What Happened to American POWs Kept Behind After the Korean War

“What Happened to Our Missing Loved-Ones?”

(KorCon Producer's note: John Zimmerlee is the nation's leading archival researcher on Korean War POW/MIA cases. A volunteer -- and son of a Korean War POW/MIA -- he works closely with the Coalition of Families of North Korea & Cold War POW/MIAs and is also asked for assistance by government officials.)
By John Zimmerlee, December 2012
Not all the answers to that question are in North Korea, China, or Russia; a disturbing number are likely in our own National Archives, 6th floor, “Classified!”

A very small amount of that material has been released over the years, but you’ll never find it on their website.  In fact, you can’t get anything worthwhile through a simple request.  It takes years of research in each agency’s records to reveal anything on individual cases. 

The National Archives is intimidating. Just inside the front door is a security system that puts TSA to shame. In the research room, one gets a feel for how forbidding prison life would be.

Yet, in spite of all that, my wife, Melissa, and I were at the Archives in late November with completed request slips in hand.  As the requested boxes were slowly delivered, we hurriedly read through each folder.  If something looked promising, we scanned it  . . . over 1200 documents. Over the last 4 weeks, I have meticulously examined each one.  As usual, most were worthless. Yet and still, we now have new information on 756 servicemen, including 192 POWs. More interesting though is the new information on 31 supposed ”KIA” and 114 supposed “MIA” cases that strongly suggests . . .  they were actually POWS.

According to ex-POW, Myles Cables, “MIA” Julio Navarro was among those captured on 19 July 1950, marched north for two months to Seoul, then marched for another month to Pyongyang where he was loaded on a train. Miraculously, Julio escaped from that train and was in good health at the time. But that is where we, again, lose Julio’s trail.

About that same time, Myles witnessed another man dying on that train. He was “MIA” Harold E Drown.

Printed 31 July 52 , a supplemental list of POWs includes “MIA” Herbert Kalama . . .with the note, “per eye-witness account.”

An affidavit from ex-POW Sgt Takeshi states “MIA” Sam Takahara escaped after the POW group left Pyongyang. He was clearly identified with his division and regiment.

Ex-POW James Gunnoe witnessed the death of an entire B-29 crew in captivity in July 1952. During the night of 11 June 52 a Soviet search team found debris of B-29 & 8 corpses to the west of Kakusan region. Each of these reports could easily describe either 44-62183 or 44-61967 that went down 10 & 11  June 1952. “MIAs” John H Adams, Douglas Attinger, Edgar Barrington, Robert Baumer, William Canning, Louis Gorrell, Harold Holmes, Robert Hudson, Paul Kellstrom, David Mandell, Thomas Pettit, Elbert Reid, & Robert Ross.
. . .
or “MIAs” Buddy Bonney, Marvin Cessna, William Earns, John Errington, John Flaherty, Richard Friedman, George Hadley, Carl Jenkins, Wilbur Lewis, John Miller, Preston Skinner, Westervelt Stagg, and Elwood Thompson.

Per Wayne Johnson, “MIA” Edward Logston died 4 November 1950 on a POW march from Mampo to Chungung.

On 30 October 1950 ex-POW Dale Blake mentions fellow POWs including Sgt Reeves Company C, 3rd Engineers. A good solid match would be “KIA” Clifford M Reeves.

Communist broadcasts, POW lists, and burial reports suggest that “KIA” Coleman Flaherty and “MIA” John LaPointe were actually POWs. United Nations Command identifies “MIAs” Clarence A Tish and Phillip T. Hoogacker as a POWs.

War Crime #20, according to Harold Uptegraft, includes “MIA” Willie Flores. Flores is also on the list of 389 men most likely alive and in enemy hands after the war. On the UN list of those who died in enemy hands is “KIA” Floyd Rivera. The “Death of American POW’s in Korea” dated 2 Sep 53 includes “MIA” Frank Leo Jones.

Cpl Howard O Evans recalled “MIA” William O’Malley as a POW.  A camp death list includes “MIA” Roger Francis Meagher.

Raymond Bombach was captured and escaped. When interrogated he mentioned fellow captives, including a “Lee” of 9th Infantry, 3rd battalion. “MIA” Arthur Lee is a logical match.

