Loss Coordinates: 153416N 1081737E (BT098232)
Status (in 1973): Prisoner Of War
Other Personnel in Incident: Larry Alonza Graham (killed, body recovered)
REMARKS: LETTERS FOUND; DIED IN PW CAMP
SYNOPSIS: PFC Donald L. Sparks and Cpl. Larry A. Graham were serving as
pointmen for their company when it was ambushed by an enemy force of unknown
size on June 17, 1969 near Chu Lai, in the Tien Phuoc District, Quang Tin
Province, South Vietnam. Witnesses indicated that both men were wounded and
fell to the ground.
As the remaining members of the patrol withdrew, they observed North
Vietnamese Army personnel stripping PFC Sparks of his clothing and weapon.
No one was able to reach the area where they lay for almost twelve hours
because of heavy enemy fire, however, several members of the platoon
believed both men to be dead.
Air strikes were requested, and napalm, 500 and 1000 pound bombs, were
dropped on the enemy position. Later the same day, another attempt was made
to reach the bodies, but again was repulsed by the enemy.
On the morning of June 18, a recovery element was able to reach the site,
but was unable to locate the remains of PFC Sparks. The remainder of the day
was spent in digging in the vicinity of a bomb crater where witnesses had
last seen Sparks. The remains of Cpt. Graham were recovered during this
search. It was believed that PFC Sparks' body had been totally destroyed by
the air strikes, but with no positive evidence of death, Sparks was
initially listed as Missing in Action.
On February 3, 1971, a Viet Cong rallier reported that during April 1969, an
American POW suffering from gunshot wounds and wounds from a U.S. air strike
had been held in a POW camp located near the Song Khan River in the
vicinity. The American's wounds were dressed and he was transported in a
northwesterly direction along the southern bank of the Song Khan River.
When released in 1973, American POW Maj. Harold Kushner and two other
released American POWs stated that in the spring of 1970, while en route to
a new detention camp in the same province in which Sparks was lost, their
Vietnamese interpreter/guard said that a U.S. POW by the name of Don was
scheduled to join his POW group, but had been moving more slowly because of
foot wounds. This occurred in the spring of 1970, but "Don" never joined the
On May 17, 1970, a Viet Cong soldier was killed in fighting near Chu Lai. On
his body, American soldiers from the 19th Infantry Division found two
letters from Donald Sparks dated April 11, 1970. In one of the letters,
addressed to his parents, he assured them that he was in good health in
spite of the fact that he had not seen another American during his ten
months of captivity. One of the letters mentioned having received a wound to
his foot. A report from the crime lab, 8th Military Personnel Group
conclusively proved that the letters were written by PFC Sparks.
Six months later, Sparks' official status was changed to Prisoner Of War.
On September 19, 1973, an ARVN returnee stated that a U.S. POW entered a POW
camp in February 1970 using a stick for support as his feet and legs were
bruised. Allegedly, the POW later contracted beriberi and is reported to
have died in June 1971. This report was correlated to Donald Sparks.
When 591 Americans were released in 1973, the communist government of
Vietnam denied any knowledge of Donald Sparks. He was one of nearly 3000
Americans who did not return. At the time, military experts were shocked
that "hundreds", believed to be held captive and expected to be released,
Donald Sparks was apparently never held with any returning American POW.
Studies of the Vietnamese prison system indicates that those POWs who
returned all had been held together, moving from camp to camp within the
same system, but that other systems probably existed.
Perhaps Donald Sparks is one of the several hundreds that many authorities
believe to be alive in Southeast Asia today, still captive of a long-ago
enemy. If so, what must he be thinking of us - having bombed him, abandoned
him and forgotten him?
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
U.S. POW/MIAs WHO MAY HAVE SURVIVED IN CAPTIVITY
Prepared by the Office of Senator Bob Smith
Vice-Chairman, Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs
December 1, 1992
Sparks, Donald L. USA -Sent letter home as POW. Last
seen with wounded foot. (JSSA
list, DIA 1979.)
-listed as POW by DIA, 1973
-hostile captured (DoD June 1973
-last known alive (DoD April
known to have been captured
according to several returnees.
-first hand observation claimed
by POW returnee Carroll Flora on
March 5, 1973 at HaLo, Vegas,
Hanoi Hilton prisons.
South Vietnam Donald L. Sparks
On June 17, 1969, Private First Class Sparks, a member of the
Americal Division, was with his platoon when it was ambushed in
Central Vietnam. He fell to the ground wounded. Reports were
received that he had been captured, and, in May 1970, a letter of
his was located which had been written after capture. He was
reclassified as a POW. A wartime report from a South Vietnamese
soldier described the death of an American named "Don" held with
him at a POW camp in 1971.
