OPINION | Chris McCarthy: North Korea Must Account for U.S. POWs
President Trump is standing up for the brave Americans who died or were captured in the Korean War. Trump is demanding our warriors are returned home.
The Korean War erupted while Harry Truman was president and Joseph Stalin was the boss of the Communist world. Mao Zedong had just successfully introduced his Soviet sponsored system to China with the rifle and the help of useful idiots. Fidel Castro, the Berlin Wall, and Vietnam were still to come.
Since the military stalemate on the Korean peninsula, the United States has had 13 different presidents from both major parties (six Democrats, and seven Republicans). Until Donald Trump was elected in 2016, the Communists in North Korea were on the march and scaring the world with their nuclear missile program.
Donald Trump has changed the world by meeting with the leader of North Korea and offering him a better path, rather than ignoring him and letting him continue to build up his military threat. How it works out is up to North Korea.
In the meantime, President Trump has told North Korea he wants the remains of our warriors returned to America. The men and women of our military deserve to be buried in the United States with full honors in front of a grateful nation. Time heals most wounds but in this case, time is the enemy, as more friends and family members die before they can bury the heroes they loved who died in Korea.
But questions remain about the fate of many of our men who fought the Communists on the Korean peninsula.
Donald Trump once had a lawyer who taught him about politics and the world. That lawyer was Roy Cohn. Back in 1953, Roy Cohn was chief counsel to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations. The chairman of that subcommittee was a former judge from Wisconsin and a Marine Corps veteran of World War II: Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.
Senator McCarthy created a special detachment of his committee to investigate the North Korean Communist's treatment of prisoners of war. Senator Charles Potter said, "The chairman has designated me as a task force of one to find out what has happened to the several thousand American soldiers that the Communists haven't returned."
Sen. McCarthy had a deferment from military service because he was a judge during World War II. However, he gave up his judgeship, joined the Marines and served in the Pacific as an intelligence officer. It was a different time in America. Rich kids like John Kennedy and John Chaffee went to war, and judges like McCarthy stepped off the bench to go into battle.
At the direction of Sen. McCarthy, the "task force of one" launched an investigation into the missing American POWs. Many of the hearings were held in executive session, and the testimony was kept secret according to Senate rules for 50 years. Senator McCarthy died in 1957 and the transcripts were released in 2003.
During the 1953 hearing, Chief Counsel Roy Cohn inquired about the Americans who were held back by the Communists as slaves in North Korean labor camps working in mining and timber operations. The answer from a U.S. Army Lt. Colonel was "there probably are" American slaves working in the mines and forests, according to page 1,930 of the hearing transcript.
Major James Kelleher, from the Dept. of Defense, speaking about Sen. Potter's interest in U.S. POWs said: "He said he was specifically interested in about 950 people when we knew or felt they were still in the hands of the Communists and still alive" (pg 1949).
"It seems to me that there should be among the returned GIs in the U.S. now plenty of people who were those individuals who gave us information when repatriated as to the existence and the fact these individuals were alive and know they had not been repatriated."
Maj. Kelleher continues to explain that "We came up with a list of about 944 of the people we felt that the Commies still held, and were alive, and we made a formal demand on the Commies at Panmunjom to produce the people. They came back with a list that said 48 people were repatriated, and the others never existed. We think they do and have evidence to that effect."
There is no doubt that the North Koreans kept American service members hostage after the conflict ended in the early 1950s. They likely shipped some of the Americans to China and the Soviet Union while keeping some of them for their own purposes.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency documented the movement of captured U.S. military from North Korea to China as early as 1951.
According to a 1996 New York Times story, there is credible evidence of captured Americans in North Korea:
"There is a growing sense in the intelligence community that the notion of surviving American prisoners, however outlandish it sounds at first, is a serious possibility.
The new testimony comes from Oh Young Nam, a 33-year-old former police official who escaped to China last October and then went to South Korea.
Oh was the son of a bodyguard to the country's late "Great Leader," Kim Il Sung. He graduated from the elite police academy and joined the secret police.
In an interview last week, Oh said that from 1982 to 1993 he repeatedly visited a camp housing the Americans, in a sealed-off area just north of Pyongyang. He said he had never seen more than 20 or 30 Americans at one time, but that there were others in their dormitories and so the total number was probably higher."
Investigative journalist and national security expert Bill Gertz wrote about American captives from the conflict with North Korea in a 2013 article. "U.S. prisoners of war were left behind in North Korea, China, and Russia after the Korean War and the Pentagon failed to win their release or a full accounting of their fate, according to research contained in a new book that is highly critical of U.S. POW recovery efforts," Gertz wrote.
Gertz's article was a review of the book American Trophies: How US POWs Were Surrendered to North Korea, China, and Russia by Washington's "Cynical Attitude" of Mark Sauter and John Zimmerlee. One of the authors, Zimmerlee, is the son of a missing Air Force member who was lost in Korea. The authors have written articles and testified on matters involving the abandonment of U.S. service members to Communist gulags.
Roy Cohn was directly involved in the investigation of Americans held hostage by the Communists. He was a close advisor and a mentor to Donald Trump. His life was shaped by his time as a lawyer and investigator for the McCarthy committee. Clearly, he shared his experiences and knowledge with a young Donald Trump.
Today, President Trump is cleaning up the mess he inherited from previous administrations, including bringing home fallen heroes.
Chris McCarthy is the host of The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Chris_topher_Mc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.