Back to Vietnam
By Sydney H. Schanberg
Published in New York Newsday on August 1, 1993
(This series includes additional reporting by Kim Schaye)
When Maj. John Francis O’Grady ejected from his crippled plane over North Vietnam on the afternoon of April 10, 1967, and parachuted into the hilly jungle close to the Ho Chi Minh trail, his injuries upon landing amid the sawgrass and gum trees were not, according to eyewitnesses, life-threatening. These witnesses say his leg was broken at the thigh and he had a cut behind his ear that had bled a lot but was not deep.
O’Grady was sitting up on the ground and apparently hardy when tribal hill people came upon him a few minutes after he landed. The 37-year-old Annapolis graduate, who grew up in Brooklyn and on Long Island, spoke none of the local languages and the villagers spoke no English, but O’Grady started talking in a positive manner, presumably hoping they were friendly Montagnards from Laos. They were indeed Montagnards, as the region’s hill people are called, but they were members of the village militia on the North Vietnamese side of the border. At least one witness reported that as O’Grady descended he had tried to guide his chute over the hills into Laos, five miles to the west, where many tribesmen had worked with U.S. special forces, but that the wind currents had defeated him.
In March and April, I met some of these witnesses on a journey with members of O’Grady’s family into the remote interior of Vietnam to try to find out what happened those 26 years ago. The trip, which started in Hanoi, took us 500 miles in searing heat on rutted jungle paths right up to the Laos border and into isolated hamlets that no American had entered before.
When Patricia O’Grady Parsels, O’Grady’s daughter and oldest of his seven children, received permission from the Vietnamese government to visit the area and interview witnesses, she asked if I wanted to be part of the group. She had been reading the many columns I have written over the past year about the POW/MIA situation. I saw her invitation as an opportunity to take the case of one missing man and track it firsthand, starting at the very spot of his disappearance. As a journalist who covered the war in Indochina, I have been drawn to the story of significant numbers of men missing in that war — men who had been reported as captured — who to this day have never shown up and are not accounted for.
One reason the MIA story remains alive today, but hardly the only reason, is the way the families have been treated by Washington. From the sworn testimony of senior U.S. officials before congressional committees and in closed sessions, we know that across five presidencies (six, if the relatively new Clinton administration is included), the White House, Pentagon and intelligence community, in dealing with the next of kin, have bungled, obfuscated and told outright lies about what they know of the missing men. Many families have been psychologically shredded by the process. The O’Gradys have not been spared. Beyond establishing (and this only recently) that John O’Grady was taken prisoner, the American MIA operation – whose official name, JTF-FA, stands for Joint Task Force-Full Accounting – hasn’t come close to providing a full accounting in this case.
My experience on the trip to Vietnam demonstrated vividly that the much ballyhooed U.S.-Vietnamese MIA search operations are a lot less thorough than advertised. In the O’Grady case for instance, although both governments are now officially listing him as dead, they have not provided the supporting evidence. No remains have been recovered; key civilian witnesses have not been tracked down for interviews; Vietnamese officers who were involved with the prisoner have not been produced; the witnesses who did get interviewed were clearly screened by Vietnamese officials; and the American teams must rely on Vietnamese government interpreters.
Critics of the American MIA operation say there is no surprise in this. They argue that Washington’s record on this issue has long demonstrated a desire to close the books on the missing men so that the last obstacle to normalizing relations with Hanoi can be removed. I found that even when remains are recovered, neither the Vietnamese nor the American teams assigned to resolve these cases seem interested in anything but confirming the deceased’s identity. They almost never seek to determine and make public how or when he died, and especially not in sensitive cases that might embarrass either government. But the how and the when are two of the fundamental questions that, by not being answered for the families of the missing, have fueled the POW/MIA mystery and anguish for more than 20 years.
The documents Patricia has dragged out of the Pentagon, which include the reports of the American MIA search teams, give contradictory versions of O’Grady’s fate. For example, “witnesses” over the years have given three different locations for his grave. All these sites were examined; nothing was found. But the worst failure of all in these field reports is that they leave out the most crucial part of the story: what, in the end, became of John Francis O’Grady? It is this large blank that we hoped our trip would fill.
