What Happened to American POWs Kept Behind After the Korean War

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POW Investigative Project


Excellent piece by Tom O'Connor on the fate of Harry Moore and others believed shipped to USSR during the Korean War. One correx: Film that the legendary Bill Sowles reported might be of his father did not come from classified files, and the ID was from Bill. See here for captured film of Korean War POWs whom Pentagon (to our knowledge) has never identified.
Want Truth on Missing from Korean/Cold Wars
Demand Director Be Named to Pentagon POW Office (DPAA)
President Trump: Ask Moscow/Beijing About GIs Never Returned
(See Examples of Classified Files Below, Aug '17))
What Happened to Sam Logan?
Captured by North Korea
His Picture Sent Across the World by the Soviets
Never Returned at the End of the Korean War

U.S. POWs Kept by the Communists After the Korean War (KPOW)

Send us tips and ideas:

investigator (at) kpows.com

Newly Available CIA Document Linked to 60-Year-Effort by U.S. Government -- Up to White House Level -- to Downplay & Deny Existence of U.S. POWs from the Korean War Kept in the Soviet Union

(See more in lawsuit report below; info on Soviet defector Yuri Rastvorov)

Vietnam POW/MIA Familes/Veterans/Activists Continue Decade+ Suit 

to Force CIA to Release POW/MIA Documents

Read our Affidavit Here

“After 12 years of litigation, and a rebuke from federal court judge Royce Lamberth, the CIA still withholds hundreds of records concerning American POWs who -- in my opinion, the opinion of my client, and in the opinion of a number of senior US officials at the time – were held back by Hanoi and its allies at the end of the Vietnam War.” John H. Clarke, Attorney for Accuracy in Media, Inc., which is funding the suit.

The plaintiffs are seeking a summary judgement during 2017. Check out the reaction of the federal judge, a Vietnam veteran, to the CIA's behavior here.

Remember Lt. Leonard Button this Memorial Day

Pentagon Publicly Lists Him as MIA

But Previously Top Secret US Records Now Show He Was Captured Alive 

Russians Confirm It

Sentenced and Kept Forever by North Korea

See Our Report Here

"The Families Have Waited Long Enough!"

Kin of Cold War POW/MIA Demand U.S. Action

Lloyd Smith Jr.: Reported Captured by China
(Memorial Day Weekend, 2016) The families of US aviators lost during spy flights near the Soviet Union, China and North Korea have fought for 60 years to learn the fate of their loved ones -- some captured alive according to intelligence reports. Now time is running out for the aging wives and sisters of the missing and they’ve grown tired of what they call indifference, stone-walling and secrecy from the U.S. government. Read the report, see the declassified documents and review the Pentagon statement here.

 A Lithuanian-American POW Named "Joe" in an Infamous Soviet Prison?

Check Out the Report and Send Us Clues Here

Pentagon Says It's"Seeking Answers"this POW/MIA Day (9/19/14)

But Continues to Withhold Answers on US POWs from Korean War 

Refuses to Release Reports, Claiming They're Still Secret

Some Classified Documents Over 50-Years-Old

Aside from its new poster to mark the day (see below: "missing...seeking answers"), the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) has issued a new fact sheet on its efforts to recover US POW/MIAs from North Korea and the Korean War, just in time for this year's POW/MIA Day. 

"Finding live Americans is the highest priority of our accounting process. DPMO, with the full support of the U.S. intelligence community, aggressively investigates all credible reports and sightings of alleged American survivors of the Korean War living in North Korea. Since 1995, more than 25,000 defectors from North Korea have been screened for information concerning Americans possibly living in the North. To date, this effort has produced no useful information concerning live Americans." (emphasis ours)

Not mentioned by DPMO is that it and other government agencies are still keeping secret many of the answers it has managed to gather on US servicemen held in North Korea, China and the Soviet Union after the Korean War, and other Americans reportedly imprisoned by North Korea during the Vietnam conflict (where North Koreans fought on the North Vietnamese side) and possibly the Cold War.

The government is withholding both decades-old files on Korean War POWs and other more recent ones whose dates are classified.

The latest example is the refusal of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to release five documents on US POWs from the Korean War seen alive after in North Korea, China and/or the former Soviet Union. You can see the letter DIA sent us above, which asserts the documents are still classified and also cannot be released for other reasons.

The documents DIA did release to KPOWs under this request seem like "useful information" to us, contrary to DPMO's claims that no such evidence has surfaced (we'll have more on those released documents soon). But then DPMO is known to phrase its denials carefully: "No useful information" from "defectors." What does the Pentagon mean by "useful information?" And if North Korean defectors have provided no "useful information," could such information have been collected by means other than defectors, such as foreign visitors, signals intelligence or other methods? [BTW, we know North Korean defectors have indeed produced "useful" information, see below.]

