414. Memorandum From the Special Assistant to the Ambassador at Large (Sieverts) to the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker)1

Just as you left Saigon we sent a State-Defense message (State’s 71461, attached)2 proposing that the release of the three sergeants by the Viet Cong in Phnom Penh should be publicly reciprocated by the release of three VC PW’s by the GVN. Governor Harriman believes strongly that this should be done, and that it should be kept separate from Buttercup. (Most of the people who worked on this message are unaware of Buttercup.)

Under Secretary Katzenbach suggested I set down a few notes on this subject, with the thought that they may assist you in handling the matter when you return to Saigon.

The first point to note is that, up to now, the Phnom Penh release has not been related to Buttercup. Thomas Hayden, the young American “progressive” who played a role in the release, has told us that preliminary discussions for that release began six months ago. We have an indication that the VC planned to release these men earlier, but delayed because they had not shown the proper attitude. The VC previously released American PW’s at Christmas and Tet last year and at Christmas, 1965. This month’s release may have been their Christmas release for 1967, with the timing advanced because of Gus Hertz’s death3 and Mrs. Kennedy’s visit.4 These are all circumstantial indications that the Phnom Penh release was not considered by the VC to be part of Buttercup.
If at some future time the VC claim it was part of Buttercup, our position will be much stronger if the GVN will have already publicly reciprocated that release. We would have firm grounds for insisting that the release of Sau Ha, et al. be matched by additional releases by the VC.
There is a considerable amount of interest in the press and among the families of PW’s in the idea of reciprocal releases. Thus there is a degree of pressure for a prompt reciprocal release responding to the Phnom Penh release. While our public statements have avoided a commitment on this subject, we have responded to press questions by indicating that past VC releases have always been reciprocated by the GVN.
From Ambassador Locke’s message,5 it appears that the main problem is that arrangements for a public reciprocal release could complicate our dealings with the GVN on Buttercup. One way to reduce this difficulty might be to propose to the GVN that this public release be handled by a military commander in a province, in a manner which, to the extent possible, avoids involving any of the GVN officials seized of Buttercup. Suitable releases could be pulled out of a PW camp and freed, with appropriate public ceremony, either at the place of release, or in their home province where they are to be reunited with their families. Under the circumstances, we could relax our past insistence that the VC to be released be likely to return to their units, and defer to the GVN’s strong preference for picking men who have in effect switched sides and could be expected to return to their families.

The above are no more than suggestions, which I hope may prove useful in your handling of this subject. Needless to say, you have my personal best wishes in this, as in your many other difficult tasks.


Frank A. Sieverts 6
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–7 VIET S/BUTTERCUP. Secret; Nodis; Buttercup.
  2. Dated November 18. (Ibid., POL 27–7 VIET)
  3. Gustav Hertz, an AID employee in Vietnam, was kidnaped by the VC on February 2, 1965. His September 24, 1967, death from malaria was suggested in a Radio Hanoi broadcast of November 2 and confirmed in a November 6 letter from Sihanouk to Hertz’s wife. See The New York Times, November 9, 1967.
  4. Mrs. Kennedy visited Cambodia earlier that month.
  5. Document 413.
  6. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.