Non-Vietnam POWS: A Few Others

| April 22, 2015

I said in an earlier article I was not going to attempt a comprehensive list of POWs taken in terrorist incidents. That’s still true; I simply don’t have the time to conduct a comprehensive review of terrorist incidents to determine if any US military personnel were taken prisoner in same and later declared POWs.

However, in the interest of completeness I decided I’d post the information that I do have concerning the subject.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE INFORMATION BELOW IS NOT – I REPEAT, NOT – TO BE REGARDED AS COMPREHENSIVE.

While I believe the information below to be correct, I do NOT claim that what follows is a full and complete listing of US military personnel who were taken prisoner in Cold War and terrorist incidents and later formally declared to be POWs by DoD. There is IMO a very good chance I’ve missed one or more individuals that should be listed here. As new information becomes available, I’ll modify this article accordingly.

What’s Not Here

Not listed below are POWs held by 3rd countries due to the Vietnam and Korean Wars.  The two US military personnel who were detained by China while participating in combat operations in conjunction with the Vietnam War were accorded POW status as Vietnam War POWs. I discussed that in the notes to this previous TAH article.

Additionally, published reports indicate that a number of US military personnel were detained by China (as opposed to by Chinese forces assisting North Korea) as the result of their participation in combat operations during during the Korean War; those same published reports indicate that at least 11 US military personnel were released by China in mid-1955. It is my understanding that these US military personnel were later recognized as Korean War POWs; they’re thus not listed here either.  (I’ve not yet been able to locate anything more than a number and date of release for these individuals.  If anyone has additional information concerning this group – or a by-name list of these individuals – please indicate that fact in the comments section.)

US military personnel taken prisoner by insurgent forces In Iraq or Afghanistan are also not listed here.  (None are known to have survived such captivity.)  They are listed in a previous article in this series.

That said:  what follows is the pertinent information I have collected so far regarding US personnel taken prisoner during Cold War hostile fire and post-Vietnam terrorist incidents who have been formally declared by DoD to have been POWs.  The names of the individuals who appear to be deceased as of the date of publication of this article are in italics.

Cold War China

At least one US sailor is known to have been taken prisoner by Communist Chinese forces under circumstances related to neither the Korean nor Vietnam Wars. He was later formally accorded POW status by DoD.

 NAME  Service  Rank Date Captured  Circumstances
BLAIR, Donald R. USN unk 3-Dec-46 Held prisoner by Communist Chinese forces after being captured IVO Tsingtao, China, while training Nationalist Chinese forces. Held 44 days, then released. Died in an auto accident on 16 May 2000.

 

Cold War Soviet Union

At least three personnel captured by the Soviet Union during Cold War hostile fire incidents have been formally accorded POW status.

 NAME  Service  Rank Date Captured  Circumstances
POWERS, Francis Gary USAF Capt 1-May-60 Held prisoner in USSR 1960-1962 after U-2 shot down IVO Sverdlosk. Died in 1977. Military records corrected in 1977 to show continuous military service vice break in service for CIA employment. Died in a helicopter crash, 1 August 1977.
OMLSTEAD, Freeman Bruce USAF Capt 1-Jul-60 Held prisoner in USSR after RB-47 shot down over Barents Sea, 1960-1961. Four other crew members KIA.
McKONE, John R. USAF Capt 1-Jul-60 Held prisoner in USSR after RB-47 shot down over Barents Sea, 1960-1961. Four other crew members KIA. Died of old age, 31 October 2013.

Post-Vietnam Terrorist Incidents

A minimum of seven US military personnel have been taken prisoner in post-Vietnam terrorist incidents (as opposed to by insurgent forces during the GWOT) who were later formally accorded POW status by DoD.

 NAME  Service  Rank Date Captured  Circumstances
BOWEN, Kenneth USN PO2 14-Jun-85 Held prisoner by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad terrorists for 17 days (TWA 847 incident).
DAHL, Stewart USN PO1 14-Jun-85 Held prisoner by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad terrorists for 17 days (TWA 847 incident).
INGALLIS, Jeffrey USN PO1 14-Jun-85 Held prisoner by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad terrorists for 17 days (TWA 847 incident).
STETHAM, Robert D. USN PO2 14-Jun-85 Held prisoner by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad terrorists for 2 days (TWA 847 incident).   Executed by captors, 15 June 1985.
SUGGS, Clinton USN PO2 14-Jun-85 Held prisoner by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad terrorists for 17 days (TWA 847 incident).
WATSON, Tony USN PO1 14-Jun-85 Held prisoner by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad terrorists for 17 days (TWA 847 incident).
HIGGINS, William R. USMC LtCol 17-Feb-88 Held prisoner by Hezbollah terrorists in Lebannon, 1988-1990.  Executed by captors, exact date unknown.  Declared dead 6 July 1990.

