What happened to about 500 American military prisoners kept after World War II by Soviet? Were they going home or not?

Mudassir Ali
Jan 23, 2020 03:15 PM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Jan 23, 2020 03:16 PM

The US Government essentially abandoned them. Apparently they all died in Russian gulags.

From the NY Times

“Time has stooped Vladimir Trotsenko’s shoulders, but his memories are as clear as his cobalt blue eyes: the American flyer, his right arm in a new cast, in a Soviet military hospital ward. The American, he recalled, would slowly repeat, “America — San Francisco, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Chicago.”

Curious, Mr. Trotsenko, a paratrooper recovering from a knee injury, would hobble down the third-floor hospital corridor to gaze at the four imprisoned Americans. The airman with the broken arm would point to a crewman in a body cast and would make cradling motions with his arms, indicating that the man had left two small children back home.

The year was 1951, and the place was Military Hospital 404 in Novosysoyevka, 300 miles south of here. Stalin was in his last years, the Korean War was raging and the cold war with the United States was on.

“I did not talk about this for 43 years,” Mr. Trotsenko, spry at 68, said as his wife, Nina, served blini and borscht at their wooden dacha outside this city, the largest industrial center of Russia’s Far East.

In 1994 he noticed a small advertisement in a local newspaper placed by a new group, a Russian-American commission on prisoners of war. Admitting that he was “tortured” about whether “to call or not to call,” he finally did.

As fears of official retribution ease, more and more Russians are following Mr. Trotsenko’s lead and are talking to American Government researchers seeking traces of Americans who vanished into the gulag during seven decades of Communism.

Responding to advertisements for information, calls and letters trickle in to the United States Embassy in Moscow and the new consulate in Vladivostok.

A woman calls saying she knows the Russian widow, children and grandchildren of a former American prisoner of war. A former camp guard recalls hearing about an American prisoner from the Korean War held under maximum security in 1983. An Estonian remembers meeting a black American pilot in a labor camp in 1955.

A retired military driver reports seeing an American prisoner — “robust and taller than average” — in an Arctic camp in 1970. A former inmate says that while working in a forced labor gold mine in 1979 he witnessed the death of Philip V. Mandra, a United States Marine sergeant from Queens, who was reported missing in action in Korea in 1952.

Numbering in the thousands, the list of Americans sent to Soviet labor camps is long and varied.

They include left-wing Americans who emigrated to the Soviet Union in the 1930’s only to be arrested as spies during Stalin’s xenophobic sweeps; hundreds of dual nationals sent to Siberian labor camps after Stalin annexed Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in 1940; about 500 American military prisoners kept after World War II by Stalin as bargaining chips; about 30 F-86 pilots and crewmen captured during the Korean War and transferred to the Soviet Union in a secret aircraft industry intelligence operation; and as many as 100 American airmen who survived downings of spy planes over Soviet territory during the cold war.

“Clearly, there were a lot of Americans washing around the gulag, but it is unimaginable that any of the World War II prisoners are still alive,” said Paul M. Cole, who wrote a three-volume report for the Rand Corporation in 1994 on American prisoners from World War II, the Korean War and the cold war who were held in the Soviet Union.

Family members of Americans missing in Korea and in the cold war downings are increasingly demanding answers from the bilateral research group, the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on P.O.W./M.I.A.’s.

“I definitely believe that some survived,” said Patricia Lively Dickinson, a Delaware resident, who believes that her brother, Jack D. Lively, a Navy airman who was shot down in 1951, was one of the four Americans that Mr. Trotsenko saw at the military hospital. “I feel that Jack’s files are in the K.G.B. files.”

Bruce Sanderson, a North Dakota steelworker, also believes that his father, Lieut. Warren Sanderson, survived the shooting down of his reconnaissance plane near Vladivostok in 1953.

“In 1955, a repatriated Japanese P.O.W. identified a picture of my dad,” said Mr. Sanderson, who was born a few months after his father was shot down. “He could still be alive. It was just in 1992 that the Russians freed the last 80 Japanese P.O.W.’s from World War II.”

Formed in 1992, the P.O.W. commission has little to show for the millions of dollars spent, family members and former researchers assert. It has yet to find any missing American, dead or alive, in the former Soviet Union.

On both sides, ingrained traditions of secrecy seem to block progress.

“Even as Government ‘insiders’ with security clearances, we had great difficulty in locating documents” from United States Government agencies, Col. Stuart A. Herrington of the Army, the task force’s American deputy director, wrote in an appraisal in 1994. “Once located, documents are frequently classified — often mindlessly.”

Irene Mandra, of Farmingdale, L.I., is offering a $5,000 reward to any Russian or American who provides conclusive information about her brother, the Marine sergeant.

“It’s still the old cover-up,” she said in a telephone interview from Long Island. “As documents are being declassified, more and more evidence shows that these men were sent to the Soviet Union. But, after 42 years, the C.I.A. still keeps a lot of documents classified.”

Peter Johnson, a major in the Army Reserve, who worked on the project in 1993, complained: “From the American standpoint, we ran into almost as much institutional resistance as from the Soviet side. The C.I.A. did not want to talk to us.”

From the Russian side, closed doors have met American requests to search Soviet-era archives of military units serving in Korea, of the Border Guards and of the K.G.B.

“Despite Yeltsin’s claims to openness, the Russians have consistently denied the American side access to archives,” Mr. Cole said. “If given proper access, competent archivists — and there are a lot in Moscow — could wrap this up in two months. But the Russians are not being open.”

With impatience growing, a hearing was held on June 20 by the House National Security subcommittee on Military Personnel.”

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