Last Known Activity|
Source: Compiled from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S.
Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families,
published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK in 2004.
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?