission near Ban Bac, Laos, Matthes' C130 was observed struck by antiaircraft fire, burst into flames, crashed to the ground and exploded on impact. All the crew was declared MIA, but heavy enemy presence in the area leads advocates to think the crew could be accounted for. An independent imagery consul- tant told the Senate Select Committee that he had detected, with "100 percent confidence" a faint "GX2527" in a photograph of a prison in Vietnam. The let ters and numbers correlate to the primary and backup distress symbols and authenticator number for Matthes.
Synopsis: On April 2,1972, two Thailand-based EB66 aircraft (Bat 21 and Bat 22) were flying pathfinder escort for a cell of B52s bombing near the DMZ. Bat 21, on which Serex was a crew member, took a direct surface- to-air missile hit and the aircraft was observed by other flight members to break apart and crash. One member of the crew was rescued after 12 days; the others were not found. The satellite imagery revealed letters that appeared to spell S-E-R-E-X outside the prison. Also identified was 72TA88. That was the year Serex was downed; T and A were authenticator codes for that year.
Synopsis: On Aug-12,1966, Maj. Wrye was assigned a solo reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. The last contact with the aircraft was a radar reading approximate- ly 110 miles from Udorn. It was assumed he was shot down near his target area in Nam Ha Province. Wrye's family felt there was a good chance he was captured, but he was not among the 591 POWs released by Hanoi in 1973. According to the Select Committee's report, the satellite imagery team was able to discern portions of what could be interpreted as the letters W-R-Y-E in the same area as the other two distress signals.

In June 1992, satellite photographs of a Vietnamese prison indicated large numbers and letters appearing in nearby fields that matched the distress codes and surnames of known MlAs. Upon hearing this, The Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs recommended in 1993 that the Executive branch investigate the cases by name with Vietnam. MIA advocates say that hasn't happened.

'For me, it's
not a leap
of faith, it's
proof positive'

By Graydon Royce
Staff Writer

Bob Thompson had been an interested observer of the POW/MIA issue for years. But after the suicide of Dorothy Marian Shelton in 1990, he felt compelled to do more. Shelton was married to Air Force Col. Charles Shelton, who was shot down over Laos in 1965 and captured. The Pathet Lao said Shelton died in captivity in 1968 but Dorothy Shelton went to the jungles of both Laos and Congress to find out for herself what happened.

Thompson, a former marine who served in Vietnam in 1967, has since devoted himself to the MIA cause. "The reason I dedicated some of my soul to doing it - and I hate doing it, it's no fun, I want it to end - is, that I felt these people need some help, they just can't take it."

The latest issue for MIA families has been the discovery of satellite photos that appear to indicate pilot distress signals. This information, Thompson charges, is being ignored or wrongly dismissed as shadows and vegetation by the Defense Department.

Thompson, 47, who lives in Apple Valley and is a quality assurance analyst for the postal service, answered questions last week about the distress codes and the difficult road of MIA advocacy.

Q. Are you certain these distress signals,are recent?

A. These particular ones, GX2527, Serex and the Wrye signals, there are other signals that were uncovered in 1989 and 1988, the USA and the USA K, and one that was hid den until this year. Yes, I believe they could not have remained from years ago. I know from my own experience that the monsoon in Vietnam is like nothing we see here. The rain and wind just obliterate everything. Any signals that would be seen in 1992 would have to have been recent.

Q. Are these sites locatable? Could we drive to them? Have they been flown over?

A. Yes, and they've been doing that for the last two decades.

Q. American planes have?

A. Satellites mainly and maybe planes too, I'm not exactly sure of that. They have exact coordinates and grids. The GX2527 was found directly outside of a known prison facility near the city of Haiphong. The SEREX one was found close to that.

Q. Has any private group thought of going to those places? Hasn't Vietnam opened up in recent years?

A. The aspect of Vietnam being open is an interesting one. It's open only as much as they want it to be open. Our own investigators that have been over there for years have never set foot in the prisons that are most likely, the ones where we have seen the distress signals. For example the GX2527; We didn't go to that prison. And of course when you see the reports come out, you know they're [The Vietnamese] going to move these guys. And my belief is that these guys have been moved many times.

