•HOME • TBC LATEST • TBC ARCHIVES • JOIN MILINET • MILINET ARCHIVES  CONTACT 


22 October 2007


The First Marine Captured in Vietnam--A Questionable Book Title


A MILINET Discussion


This discussion contains the POINT OF DEPARTURE and seven GROUPS OF RESPONSES on the subject issue arranged in the order they were received and/or posted by MILINET. I would like to thank all who participated in this discussion for the value of the MILINET forum is in direct proportion to the responses by its members. 


This issue was particularly sensitive in that it dealt with individual Marines captured then killed by enemy forces during the Vietnam War. The performance of duty by Col. Donald Cook--the subject of the book mentioned--has been justifiably recognized by the Medal of Honor he was posthumously awarded and no-one should interpret this discussion as an attempt to detract from that record. The intent here was to correct a record that appeared to have overlooked two Marines--SSGT Fred T. Schreckengost and SSGT Robert Lee Greer (PFCs at the time of their capture)--and bring them into our memories. On a battlefield long ago, President Lincoln said of the soldiers who died there that the world "can never forget what they did here." And I suggest that: "It is for us the living to be here dedicated" to assuring that those we served with are also remembered. On 2 August 1956, Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, USMC (Ret.) voluntarily returned to active duty for one day to appear as a defense witness at the court-martial of Drill Instructor, S/Sgt Matthew C. McKeon at Parris Island, South Carolina. That night, after testifying, he appeared at the NCO Club and said to the assembled Marines: "Do your duty and the Marine Corps will be as great as it has been for another thousand years."



Semper Duty,


Anthony F. Milavic

Major USMC (Ret.)


----POINT OF DEPARTURE----


9 October 2007


MILINET: The First Marine Captured in Vietnam--A Questionable Book Title


By: Maj. Anthony F. Milavic, USMC (Ret.)


===============================



The subject book by Col. Donald l. Price, USMC (Ret.) purports to be a biography of Col. Donald G. Cook, USMC. Col. Cook was captured by Viet Cong (VC) enemy forces in the Republic of Vietnam on 31 December 1964. He died there during December 1967. Later, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his conduct during those three years of captivity. Col. Cook was the third U.S. Marine captured in Vietnam not the first as described in the above book title. 


I served with then Capt. Cook in the 1st Interrogation-Translation Team during 1964 when he was the Sub-Team Commander of our Chinese Sub-Team. I also served in Danang, Vietnam with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing--TE 79.3.3.6 (SHUFLY)--from April through July 1964.


During that assignment, the officers and men of SHUFLY were shocked to learn that two of our enlisted Marines fell into the hands of the VC to become the first U. S. Marines captured in Vietnam: this occurred almost seven months before Capt. Cook was captured. Days later, however, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) arranged to get them back. I don't recall if it was a swap for some of their personnel, money, or whatever. In any case, Sgt. Robert Slater, a Marine Vietnamese linguist who worked for me at Danang, went along for the recovery. They were to meet the VC on a body of water and there get the Marines back. The Marines were placed in a boat with only one oarsman and sent to the ARVNs. As the boat neared the ARNVs, one of the Marines stood up and knocked the oarsman into the water. He then grabbed the oar and paddled frantically toward the ARVNs. Unfortunately, he didn't know how to propel a boat with one oar and it turned 180 degrees and headed back toward the VC. They were quickly recaptured and taken away. The ARVNs and Slater stared in stunned silence. We were never to see those two Marines alive again.


Additionally, I recently contacted Lt. Col. Jack Kennedy, USAF (Ret.) with the question: Was Col. Cook the first Marine captured in Vietnam (Lt. Col. Kennedy is the former head of the Special Office for POW/MIA, DIA.)? He forwarded my question to:


Mr. Robert J. Destatte

Special Office for POW/MIA, DIA

1979-1993

Senior Analyst, Research & Analysis Directorate,

Defense Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Office

1993-2001


His response follows:        



Anthony,

 

Jack asked if I might help out here. For starters, you are correct. Medal of Honor recipient Captain Cook was not the first Marine taken captive during the Vietnam War.

 

The first two Marines captured, captured in the same incident, were PFC Fred T. Schreckengost, and PFC Robert Lee Greer (both men were posthumously promoted to Staff Sergeant).  They had become friends while serving with the 1st Marine Air Wing at Da Nang.  On their off-duty time they often went motor-biking together to take photographs of the local people and countryside.  During one such outing, on 7 June 1964, they had the misfortune to encounter a group of VC southwest of Da Nang.  The VC took them captive, and killed and buried them a few days later.

 

If I am not mistaken, USMC TE 79.3.3.6 was a component of Marine Air Base Squadron 16, at Da Nang.  If so, perhaps PFCs Schreckengost and Greer are the two Marines you had in mind.

