Pennsylvania's POWs and MIAs

Why does the United States still have men who remain Unaccounted for?

This is a question that has been asked for many years and has never been truthfully answered by our Government, by the Soviet Union, China, North Korea and North Vietnam. This has been a systemic problem since 1945 and the waning days of World War II and has been allowed to fester through the Korean War and the Vietnam War. It became so easy to dismiss anyone who appeared on the American Military casualty offices list of Missing in Action, that when Lt. Michael Scott Speicher was shot down on the first night of Desert Storm, he literally was forgotten with the wave of a hand completely dismissed by everyone, from his Commander on up the Chain. He did not even get the benefit of a search and rescue flight until almost 3 years after his incident of loss. Talk about leaving no man behind.

The end of World War II (WWII) found thousands of American service personnel being held as Prisoners of War (POW) in Germany. It has been confirmed that at least 28,000 Americans were held as POWs by Axis powers. The Soviet Union, in there push into Germany, liberated about 27,800 American POWs. These boys were repatriated back to U.S. control through the lines or through the Soviet Black Sea port of Odessa which is now the Ukraine - or were they? The aforementioned approximation of returnee numbers is an estimate by the World War Working Group, a joint commission between the United States and the Russian Government, who is responsible for researching the fate of those who remain unaccounted for from the European theater of war. They are also investigating the possibility that some American POWs who remain unaccounted for from the Eastern camps may have been transferred to Soviet labor camps and were never repatriated. Estimates regarding a total number of POW/MIAs lie around just over 73,000; this includes both theaters of war.

Towards the end of World War II, British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill began worrying about the threat the Soviet Union posed to the stability of Europe. PM Churchill created a new subdivision in the British Intelligence Services, called Section Nine to gather intelligence on the Soviet Union; and so began the Cold War. The Soviets learned of a British plan to use Soviet-born anti-communist forces against them and immediately demanded the return of all Soviet citizens held under the control of all Allied forces. The British quickly acquiesced to the Soviets demands and indicated that they would respect their wish and return those POWs under their control even if they did not want to return home to "Rodina-Mat", Mother Russia!

The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) also recommended that the U.S. follow the British lead and turn over all Soviet personnel and POWs as well. The State Department initially balked at the idea of forcible repatriations because they worried over how this policy would affect American and British POWs under German control. The State Department eventually conceded to the idea when Secretary of War, Henry Stimson noted that the Russians have already threatened not to turn over to us American prisoners of war whom they get possession of in the German internment camps. In November, 1944, over 1,100 Russian personnel were forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union from Seattle, Washington. Just under a hundred of these persons made it very clear that they did not want to return to the USSR and two went so far as to commit suicide!

Now, I argue that the United States was duty-bound by tradition, humanitarian ethics, and the Accords of the Geneva Convention, to offer asylum to these individuals.  Everyone knew what there fate would be after being handed back to the USSR. They were POWs and under Allied control for a reason; they had fought for Germany against the motherland and the Allies. And Mother Russia was not happy with their choice and they were looking to exact a terrible, terrible revenge on their disloyal sons and daughters!

In late 1944, a Canadian prisoner (Alex Masterson) escaped from a Nazi prison camp and was eventually thrown into a Soviet prison after having been on the run for two months. He escaped again only to be routed from an American ship he was hiding on and thrown back into prison. Luckily, the captain of the ship successfully gained his release and he brought back some disturbing information on others he had met who were also being held by the Soviets in the same jail; the crew of two American B-17 bombers that were shot down after bombing the oil fields near Ploesti, Rumania. The Americans informed Masterson that they were being held without the knowledge of the United States, however, after his repatriation, Masterson was ordered not to reveal any information about his incident in the Soviet Union and thus the United States was never informed. Masterson later attempted to locate one of the American crewmen after the war had ended and learned that he had never returned to the States. Thus, it appeared that Stalin's threat had been confirmed.

Towards the end of WWII, the allies met at Yalta to determine the post-war fate of Germany. Of the many topics discussed at the Yalta Conference (also known as the Crimean Conference), each of the allies made specific agreements regarding the repatriation of ones POWs in Germany. Stalin insisted that the Yalta Agreement contain very specific language regarding the return of all Soviet citizens. By their definition, all Soviet citizens included those citizens forcibly removed from Russia for labor purposes; those Russians that were fighting for the German Army, and actual Soviet soldiers who were prisoners of war. The ink on the Yalta Agreement wasn't even dry when the British and the Soviets began to secretly renege on their part of the bargain. The British continued their Anti-Soviet operations and the Soviets began a practice that would last until well after the Vietnam War ended.

to be continued....