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July 16, 2004



Published in Washington, D.C. March 6, 1986

Read this:

Covetous 'Rambos' disrupt U.S. efforts to locate POWs

By Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Jack E. Bailey is asking Americans for 708 dollars a day so he can sail the South China Sea to find out where U.S. prisoners of war are enslaved in Indochina.

POWs are "alive and being held captive...on road gangs, in mountain caves and work camps. Nothing but skin and bones," Mr. Bailey tells the public in mailed fund-raising appeals.

The former colonel fought in World War II, Korea and flew 256 combat missions over Vietnam. When he raises money, he sails unarmed off the Vietnamese coast rescuing "boat people" and asking them about POWs.

One of his POW-hunting competitors, Vinnie Arnone, claims to have a better system -- but it costs more. The pudgy, former Green Beret is reportedly asking for 200,000 dollars to pay a mysterious, communist Laotian major to defect with an unidentified American POW. Mr. Arnone claims he has been on five illegal raids inside Laos.

But when it comes to button-holing people with dollars to spend, former Green Beret Lt. Col. James G. "Bo" Gritz is ahead of them all. Actor Clint Eastwood gave him 30,000 dollars, "Star Trek's" William Shatner tossed in a 10,000 dollars pledge, and the computer giant, Litton Industries, donated more than 50,000 dollars along with sophisticated communication equipment.

The cash financed a failed mission into Laos in 1983. Armed with only three Uzis and outdated information, Col. Gritz and his 18 men -- including Mr. Arnone -- ran into a Laotian patrol which pursued them back into Thailand where he was arrested.

Mr. Gritz's colleagues, and Soldier of Fortune Magazine as well, denounced him as a publicity-seeker.

"I don't have any sympathy for these people who are raising funds to find POWs this way," one U.S. official said. "Bailey, for example, comes on as a humanitarian, decent fellow. Maybe in his mind he really believe he is.

"I don't know if he's making any money on this or not, but he's sort of deceiving people by saying he can find POWs. Especially the next of kin, they're extremely vulnerable."

Though Mr. Bailey doesn't go on raids, other Rambo-style POW-hunters do. This often damages elaborate official efforts to account for the nearly 2,500 Americans missing in action in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, said Lt. Col. Paul D. Mather, head of the U.S. Joint Casualty Resolution Center's Bangkok office.

The center collects reports of POWs and MIAs from refugees and others and tries to identify any uncovered remains in its Honolulu laboratories.

But self-appointed commandos discover a crash site of a U.S. warplane sometimes sloppily disrupt it, making official investigations impossible, said Col. Mather, who has served with the JCRC since it began in 1973.

By sneaking across the borders into Indochina, the hunters also violate international law and create diplomatic havoc at a time when Washington is having some success persuading Vietnam and Laos to provide more details about MIAs, Mather added.

Caught between the Rambos and the U.S. government, is a public unsure whom to believe.

Are an estimated 200 POWs rotting in bamboo cages in the sweltering jungles of Southeast Asia's communist regimes as Mr. Bailey, Mr. Arnone, Mr. Gritz and some U.S. officials and investigators insist?

All of the sketchy reports thus far have failed to prove a single American is still being held captive.

Some Western analysts suggest sightings of "live Americans" by refugees could actually be people belonging to various Western and Soviet development agencies working in isolated regions.

Others suggest a few stray Americans may have deserted the military during the war, married and settled down in rugged regions of Indochina, unwilling or afraid to return to the United States.

One alleged American POW turned out to be "a Greek national who had been held on criminal charges," said Paul Wolfowitz, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Feb. 27

Sifting through such rhetoric and contradictions are more than 50 serious non-government Americans who work full-time studying reports and lobbying for action -- but never personally going on illegal forays. Often they are dedicated volunteers who are relatives of MIAs.

An additional dozen or so Rambo-style POW-hunters occasionally sneak into Indochina from Thailand for adventure, money or an emotional conviction that their comrades-in-arms are trapped there.

