The Vietnam Conflict is officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense as occuring from July 8, 1959 to May 15, 1975, the date of the SS Mayaguez incident in Kampuchea, Cambodia.

POWs in China: The first two civilian POWs of the post-Korea cold war era were John T. Downey and Richard Fecteau, captured by the Chinese 11-29-1952. Downey was released with the majority of the POWs during Operation Homecoming, 3-12-73 after more than 20 years in prison. Fecteau was released after 19 years in solitary on 12-13-71. They were flying an infiltrator recovery mission (C-47) when shot down. They are now retired from the CIA and have been highly decorated. 

Richard Fecteau
John T. Downey

Col. Phil Smith, USAF, (then a Captain) flying a F104C, joined the China crowd 9-20-65 to 3-15-73. Cdr. Bob Flynn, USN (then a Lt.) flying an A6A, wasn’t going to be left out of the fun in China. He was a POW in China from 8-21-67 to 3-15-73. Three other A6A pilots on that same mission became the first Vietnam era U.S. military to die in China. They were: Lcdr. Jim Buckley, Lt. (j.g.) Dain Scott and Lt. (j.g.) J.F Trembley. One foreign national, Mr. George Watt, was released from China during operation homecoming. The circumstances of his capture are unknown. A total of five captives were released from China at the end of the Cold War.

Philip Smith
Robert Flynn
Jim Buckley
Dain Scott
J.F. Trembley

The first military POW of the Vietnam Conflict was then Major Larry Bailey, USA. He was shot down while a passenger in a C47 flying in Laos March 23, 1961. He was released 8-15-62. So, he was the first U.S. military POW for Laos and Southeast Asia. Bailey was lucky. The other 7 U.S. servicemen aboard his C47 all perished. Larry was the only one wearing a parachute. He jumped clear. Those seven; one Army Warrant Officer, three USAF Lts, three USAF enlisted are listed as the first to die in the Vietnam War. The first POW for South Vietnam was Army Sgt. (E4) George Fryett. He was captured 12-24-1961. He was released 6-24-62.

Lawrence R. Bailey, Jr.
George F. Fryett, Jr.

The first pilot captured in North Vietnam, Aug 5, 1964 during the first raids of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was Lt. (j.g.) Everett Alvarez. Ev was released Feb 12, 1973 after eight and a half years in captivity. He retired as a Navy commander and served in the Reagan  administration as Deputy Director of the Peace Corps and Deputy Administrator of the Veterans Administration. The first to be killed in NVN was Navy Lt. (j.g.) Richard Sather, flying an A1H Skyraider, shot down 8-5-64. Other early 1965 captured pilots in NVN (in order of shoot down) were: Lcdr. Bob Shumaker, 2-11-65; Capt. Hayden Lockhart, 3-2-65; Capt. Scotty Morgan, 4-3-65; Lcdr. RayVohden, 4-3-65; Capt. Smitty; Harris, 4-4-65; Lt. Phil Butler, 4-20-65; Capt. Bob Peel, 5-31-65; Lt. J.B. McKamey, 6-2-65; Maj. Larry Guarino; Capt. Paul Kari, 6-20-65; and Cdr. Jeremiah Denton, 7-18-65 along with his Radar Intercept Officer, Lt. (j.g.) William Tschudy. 

The first POW to escape was Army Captain Isaac Camacho, (Ret) (then an E7). He was held from 11-24-63 to 7- 13-65. Camacho was the first American POW to get the word out to military intelligence about early Cuban involvement in the war. Isaac was brutally interrogated by the Cubans. Isaac knew the Cubans planned to kill him. He was lucky to escape before they could accomplish their plan. Army Col. Nick Rowe, (then a 1st Lt.) was captured the month before (October 29, 1963) but didn’t make good his escape until five years later on 12/31/1968. Nick is decea sed. He was killed on 4-21-89 in a Communist insurgency ambush in the Philippines. A total of 32 military POWs escaped during the war: 19 Army, 1 USAF, 10 Marines, and 2 Navy. 30 men escaped from SVN. Two Navy pilots (Lieutenant Charles Klusmann and Lt. (j.g.) Dieter Dengler) were the only military men to escape from Laos. There were no successful escapes from Cambodia, North Vietnam or China despite many unsuccessful attempts.

Isaac Camacho
James N. "Nick" Rowe
Dieter Dengler
Charles Klusmann

The longest held POW in South Vietnam was Army Col. Floyd Thompson (then a Capt.). Floyd was a POW from 3-26-64 to 3-16-73, 10 days short of nine years as a POW. Capt. Thompson is the longest held POW in American history. Lt (j.g.) Everett Alvarez was the longest held in NVN. The first Cambodia POWs were: Army E-4 Ronald J. Lehman and Army E-3 Jerry A. Tester. They were captured while crewing a Navy riverine boat. They were held from May 20, 1968 to June 10, 1968 and released to the Australian consulate in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Floyd James "Jim" Thompson
Everett Alvarez

The last military shoot down/capture was Navy Lcdr. Alfred Agnew, shot down while flying a reconnaissance flight in a Navy RA5C Vigilante over NVN on December 28, 1972. His back seater, Lt. Michael Haifley was killed.

