Rumors persisted throughout Southeast Asia in the years following the Vietnam War that some American POWs were left behind. While this claim has never been totally substantiated, a radio intercept from 1980 indicated around 20 American POWs were being transported to a camp in Gnommorath, Laos. Overhead imagery was then collected of the area which appeared to feature a prison camp complete with guard towers and stockade walls. The number ‘52’ was dug into the ground among rows of agricultural crops in the camp as well as the letter ‘K’. The ground marking was intentionally large enough to be seen from the air, but angled as to not be seen by guards. ‘52K’ was assessed by the Defense Intelligence Agency to be an escape and evasion code likely meaning 52 downed airmen. While the CIA was skeptical of the report, they eventually agreed to send a small recon team to the location. A Caucasian prisoner was even spotted in their surveillance, but a full rescue was never realized due to multiple published media stories from that time that compromised the operation’s security. Leaked details to The Washington Post likely clued the POW’s captors into what was going on behind the scenes and prevented their location from ever being pinpointed again.
The Crossroads of Special Operations