 

The POW/MIA cover-up-and-conspiracy nuts and armchair analysts have posted an enormous amount of calumnious nonsense about these two men on the Internet.  No two veterans and their families have been more maligned and mistreated by some of their countrymen than these two men.  If you are interested, Colonel Joe Schlatter, US Army (Ret.), describes some of the false stories about these men and the whackos and charlatans who told the stories on his website.  Here are the URLs for relevant pages on Joe's web site:

 

             http://www.miafacts.org/greer.htm

             http://www.miafacts.org/bright_review.htm

             http://www.miafacts.org/jamesray.htm

             http://www.miafacts.org/hopper_search.htm

             http://www.miafacts.org/guest%20archive%203.htm (short      

                    note of thanks from a relative, Eddy Schreckengost, for 

                    giving Fred the respect he deserves)

 

You can also find a short summary of the circumstances of their capture and death, and the recovery of their remains in a document I wrote at:

 

             http://www.rjsmith.com/pavn-records.html

 

Short bios, photo of PFC Schreckengost, and a photo of their headstone at Arlington National Cemetery:

 

            http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/shreck.htm

            http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/rlgreer.htm

            http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/usmc-group06071964.htm

           

 

Captain Donald Gilbert Cook . . . was captured on 31 December 1964.  You can read an excellent summary of Captain Cook's experience at:  http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/dgcook.htm

 

I hope you will forgive my rather long answer to a short question; but, as you might have guessed, I get angry every time I think of how the folks who exploit the MIA issue continue to defame the memories of these two Marine heroes and their families.  I cannot resist the urge to get on my soapbox and come to their defense whenever their names come up.

 

I hope the above proves helpful.

 

Warm regards,

Robert J. Destatte

rdestatte@verizon.net

 


Col. Cook's conduct as a POW was "above and beyond the call of duty" as evidenced by the Medal of Honor his country awarded him. That record stands on its own merit and does not need well-meaning misrepresentations of his service; such as the title, The First Marine Captured in Vietnam. As Mr. Destatte, I too hope the above serves to correct the record and to introduce to your memory and prayers SSGT Fred T. Schreckengost, USMC and SSGT Robert Lee Greer, USMC.


Semper Fidelis,


Anthony F. Milavic

Major USMC (Ret.)  


----1st GROUP OF RESPONSES----


10 October


MILINET: Resps (5) The First Marine Captured in Vietnam--A Questionable Book Title


==================


Anthony,


Thanks.  Well done, sir.  My former colleague at DPMO and Marine veteran, David Rosenau, has already this morning placed a copy of your note in the official casualty files of the three Marines. 


Warm regards,


Robert J. Destatte

rdestatte@verizon.net



---------------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE-------


Wow Anthony!  Fast work.  However, I wonder why I couldn't remember that Cook was captured on 31 Dec 64.  As my kids are wont to say..."geezing out dad?" hehe

 

Bob


---------------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE-------


A beautiful piece of work Anthony and it does justice to all those fine men involved.  It also makes an important point that in this day and age, it is possible to get factual answers if you do a little digging in the right places.   And I am happy to add all of them to the prayer list and may God be good to them.  


PatG


---------------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE-------


Thank you Anthony....very good research.


S/Fi


Walt Ford

Colonel USMC (Ret)

Editor, Leatherneck Magazine


---------------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE------


Very interesting, and insightful.  I was especially impressed that Cook went from Captain to Colonel in three years.  That in itself is an extraordinary achievement.


Regards,


Wayne


----2nd GROUP OF RESPONSES----


 11 October


MILINET: 2nd Resp The First Marine Captured in Vietnam--A Questionable book Title


===================


Anthony, as for the "alleged facts" you certainly "fired the 106 " at the book's title and rightfully so. BZ. Makes one wonder how such a book got written and there was no fact checker.


S/f  GI


-----------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE---------


My post's primary focus was to correct the title, Col. Cook was the 3rd Marine captured in Vietnam not the first; and, secondarily, that he was the Cmdr, Sub-Team (Chinese), 1 st ITT and not the Cmdr, 1st ITT.


The post has been submitted as a REVIEW of the book to AMAZON.COM. If it is accepted, it will appear there on-line within 48 hours after my submission.


Semper Fidelis,


Anthony F. Milavic

Major USMC (Ret,)


----3rd GROUP OF RESPONSES----


16 October


MILINET: 3rd Resps (2) The first Marine Captured in Vietnam--A Questionable Book Title


=============================


Anthony :                                                                 


I've followed the allegations and comments concerning the Donald Cook bio “The First Marine Captured in Vietnam” by Col Donald Price, USMC (ret). Having read and reviewed Price's book for both Midwest Book Review and Military Writers Society of America, let me add my two cents on Col Price's research and the recent Milinet article challenging his work.


Some basic research would have discovered the following:


Schreckengost & Greer: were two unarmed PFCs in civilian clothing who went on liberty in Danang on a Sunday. They rented motor scooters and went off-limits into the countryside. One story has them swimming at China Beach, while another has them climbing Hill 327 to take pictures of the Danang Airfield where they were stationed.


The two were kidnapped--not captured--by common Vietnamese criminals, and robbed of their scooters, cameras, watches, rings, and wallets. Then they were murdered.


The Marine Corps carried them as "missing" - not missing in action, so if they had returned from their off-limits jaunt, they would have probably faced an NJP. If the Viet Cong had captured them, it is reasonable to assume that they'd have been kept alive for propaganda purposes, especially as PFC Greer was Afro-American.


