MIAs: Decade of Frustration

November 4, 1983

Report Outline
MIAs: Vietnam War Legacy
U.S. and Indochina, 1973–83
New Search for Answers
Special Focus

MIAs: Vietnam War Legacy

Fate of Americans Missing in Indochina

On Aug. 4, 1964, U.S. Navy jets took off from two aircraft carriers in the South China Sea. Their targets: North Vietnamese patrol boat bases and an oil storage depot on the Gulf of Tonkin. That action, taken in retaliation for what the United States claimed were deliberate attacks on two U.S. destroyers in the gulf by North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats, marked the first U.S. bombing mission against North Vietnamese territory in the soon-to-be-escalated Vietnam War. That action also resulted in the capture of Lt. (j.g.) Everett Alvarez Jr., of San Jose, Calif. — the first U.S. airman taken prisoner by North Vietnam. By the time the last American combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam in March 1973, nearly 600 U.S. pilots and other military personnel had been captured by the communists in Indochina. In addition, 1,400 men were listed as missing in action and the remains of about 1,100 men known to be killed in action had not been recovered.

Chapter III, Article 8 of the Paris peace agreement, signed in January 1973 by the United States, North and South Vietnam and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (known in the West as the Viet Cong), dealt with the issue of prisoners and missing in action. The parties pledged that following the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam both sides would return “captured military personnel and foreign civilians,” help “each other to get information about those …missing in action,” and work to “facilitate the exhumation and repatriation of the remains [of the dead].”

Between Feb. 12 and April 1, 1973, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong returned 591 American prisoners. But that still left nearly 2,600 men unaccounted for. In the past 10 years, Vietnam has returned the remains of only 88 Americans and provided a list of 40 others who died in captivity but whose bodies were not returned. According to the Department of Defense, 2,491 Americans remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia — about 1,800 in Vietnam, nearly 600 in Laos and almost 100 in Cambodia.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Vietnam War
Feb. 18, 2000  Legacy of the Vietnam War
Dec. 03, 1993  U.S.-Vietnam Relations
Mar. 18, 1988  Vietnam: Unified, Independent and Poor
Jul. 06, 1984  Agent Orange: The Continuing Debate
Nov. 04, 1983  MIAs: Decade of Frustration
Mar. 11, 1983  Vietnam War Reconsidered
Oct. 21, 1977  Vietnam Veterans: Continuing Readjustment
Jan. 18, 1974  Vietnam Aftermath
Feb. 21, 1973  Vietnam Veterans
Jun. 09, 1971  Prospects for Democracy in South Vietnam
May 06, 1970  Cambodia and Laos: the Widening War
Jan. 07, 1970  War Atrocities and the Law
Jul. 02, 1969  Resolution of Conflicts
Apr. 17, 1968  Reconstruction in South Vietnam
Aug. 23, 1967  Political Evolution in South Viet Nam
Jan. 11, 1967  Rural Pacification in South Viet Nam
May 26, 1965  Political Instability in South Viet Nam
Mar. 25, 1964  Neutralization in Southeast Asia
Apr. 17, 1963  Task in South Viet Nam
Jun. 14, 1961  Guerrilla Warfare
May 17, 1961  Threatened Viet Nam
Sep. 23, 1959  Menaced Laos
Defense Personnel
U.S. at War: Vietnam