WASHINGTON — After a decade's silence in the face of persistent reports of American soldiers still being held in captivity in Vietnam, Hanoi has investigated three such reports but has shed no new light on any living Americans still there, the Defense Department reported Friday.
The disclosure came from Navy Commodore James D. Cossey at a Pentagon briefing in which he confirmed reports from Hanoi that Vietnam has agreed in principle to conduct a joint U.S.-Vietnamese excavation of a site in the Hanoi-Haiphong area where a U.S. B-52 bomber was shot down.
Cossey, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, said details of the unprecedented project are to be worked out in another meeting with the Vietnamese "in the near future."
The general agreement on a joint excavation was first reported by Hanoi two weeks ago, although no site was mentioned.
Cossey also disclosed that technicians working in Hawaii have identified the remains of 10 more individuals among the 26 that Vietnam returned on Aug. 14. He said they would be flown to California on Tuesday.
One of them was identified as Navy Lt. (j.g.) Donald H. Brown, of Berkeley, Calif., who was reported lost in what was then North Vietnam on Aug. 12, 1965.
Nine of the 26 had been identified earlier, and officials hope to be able to name the other seven within the next two weeks, Cossey said.
One of the three missing individuals on whom Hanoi reported, in reply to a specific inquiry, was Jean Claud LeCornec, of Clearlake Oaks, Calif., Cossey said. LeCornec was a civilian aircraft technician who had not been previously listed as officially missing in action.
Cossey said LeCornec, who held French and U.S. citizenship, returned to the United States in 1974 but used his French passport to go back to Vietnam shortly after the South Vietnamese government collapsed in April, 1975. Cossey said that LeCornec's wife and family were there. He was soon arrested and was reported to have died of dysentery in a Vietnamese prison in May or June of 1976, Cossey said. His body was one of those returned to the United States.
The other two reported sightings involved an American civilian who was repatriated to the United States in 1977, Cossey said, and an individual believed to be "not American."
Cossey did not identify the American civilian, and he suggested the other individual is a a "black Khmer"--a Cambodian tribesman who may be a descendant of an African soldier who had served in the French forces when France controlled Southeast Asia. Cossey suggested that the continuing talks in Hanoi and New York would make it possible for U.S. officials to interview the man.
2,446 Still Missing
Asked why Vietnam appears at last to be cooperating to some extent with U.S. efforts to resolve the questions involving the 2,446 Americans still listed as missing in action in Southeast Asia, including about 1,800 in Vietnam, Cossey replied that Hanoi has "nothing to gain by not resolving it."
He noted that cooperation on the issue of MIA's as well as the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia are the main U.S. criteria for normalization of relations between Hanoi and Washington.
The only other crash site excavated in Indochina after the war was in Pakse, Laos, where a joint U.S.-Laotian team in February dug up the remains of 13 Americans who were aboard an AC-130 gunship.
In addition to LeCornec and Brown, the men who were identified Friday, along with their listed home towns: Air Force Col. Arthur T. Finney, Miami; Air Force Col. John C. Kwortnik, Downingtown, Pa.; Navy Capt. James M. Vescelius Jr., Milford, Mich.; Air Force Lt. Col. Edwin R. Goodrich Jr., Olean, N.Y.; Air Force Lt. Col. William M. Meyer, Taylor, Mich.; Navy Lt. Cmdr. James S. Graham, Ardmore, Pa.; Navy Lt. Cmdr. James E. Sullivan, Hull, Mass., and Army Capt. Melvin W. Finch, Fort Belvoir, Va.