So why did it become an issue after Vietnam? Well, first off, the Nixon administration. Nixon elevated the issue for two reasons: so that getting them back could serve as a substitute for victory in Vietnam, and -- unlike the returning soldiers who criticized the war -- the POWs and their families still supported the war effort by default, thereby serving as heroic endorsers of Nixon's policies.
Subsequent investigations have been successful in discovering the remains of 998 of those 2,646 MIAs -- they've even managed to identify the soldier previously buried in the Tomb of the Unknown. For their part, Vietnamese officials have offered assistance in putting the remaining soldiers to rest as they also search for their own MIAs ... all 300,000 of them.
Linda D. Kozaryn/American Forces Press Service
"This would go a lot faster without all this rain, RAIDEN."
But that's not the stuff you tend to hear about in the media. As in any tragedy, conspiracy theorists kicked into overdrive, suggesting that the Vietnamese kept American captives even after they returned 591 American servicemen during Operation Homecoming. Since then, plenty of well-publicized evidence has been brought up before being quietly discredited, mercenaries have offered themselves up as POW rescuers, and '80s action movies did no small part to help popularize the idea. Yet as historian H. Bruce Franklin pointed out in 1991:
Every responsible investigation conducted since the end of the war has reached the same conclusion: There is no credible evidence that live Americans are being held against their will in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, or China.
It's a tough call, but we're going to have to take the word of the leading cultural historian and Rutgers University professor over that of a fictional character portrayed by Sylvester Stallone. This time.
He is, however, still the leading authority on settling child custody disputes.