Jeff Donahue Gets Invited to Hanoi – October 1976

As of early January 2016, I have 7 posts. Please start with the first one (#1) at the bottom of the posts and then read your way up to #7. That sequence is important for grasping the following 6. Thank you very much.

I am launching this blog to bring to public awareness certain personal experiences from my 45+ years of involvement in the Indochina POW-MIA issue. I firmly believe you will find my experiences further validate the conclusion that American servicemen were knowingly left behind alive and abandoned in captivity by the U.S. Government at the end of the Indochina War. Experientially, I cannot come to any other conclusion.

Over the years I have shared some of my experiences with a limited number of close friends. Of the ones that are on the public record, most are not well known. Similarly, many of the companion documents that are cited in my posts are not on the public record. Some are, but one would have to be a trained archival researcher to find them.

I anticipate about twenty posts. If you would like a preliminary list of the topics, please go here. It may be the case that subsequent events will result in additional posts.

This blog is intended for people who are willing to be informed about the POW-MIA issue and understand how and why American servicemen were left behind. To be informed requires reading, thinking, and connecting dots. It takes time, and requires living above the surface of the POW-MIA issue. However, knowledge about the issue is freedom because it is a refutation of the ignorant claims of those who believe all the POW-MIAs came home during Operation Homecoming in 1975.

I dedicate this blog to my brother, 2nd Lt. Morgan Jefferson Donahue, USAF, MIA in Laos since December 13, 1968. While in MIA status, Morgan was promoted through the ranks to Major. He was arbitrarily declared KIA by a Pentagon administrative procedure, “Presumptive Finding of Death” – PFOD, during the Carter Administration in 1981. I also dedicate the blog to Bill Shemeley and his dear wife, Kathy, of the POW-MIA Connecticut Forget-Me-Nots. Bill and Kathy were at my side in multiple efforts I undertook to try and find out what happened to my brother and the other POW-MIAs. Finally, I also dedicate the blog to Lynn O’Shea, Director of Research of the National Alliance of Families for the Return of America’s Missing Servicemen.  Lynn’s new book, Abandoned in Place, is simply stunning in its depth and breadth.

Throughout my posts I use the following abbreviations:

  •  “USG” for the United States Government
  • “RV” for the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam before the fall in April 1975
  • “DRV” for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam before the reunification of Vietnam)
  • “SRV” for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (the reunified Vietnam)
  • “DoD” for the Department of Defense
  • “State” for the U.S. State Department

After the fall of South Vietnam in April, 1975, the South was administered by the Provisional Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (the puppet Viet Cong government) until the Provisional Government and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam were united as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in July 1976.

I will commence posting with the second item in my topics list, My Invitation to Hanoi in October 1976 to discuss private economic reconstruction and development aid to the SRV in return for an accounting of the American POW-MIAs across Indochina. Multiple links are cited on the documentation behind the invitation, and most of the links are multiple pages.


As background, by the time Saigon fell in April 1975 diplomatic relationships between the DRV and the U.S. had long ground to a halt. While the Paris Peace Accords resulted in fairly comprehensive early contact between the two governments in 1973, communication and progress toward implementing the Accords quickly become encumbered and finally ceased altogether. The DRV’s final victory over the South in 1975 was just a nail in the diplomatic coffin. A multi-year blackout of diplomatic relations and communications between the USG and the SRV already was underway.

History proved the DRV had no intention whatsoever of letting the POW-MIA issue stand in the way of unifying North and South Vietnam. The DRV diligently maintained its single purposefulness throughout the negotiations, and all along the way it followed Stalin’s dictum of “If you strike steel, pull back; if you strike mush, push forward.” Concomitantly, the DRV discerned the USG was as resolute in getting out of the war as the DRV was in reunifying Vietnam. [Watergate was a contributing factor on top of the wide unpopularity of the war in the in the U.S.] Hence, the USG had no leverage whatsoever at the negotiating table in the run-up to the signing of the Accords. Moreover, the DRV knew that once the Accords were signed the USG would be unwilling to re-commit troops and reignite the war despite potential DRV expanded military engagements in the South. As a consequence, the Accords were dead-on-arrival, and they amounted to greatest American diplomatic farce in history. Indeed, the Accords went beyond farcical to fraudulent. In contrast to Kissinger’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize as co-author of the Accords, at least Le Duc Tho had the integrity to refuse the Prize.