Interestingly, neither the VC or the North Vietnamese mention Schreckengost and Greer from the time they disappeared in 1964 until Operation Homecoming in 1973.


Since they do not qualify as either POW or KIA, Col Price's research is correct - and it is worth noting that the official position of the Marine Corps is that Col Cook is the first Marine captured in Vietnam.


These blogosphere comments only deflect attention from Col Cook's heroic actions during three years of captivity that earned him the Medal of Honor, as well as cheapen the efforts of author Col Donald Price who wrote an excellent book - see the July 2007 review in Leatherneck.


V/r

Andrew Lubin


Research cited:


1 - History & Museums Division, HQMC, Washington, DC, 1991

Official monograph entitled "U.S. Marines in Vietnam; The War That Would Not End 1971-1973" by Maj Charles D. Melson & LtCol Curtis G. Arnold. Both quotes from P. 237:


"...48 of all Americans known to have been captured in Southeast Asia were U.S. Marines. Of these, 9 died in captivity, 10 escaped, 2 were released prior to 1973, 26 returned during Operation Homecoming, and 1--Private First Class Robert Garwood--returned in 1979."


"The first Marine prisoner was taken on 31 December 1964 and the last was captured on 26 September 1972."


2 -  "Honor Bound; The History of American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973"

by Stuart I. Rochester and Frederick Kiley Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense

Washington, D.C.1998


Neither Schreckengost nor Greer are listed among the 9 who died in captivity, and  neither is  mentioned in Honor Bound's text or listed in Honor Bound's definitive POW-MIA Appendix 3  on pages 598 -618.



-----------------ANOTHER RESPONSE---------



Anthony,

 

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Andrew Lubin's assertions in a 12 October 2007 e-mail to you concerning Marine Staff Sergeants Fred T. Schreckengost and Robert Lee Greer.  For MILINET subscribers who are not familiar with their story, Communist guerrillas captured these two Marines, who at the time were Privates First Class, about five miles southwest of Da Nang, Vietnam, on 8 June 1964.  Communist guerrillas killed and buried the two Marines in the same area several days later.

 

Much of what Mr. Lubin wrote about these two Marines is not accurate.

 

I will address each those inaccuracies below.  First, I wish to respond to the misdirection with which Mr. Lubin opened and closed his note.  His opening and closing comments suggest that persons who point out the historically accurate fact that SSGs Schreckengost and Greer were the first Marines captured in Vietnam, are attacking the integrity and scholarship of Colonel Donald Price (USMC, Ret.), the author of "The First Marine Captured in Vietnam," a biography of Medal of Honor recipient Donald Cook (Colonel, USMC), and "only deflect attention from Col Cook's heroic actions".

 

I submit that the only persons who cheapen the efforts of Colonel Price, or deflect attention from Colonel Cook's heroic actions are persons who make untrue statements to preserve a popular misperception--untrue statements that serve only to perpetuate urban myths and ancient calumnies that have been committed against SSGTs Schreckengost and Greer, who are no longer here to defend their honor.  

 

Following his opening comment, Mr. Lubin asserted that:

 

"Some basic research would have discovered the following:


"Schreckengost & Greer: were two unarmed PFCs in civilian clothing who went on liberty in Danang on a Sunday. They rented motor scooters and went off-limits into the countryside. One story has them swimming at China Beach, while another has them climbing Hill 327 to take pictures of the Danang Airfield where they were stationed."



Apparently, Mr. Lubin failed to perform that same basic research before he set down at his keyboard.

 

I, on the other hand, studied SSGTs Schreckengost and Geer's official casualty files the first time in 1979, and consulted their files several more times during the next 23-years that I served in the accounting effort. 

 

It is true that these two Marines were unarmed, were PFCs, were dressed in civilian clothing, and were on liberty in the Da Nang area when they became missing on 8 June 1964.  It also is true that it was a Sunday, and that they had rented motorbikes to go sight-seeing in the countryside.  But beyond those few basic facts the above quote becomes misleading and inaccurate.

 

Mr. Lubin seems to imply that PFCs Schreckengost and Geer should not be considered POWs, at least in part, because they were on liberty at the time they went missing. 

 

If we were to follow his logic, we also would have to withdraw the official POW status of several other persons; beginning with U.S. Army Specialist Fifth Class George Fryette, the first American serviceman taken captive during the war.  Specialist 5th Class Fryette was on liberty when he was captured on Sunday, 24 December 1961.  George and his Vietnamese girl friend were riding their bicycles from Saigon to a public swimming pool in Thu Duc, a few miles NW of Saigon.  This was a popular weekend outing for servicemen in the Saigon area.  On that particular day, Specialist Fryette had the misfortune to encounter a group of VC guerillas that captured him.  George was released on 24 June 1962.

 

Mr. Lubin did not cite a source for his assertion that the two Marines "went off-limits."  I do not remember having seen any information in their official files that suggested they knowingly entered an off-limits area.  Personally, I do not believe that they knowingly "went off-limits."  Like George Fryette, they had the misfortune to be at the wrong place and at the wrong time on a particular day.  In any event, the question of whether they "went off-limits" is totally irrelevant to the question of whether these two Marines were captured.

