NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF FAMILIES FOR THE RETURN OF AMERICA'S MISSING SERVICEMEN
THE FRENCH EXPERIENCE
On May 6, 1991, The FIGARO newspaper published in Paris a statistical summary of the fate of French forces fighting in Indochina who had been taken prisoner. The French forces were composed of French nationals, French Legionnaires, Africans and North Africans, indigenous members of the French Expeditionary Force drawn from Indochina, and local forces from Laos and Cambodia.
The statistical table was compiled by the Historical Service of the French Army and shows that of 39,888 prisoners held by the Vietminh, 29,954 were not returned. This total includes 2,350 French nationals and 2,867 Legionnaires who were taken prisoner but not returned.
Today in France there is great interest in the fate of French prisoners of the Indochina war. Owing to the efforts of French Senator Jean-Jaques Beucler, what has come to be called the "Boudarel Affair" has become front page news since this past February.
The Boudarel Affair involves the discovery of George Boudarel, a Frenchman who aced as a deputy political commissar in Vietnamese prison camps during the First Indochina War. He was in charge of brain-washing French prisoners, and has been accused of being an accessory to torture. Nothing was known of his whereabouts for years. Then it was discovered that, after serving in the Communist International underground in Southeast Asia and in Eastern Europe, he had obtained a teaching post in the French school system.
A new book by a former prisoner who charges that he was tortured by Boudarel has just appeared in France. Written by Claude Bayle, PRISONNIER AU CAMP 113 is a detailed revelation of life as a prisoner of the Vietnamese revealing conditions so primitive that it is not surprising thousands never returned.
THE FRENCH EXPERIENCE WITH INDOCHINA POWS
In 1946, after a series of armed clashes with Ho Chi Minh's forces in North Vietnam, France agreed to allow Ho's group to establish an autonomous state of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) as a somewhat-independant state within French Indochina. The DRV's capital was placed in Hanoi with Ho Chi Minh and the Indochina Communist Party in control.
Problems persisted between the French colonial government and the DRV. As various other political factions and nationalist forces within Indochina collectively resisted French colonial rule of Indochina, armed conflicts intensified. Finally, in late 1946, the Vietnamese communists and various nationalist forces combined into a revolutionary army that is commonly referred to as the Viet Minh. A full scale "war of Liberation" was started in
1946 to remove the French colonial government from Indochina. The Viet Minh took to the mountains and jungles to wage their war. When the Viet Minh left the cities of Vietnam they took several hundred French prisoners, military and civilian, into the jungles and mountain highlands with them.
The Viet Minh's war with France, now referred to as the First Indochina War, refers to the period 1946 through 1954, when the Geneva Peace Accords were signed. The war included revolutionary factions in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
The 1954 Geneva Accords required France to withdraw its colonial government from Indochina, provide for an exchange of prisoners, repatriation of remains of war dead, and division of Vietnam (i.e., North and South Vietnam divided at the 17th parallel) pending elections for public determination of a form of government and the unification of Vietnam into a single state.
During the war, the largest group of French prisoners taken by the Viet Minh was at the battle at Dien Bien Phu, North Vietnam. On May 8, 1954, when the French forces surrendered to the Viet Minh, about 6,500 French troops (including French regulars, Foreign Legionnaires, colonial troops from Africa and North Africa, and colonial troops from Indochina, as well as some civilians with the troops at Dien Bien Phu) were taken prisoner by the Viet Minh. French casualties related to Dien Bien Phu were approximately 2,242 KIA and 3,711 MIA. During the war, about 39,000 POWs were taken by the Viet Minh, with approximately 11,000 were returned during repatriation.
None of France's war dead from Dien Bien Phu or other battles sites in North Vietnam, and none of its war dead from Viet Minh prison camps or military hospitals were repatriated. By contrast, all French prisoners held by nationalist or communist forces in Laos and Cambodia were returned or accounted for, as were the remains of French war dead in those two areas.
According to historians on the First Indochina War, the high rate of deaths in Viet Minh camps occurred because of harsh conditions in those isolated camps. Also, prisoners with severe wounds, such as head, chest, and abdominal wounds, stood little chance of survival in these camps because of a total lack of medical treatment facilities and/or supplies. In addition to the harsh camp conditions and inadequate medical facilities, the Viet Minh marched the French prisoners taken at Dien Bien Phu many miles to camps, causing many deaths during the march. And, during the prisoner exchange, the Vietnamese again marched the French prisoners over long distances, causing the death of a number of the prisoners en route to exchange points.
Only a very small number of French Union troops were able to escape after the siege at Dien Bien Phu. Seventy eight are recorded as having successfully made it back to French custody by traveling overland towards Laos. Of that number, nineteen were Europeans, the remainder were troops indigenous to Indochina.
Bernard B. Hall, HELL IN A VERY SMALL PLACE, (New York: J.B. Lippicott, 1966) pp.483, 484. App. B., Table III provides the breakdown of French losses at Dien Bien Phu. The table includes three American pilots from the Taiwan based Civil Air Transport (CAT) company.
