"REFERENCED REPORT PROVIDED INFORMATION OF URGENT POLITICAL SENSITIVITY," so reads a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) message sent to USDAO SAIGON VIETNAM on June 15, 1973. Only evidence of American POWs left behind in Vietnam would warrant a message of "Urgent Political Sensitivity." That was the situation facing DIA in June of 1973.
On April 10th, 1973, two days before Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. Roger Shields declared all the POWs home or dead, a North Vietnamese soldier defected to the south. The defector, who held the rank of "aspirant and was commanding officer for the 157 Co. 21st Bn, 2nd Div," provided stunning information that six (6) American POWs remained in a POW camp in Quang Ngai Province. He had seen the six (6) Americans as recently as late February 1973.
The source, interviewed by U.S. investigators on May 22nd, (remember this date, it's important) described the six (6), as an American "Captain" and 5 NCOs The source never got a good look at the NCO's and could provide no descriptions. However, the source did provide a detailed description of the "Captain." The source said he saw and conversed with the Captain, on four (4) separate occasions between August 1972 and February 1973.
110900A Jun 73 -- From the Department of Defense National Military Command Center: "In August 1972, Source entered an MR-5 PW Camp.... Source contacted members of the 12th Artillery Bn (NVA) who were at the PW Camp location to study the operation of captured 105 MM Howitzers. Their instructor was a captured American Artillery Officer... who was captured (estimated 1968-1969) by the 459th Sapper Regt. in Binh Dinh Province. The PW was forced to give artillery instructions under threat of execution. In addition to the officer, there were five (5) American NCOs referred to as sergeants and 200 ARVN PWs.... The Americans were segregated from the ARVN PWs. Source only caught a glimpse of the five NCOs and thus could provide no information concerning them. Source, however, conversed with the Artillery Captain on four different occasions, from August 1972 until late February 1973."
"Source stated the American officer was approximately 75 inches tall, with blue eyes and blond hair. He had a high bridged nose and was thin but had a large frame. The artillery Captain had a small mole on the upper portion of his left lip and a scar approximately 1 1/2 inches long behind his left ear. Subject had two tattoos- one on his right forearm... the other on his upper left arm.... The American was married and had one girl 11 and one boy aged 5. Source states that on the four occasions he conversed with this Captain, a Sr. LT. Hinh, MR-5 interpreter, assisted him. Source states the Captain was from Texas, the same place where President Johnson lived, and from source's imitation of the sound of his name it may be inferred that the officer's first name was John (sic)...."
According to the source the POW "was forced to give artillery instruction under threat of execution." We would assume that the 5 American NCOs in camp with the "Captain" faced the same threat of execution, if the "Captain" failed to cooperate.
"...Source shown DIA Photo Book... and stated that the shape of the face of photo no. W052 (James J. Wright) was similar to the Captain's. Source later indicated that Photo No. C166 (Phillip S. Clark, Jr.) looked more like the Captain, and could possibly be the same individual. Source claims that according to [NAME] the communists considered releasing the ARVN prisoners in Nhon Loc District in late February 1973, but could not do so due to heavy fighting in the area. When asked about the Americans, [NAME] claimed they had not been released yet because they were "needed" and added they would probably have to be taken North before being released."
June 13th, 1973 -- the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) narrowed down the identity of the Captain to one of two men. They were Captain John T. McDonnell and Sgt. Glenn E. Tubbs, both of the United States Army.
June 15th, 1973 -- the DIA issued their message regarding "INFORMATION OF URGENT POLITICAL SENSITIVITY." After declaring all the POW's home or dead, the Department of Defense faced a unique crisis. A first hand eyewitness provided a detailed description of an American POW alive in Quang Ngai Province in February 1973, and he was not alone.
In DIAs words, "Analysis of the descriptive data of the "American Captain" has produced two candidates. Although neither fits the description perfectly, both have enough of the reported characteristics that their photographs should be shown to the source. The two individuals are M133 (McDonnell J.T. Cpt, USA) and T046 (Tubbs, G.E. E5, USA)... Both families are being interviewed to determine what tattoos and scars the individuals may have had. Sgt. Tubbs is known to have had one tattoo on each arm. It is not known whether Cpt. McDonnell had tattoos. The scar behind the left ear fits Cpt. McDonnell. It is not known if Sgt. Tubbs had a similar scar."
July 1, 1973 - Dept. of Army Staff Communications Division - Message discusses a photo identification by the source. The document reads "Source on two occasions selected photo L035, Page A391, as closely resembling the American, he spoke to prior to rallying GVN. He stated POW has grey or light hair, but facial features in L035 closely resemble POW in question."
