|Background on Lists 944/450/389
Excerpts from RAND POW/MIA Issues Volume 1 by Paul Cole
During the first eight months of the Korean War. the Communist forces appeared to be indifferent to whether captured Americans were murdered, marched to death, or collected in POW camps and allowed to die unattended and unregistered. Information on those allegedly held in POW camps was hard to come by and when it was available the Communists seemed to do their level best to make a murky picture all the more muddled. On August 18, 1950, for example, the Communist side gave the Red Cross a list of 50 UN POWs. With no explanation, 31 of these names were left off the list the Communists submitted in December 1951. On September 14, 1950, the Communist side submitted a list of 60 US prisoners, yet with no explanation, 35 of the names on the list did not appear on their December 1951 accounting.1 On December 18. 1951. the Communist forces gave the UN side a list containing the names of 1,000 UN prisoners, about 7,000 South Korean prisoners, and 3,1982 American prisoners of war.3 The Communist forces had previously informed the Red Cross that they held 110 UN prisoners even though over 1,000 had been named in Chinese radio's "humanitarian" propaganda broadcasts. "Communist boasts in 1951 put their POW bag at 65,000, but at Panmunjon they admitted holding only 11,500" UNC personnel.4
Verifying a 1951 Communist list of 3,198 American POWs, which was published in the New York Times,5 was a priority for the U.S. government. The task was difficult. The New York Times reported:
No one on the Allied side knows exactly how many prisoners
When the list was released, the U.S. armed forces listed 11,042 Americans as MIA, the status that was assigned to most cases until more information became available on which to base a reclassification. All of these were considered to be potential POWs until proven otherwise.
President Truman cautioned the American people that the names on the New York Times list had to be verified before any legitimate conclusions could be drawn about individual servicemen. Truman said through Joseph Short, his press secretary:
This country has no way of verifying
whether the list is accurate or
As the Communist list was checked, a few names were found of POWs listed by the UN as KIA or MIA.7 By and large, however, the Communist POW list matched the UNC accounting of MIAs and those suspected of being "in the hands of enemy forces." After checking this list, the U.S. Army sent 3,232 telegrams to the next of kin of 2,724 servicemen listed by the Communists as POWs (multiple notifications could occur for a single POW). The Air Force notified relatives of the 76 USAF personnel listed as prisoner as did the Navy for eight POWs and the Marines for 58 prisoners. (A total of 284 Marines was listed as missing when this list was issued.) More than 8,000 men registered as MIA did not appear on the Communist POW ledger. Table 7.1 (not shown) illustrates the POW camp survival rate for U.S. Army POWs known to have been alive in a Communist POW camp at one time.
The Soviet Ambassador to the UN, Jacob Malik, further confused the picture by releasing a list of 37 alleged American POWs. The problem was that although 12 of the names on Malik's list matched the list provided by the North Koreans and Chinese, 25 of Malik's names did not appear on the North Korean-Chinese accounting.8 One theory was that the Communists had submitted a partial list as a hedge against the need to use the remainder of the prisoners in the future.9
UNCMAC's POW Resolution Efforts
After the war, the U.S. government and UNC continued to try to sort out the unrepatriated POW issue. The Communist forces steadfastly refused to help resolve the cases on this list despite repeated UNC requests for assistance. On September 9, 1953, UNC gave the Communist forces the list of unaccounted-for UNC personnel. Unaccounted-for UNC personnel came from ten countries as shown in Table 7.2 (not shown). The total UNC list, 3,404, contained the names of 944 Americans in September 1953 and was consistent with U.S. government data presented in May 1954.
One of the first notes from the UNC forces to the Communists on the issue of unrepatriated POWs described the 3,404 names (944 U.S.) on the list as "personnel known to have been captured by you and to have been in your custody."
This complete tabulation of names of individuals together with their nationalities and service numbers contains the names of men who we know you held. The list contains only the names of people who:
1) Spoke or were referred to in broadcasts from your radio stations.