A January 1954 document adds “finding of Death” date of “MIA” Paul Schad to be the same as MIA date, thus he appears to be KIA.

On the 389 list and actually witnessed as a POW by Joseph Loomis and Marion Horne . . . is “MIA” Emil Lee.

“MIA” Claudine Smith received massive chest wounds on 27 November 1950 according to Raymond Cook, yet Willie Daniels supposed saw him alive in camp 1 in August 1952. 

POW Roy R. Johnson broadcasted a recorded message over Radio Peking listing 19 American POWs who died during strafing by American planes. Among them was “MIA” William Harry Smith.

Though Joseph John Adams is listed as “KIA” 30 Nov 50, he is on the 944 list of known captives; supposedly died in April 51 per Kpoischkie; and attempted escape from a prison camp per Jacque Beupre.

Our government claims Frank Maher Brown is “MIA”, yet he is on the 944 list on known captives and he’s on the 112 list from communists as deceased, escaped, or released.

Doyle Logan was captured on 1 Dec 50; then escaped a few hours later and told his unit that supposed “KIA” Charles Garrigus was captured with him.

Supposed “KIA” Roy Lelan Powell, “MIAs” Roger Clinton Woodard, William Henry Ranes and William Charles McDowell were on a list of known POWs our government submitted to the communists 5 March 1952. Supposed “KIA” Don Carlos Faith is on a Red Cross list as died in enemy hands. He was captured with Forrest Keeton on 30 Nov 50.

“MIA” James Walter Sharp is on the 944, 450, & 389 lists of known POWs, his name was published in Chinese newspapers and republished in the National Guardian, and Martinez reported that he died in captivity on 20 Dec 50.

According to 25 June 52 United Nations letter, “MIA” Sylvio Hebert has been on communist radio broadcasts and is known to be a POW.

Even though he is on the 389 list, his name appeared in the National Guardian and on Red Cross lists, having signed a statement about American bombing of POW camps, and having been seen by fellow POWs in captivity . . . our government claims Donald Royce Johnson is an “MIA”.  Ditto for “MIAs” Carl Snider, Myron Johnson, Luther Serwise,  Robert Snodgrass, and William Seggie.

He was moved north by the Chinese according to Marvin Lowry. He died during a U.S. air attack according to Bromer and John Daujat. He was mentioned in the debriefs of 9 returning ex-POWs, yet our government claims Donald Diego Diaz is “MIA”.

On the 389 list, named in Peking radio broadcasts, reported to have signed statements while a POW, on communist’s lists, yet William D Schonder is still listed as “MIA”.

On the 389 list, identified by name in enemy press and by repatriates, on Red Cross lists, and taken north with Criswell per Robert Bugbee,
 yet  John Roger Sweeney is still listed as MIA.

Maj Shirlaw was shown his ID by Koreans and told that “MIA” James Walter Nelson had died.

William Delbert Crone is still listed as “MIA” though he is mentioned in Soviet records and was interviewed by Mikhail Ivanovich Dramenko and probably transferred to Russia.

Documents in record group 153 indicate a Marine Corp pilot “Smith” died Nov 51 near Pyongyang. “MIA” George Ulman Smith is a good match.

A September 1953 POW list includes an air force enlisted man named Watson. “MIA” William John Watson could be a match.

On or about 11 Sep 51, a UN light bomber, identified as a B-26, made a forced landing near Kumchon.  Korean militia arrived two days later to find three men . . . one dead, & one injured who soon died, also. The remaining man, an officer, was taken captive.  These were believed to be MIA Norman Davis, MIA Albert Paul Derosier, & POW Roland Akin.

Richard Marshall remembers a POW “King” from 7 Cavalry Regiment, B Company. A good match would be “MIA” Leroy F King.

Under provision MPA, the Army sent a letter 3 July 1953 determining that “MIA” Uvaldo Munoz Munguia was KIA.

Escapee Kenneth Maze recalled fellow POW Sgt “Grabowski”. A good match would be “MIA” John Eugene Grabosky.

DPMO believes Document AF496669 refers to the crash of Lawrence Ervin Wolfe. So, why is he still listed as “MIA” on DPMO’s website?

Benny Beaty mentioned MIA Thomas McCullen in his debrief.  A change in status was issued on Ralph Zecco and William Biedenkapp from KIA to Died in enemy hands.