From the time of Lcdr. Agnew’s capture, until 5-15-75, forty more American servicemen died (7 in SVN, 2 NVN, 23 in Cambodia, and 8 in Laos), but none were known captured alive. Two of the last to be killed in NVN were Navy pilots Lt. Jim Duensing and Lt. (j.g.) Roy Haviland, 1-30-73. Two of the last four military men to die in SVN were Air Force Captain George William Morris, Jr. and 1Lt Mark Allen Peterson, 1-27-73. Marines 1st Lt. Michael John Shea and Capt William Nystul were killed in their CH46D on 4-29-75. That incident was during the Saigon evacuation, April 29/30, 1975. The last to die in Laos were eight USAF crew members of an EC47Q aircraft February 5, 1973. During the Mayaguez rescue attempt in Cambodia, on 5-15-75, the last day of the Vietnam Conflict, 18 U.S. servicemen were killed. One Air Force officer, one USAF enlisted, two Navy enlisted, and 14 enlisted Marines. There were no known POWs.

Alfred H. Agnew

A total of 591 POWs (566 military , 25 civilians) were released February 12th-April 1st 1973 in Operation Homecoming. Including 32 military men who escaped, a total of 662 military POWs got out of the South East Asia prisons alive. 141 civilians and foreign nationals were also released. Of the 662 who survived, 231 have died since repatriation in 1973. 431 military NAM-POWs are alive as of today, 11/27/2019. Almost 500 pilots/aircrew were captured. 73 military POWs died in captivity. 58,213 U.S. Military died in the Vietnam Conflict. Approximately 1,587 (as of 11/22/2019) military casualties are still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.

The last military man to be released was Maj. Bob White, USA (then a Capt.). He was captured in SVN 11-15-69, released 4-1-73. He was released two days late in violation of the peace agreements. Captain White was the only American POW still held in South Vietnam as of February 11, 1973, the day before the POW exchange was to begin. All POWs, both military and civilians, with the exception of Captain White, had been moved either to Hanoi or to Cambodia. Also, by then, nine of the 15 military POWs captured in Laos had been moved to Hanoi for incarceration and eventual release during Operation Homecoming. Six military POWs captured in Laos had been released earlier.


7,605 are still MIA from the Korean Conflict (1950-53). The capture of the USS Pueblo and her crew on January 23, 1968 by the North Koreans is a full story in itself. The Pueblo incident is not considered part of the Vietnam Conflict. Also, August 17, 1969, a helicopter was shot down in the Korean DMZ and three crewmen were captured and held for 180 days.

Total MIAs: WWII, 72,638; Korea, 7,605; Cold war, 126; Vietnam War, 1,587; Gulf wars, 5; and Libya, 1.


All statistical data comes from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency,

There were five early Vietnam captives, before it was known as the Vietnam Conflict: “On 14 June 1954, U.S. Army Pvts. Doyle Morgan and Leonard Sroveck and Air Force Airmen Ciro Salas, Giacomo Appice, and Jerry Schuller became the first American military men captured in Vietnam. They were released 30 August 1954.” The
men were part of a U.S. maintenance crew suporting French supply units. DOD MIA/POW statistics started in 1961. These men are not recorded in the PMSEA reference document. Source: Stolen Valor by B.G. Burkett, pages 25-26.

Fecteau, Downey and Watt were the only China survivors out of “389 missing Americans whose fate remained uncertain 65 years after the Korean armistice.” The Chinese never cooperated in resolving the other 386 cases. Source: Stolen Valor, page 22.
Note: The brutality of the Vietnamese toward prisoners has been well documented. According to Bernard Fall, who accompanied French combat troops in both Vietnam and Laos, of an estimated 37,000 French and French Union soldiers reported missing in Indochina, most of whom were assumed to be PWs, only 11,000 were known to have
survived. Stolen Valor, pg. 22. 

Many of the official number of 591 American POWs who were released in Operation Homecoming (566 military, 25 civilians), Feb-April 1973, were captured in one country but detained or released in another. “92 VS/VN,” for example, means 92 were captured in SVN and held and released in NVN. Here are the rest: 2 VS/VS, 22 VS/CB (Cambodia), 11 LA/VN, 3 CH/CH (China), 457 VN/VN and 5 CB/CB. 19 POWs held in CB were returned to SVN for the Operation Homecoming release on the morning of February 12th, the start of prisoner exchanges. They were: 1 Air Force pilot, 1 Marine and 17 Army. Here is the number of POWs who were released early, usually for propaganda purposes: 12 VN, 113 VS, 16 LA, 25 CB, and 2 CH. Total: 168 out of 801 were released early (64 military, 104 civilians/foreign nationals). 32 military & 8 civilians/foreign nationals escaped in the same country in which captured (China and NVN: None; SVN: 6 civilians, 30 military; Laos: 2 military, 1 fornat; Cambodia: one fornat). Only one woman POW survived (Monika Schwinn, a German nurse, captured in SVN, released in NVN). There were no known U.S. military women POWs.