The message also discussess efforts to "surface other sources from Ba To area, to develope additional information."
July 11, 1973 - Major C.W. Watson adds a comment to the above referenced message which states: "Photo #L035 is of LTC Carter Luna, USAF, lost 10 Mar 69 over Laos (XD028815). For source to have seen Luna in grid square BS, the PW would have had to have been moved several hundred KM SE from his loss location - something which experience has shown was simply not done. Photo of McDonnell in DIA photo book does not resemble photos in OACSI files but does have similarities with LTC Luna's photo. OACSI is sending additional photos of McDonnell and Tubbs (another Army Candidate) to USDAO Saigon for possible ID by source."
Photographs of Capt. McDonnell, provided to the National Alliance of Families, do show a passing resemblance to the photo of LTC Luna in the Pre Capture Photo Book. It should also be noted that LTC Luna's photo appears on page A391, Captain McDonnell's photo appears on page A390. Both pages face each other.
You've seen the photo of Capt. McDonnell on the opening page, click here, to view other photos. Can you identify the photos of Capt. McDonnell?
Capt. McDonnell and Lt. Ronald Greenfield were pilots aboard a AH-1G helicopter. On March 6, 1969 their chopper was hit by ground fire and crashed 50 kilometers southeast of Hue and 3 kilometers southeast of Thon Thuy Cam, Thua Thien Province.
U. S. search teams operated in the area from 1600 hours (4 P.M.) March 6th to March 12th. They found no sign of Capt. McDonnell. On March 7th, at approximately 1330 hours (1:30 P.M.) American search teams located Lt. Greenfield, near the downed helicopter. Lt. Greenfield was seriously wounded and had no memory of events after the crash. He was unconscious from the time of the crash until about 3 - 5 hours later. Greenfield believes that Capt. McDonnell removed him from the downed helicopter. Examination of the downed helicopter revealed that Capt. McDonnell's seat belt and harness were open and placed neatly on the seat. Search teams located McDonnell's helmet. There was no sign of blood in the helmet. Also located at the crash site were maps, weapons, and survival equipment. According the "JTF-FA Narrative" presented to the Vietnamese in 1989, this suggests "he either had to quickly flee the area or was captured."
Sgt. Glenn Tubbs was a rifle man on a Long Range Reconnaissance patrol. During a river crossing, Sgt. Tubbs lost his grip on the safety line. The current was strong and he was swept away. Search efforts were complicated when helicopters received enemy fire. Early records list Sgt. Tubbs loss location as South Vietnam. However, we have located a document, from Army files dated 17 March 1970, which lists Glenn Tubbs as missing in a classified area of Southeast Asia. Today, we know the classified area referred to is Cambodia.
Recently, we spoke with Pamela Tubbs, wife of Sgt. Glenn Tubbs. She remembers being contacted by the Army in mid 1973. She was asked to provide additional photos and a detailed physical description of her husband. When we asked her if she knew why they were requesting this information, she said she was told it would help with identification should remains be recovered. She was never told of a possible live sighting.
Mrs. Tubbs provided information regarding Sgt. Tubbs incident that conflicts with records available in the Library of Congress (LOC). LOC records describe an almost non-survivable loss incident. Mrs. Tubbs discussed information which casts doubt on information contained in the "official" records.
Mrs. Tubbs confirmed her husband did have a tattoo, on the right forearm. Official documentation obtained by the National Alliance of Families shows that the tattoo described by the source does not match Sgt. Tubbs. Mrs. Tubbs also confirmed that Sgt. Tubbs did not have a scar behind the left ear. Based on the information we provided her, she does not believe the "Army Captain" could be her husband.
Both Captain McDonnell and Sgt Tubbs are from Texas and married. Capt. McDonnell has three children. Sgt. Tubbs has two. The physical description fits Capt. McDonnell, with one possible discrepancy. There is no record of Capt. McDonnell having tattoos.
It is interesting to note that in discussing descriptions involving tattoos, official documentation indicates that many servicemen acquired tattoos while in service, and therefore official records may not be accurate in this matter. As one analyst wrote, regarding another investigation; " Files should not be considered foolproof because service members might not have entered all tattoos." Therefore, the presence of a tattoo or tattoos should not negate a sources information. Records available to the National Alliance of Families confirm Capt. McDonnell has a scar, as described by the source, behind the left ear.
In addition to the physical description, the first name, the time frame of capture, rank of the PW, the fact that the PW was an ARVN advisor and artillery officer all match Capt. McDonnell. It should be noted that Capt. McDonnell was on his third tour of duty. His first two tours were served with the Green Berets as an ARVN advisor.