 

Mr. Lubin then makes the unqualified and completely false statement that:

 

"The two were kidnapped--not captured--by common Vietnamese criminals, and robbed of their scooters, cameras, watches, rings, and wallets. Then they were murdered."

 

If Mr. Lubin had performed "some basic research" in the Library of Congress POW/MIA holdings he would have discovered that during the 26 years that these two Marines were MIA the Department of Defense never once received information that suggested they were "kidnapped" and "murdered" by "common Vietnamese criminals." 

 

If Mr. Lubin had performed "some basic research" he also might have discovered that members of the Ha Dong Hamlet guerrilla militia unit, not common criminals, captured the two Marines.  The hamlet guerrilla chief, a man named Nguyen Xuan, turned the two Marines over to the village guerrilla unit, and the village unit turned them over to a nearby "commo-liaison station."  This was a normal evacuation pattern for prisoners. 

 

Some basic research also would have revealed that a veteran of the local guerilla units that took part in the capture, death, and burial of these two Marines led American MIA investigators to their burial site in 1990.

 

Mr. Lubin also would have discovered that guerrilla veterans told American investigators that the captors killed the two Marines after they tried to escape.  Anthony, I mention this because of the note you posted on the MILINET last week in which you recalled that local military authorities tried to arrange an exchange for two prisoners they believed were PFCs Schreckengost and Greer, shortly after the two men went missing.  Your recollection that the exchange went awry when the two prisoners tried to escape seems to corroborate circumstantially the guerrilla veteran's explanation of what caused the guerillas to kill PFCs Schreckengost and Greer. 

 

If Mr Lubin did not have time to consult the Library of Congress POW/MIA holdings, a simple Google search could have informed him that he might wish to do further basic research before committing himself to an assertion that these two Marines were kidnapped and murdered by common criminals. 

 

A few minutes searching the internet could have yielded a summary of intelligence holdings related this case.  This summary, prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency is fairly comprehensive and contains no mention of a kidnapping and murder by common criminals.  The summary can be found at: http://www.nationalalliance.org/projx/0031.htm


Mr. Lubin’s untrue statement that SSGTs Schreckengost and Greer were kidnapped and murdered by common criminals is not the only questionable assertion he made in the note he sent to you.

 

For starters, Mr. Lubin described the two Marines’ sight-seeing trip as an “off-limits jaunt,” and conjectured that if they had returned that day, “they would have probably faced an NJP.” 

 

Mr. Lubin did not cite an authority for either of these assertions.  But, even if the assertions are true, they also are irrelevant to the questions of whether these two Marines were captured and whether they are entitled to POW status. 

 

These two assertions only serve to unjustly dishonor two young Marines.  To what purpose?

 

Next, Mr. Lubin introduced this bit of conjecture, apparently intended to demonstrate why we should agree with his opinion that PFCs Schreckengost and Geer were not captured:

 

"If the Viet Cong had captured them, it is reasonable to assume that they'd have been kept alive for propaganda purposes, especially as PFC Greer was Afro-American."

 

If Mr. Lubin had any knowledge of the Communist infrastructure as it existed in this region in June 1964, he would know that his assumption is not reasonable.  It would be at least another year before the Politburo and the People's Army of Vietnam's General Staff Department established uniform procedures for handling American POWs in this region--known as Military Region 5, aka B-1 Front.

 

This early in the war in this region, the local guerrilla infrastructure had more freedom (or less restraint) than in later years to act on its own initiative.  If PFCs Schreckengost and Greer had been captured a year later, I believe that the local infrastructure would have been more careful to guarantee their safety until they could be evacuated to the MR5 POW camp that was in operation by July 1965.

 

A more obvious error in the preceding quote is Mr. Lubin's assertion that,

 

“…PFC Greer was Afro-American.”  

 

Mr. Lubin did not cite a source for that assertion.  It appears to me to be a thoughtless parroting of nonsense about an alleged "salt-and-pepper" team (one Caucasian and one Black American) that has circulated for years in the sewers and backwaters of the Internet.  In any event, the assertion is not true. 

 

SSGT Greer and SSGT Schreckengost both were Caucasian. 

 

Mr. Lubin could have discovered authoritative confirmation of this fact with 5-10 minutes of basic research using Google.  One example is a 16 July 1998, Department of Defense Office of the General Counsel Memorandum for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, found at:  http://cryptome.quintessenz.org/mirror/tailwind-d-g.htm.

 

Mr. Lubin next stated:

 

"Interestingly, neither the VC or the North Vietnamese mention Schreckengost and Greer from the time they disappeared in 1964 until Operation Homecoming in 1973."

 

While this might be interesting to Mr. Lubin, it is far from being unique.  The communists remained silent throughout the war and long afterwards about the fate of other Americans who are known to have been captured, but who for one reason or another died after they were captured.

 

Frankly, I don't understand Mr. Lubin's implicit linking of SSGTs Schreckengost and Greer to the "salt-and-pepper" stories, and his implicit suggestion that we should find it strange that the Communists remained silent about them throughout the war. 

 

This unkind innuendo is unbecoming of a man with Mr. Lubin's credentials and serves only to dishonor the memory of two Marines who served honorably.