None of these people have been reported by you as having escaped or died as is required by Paragraph 58a of the Armistice Agreement.10
The UNC's description of the names on the 944 list was not entirely accurate. Whether UNC officials were aware of this at the time is another issue that remains to be resolved. What is indisputable is the fact that many of the names on the original UNC list were men who had never been held alive in enemy hands. Many were KIA(BNR), as will be shown.
On September 21, 1953, the Communists stated that 518 of the persons on the UNC list had been repatriated and 380 had been previously reported as dead, escaped, or returned. No identification byname, nationality, or service number was made by the Communist side.11 At the 22nd MAC Meeting on October 3, 1953, UNCMAC accused the Communist side of withholding 3,404 POWs.12 Of the 3,404 UNC (including ROK) unaccounted-for personnel, 944 were U.S. personnel referred to as Americans the UNC "had reason to believe the Communists should have some knowledge of their whereabouts if alive, or the circumstances of their death and the location of their remains, if deceased."13 On December 31 this number was raised to 3,427 (965 Americans).
This is how the UNC Command Report in October 1953 summarized
UNC compiled lists of persons not accounted for by the
Additions to the original list were restricted to cases where UNC had "positive information indicating that the person to be listed might be alive." The Department of State noted
In the period September to November 1953 the
The words used to described the Korean War list were chosen so as not to exclude those held in the PRC from the effort to obtain an accounting for or the release of all U.S. personnel held by Communist forces. (U.S. airmen were being held at the time in the PRC as political prisoners, not POWs.)
The 944 list and those that have followed it have been referred to as the list of "unrepatriated POWs." In early 1954, Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens referred to the 944 as a list of "missing American servicemen listed as prisoners of war."16 As soon as the 944 list was prepared, the UNC various U.S. officials began to refer to it as if it were a roster of Americans who had once been alive in the hands of hostile forces. In fact, the list of 944 unaccounted-for American personnel was neither a list of unrepatriated POWs nor a list of Americans who were known to have been left in Communist custody. The 944 list included "those missing and presumed dead"17 as well as POW(BNR) and several KIA(BNR) cases. The 944 names included POW(BNR) and PCK(BNR) known to have been alive in Communist control and MIA for whom there was no evidence of capture or indication the individual was ever alive in Communist custody. In March 1954, Army G2 reported to the U.S. Senate that of the unaccounted-for U.S. personnel in Korea, "A. Officially captured: 120 (98 Army, 18 Marines, 4 USAF) B. Personnel considered by G-2 to have been in Communist custody: 892 (827 Army, 1 Navy, 6 Marines, 58 USAF)."18 As shown below in the section "389 List," many names on the 944 list never met UNCMAC criteria announced in October 1953.
Some U.S. officials were clearly aware that the 944 list was more than a roster of confirmed POWs who had not been repatriated. Others, such as General Mark Clark, former Far East Commander, did not. After the war, Clark continued to express the belief that nearly "1,000 Americans" were being held as "hostages" by the Communist forces.19 Clark gave no indication of the basis on which his claims were made. American Representative to the UN James J. Wadsworth opened a debate over the unification of Korea by charging the Communists of holding "hundreds of United Nations captured personnel in violation of the armistice agreement."20
On May 11, 1954, Ambassador U. Alexis Johnson briefed an International
Committee of the Red Cross (1CRC) delegation that was interested in
discussing how the ICRC might intervene most effectively on behalf of U.S.
personnel who remained in Communist custody. This included Americans who
might have been held either in North Korea as POWs or in the PRC as
political prisoners. Ambassador Johnson emphasized that the
Johnson said that the 944 Americans might have been retained as a "result of slipshod personnel reports to the Communist Command (who perhaps were unaware of all those under their control) or a desire to retain those individuals whose technical knowledge might be valuable to the Communist war potential, or who might continue to have some propaganda value to the Communist cause."21
In his briefing to the ICRC, the ambassador presented the data shown in Table 7.3 (not shown).