Even through all this, we've never gone to the prison by Haiphong. They said they were going to the area and talk to some villagers. Well, the problem with that is that when you live in a police state, the slightest infringement can mean reeducation camp, which means slave camp, which means death.

So that's one way they keep the story closed. There have been 17,000 witnesses, 1,700 of which have been firsthand, live sightings "yes, I've seen Americans." The Defense Depart ment discredited and denied every one.

Q. Have any of the sightings or leads ever produced anything? Has any private organization ever followed them up?

A. The idea of working on it privately is very risky. What happened with a lot of the Southeast Asian intelligence sources was that they would be identified by our own government, which would mean at the very least death for them, if not worse. At least this is what I believe has occurred. It's really hard to prove these kinds of things. But if Americans want to go into Vietnam or Laos or whatever, they could very easily not come out again. And the U.S. government could easily deny that they were aware of this person, or that this person had any authorization. You would be very foolish to go penetrating over there unless you have a suicidal complex.

Q. How would we retrieve these prisoners? Is Vietnam going to simply admit they have. them and release them?

A. Many statements, going back to '73, said that we would have to go back to war with Vietnam if there were Americans left there in order to get them back. This, in my mind, has been a ruse, in that it was never neces sary to go to war with the Vietnamese.

First of all, one of the biggest finds of the interim report was the uncovering of the Nixon-Kissinger letter promising $4.2 billion in cash and materiel. What the Vietnamese wanted was reparations. I'm not suggesting that we pay over the $4.2 billion, but the reality is that through economic trade and what not and incentives, that could be done in that fashion.

From the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs

"...This consultant had detected, with 100 percent confidence' a faint 'GX2527' in a photograph of a prison facility in Vietnam taken in June, 1992. This number correlates to the primary and back-up distress symbols and authenticator number of a pilot lost in Laos in 1969. The joint agency team agreed that there were visible markings that could be interpreted as letters and numbers, but concluded that the marking 'appeared' too 'haphazard and ill-defined' to be man-made distress symbols.

"Disagreement arose within the Committee about the interpretation of some of the possible symbols, including the question of whether there is some reason to believe that the 'GX2627' symbol is man-made, rather than the result of natural phenomena. However, the Committee agrees that the benefit of the doubt should go to the individual in this case, because the apparent number corresponds to a particular authenticator number and because it was identified by one analyst, with 100 percent confidence. Accordingly, the Committee urges the Executive branch to request information about the serviceman involved from the Government of Vietnam.

"Although the Committee cannot rule out the possibility that U.S. POWs have attempted to signal their status to aerial observers, the Committee cannot conclude, based on its own investigation and the guidance of imagery experts, that this has definitely happened. Although there is now an adequate collection process In place, the Committee investigators found unacceptable lapses in time between the point of collection and evaluation; and between evaluation and follow-up. The Committee recommends better integration among the various intelligence agencies, including improved training and a better system for collecting and acting on information gathered through imagery."

Q. But could Vietnam actually produce the prisoners?

A. I wouldn't pretend to know how they're being held, but communist systems have complete control so they would be able to produce them. The most successful thing that I believe would bring them out is world opinion. The Vietnamese are very sensitive to world opinion and that was illustrated very dynamically in the Garwood case [Robert Garwood, a former Marine who was captured by the Viet Cong and was returned to the United States in 1979; he was subsequently court-martialed for collaborating with the enemy]. It was discovered when Garwood leaked out not one but two messages. He got a second note out to a foreign ambassador from a third country. What happened was that once it was known that he was there, and once it was publicized, they had to cough him up and they did.

Q. It seems improbable that five presidents would hush something like this up. Is this MIA information being controlled at a particular level of the government?

A. All the presidents have had access to that intelligence. What I believe occurs is that some of the presidents knew more than others, but what they attempt to do is be as little informed as possible, in other words if I don't know, you can't prove later on that I knew. But I think common sense would tell these people to look. If they cared enough they'd have to look. As the president of the United States, you're the commander in chief, you are the boss of the Defense Department; you can walk in there and say I want to see the satellite imagery reconnaisance.