 

Let us now turn to Mr. Lubin's assertion that PFCs Schreckengost and Greer “do not qualify as either POW or KIA.”  Mr. Lubin wrote:

 

"Since they do not qualify as either POW or KIA, Col Price's research is correct - and it is worth noting that the official position of the Marine Corps is that Col Cook is the first Marine captured in Vietnam."

 

In a related statement at the beginning of his note, Mr. Lubin also wrote:

 

"The Marine Corps carried them as "missing" - not missing in action,…"

 

Again, Mr. Lubin did not cite an authority for these statements.  I am reasonably confident that Lubin is not an authority on the subject. 

 

What I do know is that these statements are misleading and inaccurate. 

 

I believe it would have been the responsibility of PFCs Schreckengost and Greer’s unit commander in Da Nang, probably the LtCol commanding Marine Air Base Squadron 16 (MABS-16), to decide what missing status was appropriate.  Responsibility for subsequent changes of status resided at HQ, USMC and the office of the Secretary of the Navy.  

 

The question of whether the commander in Da Nang chose to classify these two Marines as POWs at the time of their disappearance is separate from the question of whether their actual situation ‘qualifies’ them to POW or KIA status (more on this below). 

 

Mr. Lubin cited two official publications as evidence supporting his various assertions.  In fact, however, neither of these publications contain information that supports his assertions that PFCs Schreckengost and Greer were “kidnapped…by common…criminals,” or that PFC Greer was an Afro-American, or that the two Marines were not killed in action, or that they are not qualified for POW status, or that they were in an off-limits area and by implication in violation of local or Marine Corps rules or regulations.  

 

One of the sources Mr. Lubin cited is an official monograph entitled "U.S. Marines in Vietnam; The War That Would Not End 1971-1973" by Maj Charles D. Melson & Lt. Col. Curtis G. Arnold (History & Museums Division, HQMC, Washington, DC, 1991).   [Note: The quotes he cited are on page 217, not 237 of this monograph.]


Curiously, however, Mr. Lubin failed to consult, or failed to mention it if he did consult, the first volume of this series of nine volumes of the official history of Marine Corps involvement in the Vietnam conflict.  Volume One is entitled, “U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era 1954-1964,” by Captain Robert H. Whitlow, USMR (History & Museums Division, HQ USMC, Washington, DC, 1977.  The following quote is from pages 155-156 of that volume:

 

“In addition to normal support operations, HMM-364’s pilots devoted much of the second week of June to a search for Privates First Class Fred T. Schrenkengost [sic] and Robert L. Greer, two MABS-16 Marines who had disappeared from the Da Nang compound on 7 June.  Intelligence reports indicated that both men had been captured by Communist guerrillas about five miles south of the airfield while sight-seeing on rented motor bikes.  The aerial search produced no signs of the missing enlisted men but reliable Vietnamese sources reported that the Viet Cong had displayed them in several villages.  The task element commander finally called off the fruitless search on 15 June, a full week after it had begun.  Ground efforts by the Vietnamese to locate the men continued but were also futile.  The two Marines were never found.”

 

Additionally, a footnote to this paragraph, on page 156, states:

 

“The status of PFC Fred T. Schrenkengost [sic] was changed from missing in action to killed in action, body not recovered, on 23 July 1974.  The status of PFC Robert L. Greer was likewise changed on 14 November 1975.”

 

The above passages quoted from the official history of the Marine Corps’ role in the Vietnam conflict, prepared by the Marine Corps’s History and Museum Division, unambiguously state that Communist guerrillas (not common criminals) captured (not kidnapped) these two Marines.

 

The above passages also clearly show that the appropriate Marine Corps authority, whether the Commander in Da Nang or a higher headquarters, placed the two Marines in a missing in action (not simply missing) status at the time they disappeared; and that subsequently the appropriate Marine Corps authority (probably the Secretary of the Navy) changed the status of the two Marines to killed in action/body not recovered.

 

Further "basic research" could have informed Mr. Lubin that the Arlington National Cemetery’s website lists SSGTs Schreckengost and Greer’s status as “Killed-in-Action on June 20, 1964.”  Also an official photo on the website would have informed Mr. Lubin that the status “POW” is inscribed on their official gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery. (http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/rlgreer.htm).

 

I cannot imagine that the officials who authorized the inscription “POW” on the headstone did not coordinate this with HQ USMC.

 

Mr. Lubin’s assertions that these two Marines were kidnapped and murdered by common criminals, that they were not classified as missing-in-action, and that they “do not qualify as either POW or KIA” simply are not true.

 

It also would appear that either Mr. Lubin was wrong when he wrote that "the official position of the Marine Corps is that Col Cook is the first Marine captured in Vietnam", or the official position of the Marine Corps is not historically accurate.

 

In summary, captured is captured.  The decision to place a person in MIA status or POW status is an administrative decision.  The fact of capture is independent of the captured serviceman’s administrative status or the specific circumstances of the capture.  

 

PFCs Schreckengost and Greer were captured.  Communist guerrillas captured them.  A few days later Communist guerillas killed and buried them.  The Marine Corps correctly and officially recognizes that they were captured, held as POWs, and subsequently killed in action. 