In June 1954, the UK Mission in Peiping (Beijing) asked for an accounting for UNC personnel from other countries including the United States. In August 1954, Rear Admiral T. B. Brittain, senior member of the UNCMAC, presented a list of 2,840 unaccounted-for UNC personnel to Lt. General Lee Sang Cho, his Communist counterpart, at the forty-seventh meeting of the MAC. Brittain said of the 526 Americans on this list, "We are convinced these men were in your hands and we still consider them as not having been accounted for in a satisfactory manner." The Communist side, which left without looking at the list, said "All persons have been repatriated in accordance with the armistice agreement. Your list is a fabricated roster."22 In October 1954, UNC asked the Communists to make additional inquiries and searches for 688 UNC deadó288 buried in seven UN cemeteries in North Korea and 400 Allied airmen presumably killed in 318 crashes in North Korean territory.23
In 1957 the Department of Defense was asked to provide to Congress an estimate of the number of unrepatriated U.S. POWs from the Korean conflict. Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) Stephen S. Jackson testified that this number was 944. The list Jackson was working from was not a list of unrepatriated POWs; rather, it was a roster of BNR cases whose status in contemporary terms would include "unofficial POW," "in the hands of hostile forces," MIA, PCK(BNR), POW(BNR), and KIA(BNR). The Jackson list contained the names of servicemen identified by UNC as those whose whereabouts and fate might be known by the Communist forces. The misperception of the 944 list was perpetuated because Jackson responded to a request for a list of unrepatriated POWs by delivering the UNC list that named all U.S. body not recovered cases on the UNCMAC roster.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen Jackson told Congress in 1957 about the evidence and methods on which the DoD's findings were based:
The point I am trying to make here is that there
This demand on the Communists for an accounting
Jackson noted in his 1957 testimony that the servicemen on the DoD list "had been alive in Communist hands" but not necessarily in POW camps. This distinction between POW and "in hands of enemy forces" was lost on the Congress. Jackson was also explicit in pointing out that the list included those whose status was based on information derived from "air crews who had seen our airmen parachute from disabled aircraft and. after safe landings, surrounded by enemy forces or civilians." By DoD's own standards, Jackson was referring to "unofficial POWs," not unrepatriated POWs, but this critical distinction was not emphasized at the time. By 1957, therefore, the mythology of the 944 list was firmly established. (Jackson's statement appears in Appendix 10.)
It is possible to verify the status of a later version of the UNCMAC list that contains 450 names, but the original list of 944 and the criteria used for selection from the field of 8,177 have not yet been located.
The 450 List
The 944 list was reduced to 526 in August 1954 based on the results of U.S. government efforts to resolve MIA cases.25 By December 6, 1954, as a result of other information obtained by the U.S. government, the list was reduced to 470. This number was announced by Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., at the December 8, 1954, Plenary Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
In 1957, the UNCMAC list of 450 names was made public for the first time. The list of alleged unrepatriated POWs that DAS Jackson provided to Congress in 1957, the 450 list, is reproduced in Appendix 11.
Reductions from 450 to 389
The list was further reduced to 450 by 1955 after the Army removed 55
names, "39 of which were based on evidence submitted by repatriates and 16
of which were based on recovered identifiable remains."26 Two
names, Pfc Connor and Pvt Dickinson, were added to the 450 list in December
1957, bringing the total UNCMAC roster to 452. The manner in which the list
was reduced from 452 to 391 and then 389 can be documented. On May 12, 1958,
the Acting Adjutant General of the Army recommended, in light of the
presumptive findings of death for 39 servicemen and the recovery of
identifiable remains of 16 others, that 55 names be removed from the Korean
War unaccounted-for personnel list. The evidence for the death findings in
the 39 cases was derived from interviews with repatriated POWs. The Acting
Adjutant General noted that
Recommendations for reductions were made after reviewing cases, obtaining eyewitness accounts, recovering bodies and drawing conclusions from a review of case files that missing cases could be recategorized as KIA(BNR), remains recovered, or otherwise resolved. In 1960, the list was reduced to 391 "through the efforts of U.S. Graves Registration Units and the U.S. Intelligence Agencies, working with little or no assistance from the North Korean or Chinese Communists."28 Throughout this time, the roster continued to be known as the list of unrepatriated POWs.
