A Word of Caution Regarding DPAA’s Korean War “POW/MIA Lists”

| November 1, 2015

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) has the mission of accounting for those who never came home. And they do a credibly good job IMO of doing so.

However, here’s a caution regarding some of the information on their website.

DPAA maintains publicly-accessible lists of those US personnel still missing from past conflicts going back to World War II. These lists are excellent sources, and seem to be kept reasonably well up-to-date as additional personnel from those conflicts are identified.

These lists are differently structured for World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. A bit of background about each of those lists is essential to understand what the lists are actually telling you. I decided to write this article to give that background.

World War II.

The DPAA World War II lists (they don’t provide a consolidated one) are simple to understand, if perhaps not so easy to use. The DPAA World War II lists (found here) list only those who have not yet been formally accounted for – e.g., whose remains were never recovered.  These lists are clearly identified as what they are – lists of those still missing.  DPAA does not provide a list of POWs who returned alive, escaped, etc . . . , from World War II, and none of their lists would lead one to believe that’s its subject.

The DPAA World War II lists are broken out alphabetically and by service, so there are a relatively large number of individual lists; as a result, they’re not necessarily too easy to use. But if you know an individual’s name, finding out whether they’re still missing is fairly straightforward (if perhaps a bit tedious).


DPAA provides numerous lists for Vietnam  (by service, by state, etc . . . ) as well. However, for Vietnam DPAA also provides consolidated lists.  Four are IMO the most useful: the consolidated lists of Escapees, Returned, Accounted-For, and Unaccounted-For personnel. The lists’ names are self-explanatory: the Escapee list lists all personnel who escaped from their captors in SEA and returned alive to US control; the Returned list, those who returned alive from captivity at the end of the war; the Accounted-For list, all whose fate is definitively known (including escapees, returnees, and the turncoat bastard Garwood); and the Unaccounted-For list includes those who are still missing. The lists are comprehensive; thus, they’re quite useful for ferreting out fake Vietnam POW claims.  If the individual isn’t on the Escapee or Returned lists, DoD doesn’t recognize them as a Vietnam POW. Period.

Korean War.

DPAA also maintains a page it calls “Korean War POW/MIA Lists”.  Unfortunately, some of these Korean War lists are problematic. Bluntly:  taken at face value some of them can be hugely misleading.

The Korean War lists are structured exactly as are the Vietnam lists; one would thus expect them to contain the same information.  One group of them does.  One does not.

There are two types of Korean War “POW/MIA” lists: the “Accounted-For ” lists and the “Unaccounted-For”
lists. The latter are good sources of data regarding those still missing, and appear to be both comprehensive and accurate.  However, there is a huge issue with the former group – the “Accounted-For” lists.

On the DPAA Vietnam “Accounted-For” lists, those who escaped captivity and who returned alive from same are included in those lists; they are explicitly identified by their status code as having returned at the end of the war or to have escaped.  (They’re also broken out on separate lists for ease of review.)  In contrast, the Korean lists do not appear to include those US POWs who returned alive during/after the war, or who may have escaped from captivity during the war itself and returned to US control.

What first tipped me off (some time ago) regarding this issue was when I looked at the consolidated Korea “Accounted For” list and found it had around 300 names (even today it only shows 322 names). This is far less than 10% of the number of US POWs documented to have returned alive during or at the end of the Korean War.

I haven’t been able to find data on how many US personnel (if any) escaped from NK/Red Chinese captivity and returned to US control during the Korean War, or who might have been rescued by Allied forces.  However, near and after the end of the Korean War the US and NK/Red China conducted two major prisoner exchanges:  Operation Little Switch and Operation Big Switch.  Over 3,700  US personnel returned alive from POW status during these operations.

Operation Little Switch occurred during April and May, 1953. During this exchange, 149 ill and/or wounded US POWs were returned to US control. Operation Big Switch occurred between the armistice ending the Korean War and the end of 1953; during multiple exchanges, 3,576 US personnel were repatriated. The total number of former US POWs known to have returned alive to US control in 1953 is thus at least 3,725.*

None of the US personnel who returned in either “Switch” operation appear to be included on the Korean War “Accounted-For” lists.  Rather, those lists only appear to include the names of those whose remains were returned and/or definitively identified after the end of Operation Big Switch..  So the fact that someone (1) claims he/his dad/ his uncle/whoever is or was a Korean War POW s, when (2) their name doesn’t appear on any of the Korean War “Accounted-For” lists tells you . . . nada.  US POWs who returned alive at the end of the Korean War simply aren’t listed there.

Why?  Dunno.  Seems to me that DoD must have a by-name list of who came back alive from POW status in Korea in its archives.  For whatever reason, apparently they’ve chosen not to make that list readily available through DPAA.  I wish they would, if for no other reason than to complete the historical record.


* Historical Note:  per the armistice agreement ending the Korean War all POWs from both sides were given the opportunity to remain with the enemy if they so chose. A total of 3,597 US personnel were offered the opportunity to return from captivity during Operation Big Switch. Shockingly, 23 US personnel initially refused repatriation. Two later changed their minds (the Armistice agreement provided for a 90-day window during which a POW  initially declining repatriation could change their mind and opt to return home instead) and returned to US control in 1953. However, a total of 21 disloyal bastards ultimately declined repatriation to the US and opted to remain in Communist custody.  Most later decided that had been a mistake and returned to the US after several years. However, at least 4 (and possibly 5) never did. One died not long after the end of the Korean War.  The other 3 or 4 lived out the rest of their  turncoat lives under Communism.

A well-meaning error by the military allowed those who later returned to the US to do so without facing severe legal consequences.  All of the US personnel opting to remain with the Communists were given a dishonorable discharge from the military in absentia.  When they later returned to the US, the result was that they could not be prosecuted for misconduct under the UCMJ – because due to their dishonorable discharges they were no longer in the military.  I  strongly suspect that’s why policy today is to keep the individual “on the rolls” in deserter status in such a case:  to ensure they can receive the appropriate UCMJ “tender mercies” on return.


(A link to this article has been added to the “Military Records” button on the TAH site banner.)

Category: Historical, Military issues, Veterans Issues

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It seems odd to me, though it shouldn’t make any difference I guess, that all 21 who chose to remain in China were lower enlisted ranks. I mean menial work back in the U.S. is one thing but menial work in China is not a pension providing endeavor I would think. The three who called themselves “the dummy bunch” got one thing right, their moniker. Goes to show, not even the Chinese are big on low IQ ass holes. Let’s also not forget, even an enemy to whom one defects, looks at you as a traitor to your own country and will forever wonder if and when you might become the same for them.