When We Lost Him, We Lost Our Family
They met at a tea dance, arranged by their respective Catholic private
schools on Long Island — Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset and La
Salle Military Academy in Oakdale. “Usually the nuns and brothers lined
you up and matched you up,” Diana recalled, “but I was on the dance
committee, so I had a little influence and being on the short side, I wanted somebody tall, and also with a nice name, so I said, ‘I’ll take
this one.'” She laughed lightly at the memory of her connivance.
“This one” was John Francis O’Grady, a fearless boy who got his pilot’s license at 14 before he was eligible to drive a car. On the bus back to Our Lady of Mercy, Diana Pascale told her best friend, Kathleen, that she was going to marry him. He was 16, she 15. He was an inch or two over six feet, she stood a foot shorter. He was her first date. They married six years later, in 1952, when he was in his final year at Annapolis.
And then, 15 years, seven children and 12 household moves after that, she lost him. His plane was hit on his 31st bombing mission over North Vietnam. He parachuted into the jungle and became a disappeared person, missing in action, fate unknown.
Three years passed with no news and she found she couldn’t stand it. She needed a resolution. Washington was still carrying her husband as just missing – neither alive as a prisoner nor dead. So she made up her mind to go to Paris, site of the fitful Vietnam peace talks, to confront the North Vietnamese. At about this time, late 1969, a story about her situation ran in Look magazine. It evoked thousands of supportive letters — and tangible commitments from Howard Hughes and Ross Perot to take care of the Paris trip. Diana and all seven children, ages 5 to 17, arrived in the French capital in February of 1970. The North Vietnamese in Paris had rebuffed other MIA wives, but they agreed, reluctantly, to see Diana O’Grady – probably because of the response generated by the magazine article. She and the children went to Hanoi’s embassy. There she was told that “your husband is not in our camps.” Does that mean, she pressed on, that he is dead?
Their reply was cold: “That’s something for your government to tell you.”
Diana O’Grady says she left that meeting believing that the Vietnamese had told her, without saying the words, that her husband was dead. But some of her children were not so sure. “The Vietnamese didn’t say our father was dead,” says daughter Diana Bright, now 35 (known then as “Little Diana”). “But my mother wanted it over. She didn’t want it left hanging. I think she had a sense of guilt about dating. She had a need to hear that he was dead — to make it okay for her to have a personal life.”
Diana O’Grady herself, recalling that time, says, “All the indications were that he was dead. I decided I had to get on with life.”
Her son Terrance, now 36, remembers his mother saying to the seven
children after Paris: “If your father comes back, it’s gravy, it’s a
special gift. But we can’t stay in limbo, we’ve got to move on.”
Yet moving on was a psychological minefield for this family, as it was for hundreds of other MIA families who had a loved one missing – and just possibly alive. And the void that John O’Grady had left behind was particularly large. For he had been more than just the centerpiece of this family; he was the linchpin without which the wheels started to come off.
“When we lost him, we lost our family,” says daughter Diana. “We all fell apart. It was a very dysfunctional environment.”
Of all John O’Grady’s flock, it was perhaps his wife who was, in the beginning, the least equipped to cope.
She says there were times at first when “I didn’t want to live. I had been barefoot and pregnant pretty much through our entire marriage.
My world was very small. I had relied on my husband for everything. He
made the decisions. Alone with seven kids, I didn’t know how I was going
to manage. I would actually get in the car and drive around looking for
him. I was so distraught I wasn’t thinking of the kids. Mostly I was
In the middle of all this, only months after John O’Grady went missing, she became severely ill. After hemorrhaging in the kitchen and being sped to a hospital near her home in Las Vegas, she learned she had cancer of the uterus and ovaries. It was removed by surgery, but complications followed and she was back in the hospital. Finally, she recovered, but not before the last rites had been said over her.
As her strength returned, Diana O’Grady got back her will to live. The family stresses, however, did not abate. The children chafed without their father. They fought among themselves and with their mother. Patricia, now 40, says that with their father gone, the family soon “disintegrated.”