On May 23, 1958, the Assistant Secretary of the Army responded to an
April 18 memorandum from the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Special
Operations) on the subject of "Korean War Prisoner Documentation."29
On June 10, 1960 the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Special Operations) noted that the Departments of State and Defense "thru the Military Armistice Commission in Korea and thru direct contact with Chinese Communist diplomatic representatives at Warsaw" had not received an accounting for the 452 unaccounted-for U.S. personnel. The Assistant Secretary noted that though the Department of State preferred to freeze the number at 452 for negotiating purposes, the time had come to adjust the list to reflect the "few additional bodies that have been recovered and the definite evidence of death that has been established for an additional number." The Assistant Secretary suggested that 55 to 70 deletions could be made if the various services agreed on such a course of action.30 The inter-service meeting to discuss this subject was held on June 14.
On June 23, 1960, the Acting Adjutant General of the Army wrote to the Assistant Secretary of the Army and others on the subject of "Lost or Unaccounted for PWs from the Korean War." This memo notes that the June 14 meeting "was short and two instructions were issued." The instructions were the following:
a) Each of the services must apply the same basic criteria for removing a name from the list. The criteria are:
1) Recovery and identification of remains, or
2) Receipt of one or more statements that death had been witnessed or remains had been viewed.
b} After the services have made whatever reductions are possible each next of kin will be notified of the removal of the name of their loved one from the list.. . . Each of the services is to screen the list for removals and then prepare the necessary letters. These letters, however, will be undated and will be released only upon direction of OSD. The tentative release date is 1 July I960.31
The purpose of the joint release of the letters was to permit the Office of the Secretary of Defense time to prepare a public statement explaining how the list had been reduced.
As of June I960, the breakdown of the list of 452 unaccounted-for
personnel was as shown as follows
The reduction from 452 to 391 was "merely the fruition of staff action
started in April 1958 . . . Apparently, action to reduce the list at that
In May 1958 the Army, using the criteria referred to [above], was prepared to reduce the list by 55 names. Since that time it has been determined that 1 more name can be deleted, making a total of 56. Next of kin of these men have previously been notified that the status of their loved ones has been changed from presumed dead to known dead. The letters proposed for dispatch on or about 1 July 1960 are in keeping with the desires of the President as expressed to the Secretary of Defense that, next of kin of these men are to be kept fully informed of every action affecting the men on this list.
The Adjutant General of the Army's office offered to take the action on all items discussed in this memorandum.
On July 19, 1960, the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Special Operations wrote to the Service Secretaries, to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and to three Assistant Secretaries of Defense (ISA, MP&R, Public Affairs) requesting comments on a "Draft Public Statement on Reduction of List of Unaccounted For PWs."32 The memorandum summarizes responses to the June 10, 1960, request that each of the services "survey their records with a view to making a reduction in the list of unaccounted-for PWs from the Korean War." The survey was completed with the following results:
Army List: Reduced from 246 to 190
(The records showing how the Air Force and Marine Corps reduced their lists have not been located.) Since the DoD intended to make a public statement concerning these reductions, the recipients of this memorandum were asked to comment on a draft public statement, a copy of which was sent to the Department of State for concurrence. Once the public statement was coordinated, three action measures were proposed.
a) The Services will notify the next of kin and other interested parties of the change in status of those individuals being deleted from the list.
b) Concurrently the Department of State will notify Ambassador Beam in Warsaw of the deletions, in view of the fact that Mr. Beam is under instructions from the Department of State to pursue demands for an accounting in his discussions with the Chinese Communist Ambassador in Warsaw.
c) After a and b above have been accomplished, the public statement will be released at a time considered appropriate by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.
Notification of next of kin was scheduled to begin simultaneously as soon as the public statement was coordinated and approved.
The text of the "Draft DoD Statement on Reduction of List" from 450 to 389 appears in Appendix 12 (reproduced elsewhere on this site).