PFC Sparks was not accounted-for during Operation Homecoming, and
other U.S. POWs were unable to confirm his fate. In November 1979,
he was declared dead/body not recovered.
In April 1989, U.S. investigators interviewed witnesses in Vietnam
who described the evacuation by elements of the 31st Regiment of an
American POW. This information was correlated to PFC Sparks. In
August 1990, a U.S. team received additional information from
witnesses about the capture of an American by the Vietnam People's
Army 31st Regiment, 2nd Division which was again correlated to PFC
Sparks. In January 1992, a U.S. field team in Vietnam interviewed
an individual that described an American POW with a leg wound in
Quang Tin Province. This case is still under active investigation.
The Bamboo Cage, Nigel Cawthorn
The Full Story of the American Servicemen still held hostage in South-East
........ Five members of PFC Donald Sparks' platoon witnessed his death. He
was killed in a search and clear operation in South Vietnam, on 17
June,1969, when his isolated platoon was ambushed near Chu Lai. Fellow
infantrymen saw 22-year-old Sparks and Corporal Larry Graham cut down in a
firefight. As the remaining members of the patrol withdrew, they saw NVA
soldiers stripping Sparks of his clothing and weapon. The following day the
Americans returned and recovered the remains of Graham, but there was no
sign of Sparks. Both the military and his parents thought he was dead, but
in May, 1970, two letters written by Sparks were found on the body of a Viet
Cong soldier killed in Quang Tri Province. Both were dated 11 April, 1970 -
ten months after Sparks had been presumed dead. (37) One of them was
addressed to his parents, Mr and Mrs Calvin Sparks of Carroll, Iowa. It
Everyone at Home!
I hope you have received the letters I have been writing. I
have not heard or seen another American in nearly 10 months
now, and I am longing for a letter from home. All this time I
have continually been treated very well by Vietnamese people.
I can't thank them enough for their care.
I think of home all the time and surely hope you are all well
and have been blessed with some happiness. I
haven't forgotten your birthday Mom. I hope you took the day
off, you truly deserve a rest. Then there is my kid brother. He
is probably thinking of the service. He could probably get a
hardship deferment and stay home if he wanted to. I don't
want to run his life; I have trouble with my own. But I know I
would have been encouraged to take over some responsibility
if I had worked for a percent in a partnership with Dad. And
talked about what crop or corn number to plant, the fertilizer
program, whether it was a good time to sell livestock and
beans, helped keep records, and pay bills rather than just cash
I have had a lot of time to think these past months. Often I
am very ashamed of my past. All the times I was provided for
and just took for granted. Good Mom and Dad were always
there to take over when I neglected work, or got into trouble.
I just hope to partially make up for it when I get home. Maybe
you should see a recruiter about my income tax. I have an
account (No. 2700) with the American Express and my pay
vouchers should be sent home. If my records have been kept
up to date I should be an E-5 in relation to time and grade.
Thank you! May God Bless and keep you all!
Handwriting analysts confirmed that the letter had indeed been written by
Sparks. (38) His status was changed from MIA to PoW and his rank was upgraded
to sergeant. But Donald Sparks never entered the Vietnamese prison system, was
never acknowledged as a captive and never came home - though a picture of a
man cowering in a cell thought to be Sparks did appear in Life magazine.
On 5 November, 1979, since nothing had been heard of him for nine years, a
military tribunal once again ruled that Sparks was dead, only this time he was
listed as having died in captivity. ......
OFFICE OF THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
2400 DEFENSE PENTAGON
WASHINGTON, DC 20301-2400
27 JAN 1998
In reply refer to:
Honorable Jim McDermott
United States Representative
1809 7th Avenue # 1212
Seattle, WA 98101 -1331
Dear Representative McDermott:
Thank you for your December 11, 1998, letter on behalf of Mr. Phan Rang.
Mr. Rang is seeking information on Army Sergeant First Class Donald L.
Sparks who is unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. He believes the
Vietnamese have not provided us with files that relate to American prisoners
of war (POWs) and requests the Government locate a POW camp known as Lang Ta
in Saravan Province Laos. He also asserts the majority of "Last Known Alive"
cases have been resolved. I hope the following information is useful in
responding to Mr. Rang.
Sergeant Sparks was lost in combat on June 17, 1969, in South Vietnam when
he was hit by enemy weapon fire and fell to the ground. Although unable to
recover him, his fellow soldiers believed he was dead and reported seeing
two enemy soldiers near his lifeless body. The next day, an American patrol
returned to the area, but could not locate him. Several months later,
letters written by Sergeant Sparks were found on the body of an enemy
soldier. These letters revealed that Sergeant Spark was alive in captivity
and was recuperating from his wounds. Returning American POWs reported that
enemy camp cadre had told them in the spring of 1970 that a prisoner named
"Don" would join them; however, the POW never arrived.