“My mother was not a strong woman,” she says. Her mother counters, ”They had to blame someone for the loss.”
Daughter Diana says: “Yes, there was abuse, there was neglect, things were out of control at home. But I don’t blame anyone. I blame circumstances. . . Your old Uncle Sam wasn’t there to help — no counseling, no guidance, no information. They knew we needed more information.” As she remembered that dark time, her anger rose and she blurted out: “If my son were asked to serve, I wouldn’t give him to them. Over my dead body.”
The man whose absence had stirred such turmoil in a once-ordered military family had been his children’s guiding beacon. As a fighter pilot he was automatically a heroic figure. His military and educational history — Annapolis class of 1952, followed by a shift into the Air Force and then an engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which led to secret work on aeronautical and missile technology – only added to the size of his presence in this household. In sum, he loomed quite large. He set the rules for the children. He applied the discipline. They were expected to get good grades at school. They were also expected to sit straight and silent at church; if they fidgeted or whispered, they got their behinds whacked when they got home.
But hand in hand with the strict father was an athletic and lighthearted Jack O’Grady too, the young man who had loved running almost as much as flying and who had lettered in track and cross country at the Naval Academy. Patricia says that when he would bring the children back east to spend summers with his parents at their modest getaway house in East Moriches on Long Island’s South Shore, “he was a different person, someone who was coming home. He became carefree, almost boyish.” Terrance recalls him as daring and a bit reckless: “He had no fear, whether he was in a car or a boat or a plane.”
They also remember, with the vividness that attaches to those who
though gone cannot be buried, the nurturing and mentoring bestowed by
Jack O’Grady. He gave out a lot of hugs. He encouraged them to reach for
higher goals. “He pushed me to read books more challenging than Nancy Drew,” says
Patricia. “I read “Lost Horizons” because of his urging. I began reading
books about lessons in life. Even after he was gone, I drew strength
from him. ”
During Diana O’Grady’s illness and convalescence, Patricia, the eldest at 14, took over as best she could her mother’s duties in the
household. This did not, however, create a bond between them. Bitterness
was — and still is — in the air. In the past few years, the estrangement has become complete. Patricia and her mother almost never
speak. When they do, it is only to wage war. Their primal battle is fierce; it is over which of them deserves to
be John O’Grady’s official next-of-kin – a government designation, now held by the mother, that determines which family member gets access to government documents about him, receives survivor’s benefits, has the right to represent his legal interests, becomes the custodian of his personal effects.
As with so many MIA families, some members yearn for closure, while others fight to keep the record open, holding on to hope and clawing for information. Diana O’Grady actively sought closure. In the early years, she petitioned the government in several forums, without success, to declare her husband dead. After her Paris trip, for example, she wrote to then Vice President Spiro Agnew asking him to “list my husband as killed in action so I can plan for the future for my … children and so that I, after three and a half years of nothing but worry and illness, would [have] peace of mind and be able to make my future plans.”
Earlier this year, with the information gathered over many years,
Patricia wrote a 50-page chronicle of her search for her missing father.
In it she said: “By 1970, my mother needed my father to be dead and wanted the U.S. government and the Vietnamese government to declare my father dead. . . My father’s parents were appalled. I was simply devastated.” “Still,” she went on, “my mother’s need to sever ties with my father, and with her old life, prevailed … Her efforts were confused and confusing to a young woman who loved her father, and who felt that, as an American soldier, he should never be betrayed or forgotten by anyone.”
About the family’s trip to Paris, she wrote: “My mother emerged from the [Vietnamese] embassy and immediately claimed my father ‘dead’ to all the news media. Death by proclamation. I was helpless to help him.”
That journey to Paris, more than two decades ago, is the last time the O’Grady family ever banded together as a unit.
Patricia soon went off to college, the University of San Francisco, and began writing letters to her father, saying: “Dad, I miss you.” “I’m in college now.” “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.” “I’ll see you soon.” and “Don’t give up.” The letters, all unanswered, were addressed to him: POW, Care of Hanoi, North Vietnam.