 

Respecting their service and the accurate dates of their capture and deaths at the hands of hostile forces does not detract in any way from the honor and respect rightfully due Colonel Donald Cook and his biographer Colonel Donald Price.  Based on what I have read about Colonel Cook and the respect he had for the men under his command, I believe that he would be the first to set the record straight concerning PFCs Schreckengost and Greer.

 

Warm regards,

Robert J. Destatte


----4th GROUP OF RESPONSES----


 17 October


MILINET: 4th Resps (4) "The first Marine Captured in Vietnam"--A Questionable Book Title


=============


Sir :


If all this information was available to Mr. Destatte while he was serving as the Senior Analyst for Southeast Asia in the Defense POW & Missing Personnel Affairs Office (DPMO) from 1993 to 2001, why then is neither Schreckengost nor Greer listed as POWs in Appendix 3 of Honor Bound, a DoD publication that came out in 1998? The Appendix is entitled: "U.S. Personnel Captured in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973." The coauthor of Honor Bound is Dr. Stuart I. Rochester, Deputy Historian, Historian, Office of the Secretary of Defense. Honor Bound is considered by many scholars to be the definitive authority on POWS and MIAs of the Vietnam era.


V/r


Andrew Lubin


----------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE------------


Professor Lubin and Major Milavic,

 

Prof. Lubin, you raise a fair question.  Understanding the answer requires knowledge of who decided the official status (MIA, KIA, POW, etc) of service members when they became missing during the Vietnam War, and how they made the decisions.  What follows here is a general description of how the system worked.

 

The Defense Intelligence Agency’s Special Office for POW/MIA, and its successor the Defense POW/MIA Office, did/do not have the authority to determine a missing serviceman’s status.  The DIA and DPMO are intelligence organizations.  Status determinations were administrative decisions made by appropriate authorities in the separate Services. 

 

During the Vietnam War, the authority to make the initial administrative determination resided with the local commander of the missing serviceman’s unit—in this instance probably the Lieutenant Colonel commanding MABS-16 in Da Nang. 

 

The local commander took a number of factors into consideration, including any available intelligence information, when he made his administrative decision regarding official status.

 

I do not know why the local commander chose to place PFCs Schreckengost and Greer in a missing-in-action status, rather than a prisoner-of-war status. 

 

My educated guess is that he delayed making a status determination until he felt he had sufficient knowledge to support his decision.  I’m sure he questioned which of the intelligence reports that reached him during the first few days were reliable and accurate, and which were not.  The intelligence in those reports was acquired from human sources.  Human source reporting, or HUMINT, can be notoriously uneven with regard to reliability and accuracy.  I’m sure the local commander wrestled with his decision for a few days or more.

 

Perhaps the unit commander was still struggling to determine which reports were reliable and accurate, when local intelligence collectors began providing new information from their sources that indicated the two missing Marines had been killed. 

 

If the unit commander believed the reports of death were credible (although not confirmed), that belief could have influenced him to decide to declare the two Marines MIAs rather the POWs.  If he had lingering doubt that the reports of death were true, that doubt also could have influenced him to declare the men MIA, rather than KIA/Body Not Recovered.  I repeat, this is just an educated guess.

 

Once the local commander officially placed a service member in a missing category (e.g., MIA, KIA/Body Not Recovered, POW), the local commander was relieved of administrative responsibility for that service member.  Authority to make changes in the service member’s official status then passed to the Service Secretary of the missing person’s service—in the case of PFCs Schreckengost and Greer, I believe that authority rested in the Office of the Secretary of the Navy.

 

By statute, the parent service was required to review the status of each of its MIAs and POWs annually, on the anniversary of the date the person became missing.  For political reasons, at some point during the war the Congress or the White House directed the Services to suspend the review process.  The moratorium on status reviews remained in effect for several years, creating a number of unintended legal and personal problems for the families of some of the MIAs. 

 

Eventually, the services were permitted to resume the annual review process.  

 

The politically imposed moratorium is the reason that more than 10 years elapsed between the date that PFCs Schreckengost and Greer were declared MIA and the date they were officially declared presumed killed in action, body not recovered.

 

As part of the annual review process, the Service General Counsel usually asked the DIA’s Special Office for POW/MIA to provide the Service all of the available intelligence data related to the missing person.  The Service General Counsel would take that intelligence into account in forming a recommendation to the Service Secretary.  He might recommend that the Secretary retain a service member in his current status for another year, or to change his status (e.g., MIA to POW; MIA to KIA/Body not Recovered; POW to MIA, etc.). 

 

The office of Service Secretary, through the office of the Service General Counsel, would inform the DIA of whatever administrative action was taken, and the DIA would update its files to reflect any changes.

 

As I stated in a previous note, the official history of Marine Corps involvement in Vietnam records that, “The status of PFC Fred T. Schrenkengost [sic] was changed from missing in action to killed in action, body not recovered, on 23 July 1974.  The status of PFC Robert L. Greer was likewise changed on 14 November 1975.”

 

I do not know off hand the date at which the official status of PFCs Schreckengost and Greer was changed from KIA/BNR to Prisoner of War, Died in Captivity.  My best guess is that the change was made sometime after their remains were recovered in 1990.