Very quickly, despite what Henry Kissinger told the American public and despite the truly fraudulent “Laos POW List,” it became clear the Accords did not extend to Laos and Cambodia. Concomitantly, there was no Operation Homecoming for the POWs in those countries. Furthermore, the USG expected many more POW names to be on the DRV and Viet Cong lists than actually were produced. Finally, the war in Laos, in particular, continued beyond the truce and Operation Homecoming, and B-52 bombing resumed in Laos in March 1975.

In 1976 I was an Officer in the Multinational Cash Management Group (formerly the Foreign Exchange Advisory Service) in Chemical Bank at its 20 Pine Street headquarters in New York City. Chemical Bank was a major money center bank, and it subsequently morphed into J.P. Morgan Chase today by way of a host of M&A transactions spread across Manufacturers Hanover Trust, Chase Manhattan Bank and J.P. Morgan. I watched closed Operation Homecoming in February-March 1973, and I watched closely the collapse of the U.S. presence in Vietnam in April 1975.

In August of 1976, I composed and sent a letter on my Chemical Bank stationery to Phan Hien, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (see here). In the letter, I told Mr. Hien I represented a group of prominent American businessmen who believed America’s tragic involvement in Indochina (tragic for the United States and for Vietnam) cried for remediation and that we proposed contributing to the rebuilding of Vietnam through a multi-billion dollar privately funded reconstruction and development initiative. In exchange for this private aid, Vietnam would provide a full accounting of the missing American servicemen across Indochina. The link between reconstruction aid and an accounting for the POW-MIAs was unequivocal in my letter.

I never really expected to hear back from Phan Hien, and I pretty much set everything aside. To my great surprise, though, in early October I received a reply from Phan Hien (see here) via the Vietnamese embassy in Vientiane, Laos (mailed in September) telling me to come to Hanoi to discuss my proposal and to secure my visa from the embassy in Paris. I had a very short time to get to Hanoi. Upon reading the letter, I damn near went into cardiac arrest because I had not prepared the draft reconstruction and development plan. I immediately got a letter off to the Vietnamese Embassy in Paris requesting the visa, delivered expeditiously through Chemical Bank’s courier pouch to its Paris branch.

Being knowledgeable on Vietnam’s economy (I had earned a Ph.D. in economics from Florida State University in December 1972) and the economies of Asia-Pacific in general, I then proceeded to draft the plan. After multiple all-night efforts to pull it together, I completed it, printed it and had it bound (see here). By today’s standards it would be judged amateurish; by 1976 standards it was pretty professional. I knew I had done a good job; it was a heroic effort given the time constraint including the travel time I needed to get to Hanoi. I had the benefit of a Congressional staffer who was a friend of the POW-MIA issue (sadly, I have forgotten his name; his first name was “Dale”) and who, sometime before my letter to Phan Hien, had given me some background information on the Vietnamese economy that he had secured from the Joint Economic Committee that was formed in conjunction with the Paris Peace Accord.

The visa arrived from Paris, the travel plans to Hanoi were completed, and I was all set to go – except for one thing. In that era, USA passports prohibited travel to North Korea, Cuba and North Vietnam. In fact, I could have been prosecuted upon my return for going to Vietnam. I had no choice than to explain the situation to the State Department via a gentleman named Frank Sieverts, who was a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in charge of POW-MIA liaison (among multiple other duties) and appeal to him to be granted a waiver from the prohibition. I had met him on many occasions, and he was not a stranger to me. However, the last thing I wanted to do was bring the State Department into the picture because prior to Operation Homecoming the families were united in their belief that the U.S. Government was doing everything it could to bring home all the POW-MIAs. But, after Operation Homecoming and the debacle whereby President Nixon declared there were no more POWs all that trust evaporated and turned into deep scorn and contempt of the USG by many of us. However, under the circumstances, the only thing I could do was to approach Frank. He intervened within the State Department and after a very hasty trip to the State Department’s office in Rockefeller Center the prohibition was crossed out and a diplomatic waiver was issued to me authorizing travel to Vietnam (see here and here).