Diana O’Grady, after Paris, began trying to shape a new life for herself. For one thing, she felt freer about dating. “I wanted to lay things to rest,” she says. Not all her children were delighted with this. “They resented it when I wasn’t in the house, even if I was only having coffee at the neighbors,” she says ruefully. “But I felt that after 9 p.m., it was my time. After being with kids all day, you need adult talk, adult company. I also needed it to learn how to survive in the world.”
Within a year, Diana O’Grady, looking for a fresh start, moved to San Diego. There she met a man she was drawn to: Peter Kummer, a business executive, and they have lived together ever since. She put the three youngest children — Diana, Tara and Danny — in Nazareth House, a Catholic boarding school, many of whose young residents were orphans placed there as wards of the state. The two oldest boys, John and Terrance, lived with their mother at home. The seventh sibling, Kathleen, 17, stayed in Las Vegas to finish her senior year in high school.
Meanwhile, at college, Patricia had met someone too, fellow student Sebastian Aloot, whom she would marry right after graduation — and divorce 10 years later, after having two children, Eamonn and Amanda. The course of Patricia’s life, even as a freshman, was already beginning to take shape. Her considerable energies and intelligence were more and more concentrated on but two goals: the furtherance of her education and her dogged search for information about her father.
Her father’s parents had already begun the search. Before they died in the mid-1980s, John and Frances O’Grady had carried on a determined campaign to find out what had happened to their only child. They petitioned congressmen, filed Freedom of Information requests for documents, went to court to pressure the government, donated money to POW/MIA organizations, gave speeches and wrote countless letters to anyone they thought might help. All the while the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency continued to keep most of their information on missing men classified — and thus off limits even to their families. Also, Washington refused to change O’Grady’s status from MIA to POW — a designation that would require stronger government action to obtain his return — even though a broadcast out of Hanoi on the day after his plane was hit made his capture a distinct possibility, if not probability. The April 11 broadcast, monitored by the United States, said that three American planes had been shot down in Quang Binh province on April 9 and 10, 1967, and that pilots were captured. The Pentagon’s own report on this broadcast noted: “Although no names were given, Major O’Grady was lost in Quang Binh province and his is the only American aircraft lost in that province on 10 April 1967. ” O’Grady’s parents felt that by not changing their son’s status to POW, the government was writing him off. They refused to abandon their drive to turn this around.
It was not long before their oldest grandchild Patricia became deeply immersed in their struggle, and as their years lengthened, they began passing the torch to her.
The process probably began at Kennedy Airport in New York in February, 1970. Diana and the children, on a stop-over, were waiting for their plane to Paris. Frances O’Grady – “merna” to her grandchildren – came out to see them off. Patricia, in her chronicle, recalled the day: “When my merna saw the sadness and hurt in my eyes, she hugged me tight and tucked a rosary in my pocket. ‘Everything will be okay,’ she whispered, ‘I’ll be praying for you.'”
That rosary was to become an amulet that Patricia, as she took up her father’s cause, began carrying everywhere.
In the college years that followed, Patricia stuck fast to her parallel missions. She would spend the daytime hours working and studying for her degrees, and then at night — “by the low lamplight, bent and huddled over my kitchen table” — she would turn to her personal quest, poring over MIA documents, detail maps, Vietnam books, and any scrap that might shed the tiniest light on her father’s fate.
Patricia’s first college degree came in 1974, a Bachelor of Science with honors in psychology from the University of San Francisco. The next year, it was a Master’s Degree in clinical psychology from California State at San Jose and finally a Doctorate in psychology/special education (traumatized children) from the University of Maryland. Always, her grandmother was the constant in her life. She was, for instance, the only member of the family who came to Patricia’s college commencement in 1974. “I was not expecting anyone to be at my graduation ceremonies,” she would write later. “[But] as I walked into the San Francisco Civic Center auditorium, I saw a short, gray woman waving frantically. My grandmother! My ‘merna’ had flown in from New York to surprise me. My 75-year-old grandmother had flown all alone across the country so that I would not be alone.”
