Stockdale Doubts POWs Were Left Behind in Vietnam
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate Committee investigating the fate of missing servicemen in Vietnam has this advice for anyone who gets hit up for money to rescue POWs: Watch your wallet.
A week of hearings continuing today is bringing forth a growing pile of evidence suggesting that Rambo-style rescue groups may be more interested in collecting cash than freeing POWs.
In testimony today, Adm. James Stockdale, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said he believed at the end of the Vietnam War that no POWs were left behind but predicted that it would be difficult to prove.
Stockdale, an independent candidate for vice president this fall, said that there ″are always, in war, some who are lost.″
″There will never, in my opinion, be a full accounting,″ he added. ″When you lose a war, you don’t get to go in and account for your people.″
Late Wednesday, the Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs asked the FBI to review the committee files on Alan Everett Goetsch Jr., who allegedly bilked the family of a missing American in Southeast Asia.
According to evidence collected by the committee, Goetsch, 41, asked one family to rent a ″safe house″ for five to six POWs he claimed he would bring home. When a family member balked, Goetsch persuaded them to rent a motor home instead. He then put 2,400 miles on the vehicle and damaged it extensively.
Earlier the committee released documents and solicited testimony questioning the activities of several POW rescue groups. In a number of instances, committee members accused the groups of exaggerating or fabricating claims that POWs were known to be alive in order to generate funds.
″The people who have done these things are not zealots in a good cause,″ said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a committee member and former POW. ″They are criminals, and some of the most craven, most cynical and most despicable human beings to ever run a scam.″
Among other things, committee documents claimed that:
- Operation Rescue Inc. raised $2.28 million from 1985 through 1990 but devoted nearly 90 percent of the total to ″fund-raising expenses″ instead of rescue missions.
- Response Development Corp. raised $1.9 million for Skyhook II from 1987 through this fall, according to records gathered by the committee. But only $219,000 went toward the POW group. The remaining 89 percent went toward expenses.
- Veterans of the Vietnam War Inc. sent a fund-raising letter promising to deliver petition signatures to the White House. The signed petitions were never delivered and remain in a warehouse in Wilkes Barre, Pa., Michael Milne, president of the organization, told the committee in an affidavit.
- A card was sent last October on behalf of Skyhook II, another POW rescue group, stating that, ″A Senate Select Committee is questioning former government officials and we have learned that as many as 650 of our men are still currently being held.″
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., committee chairman, said the letter falsely implied that the committee believed there were 650 still alive. He said the committee has no solid evidence that any POWs are still being held in Southeast Asia. Curtis Stern of Infocision Management, which drafted the letter for Skyhook II, called the letter ″a correct statement of fact.″
″It’s fraudulent. It’s disingenuous. It’s grotesque on its face,″ Kerry said. ″There ought to be a standard for some of the junk you people put out in spreading some of these lies.″
Calls placed to the POW organizations seeking comment late Wednesday were not answered.
Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., vice chairman of the committee, differed from his colleagues, arguing that none of the claims made by the POW groups have been disproved.
He said it was premature to haul them before the committee for public criticism before the Justice Department had investigated their fund-raising activities.