During the siege of Dien bien Phu, the Viet Minh had only one qualified medical doctor for 50,000 of their own troops. After the surrender, the French military doctors had to provide medical care for both the Viet Minh and the French POWs. Bayle's new memoire gives dramtic details.
 See FAll, pp. 442-447
There are reports that some French POWs were kept in forced labor status, while others were given years of indoctrination in the Marxist- Leninist revolutionary doctrine and North Vietnam's anti-colonial philosophy at re-education centers before being returned to French African and North African colonies. The Vietnamese separated officers from non-commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers from other enlisted troops. They separated colonials from Legionnaires, and French regulars from all other troops. They separated the prisoners by race and emphasized the differences in races between Europeans, the blacks, and the Arabs. Reeducation (Marxist-Leninist indoctrination) was concentrated on African and North African colonial troops.
Just as the Soviets did at the conclusion of World War II in the Pacific and Europe in 1945, after the signing of the 1954 Geneva Accords, so too they sent a delegation to North Vietnam to repatriate forcibly French Foreign Legion POWs identified as former nationals of Soviet bloc nations. The North Vietnamese repatriated some Legionnaires and large numbers of colonial troops from non-Soviet bloc countries directly to their homeland, via China, without notification to the international commission overseeing the Indochina prisoner exchanges. As a result of the forced repatriation by the Soviets and unreported repatriation by North Vietnam, there are great disparities in accounting for French POWs released by the North Vietnamese after the 1954 Geneva Accords.
In 1962, about forty "Metropolitan" French POWs were returned to France. After their return, the French government charged these former POWs as deserters, or "ralliers" and court martialled them, giving some of them prison sentences of up to five years and no back pay for the period they were prisoners in North Vietnam. Another group of about twenty Metropolitan French POWs chose to remain in North Vietnam. This latter group was court martialled in absentia for capital crimes committed during the war and elected to remain in North Vietnam rather than return to France and face execution.
Writer William Stevenson, a noted BBC correspondent who covered the French Indochina War, told the staff about interviews he had with French soldiers held captive by the North Vietnamese. He was of the opinion that the French prisoners seemed to be mentally deficient, possibly as a result of their long, harsh imprisonment, or severe brainwashing techniques known to have been employed by the North Vietnamese.
Robert Garwood, a former U.S. POW who voluntarily returned from Vietnam in 1979, stated that, during the mid-1970s, he saw French prisoners used as forced laborers in a North Vietnamese dairy farm not far from Hanoi. Garwood believed the French POWs
See Fall, pp. 438-442.
As noted, the Soviets carried out a similar policy in 1945 in Hanoi at the end of World War II.
"Rallier" is a term used by the French and Viet Minh to describe persons who rallied to the opposite cause. U.S. military intelligence documents from the Second Indochina War reviewed for this research also use the term "rallier" to describe an American serviceman who went over to the National Liberation Front or North Vietnamese side.
Fall,HELL IN A VERY SMALL PLACE, pp.438-442. Survivors of Viet Minh brainwashed techniques had a myriad effect on the French POWs. Some carried guilt for their conduct in prison after their release; colonial soldiers became revolutionaries after return to their home states; and, oddly, Legionnaires and paratroopers became the French extreme right-wing militarist.
he saw were former Legionnaires who had not yet earned French citizenship when taken prisoner during the First Indochina War. Because of that, they had no home country to accept them after the war.
During the 1954 French withdrawal from North Vietnam, the French gave the North Vietnamese construction equipment, railway equipment, and various pieces of land and water transport equipment, as well as stores of non-military supplies already in North Vietnam. From 1955 until sometime in the 1970s, the French government paid the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) an estimated $30 million, via Hungarian banks, for maintenance of French military graves. In return, the North Vietnamese periodically repatriated remains of French military dead to France; however, all the remains repatriated were exhumed from graves already known to French authorities. Best information available indicates none of the war dead from Dien Bien Phu, the Viet Minh prison camps, or the death marches were ever repatriated to France.
In 1971, to resolve the lingering problem over the unaccounted-for POW/MIA from the First Indochina War, the French Foreign Minister declared all unaccounted for French POW/MIA in Indochina as dead.
According to author/historian Bernard Fall, the actual number of French casualties in the First Indochina War was never made public. In 1973, the French resumed diplomatic relations with North Vietnam.
Individuals must complete, honorably, their initial six-year enlistment in the Legion to be eligible French citizenship.
Garwood's information on French POWs still being used as forced labor by the North Vietnamese was not verifiable without access to classified files.
Source material for the French Experience includes books by Bernard B. Fall, Jules Roy, and Archimedes
L. A. Patti. Testimony of Anita Lauve before the House Select Committee on Missing Persons in Southeast Asia, April 1976, was also used. Other material was developed through interviews conducted by staff.