As you can see on this site, Pentagon files show that many Americans held by the communists were not returned after the Korean War, included some identified by name and confirmed alive at the end of the war. See these cases.

In the years after the war, US POWs were reported in captivity in North Korea and the Soviet Union (others were reported held in secret Chinese camps from which none returned). Some documents we've forced out of the government even mention specific buildings where American POWs were reported as late as the 1990s -- the Pentagon apparently did not find this information "useful," since there is no record of a substantial effort to determine the potential veracity of those reports. For more on reports of US POWs alive in North Korea, check out this report by a Pentagon analyst (at bottom of the page) and much more in this book.

Meantime, large numbers of documents that Korean War POW/MIA families believe can resolve the fates of some of their loved ones (the types of files that have helped resolve cases in the past) remain classified by the military and National Archives -- including many documents over 50-years-old. See more on that here and in the book.

The bottom line: For those "seeking answers" on the fate of America's lost heroes from the Korean War, some answers remain "missing" not in hostile foreign lands, but the files of our own government.
Finding live Americans is the highest priority of our 
accounting process. DPMO, with the full support of the U.S. intelligence community, 
aggressively investigates all credible reports and sightings of alleged American survivors of the 
Korean War living in North Korea. Since 1995, more than 25,000 defectors from North Korea 
have been screened for information concerning Americans possibly living in the North. To date, 
this effort has produced no useful information concerning live Americans. 
Great Books about Vietnam POW/MIAs here

Hollywood Movies on America's Korean War POWs, here

UN Report Confirms ROK POWs Held After the War

 Gives Short Shrift to Unrepatriated US Prisoners

Good news: the United Nations Human Rights report on North Korea released on Feb. 17th confirms Pyongyang held back POWs it was supposed to release at the end of the Korean War in 1953. The report offers chilling evidence on the fate of unrepatriated South Korean (Republic of Korea/ROK) POWs and their families. It also raises the issue of ROK POWs captured during the Vietnam War and sent from Vietnam to North Korea (there is some evidence the same fate befell some US POWs).

Disgracefully, the UN gives short shrift to US and other allied members of the United Nations forces not returned at the end of the war (the US, South Koreans and more than a dozen other allies officially fought under the United Nations during the Korean War). The UN does not mention cases of Americans known alive in North Korean hands at the end of the war, such as the Ashley Five (see their story here), or the numerous reports of American POWs alive in North Korea long after the official end of the conflict.

"The Commission heard allegations, relating to the fate of missing soldiers serving under the United Nations Command, particularly soldiers from the United States of America. According to the Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War Prisoners of War and Persons Missing in Action, at the end of the Korean War during the exchanges of prisoners some United States soldiers, who were known to have been alive and in captivity with those who had been released, were not handed over by the DPRK authorities."

This section of the report garbles some information provided to it by the Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs, leaves out much more data provided to the UN (inc. sightings of alleged US POWs alive in North Korea decades after the war) and includes a non-sequitur wartime quote from the Chinese.

See details here.
The bottom line: The evidence North Korean kept many South Korean POWs is confirmed in the UN report. If the North Koreans kept ROK POWs, why would they not keep Americans? If intelligence reports of ROK POWs surviving long after the war turned out to be accurate, why wouldn't similar reports on Americans also be true?

Did China Capture James Deane & Fellow Crewman During Cold War?

US Intel Reported Them Alive for Two Years After Their Plane Was Downed

See the Report at our Sister Site: US China War Watch

Lt. (j.g.)  James Deane
Lt. (j.g.) James Deane: Kept by China?

Long Before North Korean Threw Merrill Newman into Prison in 2013,

There Were the Ashley Five

Americans Confirmed Alive in North Korean Hands

Newman Came Home But They Never Did

There's an Intriguing Connection Among Them
Gilbert Ashley and Hidemaro Ishida: Confirmed Alive But Never Returned
Gilbert Ashley and Hidemaro Ishida: Confirmed Alive But Never Returned
Our New Book Has Much More Information and Unforgettable Stories
Photos & Profiles of Many Specific American Heroes Left in Enemy Hands
As Seen in the Wall Street Journal, Drudge Report and AP
Click Below to Learn More ↓

United Nations Comes Through

for US POW/MIAs Reported in North Korea


John Zimmerlee -- expert and son of an aviator missing in Korea -- testified 10/31/13 to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. (click here for more on the Commission). 