The U.S. Defense Department says it keeps an open mind on the question of prisoners. "Although we have thus fare been unable to prove that Americans are still detained against their will, the information available to us precludes ruling out that possibility," the Defense Department stated.

More than 185 "first-hand live sighting reports" are currently "under continuing investigation," in Defense Department files. Some unsolved cases of U.S. personnel "with evidence of capture" include graphic, dramatic details.

For example, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Barton Creed, who was shot down in southern Laos on March 13, 1971, radioed he had parachuted to the ground but suffered a broken leg and arm. His last message was: "Pick me up now. Pick me up now. They are here." Laos says it has no record of Cmdr. Creed.

Other cases include correspondents for Time magazine, CBS, NBC and UPI. Some servicemen and civilians are described as captured but later believed executed or to have died trying to escape.

Former Marine Pfc. Robert Garwood, who was found guilty in 1981 of collaborating with the enemy when he stayed in Vietnam after all other American captives came home in 1973, claims that between 1975 to 1979 he saw more than 60 prisoners speaking English in several locations in Vietnam.


...Lazarus Omega
Back to Thailand, this time with the two MIA daughters and a former SF supply
sergeant, Vinnie Arnone. (Note: Arnone is a sad character. From the
contacts that we had with him, I suspect that his elevator stops short of the
top floor. His prize possession was a photo of him in his Boy Scout troop
leader uniform with a gang of Thai children swarming over him.)

Lazarus Omega get off to a rollicking start. Bo used some of the money to
hire prostitutes (at least one was reported be transvestite). One of the
team members, known as "Doctor Death" was to make poison darts for the team
to use. In a really strange affair, Bo decided to award a US Legion of Merit
to Loh Tharaphant. He did so, complete with a certificate signed by Richard
Nixon and General Creighton Abrams. The award was made in 1983, ten years
after Nixon left office. Loh did not seem to notice.

Zappone, still held by Phoumi from Operation Lazarus, got his hands on a
grenade and threatened to blow up himself and his guards. Phoumi's people
released him.

Gritz decided to move. He assembled his team and some Laotian "irregulars"
recruited from the refugee camps, and launched. No one was certain where they
were going. Bo has claimed that they went into Laos, found a POW camp, and
rescued two Americans. As they were returning to Thailand, they were
ambushed and had to abandon the two rescued POWs. Bo never did get their
names. Thai authorities tell another story. They had Bo and his crowd under
surveillance all the while they were in country and they report that Bo holed
up in a series of houses owned by Tharaphant. Take your pick -- Bo's story
or the story told by the Thai police.

Either way, Bo was charged by the Thai with espionage activities and put on
trial. Really bizarre. Bo brought into the court room one of his old Army
uniforms, complete with a full complement of medals. He was found guilty and
Gritz and his whole crowd were tossed out of Thailand.

End Lazarus Omega...

Tip Boxell

I'd be grateful for anybody to tell me if anybody ever mounted a proper expedition into northeastern Laos -- not blowhard grandstanding for money but a well organized and well led incursion to really go where real POW's really were. For example, Ross Perot hired COL Bull Simons (leader of the Son Tay rescue mission) to lead a team into Tehran to rescue Perot's employees held by Ayatollah Khomeini's Reveolutionary Guards. Anything that legitimate to rescue POW's in Laos?

Also, has U.S. government or anybody forced the SRV government to deal with the prison camp at Bat Bat where Bobby Garwood and other Americans were held until 1978? How about the "Chinese Farm" POW Camp up by Chinese VN border? How about the Chinese Viet mortician who took care of 400 sets of American remains in Hanoi until he was kicked out of VN at the time of the Viet Chinese War of 1979? How about General Vang Pao and his "500 live sightings?"

There is a ton of REAL stuff out there about REAL POW's in Vietnam and Laos up to 1986. What does anybody have to say about all that? I'd really like to know.

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