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Nixon Struggled With MIA Issue, Tapes Indicate

September 30, 1997| From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Richard Nixon is heard agonizing in newly released tape recordings whether to tell families of missing American servicemen in Vietnam, " . . . it's over, we can't find them," or to raise hopes that some might still come home.

In the Oval Office conversation on April 11, 1973--11 weeks after the United States signed the Paris peace accords that ended American military involvement in Vietnam--Nixon coached Roger Shields, who was in charge of the Pentagon's prisoner-recovery operations, on what to tell the families of 1,359 Americans then listed as missing. He said Shields should write the families that the administration was doing all it could, "leaving no stone unturned, believe me, nothing, absolutely nothing."

On the other hand, Nixon confided, "I am in a [unintelligible] mood on that to say, 'Look, it's over now, it's over, we can't find them.' "

After Hanoi signed the Paris peace accords in January 1973, it released 591 American prisoners.

The agreement, permitting the withdrawal of American forces, provided "peace with honor," Nixon told the nation. But two years later, North Vietnam captured Saigon and the war ended with a communist victory.

The president's comments--on 43 minutes of White House tapes released by the National Archives--were ambiguous, sometimes unintelligible, erratic and subject to various interpretations.

The tapes were made public with the concurrence of the Nixon family estate, which has fought to keep secret all of the former president's thousands of hours of tapes.

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