POWs Left Behind in Laos – The Nhommarath Incident. What Did The US Know In 1981?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Quigley_Sharps, Nov 26, 2013.

  1. Quigley_Sharps

    Quigley_Sharps The Badministrator Administrator Founding Member

    Above Photo: Some of the limestone scenery around Nhommarath, Khammouane Province, Laos.

    {Click on all images to enlarge)

    Paragraph 1 of the 1981 Memorandum

    As many readers will know, my novel, BACK, places the Vietnam War in a 21st Century context, when some of its consequences threaten modern-day American backpackers as they go on a trek into the war-ravaged jungles of Laos.

    In part, it also deals with the thorny issue of American POWs who were left in the jungles of Laos long after the Vietnam War had ended, and whether any of them may be alive today.

    I did a considerable amount of research when I was writing the book, and one of the most intriguing items I came across was a Defense Intelligence Memorandum from January 1981, to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which can be viewed in full, here: http://www.nationalalliance.org/vietnam/tighe2.htm

    Limestone Cliffs around Nhommarath.

    The Memo and its Chronological Listing (which I’ll call the ‘Attachment’) makes some remarkable claims.

    Paragraph 2 of the Memo states that the DIA had, since 1979, been investigating claims by a Laotian refugee that US POWs were still being held in Laos.

    Para 2 of the Memo

    Specifically, the refugee claimed that 18 US POWs and 25 Lao POWs were detained in a cave near Nhommarath, in Khammouane Province, Laos and that they were moved there on 10 March 1979, from a location in northern Laos.

    Para 1 of the Attachment

    Now, as most of the controversial post-war POW red herrings and hoaxes were perpetrated by Laotian refugees intent on drumming up US support for their beleaguered fight against the victorious Communist government of Laos, any claim by a Laotian refugee has to be extremely suspect, but the DIA went out of its way to check their informant and his sources out, including polygraphing him, and it seems he passed with flying colours, although HIS source, a “resistance fighter’ was still being located to be checked.

    Para 4 of the Attachment

    At this stage my cynical view was that the resistance fighter had made the whole thing up, as usual, but apparently not.

    The refugee told the DIA investigators that not only were the above prisoners being held, but that another two US POWs, one Australian and one Japanese soldier were also being held in a place called Kham Keut, 70Km from Nhommarath, and he drew them a sketch of the area.

    Para 2 of the Attachment

    Intent on obtaining corroborative evidence, US spy satellites checked out the area and came up with some geographical confirmations of what the refugee had claimed.

    Para 3 of the Attachment.

    More limestone near Nhommarath.

    Later that year, the CIA received credible reports, from a reliable Thai source, that 30 US POWs were being held in Nhommarath (but he got it from an untested Lao source – which sets the alarm bells ringing again.)

    When the CIA got on the case, the ‘untested’ Lao source said the POWs had suddenly (and conveniently for him) been moved to Kontum, Vietnam, which again would make me think this was all made up.

    Para 5 of the Attachment

    However, surveillance continued at the Nhommarath locations by satellite and some remarkable developments were observed to suggest this wasn’t just another bullshit Laotian refugee story.

    For example, a detention facility had recently been built, and on two occasions people were detected within the facility, 25 people in December 1980 and 9 people in January 1981. Further, at one stage the number “52” was seen to have been stamped into the dirt among crops, “in a location not apparently observable from either of the two guard towers…”.

    Para 6 of the Attachment

    Of course the sign, and the people in the facility, might have had nothing whatsoever to do with POWs and the Vietnam War, but some of the most senior military figures in the US clearly believed they might be connected.

    The Memo concluded by requesting the CIA be tasked with investigating whether the prisoners were US POWs, and, from the tone of the memo, it seemed this might have been possible, as a topographical model of the site and surrounding area was also requested, presumably to assist in rescue mission-planning, and a contingency plan was also requested “in the event this important undertaking proves successful.”

    Para 3 of the Memo

    And after that?



    Clearly the DIA took these reports of POWs being held in Nhommarath seriously enough in 1981 to ask for topographical models and contingency planning, and a lot of time and money was spent on satellite surveillance and image analysis. They wouldn’t have done this on a hunch.

    So what happened after the Memo was sent, and when the CIA got involved, I wonder?

    The big question for me, in all this POW controversy, is why the US government weren’t more open about what they were doing and what they knew, either at the time, of, if operational reasons precluded that, why not subsequently?

    It’s hard not to believe they made the Conspiracy Theory rod for their own back with all the intrigue and lack of communication.