The search for Jack O’Grady did not go nearly as well as Patricia’s academic climb. Her written chronicle described it: “The years dragged on with no relief and little success. My ‘merna’ and ‘deda’ [grandfather] just got older. Time wears down even granite. They started to look grayer. The defeat showed in their faces. Then, they gave up. In retreat, my grandfather said to me once, ‘They tell me he was lost to war, but I saw him here just yesterday — a brown-haired, happy lad on his way to play. Just yesterday … ‘”
Patricia remembers that when her grandfather died in 1984 at age 81 of lung cancer, her grandmother said to her: “Patty, it will not be very long
before I am gone, too. You must promise me that you will not forget your father even after we are both gone.” Patricia gave her word. “It was a sacred covenant,” she says now. “On that day, I began to carry the cross alone.” Her “merna” died three years later.
As Patricia’s preoccupation with her father started taking up larger and larger chunks of her life, her marriage to Sebastian Aloot frayed and snapped. They separated in 1985 and were officially divorced in 1988.
Patricia, in the meantime, had become something of a figure in the POW/MIA movement. She got consumingly involved in the network of MIA families who had grown distrustful of the government. Washington, not only in the eyes of these families but also in the evidence found in the historical record, had tried to contain the MIA issue by foot-dragging, stonewalling, refusing to divulge information they held about missing men. Sometimes, the Pentagon people simply told outright lies to the families of the missing, doling out particles of the information in their files and flatly denying they knew anything more — thereby keeping out of the hands of families any data they might use to carry out an independent search.
When Patricia and her grandparents asked for the crash site location, the Pentagon made them wait 10 years. They had to wait 10 more
years to get the names of the other pilots on O’Grady’s mission. Some
information has been withheld from the family entirely, such as the
debriefings of the search and rescue pilots who tried to locate O’Grady
when he went down. And when Patricia asked to see her father’s
fingerprint file, the Air Force told her it had no record of his prints. The FBI said the same. But then his laminated military I.D. card turned
up in Vietnamese hands a couple of years ago in the war memorabilia
museum of the unit that shot O’Grady down. Reproduced on this
standard-issue card were two big fingerprints, taken by the Air Force.
Sometimes, Pentagon types would refer to dissatisfied family members, particularly the women, as “emotionally distraught” or sometimes as “hysterical.” The women absorbed the put-downs and pushed on. “Some called it an obsession,” Patricia says. “We called it an
In the face of the government’s stoniness, this dogged band of family members and other activists set about creating an elaborate information bank, building case histories on as many of the MIAs as possible.
About her own father’s case, she learned that, in refusing to list her father as a POW, the Pentagon was ignoring not only the Hanoi Radio broadcast of April 11, 1967, but some of its own reports as well.
A 1968 Air Force document, after noting the Hanoi broadcast, said quite plainly: “An examination of the available information compels the conclusion that a reasonable possibility exists for the continued survival of Major O’Grady. This conclusion is supported by the recorded evidence which establishes that a fully deployed parachute was observed descending and, although Major O’Grady’s actual landing was not observed, his parachute was sighted on the ground. The evidence further reveals that he was in all probability taken captive since evasion for any length of time would have been highly unlikely. The absence of a report officially establishing his status as a prisoner is no indication that such is not the case, since the North Vietnamese and their agencies reject any obligation under the Geneva Convention to report the names of personnel in their custody.”
In fact, in the early 1990s, several eyewitnesses, some of whom had been in the local militia group that captured him, came forward and told American and Vietnamese field investigators that O’Grady had been taken alive and had been turned over to the regular army with a superficial head injury and broken leg but otherwise in strong condition.
Patricia also received some additional, corroborative information from an American intelligence source who insisted on anonymity. This man told her, she says, that the CIA’s operational files contained a report from one of its local contacts, presumably a Vietnamese or a member of one of the hill tribes, saying that he had seen O’Grady alive shortly after capture. The American source told Patricia that this report had been in the CIA’s hands within days, or at most weeks, of O’Grady being shot down. The CIA’s operational files on MIAs have never been declassified. The families are denied access.
