Code-Name Bright Light: The Untold Story of U.S. POW Rescue Efforts During the Vietnam War

George J. Veith, Author
George J. Veith, Author Free Press $25 (432p) ISBN 978-0-684-83514-3
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
The U.S. successfully identified and accounted for the captured Americans who actually reached POW sites in North Vietnam, contends Veith, a retired army captain, in this informative report. Veith's research depends heavily on the reports of the Joint Personnel Recovery Center, the organization responsible for rescuing captive Americans by means ranging from negotiating to bounty-paying, to raiding supposed POW locations (although over 125 rescue operations of the latter sort freed not a single Yank). The Vietnamese were remarkably successful in moving and concealing prisoner locations, Veith shows, and information on POW sightings was often unreliable. Interservice rivalries and limited resources delayed missions that depended above all on quick response. Added to the mix was consistent ill fortune, with ""fog and friction"" repeatedly dooming operations that to succeed required almost everything to go exactly right. On the critical question of whether some prisoners remained in fact unreturned, Veith stresses the questionable nature of post facto testimony, especially that of Laotians and Vietnamese, whose countries endured further turmoil after the JPRC was disbanded in early 1973. Veith concludes by describing an ""informal survey"" of over 50 JPRC personnel: about half believe some men were left behind in Vietnam. Almost three-quarters believe Americans were still alive in Laos in 1973. The enigma remains unresolved, and the controversy around it may well be heightened by this systematic investigation. (Jan.)
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