Why don't they do that? I believe, as ugly as it might sound, that they care more about their power, their own personal position than they do about some guys who may have been lost. Especially when they say, "They did this in Korea, they did this before, it's nothing knew, it's been going on a long time. Nobody can prove it, nobody has access to this." And the people in the Pentagon, there is no way they can tell the truth - they'd be arrested.

People would like to believe that these people aren't like that, that they would do the right thing, but we've all seen that people in the highest places do these things and they rationalize it to themselves.

Q. What has been the history of MIA's in other wars. Is Vietnam unique, or is there a special reason for fearing some deception?

A. In the Second World War, as well as in the Korean War, the communists showed the propensity for holding back prisoners. The interim report published by the Repub lican staff of the Select Committee estimated that in the Second World War as many as 20,000 Americans were taken by the Red Army.

From a letter to President Clinton, from Rep. Jim Ramstad. July 27,1994

"Mr. President, as you know, photos taken in June, 1992, of a known Vietnamese Communist prison facility show distress signals. Considering the secret nature of the codes provided to our service personnel and the fact that two of the signals in these photos include secret codes as well as the last names of two missing pilots, the mathematical odds of a coincidence are astronomical.

"The Senate Select Committee that investigated this issue in 1992 stated that Defense Department analysts themselves 'correlated 19 of those authenticator numbers with numbers belonging to Americans still listed as missing in Southeast Asia.'

"Mr. President, we cannot ignore this and other such evidence."

When the two armies met in Germany, they created a line and all the POW camps that were on the Russian side of the line, the Americans were never liberated. There were a few that made it out, but there were many other Americans and huge numbers of French. Many of them were starved off in holding camps on their way to the prison system in Russia. One fellow did get out after 17 years - John Noble - he was only about 18 years old and the son of an American businessman that had been taken too. They took everyone with American identification.

During the the Korean War, regardless of whether it was the Soviet Union, Korea, Vietnam, China, whatever, the communist pattern was to hold prisoners back and they did so for a number of reasons some just as mundane as to be used as slave labor; others to extract their expertise - electronics, physics experts, whatever they could get. It was found in fact that in the Vietnam War that the North Vietnamese knew the pro files of many of the pilots and they would go after that specific jet because they wanted that person because of their expertise.

Q. The further away we get from the war, do you feel it's a tougher struggle to get public interest? Especially when in the past few years we've seen several instances where sightings or photos have been discredited. How do you deal with that now. Are people backing away from this issue?

A. Where there have been charlatans - just like in any other area - they have hurt bad.

But the other thing that happens, America has become more and more jaded and requires a greater dose of shock to perk the interest. You have the Tonya Harding knee-smashing incident; now you have the Simpson throat-slashing incident. These are the kinds of things that are garnering the most attention in the media, and the media in a sense feels there are safe things to play with and they use them for entertainment value, they use them to sell their product. Tabloids have shown how successful it is to push sensationalism.

Americans also feel they have no real con trol over their politicians. And so there's a helplessness. There was a poll that said 82 percent of Americans believe there are cap tives in Vietnam. Now when you take that overwhelming majority opinion and put it alongside the apathy, what do you make of. it? They don't care? I think what is really required is investigative journalism similar to the Watergate expose where people dug in and didn't let go and kept reporting.

If the American people were aware in a manner equivalent to - I won't even ask for a Tonya Harding or a Simpson-type exposure - I just mean that if it made it to national news and stayed on for 4 or 5 days in a row, in other words where they don't just give you a little blip and then it's bye for six, nine months before you hear from it again. If the American people knew the story of GX2527, and that this was filmed in 1992, and how there are over 73 billion combinations of numbers and letters that it could be anything other than GX2527, if they knew that this was found in 1992 I believe there would be an outpouring of rage and I think the political power and pressure would be self evident. It all depends on whether the people know about it or not.

For me it's not a matter of taking someone's word for it, not a leap of faith. It's based on the numbers. If someone looks at it logically, scientifically, I believe it's proof positive.