On July 28, 1960, the Adjutant General of the Army determined that the draft press release was acceptable. The Army's "letters of notification to next of kin are all prepared and require only signature and dating prior to dispatch upon direction of OSD."33 The Under Secretary of the Army notified the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Special Operations) on July 29, I960, that the "Department of the Army concurs in the proposed Department of Defense public statement!.]"34 Copies of these letters of notification have not been located yet. By 1960 the list was down to 391. The following Army cases were removed between 1960-1984, bringing the 391 figure down to 389:
Balbi, Joseph A. US51142209 Pfc
In 1984, a list of 389 names was presented to the Communist side by the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission.35
In 1991, the Department of Defense stated in testimony before Congress that 389 U.S. servicemen who had been POWs in North Korea had not been repatriated or otherwise accounted for by the Korean People's Army and the Chinese.36 This information relied on familiar but misleading terminology. This appears to be a perpetuation of the mistaken notion that the 389 were all unrepatriated POWs. The P0W/M1A Fact Book produced by the Department of Defense in 1991 should have referred to this group of 389 U.S. servicemen as those whose fate might be resolved with the assistance of the Communist forces. This clarification appears in subsequent editions. The evolution of the 944 list is shown in Table 7.5.
Table 7.5 The 944 List Becomes the 389 List
Individual cases that were removed when the 450 list was reduced to
VERIFYING THE 389 LIST37
The MIA or prisoner status of the individuals on the 389 list can be verified or at least crosschecked by using three sources: original casualty status cards, POW casualty assessments, and personnel files. The cards are either white "GR-36 Cases Status Cards" or blue "Office of the Quartermaster General Form T-320 Title: Casualty Data Cards." The white cards contain basic case data and the blue cards include basic data plus dental records and other information. The POW casualty assessments, which thus far have been located only for Army personnel, reflect information derived from repatriate interviews, intelligence reports, and enemy propaganda broadcasts. An individual's casualty status may also be verified with the information in an Individual Deceased Personnel File (so-called 293 file). The Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, has begun the tedious but necessary process of comparing the information on the status cards against the information in the 293 file to ensure that the Mapper database, which was built on status card information, is accurate. This verification process will also determine whether the information on the status cards was correctly entered four decades ago. As of June 1993, CILHI had completed 14 percent of the crosschecking between the status cards and the 293 files.
The 944 list from which the 389 list derives was misrepresented to the Communist side from the very first day. Because UNCMAC had no access to battlefields on POW camps, the 944 list could not be verified. The 944 list was never a list of Americans reported by UNCMAC to the Communists as exclusively those characterized in UNCMAC protests to the Communists
known to have been captured by you and to have been in your custody.
This complete tabulation of names of individuals
together with their nationalities and service numbers contains the names of
men who we know you held. The list contains only the names of people who:
None of these people have been reported by you as having escaped or died as is required by Paragraph 58a of the Armistice Agreement.38
The contemporary problem is that many Americans believe that if a name appeared on any iteration of the 944 list, then the U.S. government must have information demonstrating that the individual at one time had been alive in the "hands of hostile forces." This is simply not true and has never been the case. Table 7.6 shows the POW/MIA distribution of the 389 list.
The Army roster on the 389 list contains 188 names. Of these, Casualty Status cards show that 76 were last thought to be POWs and 112 MIAs. The great majority of the 188 Army cases occurred in the first eight months of the Korean War.
The casualty status data maintained by the U.S. government is utterly and irreconcilably contradictory to the assertion that the 389 list and its antecedents are rosters of unrepatriated POWs. The last known status of the 389 individuals on the contemporary UNCMAC list is 47 percent (181 total) POW, 53 percent (207 total) MIAs, and one case with the status R (resolved). But even POW status does not necessarily mean that an individual was ever alive in enemy custody. Prisoner status suggests that the individual was lost under circumstances that were consistent with a probability of live capture or the individual was determined to be an unofficial or confirmed POW (the ratio of unofficial to confirmed POWs has yet to be determined).
Second, the negotiating strategy and recovery methods used to resolve these cases should reflect this reality.
Table 7.6 389 UNCMAC List (1984)
POW status in CILHI records
MIA status in CILHI records
a) The total of POW plus MIA in this table is 388 because one case, Kanji Yoshida, was resolved in 1969 but not removed from the UNCMAC list. Yoshida does not appear in CILHI records.
1 Allies, Foe Charge Lists of Prisoners Lack Many Names, " New York
Times, December 22, 1951