Sadly, the manner in which the government handled the O’Grady case - - the ignoring of its own official reports, the withholding of information from the family by keeping MIA documents classified, the failure to visit O’Grady’s capture site until the early 1990s, nearly 25 years after the fact — was anything but unusual. To the contrary, it was typical of how most of the families were being treated.
As Patricia’s researching and activism intensified in the late 1980s, she met John Parsels, another determined searcher for MIA information. They joined forces and before too long were romantically involved. They were married on April 10, 1990 — the anniversary of John O’Grady’s capture.
Parsels is not only a veteran of the Vietnam War; he was also a prisoner of war for three years. An Army captain, he was flying helicopters out of Phu Bai airfield near Hue City when his Huey crashed in the Ashau Valley in 1970.
His leg broken, he was captured within a few hours. Moved about through Laos and eventually into North Vietnam, he was interned in several prison camps before ending up in Hoa Lo, better known to Americans as the Hanoi Hilton. After three years as a captive, Parsels was released in March, 1973, in one of the last groups of POWs returned after the peace accords.
Now retired from the military, he is convinced, from his prisoner experience and his subsequent research, of two things: That there were substantial numbers of prisoners who were not returned by Hanoi and that the American government has still not disclosed anything near the whole of what it knows about these missing men.
In his own case, it was only months after his crash that the government received a credible intelligence report that said Parsels had been sighted and identified as a prisoner. Yet the Pentagon didn’t tell this to his parents for two years, and then only because Hanoi had publicly acknowledged him as a POW. This was six months before his release.
Some Americans may remember the faces of Patricia and her husband, even though they may not have known their names at the time. Last summer, Patricia and John showed up on television and in newspaper photos because they were prominent in the group that interrupted the campaigning President George Bush as he addressed a gathering of MIA families in Washington. Rising out of their chairs and holding up photos of missing men, they shouted: “No more lies. Tell the truth. Release our files.” Bush responded by yelling at them to “shut up and sit down.”
Later in the year, Patricia drew the ire of the government again by speaking out on the nationally broadcast “Donahue” show.
Now reinforced with John Parsels’ support, she continued her dual life — daytime as a tenured associate professor of special education and psychology at the University of Maryland and nighttime at the kitchen table working on the MIA issue.
Last fall, they moved the kitchen table and the rest of the household to Bradenton, Fla., where Parsels grew up and where his family lives. Patricia joined the faculty of the University of South Florida in Sarasota. The move did not slow down their activism. For some time, she and Parsels had been seeking permission from Hanoi to visit the site of John O’Grady’s capture and interview witnesses. It would be a first for an MIA family — and a chance to gather first-hand information on a person-to-person basis without government middlemen. Patricia reasoned that with a strapped Hanoi pressing for an end to the American-led economic embargo, this was the time to seek concessions. She was right. Around Christmastime, she received word that approval had been granted. As she went through the elaborate preparations for the difficult journey into the remote Annamite Mountains, she made sure that along with the canned goods and the medicines and sturdy clothes, she carefully packed the rosary that “merna” had given her.
Trying to Find Missing Pieces in MIA Mystery
After the Peace Accords were signed in January, 1973, the North Vietnamese released 591 men in “Operation Homecoming,” claiming these were all the prisoners they had. President Richard Nixon endorsed this claim, telling the nation on March 29, 1973, the day the last of the 591 prisoners were released in Hanoi: “All of our American POWs are on their way home.”
But on the day of Nixon’s speech, State Department and Pentagon reports suggested the opposite. In one example, hundreds of men that U.S. intelligence services believed were being held in Laos were never acknowledged by Hanoi and were not among those released. In a story that ran with the Nixon speech, the New York Times reported: “Some 1,328 Americans are listed by the Pentagon as missing in action and unaccounted for. It also lists as killed in action 1,100 men whose bodies have not been recovered.”
Those figures have not changed much since 1973. Fewer than 200 cases
have been resolved, so that there are still 1,156 missing-in-action
cases and the killed in action/body not recovered figure is virtually unchanged at 1,097. The difference is that today, the Pentagon no longer points out the glaring, missing pieces of this mystery but instead tries to emphasize — to the media, Congress and the public — the need to put the Vietnam War behind us.
