First Hard Evidence American POWs in Korea Were Taken To U.S.S.R.
WASHINGTON (AP) _ For the first time, the U.S. government says it has obtained credible evidence of an American serviceman being captured in the Korean War and transferred into the Soviet prison system.
Russian officials, and before them officials of the Soviet Union, have consistently denied that any American servicemen were taken from Korea into the U.S.S.R.
The new information was presented Tuesday to Irene Mandra, whose brother, Marine Corps Sgt. Philip Vincent Mandra, was missing and later declared killed in action from an engagement with Chinese infantry in North Korea on Aug. 7, 1952.
Ms. Mandra, of Farmingdale, N.Y., said in an interview Wednesday she has kept on her wall a letter received from President Eisenhower in 1954 expressing sympathy for her brother’s death. She was thrilled to be told there is new evidence he was not killed and was seen alive as recently as 1966.
″I’m praying and hoping the Pentagon will follow up″ and press the Russian government for access to records that could reveal her brother’s fate. Her brother was born in 1931 and was 21 when he was captured.
A retired colonel of the former Soviet MVD, the internal security agency, told U.S. POW-MIA investigators in an interview last month that he saw Mandra in a prison at Magadan, a town in Siberia on the Sea of Okhotsk, west of Kamchatka Peninsula.
The colonel, Vladimir Malinin, identified Mandra in photographs shown to him by the U.S. investigators. Malinin became known to the American officials when he answered a newspaper advertisement soliciting information on American servicemen unaccounted for from the Korean war and other Cold War-era conflicts.
Malinin told the investigators he saw Mandra at the Magadan prison in 1963 and 1966, Ms. Mandra said.
Malinin said he initially saw Mandra walking alone in the Magadan prison, asked why Mandra was being kept away from other prisoners and was told it was because Mandra was ″an American spy,″ Mrs. Mandra said U.S. officials told her.
″According to Malinin, he was told that prisoners who were sent there were not intended ever to return (and did not return),″ according to an American Embassy diplomatic cable dated Sept. 13 and made available to Ms. Mandra.
The cable also reported that Malinin told U.S. investigators in the interview Aug. 28 at his home in Kirishi, Russia, that while in Magadan in the 1960s he was told by a KGB officer that four Americans were in a hospital a few miles south of a prison camp he identified as Susuman. No other details were provided.
Malinin picked out two photographs of Mandra from among a batch of photographs of approximately 120 other U.S. servicemen whose fate is under investigation, Ms. Mandra said. She said one of the photos was of her brother while he was in Korea and the other was a computer-enhanced picture of what he would look like today.
″It’s a positive identification of both photographs,″ Ms. Mandra said.
Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican whose district includes Farmingdale, said he and other members of the New York delegation intend to press President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin to pursue any available documents about Mandra.
It is the first known case of a former Soviet official acknowledging he saw an American who fought in Korea alive later in a Soviet prison. U.S. investigators are known to be pursuing other eyewitness accounts from former Soviet officials.
It has been known for years that Soviet forces fought in Korea against allied forces, and anecdotal evidence has suggested that the Russians took some American servicemen from the battlefield into China and the Soviet Union. Until now Washington has maintained there was no credible evidence of such transfers, although the issue is the subject of discussion in the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW-MIA Affairs, which is trying to resolve Cold War-era cases of missing Americans.
Paul Cole, a Rand Corp. analyst who studies these issues, said Wednesday the Soviet colonel’s identification of Mandra is an indication that efforts by U.S. officials on the joint commission are beginning to pay off.
″It presents a picture of the Cold War that is much more complete than we’ve ever had before,″ Cole said.