Since gaining access to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia for the purpose of
investigating cases of Americans missing from the Vietnam War in 1988,
Department of Defense (DoD) personnel have conducted six investigations in
Vietnam in an effort to account for Sergeant Sparks. Through our
investigations of this case, we know Sergeant Sparks spent approximately 10
months at a communist field hospital in Quang Nam Province. Unfortunately,
we have been unable to determine what happened to him after he left the
hospital. Last May, Vietnamese officials located two individuals who it was
believed would have knowledge of Sergeant Sparks' fate. Regrettably, the
individuals could provide no new information regarding him and we continue
to investigate the lost. If Mr. Rang would like to learn more about Sergeant
Sparks and our efforts to account for him, his records are available to the
public at the Library of Congress. I have enclosed a data sheet on how to
research POW/MIA information at the Library.
Several years ago the Vietnamese turned over a copy of a registry of all
American POWs placed in the central POW camp system in North Vietnam. This
book is sometimes referred to as the "blue book" because of its blue cover.
They also gave DoD officials access to other records
that contained information about American POWs. These documents were
carefully analyzed; however, they contained no information that could help
account for any missing American.
During late 1969 and early 1970; several groups of American POWs were moved
from communist regions in South Vietnam to North Vietnam. During these
moves, they often stayed in temporary "camps" in Laos such as the one
mentioned by Mr. Rang. The term "the Lang Ta POW camp" is a misnomer.
Several years ago an American field investigator reported that a source had
told him that he had seen seven American prisoners at a location the source
called Lang Ta. The investigators was unable to confirm the location of Lang
Ta, and that name does not on any available maps. Nonetheless, based on the
source's description, the investigator estimated that Lang Ta was located
near the border between Saravan Province, Laos, and western Thua Thien
Province, Vietnam. This also was the approximate location of the
headquarters of the Communist Military Region Tri-Thien-Hue, also known as
B5 Front, and a terminus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail known as Military Station
42. Several American POWs captured in B5 Front passed through this area
during the war. One American was detained in this area from early 1964 until
mid-1967 when he was moved to Hanoi. Communist forces did not maintain a
permanent camp for American prisoners in this area after mid-1 967. After
that, all Americans captured in B5 Front were moved to Hanoi as soon as
practicable. Many of those prisoners, including at least five Americans
captured in February 1970, made temporary stops at stations (or camps) in
this area while en route to Hanoi. Although Communist forces or local
guerrillas might have called one of these stations "Lang Ta" or some similar
name, it was not a POW camp for Americans.
Of the original 196 "Last Known Alive" cases (individuals who survived their
loss incidents, but did not return alive and are unaccounted for) in
Vietnam, we have determined the fate of all but 43 of the men, Contrary to
Mr. Rang's belief, this does not mean that these cases are resolved. Only 36
of the 196 cases have been resolved, and these cases were resolved through
repatriation and identification of the individuals' remains.
President Clinton, like Presidents Reagan and Bush before him, has declared
accounting for our countrymen to be a matter of the highest national
priority and DoD has assigned more than 500 men and women to work this
issue. The mission of our agency is to lead and oversee the DOD effort to
locate, account for, and repatriate Americans missing or captured as a
result of past, current, and future hostile actions. Operations to recover
remains from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, North Korea, China, Armenia, the
Netherlands, New Guinea, New Caledonia. Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Burma,
the Kuril Islands, and Tibet illustrate our Government's commitment to
recover our war dead wherever they may be located and to determine the fates
of all unaccounted-for Americans.
As a result of our Government's commitment to the fullest possible
accounting, since, 1973, the remains of 511 American servicemen from the
Vietnam War have been repatriated, identified, and returned to their
families for interment with full military honors. DoD is vigorously working
to account for the remaining 2,072 Americans who remain missing from that
war. If Mr. Rang would like to learn more about our worldwide efforts to
account for the more
than 92,000 Americans who are missing from our nation's wars during this
century, I recommend he visit our Internet web site at www.dtic.mil/dpmo.
Your continued interest and support for our efforts to provide the fullest
possible accounting are appreciated by the men and women of my office. I hope
this information is helpful in responding to Mr. Rang. If you or members of
your staff have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact my
Robert L. Jones
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
(POW/Missing Personnel Affairs)
cc: Army casualty office
Date: 5/1/2004 9:57:55 AM Eastern Standard Time
I was hoping for bits of information that would help me in my
plight to find my brother and bring him home. So much evidence that shows
he is still alive but time is a huge factor. Letters from him can not be
what we go on completely. But we have found that he was used for blood
transfusions and held captive at their make-shift hospitals and then moved
on possibly joining another camp but that is where the trail ends. I will
con't to strive to find answers.