Recently declassified documents and other evidence indicate that Hanoi held back hundreds of unacknowledged prisoners as bargaining pieces to exact the war reparations that were negotiated by Henry Kissinger at the Paris peace talks but never approved in Washington. As for the Americans, the evidence strongly suggests that U.S. officials believed they could at some later point negotiate the return of the unacknowledged prisoners through a “quiet” process, paying ransom without appearing to do so. But none of this proved possible because in the end both sides feared exposure.
Meanwhile, the United States imposed an economic embargo on Vietnam in 1975 when Hanoi won the war and seized control of South Vietnam — and got all the major western nations and international lending institutions to go along. This 18-year ban on trading or loaning money has helped cripple Hanoi’s economy.
In the past few years, pressure to end the ban and normalize relations with Vietnam has been stepped up by the American business
community, which has seen foreign competitors begin to tap the lucrative
market represented by Vietnam’s nearly 70 million people. The families
of the missing men, however, have fought against lifting the embargo,
seeing it as their last piece of leverage to get real answers out of both Hanoi and Washington.
Last December, just before George Bush left the presidency, he eased the embargo by allowing American companies to open offices and sign contracts in preparation for when the ban might be removed. Seven months later, on July 2, President Bill Clinton granted another easing. He withdrew U.S. opposition to loans to Vietnam by world lending institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund.
But American businesses will still not be able to start operating in Vietnam until the embargo, which comes up for renewal in September, is lifted.
Last month, despite a pledge to MIA families that no further normalization steps would be taken at this time, the administration announced that three State Department officials would be temporarily assigned to Hanoi to help the U.S. team there work on MIA cases. This would be the first U.S. diplomatic presence in Vietnam since the war, and it was seen by a number of other diplomats as a move toward normalization.
‘He Said He Was Hit … I Saw His Parachute Descending’
The site of the bombing attack carried out by Maj. John Francis O’Grady and his fellow pilots from the Takhli air base in Thailand was a frequent target for American planes. It was considered strategic because it was a key entry point of the Ho Chi Minh trail, where North Vietnamese forces and supplies began the long journey southward through Laos, on roads carved out of the jungle, to join the fight in South Vietnam. Rescue planes had swarmed over O’Grady’s area after he went down. Their search went on for several hours, until nightfall forced a return to base.
O’Grady was in a flight of four F-105 Thunderchiefs out of Takhli that day. One Air Force source said that their primary target that day had been Hanoi, but that cloud cover had forced them to switch to a secondary objective, which was to strike the North Vietnamese supply route at its source. O’Grady’s plane was flying in the three position; his plane was designated as Newark 03. His wingman was Captain John Bischoff, flying as Newark 04.
After the incident, Bischoff filed this report:”We proceeded south with intentions to bomb. I took about 20 seconds spacing behind Newark 03. He called, aborting his first bomb pass … He said he wasn’t lined up. I proceeded with my bomb pass and lost sight of Newark 03 at that time. I bombed and called off to the northwest. Newark 03 called in on his pass. I did not have the airplane in sight. His next transmission said they were shooting and he was off to the southwest. A few seconds later, he said he was hit and had overheat lights. Newark 01 asked him if his engine was running. Newark 03 said yes, but he had lost control. At that time I observed his bomb impact and asked his location in relation to his target. His next transmission said something to the effect that he was going to have to get out. . . A short time later, while proceeding south, I saw his parachute descending. I never saw the airplane or its impact. I called out the fact that he had a good chute and I saw him . . . After passing him, I made a 180-degree turn back to the south and saw his parachute in the trees.” Neither Bischoff nor the other F-l05 pilots nor the rescue airmen were able to spot the chute again.
Bischoff’s report went on: “Numerous attempts to call Newark 03 on the radio produced no results. None of us heard any sound of a beeper at any time.”
The wingman’s report ended on a barren note: “Newark 01, 02 and myself
stayed in the area with Sandy 05 and 06 [A1 rescue planes] until
darkness. [Then] Newark 01, 02 and 04 returned to Takhli.”
For more: The Search for John O’Grady, Part 2