John's emotional testimony included points from his prepared remarks (below), but also answers to a number of questions from Commission Chairman Michael Kirby. John asked the UN to press the US National Archives to release thousands of documents involving the POW issue still kept classified. He also remarked that given reports of surviving American prisoners being allowed to marry North Korean women, he might have brothers or sisters in North Korea.


John promised to provide additional information requested by the COI and thanked Chairman Kirby and Commissioner Biserko for their interest.


1)      I am here to speak for almost 8,000 families across America whose loved ones never returned from North Korea after the Korean War.  Many more families around the world are in the same situation: those still missing in North Korea include men from South Korea and many of the 17 nations fighting on the UN side during the war.


2)      No other North Korean human rights issue has impacted the United States longer or more widely than the refusal of Pyongyang to resolve the fate of American prisoners reported alive in North Korea and to open its files and warehouse of human remains to account for our dead in that nation.


3)      We want to thank the United Nations Commission of Inquiry for its work, especially because all of these missing men were fighting under the United Nations flag when we lost them. United Nations Resolution 906 called for the release of all captive UN troops, this has still not happened.


4)      We know for a fact that North Korea held many of our loved ones alive and never returned them. For example, Gilbert Ashley and Hidemaro Ashley, along with three others in their crew, were confirmed alive after the armistice ending the Korean War was signed. United Nations commanders radioed radioed their captors saying North Korea could not deny holding these men and had to return them. That never happened. Their families continue to anguish over their fates. What happened to them? Could they still be alive.


5)     This is Sam Logan. Not only did the North Koreans capture him, they allowed his picture to be published around the world. Pyongyang never released him or accounted for him.


6)      In thousands of cases, our loved ones simply disappeared without a trace.


7)      This is my father – Capt. John Henry Zimmerlee, who went missing somewhere in North Korea.

8)      Over the years, escaping North Koreans have told us of surviving US POWs (along with British and perhaps other nationals) still alive in North Korea. For example, a former North Korean secret policeman told us he had seen 20 or more surviving US prisoners repeatedly during the 1980s and 1990s. They lived in a special area outside Pyongyang and he even shared a beer with some of them once. There are other credible reports. There is no doubt South Korean POWs are still alive – so why not Americans? North Korea needs to tell us who they are and allow them to see their families again.




9)      We understand that many men simply cannot be found after a war. And many of our men died during the conflict as prisoners or on the battlefield. In the case of these men, we simply ask North Korea to follow basic humanitarian principles and share what they know with the families of the missing. Unfortunately, in most cases North Korea has so far refused. For example, we have found the ID cards of missing men displayed as war trophies in a North Korea museum – and North Korea will not account for those men. In addition, it has been proven that North Korea warehouses the remains of  Americans lost in the Korean War. We ask North Korea to return those remains and provide the information from its files to help account for our missing.


10)  Dear Commissioners: Families across the United States and world ask you to help shed light on the POW issue as part of your inquiry, and to hold North Korea accountable to international human rights laws and norms regarding our loved ones. Thank you very much for your work and the opportunity to speak for the families today.

The wartime film immediately below of American POWs in Pyongyang, and stills from it, have been released before. Please help us identify the men; send tips to investigator@kpows.com


See a bit lower a film not widely seen until recently; we also need your help identifying those US prisoners.

Help us! Who is "The Horse" -- USMC POW in Russia or Hoax? Click here for the clues.

Soviet Soldier Missing in Afghanistan since 1980 Found Alive

It reminds us that many South Korean POWs from 1953 are still reported alive in North Korea; some have escaped in recent years. Read about the Soviet soldier here and South Korean POWs here.

Feb13 Update: Pentagon Says It Did Not Have Video and

Discusses Next Steps -- Click Here for Statement

"New" Film of Korean War POWs (US and ROK)?

Can You Identify the Prisoners?

See the Video Below; Click Here for More Stills


We recently found this Air Force film. Much of it appears to be from early in the war. Our friends at the National Alliance of Families and Coalition of Families (see lower left of this page), two leading POW/MIA groups, say they've never seen this film.

If you can identify any of these men, or have details about this film, please email: investigator (at) kpows.com

We're also interested in whether DPMO, the Pentagon POW office, has this film and what if anything they've done to investigate it. See the full version below.

 North Korea Also Kept Many South Korean POWs:

Some Have Escaped in Recent Years -- Click Here for Info

New: The 1979 Disappearance of PFC Roy Chung -- Is This Newly Released State Department Report About Him?

KPOWS needs your help...click here

New: Ghost Pilots & Mystery Aircraft of the Korean War
What is the Government Doing to Recover American Pilots
Taken by the Soviets?
Did the Soviet Union Secretly Fly US Jets
Against American Forces During the War?
 Click the F-86 or here to see the report, documents, video and pictures of selected Air Force pilots at our sister site: Korean Confidential

Don't miss the new Zimmerlee Report -- click here!