    And one final question – what was the result of the CIA’s analysis of this information? Did they conclude it was all an elaborate hoax? And, if so, on what basis? Did they do any investigating on the ground in Laos?

    Did US Administrations ever raise any of these issues with the government of Laos? And were they satisfactorily answered?

    See also: POWs Left Behind in Laos and Vietnam – What happened to these People? | Peter Alan Lloyd

    And: Are there any Vietnam War-era POWs still alive in Laos? – A trip to Sam Neua and Vieng Xai Caves. | Peter Alan Lloyd

    Approximate Location of Nhommarath, Khammouane Province, in red circle.

    © Peter Alan Lloyd
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 25, 2015
    hank2222 and Dont like this.
  2. Dont

    Dont Just another old gray Jarhead Monkey

    Seems we have had these reports fed to us for a very long time. Yet, nothing has come of the investigations except a couple movies. Many of us would like to see more come of it.
    Georgia_Boy and Quigley_Sharps like this.
  3. To answer your questions regarding Nhomarath read the new book available at amazon.com titled

    Abandoned in Place - The Men We Left Behind and
    The Untold Story of Operation Pocket Change
    The Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) Planned Rescue of
    American POWs Held in Laos Six Year After the End of the Vietnam War
  4. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    Welcome to the monkey tree, @abandonedinplace, I hope you stopped by to share your knowledge, not just hype a book. there is a great deal to learn here, because people share their knowledge. I hope you will do the same.
  5. I found this site by accident. Until recently there was so little on the internet regarding Operation Pocket Change the code name for the Nhom Marrott (one of the many alternate spellings) rescue mission. While working in the National Archives researching another project I accidently stumbled across the actual plans for the operation along with the text of a briefing given to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the mission. That was 12 years ago. After wading through thousands of documents and many interviews, I think I've gotten as close to the real story of both the CIA recon missions and JSOCs planned rescue. It is a complicated story and sadly not a very pretty ones. I'd be happy to answer any questions.
  6. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    I'm sure there will be many questions. I too found this site more by accident than design. Good folks, an impressive knowledge base, and willing to help other monkeys. Stay and be welcome.;)
  7. Minuteman

    Minuteman Chaplain Moderator Founding Member

    I read this book last year on a recommendation from a friend. I highly recommend it. It chronicles the tragic cover up of our POW's by the government. The authors were hounded and persecuted so much that they had to flee the U.S.
    Kiss the Boys Goodbye: How the United States Betrayed Its Own POWs in Vietnam: Monika Jenson-Stevenson, William Stevenson: 9780525249344: Amazon.com: Books
    I had a brother-in-law that was a navy seal int the late 70's and after a few too many beers one night he related to me a mission he was sent on. They were stripped of all ID and told if they were caught that the government would disavow any knowledge of them. They were sent into Vietnam to search for POW's. He says they found a camp and photographed Caucasian prisoners. When thy requested permission to launch a rescue they were denied and pulled back. They went back a couple of days later and the camp was deserted.
    Take that for what it's worth but I believe him.
    Bo Gritz chronicles in one of his books a mission that he organized, funded by Ross Perot, in which he claims they actually rescued 3 American POW's in the early 80's. His team was making their way to a rendezvous on the Thai border when the Voice of America radio started broadcasting information of the mission and telling where the team was heading. They were intercepted and some of his team killed and the POW's recaptured.
    A short time after getting back to the states movies started coming out about POW rescues. Having worked for the CIA during his military career he says that this was a common tactic to discredit people or events that they did not want exposed. Make a movie of it and when people hear of it they say "Oh yeah I saw that in a movie".
    Again take it for what you want.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 25, 2015

  8. While researching the book, I came across many rumors of a Seal Operation sometime in the 1981 - 1982 time frame. I was never able to confirm them. The one document I did find was a memo of conversation written by an investigator of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in 1992. The memo documented a conversation with Richard Marcinko the founder of Seal Team 6. He said there was no Seal Operation but he did know of the operation Delta was training for. That said, I did find evidence of at least 3 missions to confirm POWs at the Nhom Marrott camp and there is an indication of a 4th mission. I was never able to confirm who manned 2 and possibly 3 of those teams. It is entirely possible that Seals were involved but I have no confirmation on that and can only offer speculation.

    There was a Seal Operation during the Vietnam War either in 1971 or 1972 called Operation Thunderhead (not related to the Son Tay raid), to rescue POWs. It was not successful.

    I did touch on Gritz's involvement, specifically his 1st effort Velvet Hammer and his subsequent involvement with the ISA.
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