 

Now permit me to address the question Prof. Lubin raised, “…why then is neither Schreckengost nor Greer listed as POWs in Appendix 3 of Honor Bound, a DoD publication that came out in 1998?”

 

As I said above, this is a fair question.  I do not know the answer off the top of my head, but I believe the most likely explanation is that the Department of the Navy or Marine Corps authorities did not inform the DIA’s Special Office for POW/MIA, or the DPMO, that the status had been changed to Prisoner of War, Died in Captivity. 

 

Professor Lubin, Fred Kiley and Stuart Rochester are faultless.  Fred is a friend of mine and I have great respect for both him and Dr. Rochester.  They compiled Appendix 3 of Honor Bound from a DPMO Reference Document, dated May 1997.  Fred, Dr. Rochester, and the DPMO believed that the reference document was accurate and up-to-date at that time.  However, the May 1997 DPMO reference document would not have reflected PFCs Schreckengost and Greer’s status as POW/DIC unless the Department of the Navy or HQ Marine Corps had informed DPMO of the new status.  

 

Although it might have taken 26 years or longer to officially recognize the fact, the fact remains that hostile forces captured these two young Marines on 8 June 1964, held them as POWs for several days, and then killed them—apparently because they resisted and tried to escape.  I strongly believe that their service deserves to be honored and portrayed accurately.

 

Warm regards,

Robert J. Destatte


--------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE----------


Mr. Destatte -


Thank you for [your above response],


I think sometimes the internet lets us get too critical. The end result was that these two young Marines were captured and killed. POW - AWOL - MIA - BNR; none of that really makes much of a difference to the families. And equally, Col Cook's heroic efforts - a POW for 3 years - are a testimonial to his strength and courage under tremendous adversity.


I was very touched by Col Price's book, and if I over-reacted to your initial email, then I apologize. Like I said in my review of his book; there was an ugly war in Vietnam long before the American people heard about Khe Sanh, Fire Base Gloria, etc, and surely Vietnam 1963 - 1967 is worth additional stufy.


With Regards //

Andrew Lubin


----------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE---------


". . . why then is neither Schreckengost nor Greer listed as POWs in Appendix 3 of Honor Bound, a DoD publication that came out in 1998? . . .. The coauthor of Honor Bound is Dr. Stuart I. Rochester . . ."


I don't believe anyone but Dr. Stuart Rochester can answer that question. But, I am confident in stating that:


--From 1963 to 1965, I served in the French-Vietnamese Sub Team, 1st Interrogation-Translation Team (1st ITT), HQ, FMF Pac, Camp Smith, Hawaii as a Translator-Interrogator.


--From April through July 1964, I was assigned TAD by 1st ITT to TE 79.3.3.6 (SHUFLY) Danang, Vietnam to serve as that Task Element's translator. The 1st ITT provided linguistic support to the Task Element while it was in-country.


--In June 1964, I was involved in attempts to locate two missing Marines from the Task Element who, according to Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) personnel, were captured by the Viet Cong (VC). Also, days after their capture, Sgt. Robert Slater (also an Interrogator-Translator from 1st ITT who was serving with me in the Element) related to me that attempts to recover these two Marines failed when the single oarsman who was paddling the boat containing the two Marines to the waiting ARVNs was knocked into the water by one of the Marines; the Marine attempted to row the boat; the boat turned 180 degrees returning to the VC; and, the VC recaptured the two of them.


--Recently, I was reminded by Mr. Robert J. Destatte that the two missing Marines mentioned above were PFCs Schreckengost & Greer and they were captured on 8 June 1964.


--Sometime after returning to 1st ITT in Hawaii on 30 July 1964, I met the new Comdr., Chinese Sub-Team, Ist ITT--Capt. Donald Cook, USMC. Months later, he left for 30 days of On-The-Job-Training (OJT) in Vietnam as an artillery officer (His primary MOS was artillery).


--Sometime after 31 December 1964, we in the 1st ITT were informed that our Capt. Cook was missing-in-action/captured on 31 December 1964.


CONCLUSION: PFCs Schreckengost & Greer were captured over six months before Capt. Cook and are, therefor, The First Marines Captured in Vietnam.


Semper Intelligence Drivers,


Anthony F. Milavic

Major USMC (Ret.)


----5th GROUP OF RESPONSES----


18 Oct


MILINET: 5th Resps (4) The first Marine Captured in Vietnam--A Questionable Book Title


==========================


Mr. Destatte -


Thank you for [your above response],


I think sometimes the internet lets us get too critical. The end result was that these two young Marines were captured and killed. POW - AWOL - MIA - BNR; none of that really makes much of a difference to the families. And equally, Col Cook's heroic efforts - a POW for 3 years - are a testimonial to his strength and courage under tremendous adversity.


I was very touched by Col Price's book, and if I over-reacted to your initial email, then I apologize. Like I said in my review of his book; there was an ugly war in Vietnam long before the American people heard about Khe Sanh, Fire Base Gloria, etc, and surely Vietnam 1963 - 1967 is worth additional stufy.


With Regards //

Andrew Lubin


---------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE------


This is a long ways away from ' out of bounds and probably would have faced NJP when they returned to their command ' .