Read about Bob Dumas, Korean War vet, and his 60 year search for his POW/MIA brother Roger at www.aboutgangnam.com? Find out more from the documentary about Roger and America's other 8,000+ POW/MIAs from Korea: http://www.missingpresumeddead.com/

How Do We Know the Communists Kept American Prisoners After Korea?

Numerous US intelligence reports during and after the war  -- from Soviet officers to refugees -- documented the movement of American POWs out of North Korea to China and the Soviet Union. For example, Army intelligence confirmed and monitored secret prison camps  in China -- no Americans returned from them. Hundreds of prisoners held in North Korean camps the communists did acknowlege  -- such as Sgt. Richard Desautels, above -- were not released at the end of the war. In the years since, information about their survival in Russia, China and North Korea has continued to emerge.
The General in Charge Admitted US POWs Were Kept Back



 "I was in a quandry. The question to me was, 'How do you get these people back without pointing a gun at the communists?' When you have no gun threatening the Reds, there is no way to demand and enforce compliance from them," said General Mark Clark, Commander-in-Chief of UN and US forces, seen here signing the truce that ended the Korean War.

The Pentagon Wanted Covert Action to Recover Them After the War

The US Government Asked Moscow to Give Them Back
In 1954, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow delivered a note to the Soviet government asking it “to arrange their (U.S. POWs taken from Korea to the Soviet Union) repatriation at the earliest possible time.” The Soviets responded by denying they had the prisoners.

So Why Isn't the US Government Doing More to Find These Lost Heroes?

By 1955, the US government had in large part determined it could never recover the lost men. “The problem becomes almost a philosophical one," concluded a then-classified 1955 Pentagon memo. "If we are ‘at war,’ cold, hot or otherwise, casualties and losses must be expected and perhaps we must learn to live with this sort of thing. If we are in for fifty years of peripheral ‘fire fights’ we may be forced to adopt a rather cynical attitude on this (the POWs) for the political reasons.”


Today's Pentagon POW/MIA effort focuses mostly on recovering remains of those known killed since WWII, an important task it does well. This involves determining where to look for the remains of missing (almost always those our former enemies claim were killed in battle during the war) and then recovering and identifying them.


There is no appetite for a relentless effort to trace those men known to have been kept after Korea. The Pentagon can expect no real help from the Russians, Chinese and North Koreans. And there is no pressure from the White House or Congress.


Imagine what the American leaders of 1953, not to mention the prisoners and their families, would think, especially given the cordial relations America has granted Beijing and Moscow, and the very food to keep alive many North Koreans, without ever requiring the truth about our lost heroes.

Declassified U.S. government records and other intelligence demonstrate that -- despite decades of official denials from both sides -- the communists secretly held U.S. prisoners during and after the war. Reports continued of their survival in North Korea, China and the Soviet Union following the war. What happened to them? The U.S. government owes these brave men and their families a relentless, high-priority effort to uncover the truth.

Take Sgt.Richard Desautels (picture at top). A known POW in a North Korean camp, he feared his Chinese captors would keep him, telling a fellow U.S. prisoner: "(I)f he should disappear to make inquires concerning his whereabouts with the proper military authorities...." When asked by America what happened to him, the Chinese in 1956 claimed he'd "escaped" during the war (they said the same about another GI who was a double amputee). For decades both China and the Pentagon insisted there was no evidence Sgt. Desautels had been secretly shipped to China.

Examples of the attitudes of the Pentagon and Chinese (the Russians have been little better): In 1990, Defense Intelligence Agency Deputy Director Rear Admiral Ronald Marryott provided a written statement to Congress concerning American prisoners in North Korea that stated “there are no intelligence indicators that U.S. personnel from the Korean conflict were not returned to U.S. control at the end of the war.” He went on to state that the Soviet Union and China had also been under intense US intelligence scrutiny for many decades. “I believe this scrutiny would have likewise revealed at least a hint of American prisoners held in either country had they been taken there. Again, no such evidence has ever surfaced,” he stated. He was in sync with the Chinese government, which in 1992 claimed: “The Chinese side settled the issue of American prisoners of the Korean War long ago…None of the POWs under Chinese control was transferred to a third country or to the Chinese territory.”

Then in 2003, Beijing admitted he'd been taken, but said he'd soon died of "mental illness" and China had lost his body (coincidentally, in a place wartime U.S. intelligence indicated was a trans-shipment point to Siberia.) Beijing even conceded it still had a classified file on the Sgt. But the Pentagon has failed to get that file or the full story about Desautels -- or hundreds of other Americans reported to have suffered similar fates.