Home/Vietnam War/US Army/SPARKS,DONALD LEE


powmia-rwb.gif (8635 bytes)

One of many missing but not forgotten, let’s bring them home NOW!!

Rank/Branch:E3/US Army Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Unit:1st Platoon, Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 23rd Infantry Division (Americal) Loss Coordinates:153416N 1081737E (BT098232)
Date of Birth:07 November 1946 Status(in 1973):Prisoner Of War Category : 1
Home City of Record:Carroll IA Acft/Vehicle/Ground:Ground Refno: 1456
Loss Date:17 June 1969 Other Personnel In Incident:Larry Alonza Graham (killed, body recovered)

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 1998.



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 other Americans.

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,were not.

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?

[324.txt 12/29/92]

Bob Smith
New Hampshire
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510


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 list)
-last known alive (DoD April 1991 list)

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.
[ssrep6.txt 02/09/93]

South Vietnam Donald L. Sparks(1456)

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-EastAsia.

…….. 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 wasaddressed to his parents, Mr and Mrs Calvin Sparks of Carroll, Iowa. It read:

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 a check.

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. ……

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 Parks 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

Page 2.

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
Page 3.
than 92,000 Americans who are missing from our nation’s wars during this century, I recommend he visit our Internet web site at

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 office.

Robert L. Jones
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
(POW/Missing Personnel Affairs)

cc: Army casualty office

powmia14.jpg (5906 bytes)



U.S. Senate Listings

U.S. House Listings

President of the United States

Vice-President of the United States

First Lady