A document in Record group 338 states aircraft was seen to crash at CT682431.  Aircraft was under constant observation. No parachute seen. Therefore we assume Thomas Lee Potter was killed in action.

In addition to the above, we found hundreds of documents confirming what we already know about the deaths of 174 POWs.

About half of what we requested had been previously submitted through the “Mandatory Declassification Review” process and had been released more than a year ago. Unfortunately, the MDR system failed and these documents were again withheld.

If you have a loved-one still missing from the Korean or Cold War, please call me at 404-394-6930 or email at john.zimmerlee@gmail.com.

Together, we can . . . and will get answers!

Already Forgotten Before The War Even Ended



By John Zimmerlee, October 2012


Though labeled a mere “Conflict”, the Korean War was gruesome.  Bodies were piling up on frozen ground everywhere. Brutality was rampant.  Both sides were making horrible allegations . . . most of them true!


When possible, we were burying our dead near the battlefields in North Korea. The decay was rapid; the scene, overwhelming!  Sure, we drew maps and charted grave sites . . . hoping to dig them up later and ship them home. Unfortunately, the front-lines were slipping quickly southward until there became no hope of retrieving our fellow soldiers.


While men were being slaughtered in the battle zones,  an embarrassing number were also being captured. The communists would post the names of captured U.S. soldiers in their daily newspapers. The New York Times would translate the Chinese articles and reprint the thousands of American names for the world to see.  It was rapidly appearing that we were losing the war. 


A tactic had to be created. If anyone was known to have been captured and died soon thereafter in enemy hands . .  but the media had not published their names . . . our government would label them KIA.  In cases where the truth may surface, our government would label them MIA. “Any label” was considered better than POW!


It’s no secret that the Korean War is often referred to as the “Forgotten War” . . . not because the public wanted to forget . . .  but because our government told ever returning soldier not to talk about it. “Talking about the war may endanger those still missing!”


The fact is that our government started “forgetting” our men as soon as they went missing. The families were expected to accept that their missing loved-ones were “unaccounted-for”. They were told that our government is doing everything it can to bring these men home . . . while instead they were closing the books, not even sharing the well-known and obvious.


2Lt Theodore Stanley Watson was in the 32nd infantry regiment. According to the American Battle Monument Commission, Watson was killed in action 2/13/1951 near Chechon SK. His body was shipped home and buried in the Long Island National Cemetery on 9/8/1951. Yet, several Polish defectors stated that they had been interned in Soviet prison camp #307 near Bulin in Yakutia with an American captured in Korea in 1951. His name was Ted Watson, an infantry lieutenant. There is only one Theodore Watson who died in, or did not come back from, the Korean War. Logic suggests that the family might not have received the correct body. The next question is “What eventually happened to the Ted Watson in the Soviet prison?”


Eleven men of the 24th division are labeled as KIA in July 1950.  Two more were labeled MIA. The truth is that they were actually captured, marched over a hundred miles north, their names hand-written on blackboards in a school in Seoul, then marched to Pyongyang where they were loaded on a train, then unloaded in the Sunchon tunnel  and murdered . . . 3 months after their capture. Blatant lies.


Cover-ups are bad enough, but many missing men didn’t even get basic accounting respect. Basic lists weren’t even compared. For 58 years, Aubrey Godwin, James Traylor, and Maxine Tyler have been labeled as Missing-in-Action. Yet, their names are published in reports as being buried by our own Marines near Hungnam NK with plot, row, and grave sites indicated. These men aren’t missing! Shouldn’t their families be told that they were killed-in-action and their bodies are respectfully buried in North Korea?


To date, I have found compelling evidence in 137 similar MIA cases . . . where these men were actually killed-in-action. Our government just wouldn’t do basic research to reveal this truth and the most of these families still await . . . and are unaware.  Another 851 of the MIA cases were known to be POWs . . . a designation that our government is extremely reluctant to share with families. Furthermore, in another 195 KIA cases, I am convinced that these men were also actually POWs.

Through my simple research, it is evident that our government is wrong, unaware, or covering up the correct status in over 1200 of the 8,000 unaccounted-for cases from the Korean War. That’s 15 percent! Just imagine what “truth” we would learn if our government would simply release all of the still classified documents. Just imagine how embarrassing that would be for our government! And, therein lies the problem!