In reviewing this material one must remember that all four conversations were conducted through an interpreter. Minor errors of translation may have occurred regarding the number of children. It should also be remembered that the number of children is a minor detail which the source may have been confused. It is critical to remember that all major facts relating to the American "Captain" correlate to John McDonnell.
Under ordinary circumstances the absence of a tattoo on each arm would raise concerns as to our conclusion, that Capt. McDonnell was the POW in Quang Ngai, if it were not for one additional fact.
This was not the first sighting of Capt. McDonnell in captivity. This first sighting provides a physical description almost identical to the description of the "Captain" in the Quang Ngai POW camp. The Joint Casualty Resolution Center correlated that report to Capt. McDonnell, also.
February 16th, 1973 -- another North Vietnamese rallied to the GVN. This source was a former NVA sergeant. He served as squad leader with the 5th Company, 14th Antiaircraft Battalion NVA 2nd Yellow Star Division. A report, generated by the Central Intelligence Agency on July 24th, 1973, provides a firsthand observation of two U.S. Prisoners of War with the North Vietnamese Army 2nd Yellow Star Division in Laos, on three different occasions, between May and July of 1971.
The first sighting took place "in early May or June 1971 when he saw the two POWs eating lunch with personnel of the Military Staff and political offices, North Vietnamese Army (NVA) 2nd Yellow Star Division [word unreadable] Doan 2 Sao Vang, at the 13th Commo-Liaison Station (WD876558), 33rd Binh Tram, NVA 559th infiltration line (Doung Day 559) in Savannakhet Province Laos. He observed them for about 30 minutes."
"The second time source saw the same POWs was for about two minutes in July 1971."
"The third time he saw the POWs was for about ten minutes in July 1971, while POWs were sitting in a hut in the division's base camp area."
The source was told that the POWs "had been captured by the NVA 2nd Division in Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam.
Source Observed the POWs the first time from at a distance of about two meters. Both were Caucasian, one was about 30 years old, about 1.8 meters tall, and weighed about 90 kilos. He had a heavy build, a pink complexion, a long face, short brownish blond hair, a receding hairline, a high straight nose, brown eyes, white regular teeth, a round mouth, and a red mole under his lower left lip. He was wearing a green NVA uniform consisting of a short-sleeved shirt and trousers. He was also wearing a white metal "seiko" wrist watch and a large gold ring with a red ruby on his left hand."
"In about October 1972, servent (sic) NAME, a radio operator in the NVA 2nd Division, told Source that the two POWs had been sent to North Vietnam.
(To save space we will not provide the description of the second POW. In the words of Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) "no correlation could be made on the second POW cited in the report.")
With regard to the first POW, JCRC stated in the "Field Comment" -- "Records indicate that source probably observed Capt. John T. McDonnell, USA (JCRC Nr. 0176).... There is an indication that McDonnell may have been captured.... McDonnell's description follows: age in 1971 was 31, height: 1.77 meters; weight 75 kilos' hair; brown; race; caucasian; wears white silver seiko watch and large ring on left hand." A photo of Captain McDonnell wearing such a ring was provided to the National Alliance of Families by the McDonnell family.
JCRC re-contacted the source. He was shown McDonnell's photo "mixed with 15 other photographs. However source was unable to make an identification. Then he was shown McDonnell's photographs. After five minute of study, source said that the photograph looked very similar to the POW who wore the ring, except that his hair was longer and that his nose was long and nostrils were less pronounced. He said that the shape of the face, the eyes, and the mouth were similar to the man in the photograph, but stopped short of making a definite identification because of the difference in the hair style and nose."
It is important here that we remember Major C.W. Watson's comments regarding photos of Captain McDonnell. Major Watson stated; "Photo of McDonnell in DIA photo book does not resemble photos in OACSI files."
By June 20th, 1973, the Army was busy contacting men who served with Captain McDonnell, in an effort to obtain additional informtion regarding scars and tattoos. There is no indication of such an effort regarding Sgt. Tubbs.
April 23, 1976 -- The next record, available to us, comes in a report compiled by the Joint Casualty Resolution Center. The report is titled "Project X." "Project X" was a study to "evaluate the possibility of any of the unaccounted for being alive. The conclusion reached is: There is a possibility that as many as 57 Americans could be alive...."
Among the 57 Servicemen mentioned in "Project X" is Capt. John T. McDonnell. The Case Summary on Capt. McDonnell cites the 1971 sighting of McDonnell stating "information in this report correlated to Cpt. McDonnell." There is no mention of the 1972 - 1973 sightings in Quang Ngai."