Two Unclear Cases

Two other well-known cases are at this point unclear. The first is that of US Army MG James L. Dozier. Then-BG Dozier was abducted by Italian Red Brigades terrorists on 17 December 1981; he was held captive until rescued by Italian police on 28 January 1982. It is not clear if MG Dozier has ever been formally declared a POW by DoD.

Similarly, it is also unclear whether the crew of the US EP-3 detained by China in 2001 have ever been formally declared POWs.  They were held captive for 11 days after their aircraft was damaged in a midair collision with a Chinese military aircraft and landed on Hainan Island on 1 April 2001.

I have found nothing indicating that these 25 individuals have ever been formally declared by DoD to have been POWs, and I don’t believe they have been.  However, I am not certain that is the case. If someone has definitive information either way, I would appreciate you passing links to that info to me in comments below.

 

A final point:  some of the above links discussing a specific individual’s POW status (or lack thereof) are to documents from sources other than DoD.  If anyone has links to DoD-published documents verifying or refuting the formal POW status of the individuals discussed above, or of any other individuals I’ve missed, please post them in the comments section below and I’ll update the links/article above accordingly.  Thanks in advance for the assist to anyone who might be able to help out here.

Category: Historical, Military issues, Veterans Issues

Comments (13)

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  1. rb325th says:

    The Navy Divers taken hostage in the hijacking, were just recently awarded POW Medals.

  2. Dave Hardin says:

    LtCol Robin Higgins worked for over a decade to get her late husband the POW Medal. To my knowledge although awarded the POW Medal because of his diplomatic status with the UN he has never been granted status as a POW.

  3. Dave Hardin says:

    His case in particular is a sore spot with me. History seems to focus on the main bombing of the HQ building in Beirut, there were actually three bombings. One before and one after that. There were many Marines killed or injured before and after that.

    I recently almost went high and to the right on an individual that claimed he was in the bombing on 20 Sept 84, only to find out that Marine had legally changed his name since that event. He actually was attached to the Embassy and wounded in the event. Although I an still suspicious of many other claims he makes that part of his story is legit.

    Higgins presence there was a direct result of intelligence gathered in 84 and 85. He deliberately circumvented normal protocols in an effort to bring previous operations to fruition.

    My personal involvement in those operations (I will forever call Operation Cluster Fuck) through 1985 were responsible for my decision to separate from the United States Marine Corps.

    If ever there was a person who should be listed as a POW, it is Higgins. The manner of his death is beyond comprehension. He was well aware of the risks involved and fought the system to put himself directly in harms way for a greater cause.

  4. Hondo says:

    Dave Hardin: while I understand your personal interest, the awarding of the POW Medal to LtCol Higgins required a determination by the SECNAV that he was held under conditions equivalent to those traditionally encountered by POWs. A terrorist operation against US forces or facilities is in essence an act of war against the US by a non-state actor; the law now recognizes that as sufficient for award of the POW Medal.

    In my book, the award of the POW Medal thus constitutes a formal determination of POW status. Since LtCol Higgins has been awarded the POW Medal, that means he’s been formally recognized as a POW by DoD.

    YMMV.

    • Dave Hardin says:

      As always, I appreciate your candor more than you realize. Correct me if I am wrong, to my knowledge Congress has never formally acted to recognize him as a POW. If that is in error I would mean a great deal to me if you have knowledge of that event.

      Semper Fi brother.

      • Hondo says:

        David Hardin: I don’t believe Congress declares anyone a POW. That’s a service-secretarial determination – except when someone cons the VA into declaring them one even though they were never so declared by DoD.

        • Dave Hardin says:

          Your work on POW’s is much appreciated. Thank you for all you do. Express my regards to Mrs. Calabash where ever you are.

          Spartacus

  5. Duncan Macdonut says:

    What about that Navy pilot shot down over Lebanon in 1984 and held by the Syrians? I didn’t see him listed.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Goodman

  6. Martinjmpr says:

    Weren’t there some service members who were kidnapped while serving in Central or South America in the 1980’s?