Korean War POWs: The PRC Detainees

| February 14, 2020 | 8 Comments

Some years ago, I wrote a series of articles regarding POWs and listings of same.  In that article, I attempted to document as many us military personnel as I reasonably could who might be considered bona fide prisoners of war – terrorist incidents excepted (I noted some, but that’s a very difficult research project).  Links to these articles may be found in the text of this TAH article.

During the last of these POW-themed articles, I alluded to the fact that the People’s Republic of China had detained at least 11 US military personnel in China during the Korean War.  I also noted that I had nothing at the time beyond a number of personnel and a release date.

I have since located a source that lists, by name, these individuals.  They are listed on p. 207 of this document – and there were a total of 15, not 11.

These individuals were taken captive after five different incidents, all of which apparently occurred over North Korea.  One was an RB-29A that was shot down approximately 10-15 miles south of the Yalu River on 13 January 1953; of aircraft’s crew of 14, 11 were eventually repatriated on 3 August 1955.  The other four individuals were pilots of single-seat fighter or fighter/bomber aircraft; they were repatriated on 31 May 1955.  Like the RB-29A incident, best information indicates that these other four aircraft were also almost certainly shot down over North Korea.

For completeness, here’s the list.  I  believe that all personal were USAF personel, but the source identifying them does not explicitly list their branch of service.

Rank Name Service Number Date Repatriated
Col. Arnold, John K. Jr. 1212A 3-Aug-1955
Maj. Baumer, William H. A0733786 3-Aug-1955
Capt. Llewellyn, Elmer F. A020723609 3-Aug-1955
Capt. Vaadi, Eugene J. A0825008 3-Aug-1955
1st Lt. Buck, John W. A0787245 3-Aug-1955
1st Lt. Van Voorhis, Paul E. A02091867 MIA
1st Lt. Weese, Henry D. A02091871 KIA
1st Lt. Brown, Wallace L. A02221928 3-Aug-1955
TSgt. Brown, Howard W. AF36809947 3-Aug-1955
A1c. Hart, Alvin D. AF16353684 KIA
A1c. Kiba, Steve E. AF15426310 3-Aug-1955
A2c. Benjamin, Harry M. Jr. AF27345828 3-Aug-1955
A2c. Schmitd, Daniel C. AF19391475 3-Aug-1955
A2c. Thompson, John W. III AF13361709 3-Aug-1955
Lt. Col. Heller, Edwin L. 9900A 31-May-1955
Capt. Fischer, Harold F. A02204126 31-May-1955
1st Lt. Cameron, Lyle W. 23634A18 31-May-1955
1st Lt. Parks, Roland W. 23197A 31-May-1955

 

Why were these personnel not returned during POW exchanges at the end of the Korean War – as was required by the Armistice agreement ending hostilities in Korea?  Put bluntly:  they were held as hostages by the PRC in an attempt to force the US government to deal with the PRC directly as the legitimate government of China.  Doing so was not US policy at the time.

The primary source linked above (found at the second link in the article) is worthwhile reading for those with an interest in the history of the Korean War.  It is, however, in error on one point.  On p. 207, it fails to list 1st Lt. Lyle W. Cameron as having been repatriated.  In fact, 1st Lt. Cameron was in fact repatriated on 31 May 1955 – and eventually retired from the USAF as a Brigadier General on 1 July 1975.

A final note:  the case of 1st Lt. Paul E. Van Voorhis is still open.  One survivor from his aircrew has given contradictory testimony concerning his survival.  On one at least occasion, this individual has indicated he saw 1st Lt. Van Voorhis alive in Chinese custody.  However, on at least one other occasion he has indicated differently.  1st Lt. Van Voorhis is still considered MIA.  The other two individuals listed above as KIA – 1st Lt. Henry D. Weese and A1c Alvin D. Hart – were also from the RB-29A aircrew and are believed not to have survived the aircraft’s downing and/or attempts to escape from same afterwards; the best I can determine, they are currently listed as KIA.

Other US personnel are rumored to have been held by either the PRC or the USSR after the end of the Korean War.  However, the fifteen repatriated individuals listed in the table above are the only US military personnel documented to have been held as Korean War POWs by China after postwar POW exchanges.

Aviation-safety.net has an article concerning the RB-29A downing. However, for some reason that link doesn’t “play nice” with the blog’s mechanism for linking external articles. That link may be viewed by copying the text below into the address field on your browser. I’ve had inconsistent results when the text below is preceded by “http://” or “https://”, so I’d recommend trying exactly the text below first:

aviation-safety.net/wikibase/86182

Category: Foreign Policy, Historical, POW, We Remember

Comments (8)

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  1. ninja says:

    Interesting, Hondo.

    Thank You for sharing.

    Have downloaded the PDF you referenced to read.

    Did you see this 1998 LA Time article about COL John K. Arnold, Jr. and his Men?

    “Soldiers’ Cold War Ordeal Tied to CIA Link, Mysterious Leak”

    https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1998-sep-13-mn-22205-story.html

  2. Hondo says:

    FWIW: one of these gentlemen – BGen Lyle W. Cameron – passed away just under a month ago. He’ll be buried with full military honors in mid-May, 2020, at Dallas/Fort Worth National Cemetery.

    https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/starlocalmedia/obituary.aspx?n=lyle-w-cameron&pid=195093025&fhid=31215

    Godspeed, General.

  3. 5th/77th FA says:

    Hmmmmm…The more we know, the more we want to know. I got lost in the linkys, and that was before the last ones were put up while I was roaming around in the FIRST ones. Thanks Hondo & ninja.

    Who here doesn’t think that a number of our MIAs from Korea AND Vietnam ended up in China and/or Russia? I’ll wait.

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