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Senate Panel Hears Testimony of Vietnam POW-MIA Families

By Thomas W. Lippman
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

For 25 years, Pat Plumadore of Syracuse, N.Y., believed her brother had been killed in action in Vietnam. The Marine Corps said so, even though his body was never recovered, and there was nothing to indicate otherwise.

But last spring, out of the blue, the Pentagon told her that "highly reliable intelligence information" indicated Cpl. Kenneth L. Plumadore had been captured in a battle near the demilitarized zone and taken to North Vietnam.

"I've only had six months experience" at trying to learn the truth about the fate of a relative missing from the war, she told a Senate committee Thursday, "and already I'm so frustrated I could scream."

The testimony that Plumadore and other women gave to the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs Thursday showed in raw, personal terms why the fate of men who never came home from the nation's longest war remains such a volatile issue a generation later.

In voices ragged with emotion, they told of being stonewalled by the Defense Department, victimized by frauds and tormented by uncertainty, unable to bring to closure the doubt and grief that have kept the issue alive.

The scene in the Senate's biggest hearing room was sharply different from the usual committee session, and showed why the committee's effort to determine the fates of the missing is more than a historical exercise. Relatives of some of the 2,265 men still unaccounted for pushed strollers and breast-fed babies. Some witnesses and senators addressed each other by their first names, exhibiting the familiarity that comes from long association with a painful cause.

Each of the women had a different kind of unhappy story. Collectively, they issued a strong warning to the committee and to the White House not to accept at face value Hanoi's promises to cooperate in the search for the missing.

Carol Hrdlicka of Wichita, Kan., is still waiting for news of her husband, Capt. David Hrdlicka, whose plane went down in Laos in 1965. The Soviet newspaper Pravda ran a picture of him in custody of Pathet Lao communist troops, and he was listed by the Defense Department as a prisoner of war, but he did not come home with other U.S. prisoners in 1973.

Laotian officials said he died in captivity in 1968 and identified his burial site, but a Pentagon investigating team that went to the site last April found no remains.

"I have asked to see the Defense Intelligence Agency's evidence that David had not survived, and they tell me they have no evidence to this day that he is not alive," she said. "If there is no evidence that these men are dead, then why can't we make the assumption they are alive?"