 

Thank you Mr. Destatte for standing up for two young Marines . They are not here to defend themselves ... you've done an admirable job of doing it for them .

 

Semper Fidelis

 

Pvt. Smith


----------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE-------


Anthony, I wish Lubin was more interested in making certain that the historical record is indeed correct, honor these Marines, instead of a futile attempt of massaging the record into what he wants it to be rather than what it actually is. Hell we see service personnel still getting personal decorations awards from WWII because the system is not perfect and all the facts were not compiled.

 

Lubin implies that Schreckengost and Greer's military service does not count.

 

Perhaps it would be easier to re title the book; Getting It Wrong Is More Important Than Getting It Right.   

 

S/f  GI


-----------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE--------


Anthony, after reading this fascinating discussion of the tragic case of these two Marines, the first thought that came to mind is would it be appropriate to have some formal effort made to have the appropriate administrative entity, presumably the current Sec Nav, make a formal determination based on the information that is now available as to their correct status?  Is there still a provision of the law that could be utilized to facilitate it? 


PatG


----6th GROUP OF RESPONSES----


 19 October


MILINET: 6th Resps (3) The first Marine Captured in Vietnam--A Questionable Book Title


==========================


“Long before the names and battles of Khe Sanh, Hue City, and Firebase Gloria were seared into America's consciousness, there were Marines and soldiers fighting, dying - and being captured - in Vietnam.”

–Andrew Lubin

 

And long before that there were thousands of ARVN soldiers and RVN civilians who perished too. “By mid-1964, ARVN losses had exceeded 13,000, on track to pass 21,000 deaths the previous year. Civilian casualties hovered near 250,000.”

 

In the post-1975 so-called reeducation camps, beatings, disease, and especially hard labor and starvation led to many deaths. These camps resembled more closely to Col. Cook’s environment and not the aviator POW prisons in the North where “torture essentially disappeared after September 1969 when Ho Chi Minh passed away” according to a first-hand interview with a very famous ex POW. Of course the secret negotiations between Kissinger and North Vietnam had begun as well.

 

Regards,

 

Quang X. Pham

A SENSE OF DUTY


PS: Mr. Robert Destatte was very helpful to me in the writing of my father’s internment in the reed camps.


---------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE-------


PFC MARTIN JOSEPH REGAN


http://thewall-usa.com/info.asp?recid=42776

 

Anthony

 

Click on the link above and check cause of death . For years Martin Regans family has had to live with the term ' accidental homicide ' . It wasn't until last year when I was contacted by Martins younger brother that we could finally set the record straight . A brief explanation : We did roving patrols , sometimes we'd be at four different predetermined sites in one night . At one site we went to saddle up and move out and found one of our claymores was missing . We radioed in our position and told the CP we'd be staying in place till sunrise , warning them to keep the other Marine squads away from us . The message never got relayed and two hours later another squad moved into our site . Neither squad had any choice but to open fire , each believing they were facing the enemy . Keep in mind , it is a pitch black night and all you see is movement . While Martin Regans death was indeed an accident , there was no homicide involved . Over the years several of us have tried to have the official cause of death corrected ...so far to no avail . At this  point the only ones interested in the truth are those of us that were there . Hopefully some of MILINETS audience will have better luck with Greer and Schreckengost , they deserve far better treatment than they have gotten so far . Thankfully , you have readers like Mr. Destatte , people that are willing to set the record straight .

 

Pvt. Smith

 

------------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE---------


As indicated in my previous responses, during June of 1964, I served as the translator for Task Element 79.3.3.6 (SHUFLY), 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Danang, Vietnam. During that month, this Task Element consisted of three components: HQ, TE 79.3.3.6; Sub Unit-2, Marine Airbase Squadron (MABS)-16; and HMM-364. Both PFC Fred T. Schreckengost, and PFC Robert Lee Greer were members of Sub Unit-2, MABS-16. Yesterday, with the help of Col. Walt Ford, USMC (Ret.), Editor, Leatherneck Magazine, I attempted to contact Col. Robert Merchant, USMC (Ret.) who was the CO, TE 79.3.3.6 at that time. I thought that he might be able to contribute his memories on this subject. Unfortunately, I learned from Col. Clark Merchant, USMC (Ret.) that Col. Robert Merchant is deceased. Therefor, unless someone can provided further substantive information on the circumstances of capture for PFC Schreckengost and PFC Greer, I am closing this discussion. 


Semper Fidelis,


Anthony F. Milavic

Major USMC (Ret.)


----7th GROUP OF RESPONSES----   


25 October


MILINET: 7th Group of Resps (3) The First Marine Captured in Vietnam--A Questionable Book Title


=============================


Thank you Anthony. An exceptional job of research and persistence.


History has benefited.


S/Fi


Walt Ford

Colonel USMC (Ret)

Editor, Leatherneck Magazine


-----------------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE-------


Concur and a BZ Anthony, one of Milinets finest hours. 


PatG


-----------------------------ANOTHER RESPONSE---------


Anthony a superb piece of work.

  

 S/F

  

 John Asbery

 MGySgt USMC (Ret)


-

----END OF DISCUSSION----