I tried to tell Frank as little as I could about my invitation to go to Hanoi, but his job was to probe deeply and get the facts, which he did. After all, one of the great diplomatic stand-offs of the modern era was on his doorstep, and he was obligated to inform his superiors about this highly unorthodox visit to the DRV at the request of its government. One would expect nothing else from him. He was a diligent master of the POW-MIA cover-up.

I left for Hanoi via Hong Kong and Bangkok several days before the arrival date with multiple copies of the plan in hand. The Vietnamese embassy advised I would be met upon arrival by the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry (see here). Bangkok was to be the departure point for Hanoi on a weekly Air France flight.

I will address what came of this initiative in a future post. Right now, here is what my private initiative proved:

The North Vietnamese – eventually having no hope whatsoever of getting the USG to deliver the promised reconstruction and development aid – were willing to speak to a private American citizen about a full accounting of POW-MIAs across all of Indochina in return for private reconstruction and development aid. They understood that. The Vietnamese wanted to talk “POW-MIA” and they wanted the United States to pay up. The fact that they violated the Paris Peace Accords was of no consequence to them; they wanted to move ahead.  My letter was the “stuff” of a deal – they wanted what we wanted and we wanted what they wanted.

Further background on the U.S. Government’s complete unwillingness to deal with the SRV  and the opportunity to achieve a POW-MIA accounting that was forfeited as a result  is in the attached fascinating set of documents from the SRV to the State Department (see here, here and here). A copy of the first set was distributed to member of the Board of Directors of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia (I was on the Board) by  Carol Bates, who at the time was the League’s Executive Director. These documents were provided to Ms. Bates by Frank Sieverts.  In one of the articles the USG repudiates any obligation to provide reconstruction assistance.

Importantly, it is critical to note that when I contacted Phan Hien in Hanoi I was complete unaware of the secret side pledge to the DRV by Richard Nixon of “in the range of” $3.25 billion of reconstruction and development aid which was in “Message from the President of the United States to the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam” dated February 1, 1973, just days after the Paris Peace Accords (see here). That secret pledge had not been revealed to the American public. Indeed, the State Department never admitted the Message’s existence until 1977. Moreover, Henry Kissinger lied through his teeth to the American public when he multiple times said there was no such commitment up into the time with the State Department declassified the document in 1978.  See the New York Times article dated February 2, 1976 (see here).

Separately, I hope my efforts regarding the Message will prompt historians and archival researchers to investigate the shenanigans of a secret document from the President of the USA to the DRV just days after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. Something does not resonate with that. In connecting some dots, I believe the hastily concocted Message had some purposes that have escaped historical scrutiny. One was an effort to secure a list of POWs captured in Laos because in the few days since the signing of the Accords it had become clear that there was no POW list coming from Laos. However, the meager list of Laos POWs, which was quickly cobbled together, was in fact produced by the Vietnamese and not the Laotians (Neo Lao Hak Sat – the Pathet Lao). There was no list from the Laotians, and the Vietnamese list was fraudulent – they were American servicemen captured in Laos by North Vietnamese and imprisoned in North Vietnam. A second purpose might have been to affirm Nixon’s commitment to pay for the POW-MIAs post-Paris Peace Accords since he knew that the Vietnamese would deliver the goods only if we delivered some money. That was standard Vietnamese modus operandi, and it is in the historical record going far before the deployment of U.S. troops in Vietnam.

Frank Sieverts will be cited in some future posts. Suffice to say he was not the only perpetrator of the abandonment of the POWs. There were many others in DOD, State, and the National League of Families in particular. I still am debating to name names.  I am not vindictive regarding their actions – that is not my nature. They were just cogs in a very big wheel that they had neither the courage nor integrity to challenge. However, the American public should be aware of who they are.

Others have written the how and why, too, and this blog is an adjunct to their research. For a list of their compelling publications, please see here. There are many other great reference materials, and I am sorry I have not cited them all in the link.

One thought on “Jeff Donahue Gets Invited to Hanoi – October 1976

  1. Pingback: Getting Past Not Knowing What Happened to Maj. Morgan Jefferson Donahue | Jeffrey Donahue

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