TRAN VAN TRA AND THE "LAST POW" (1973)

 

South Vietnam

John G. Graf
(1523)

 

On November 15, 1969, Commander Graf, a U.S. Navy intelligence officer, was accompanying U.S. Army Captain Robert White on a flight south of Saigon. Their aircraft was hit by hostile small arms fire and crashed along the coast in Vinh Binh Province. Both crewmen parachuted to safety, were captured by local guerilla forces, and held in a provincial level prison. Both crewmen were initially reported as missing and then reclassified as POWs.

Commander Graf escaped from the prison circa February 1971 and was never seen again by Captain White. Captain White survived in the Vinh Binh prison. In 1972, a captured People's Army of Vietnam document from Military Region 3 in the southern Vietnam delta identified him as the only American POW in captivity in the delta who had not been evacuated to the Region 3 Headquarters controlled prison in the U-Minh mangrove swamp in Kien Giang Province.

Captain White's name did not appear on the Provisional Revolutionary Government's list of Americans to be repatriated during Operation Homecoming. Then, at the end of March 1973, People's Army of Vietnam General Tran Van Tra advised U.S. officers with the Joint Military Commission that Captain White had been omitted from the list and was to be repatriated. He was released to U.S. officials on April 1, 1973, the last American POW released during Operation Homecoming. Upon repatriation, he stated he was led to believe during the war that Commander Graf was still alive but had been told prior to his release that Commander Graf had died.

Wartime records recovered from the Vinh Binh area included the interrogation reports of Captain White and Commander Graf. After Operation Homecoming, Commander Graf was declared killed in action, body not recovered, based on a presumptive finding of death.

U.S. investigators in Vietnam recently interviewed former staff of the provincial prison who described Commander Graf's escape. His body was recovered later and it was evident he had drowned. His body was buried in a river bank which later eroded in flooding, washing away the area where his body had been buried.

Documents such as this may be found in the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library at the University of Texas.

 

Editorial Note by Dr. Ernest Bolt

The list of which this is one entry furnishes the names of Vietnam War men and women Missing in Action. Although he was reported later as having drowned after his escape from prison, his remains had not been recovered when this list was created.

This entry refers to Captain Robert White and General Tran VanTra and the exchange of Captain White on April 1, 1973. Refer again to Tran Van Tra's mention of "the last POW" in the related document in this module.

 

 

Return to The Peace Accords (1973) and the Release of POWs