SOURCE: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 July 1990 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families. published sources, interviews.
Gregory J. Harris was a radioman with a South Vietnamese company operating in Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam. On June 12, 1966, the 5th Vietnamese Marine Battalion Headquarters was overrun by Viet Cong forces, and according to the U.S. Marine Corps, Harris was captured.
Two officers with Harris were killed, but the South Vietnamese saw Harris captured alive and apparently unhurt. According to Marine Corps records, Harris died in captivity.
The Defense Department has never classified Gregory Harris as a prisoner of war eventhough the Marine Corps believes he was captured and died in captivity. He was placed in a casualty status of Missing in Action.
In the summer of 1973, after Harris did not return with the released prisoners of war, his mother, Catherine Helwig, did something quite remarkable to tell the world that all men did not return. She walked 450 miles in one month from Buffalo, New York to New York City. When asked why she did this, she responded, "If your child was lost in the forest you would not stop the search at the end of twenty-four hours. I can't look for my boy...it's better than staying awake night after night."
At the same time Mrs. Helwig was walking, then-President Nixon was declaring the task of accounting for the remaining missing, "Highest priority". President after President termed the accounting :highest national priority". Not too much has changed. The men are still in Southeast Asia. Their sons, daughters and grandchildren are marching and protesting because mounting evidence indicates that many are sill alive.
It's time America insisted that "highest priority: meant just that...and that the U.S. Government get very serious about bringing Americans home from Southeast Asian prisons.
Gregory J. Harris was promoted to the rank of Master Sergeant during the period he was a prisoner of war. Marine Corps records list his home city as Syracuse, New York.
The Following is written by Gregs cousin.
I have a cousin, who was seen, captured alive on June 12, 1966 in Quang
Ngai Province, VS.
Mind you we are realistic people and we realize that there is little hope of
his safe return, but we strive for a truthful accounting of him by our
I have been trying to research his case, I have found out he was listed in
Project -X, ( he was one of 57 men in that investigation) he was also listed
in the Vessey Discrepancy case's (he was one of 119 men listed in that)
In the Vessey investigation, a joint team talked to 8 witnesses stating that
he was shot and killed on June 12, 1966 . What I can make out from this
investigaton, that took place in 1990 is that they talked to the village
people and they talked to the communist (VIET CONG) but they didn't talk to
the other side, meaning the 5th Vietnamese marine battalion that
participated in the battle.
LS suggested that that I file through the Freedom Of Information Act with
the DPMO for all files on Gregory. I did this and I also requested all in-
formation on him in the Project-X cases. Their reply back to me is as
follows-- DPMO advises, reguarding your request for Project X files , that
it has no records of any such project in connection with Gregory John
Harris, USMC, further DPMO advises that the files on Gregory John Harris
have been declassified and placed in the public domain in the LOC.
Now I'm just a farm girl, but I would think If there was any information to
be had, on my cousin, that the DPMO , an agency that deals with POW/MIA'S
affairs, should have it. For them to say they have no records of any such
Project in connection with Greg , just doesn't sit right with me.
Now I don't believe that there is a government conspiracy, but I do believe
the investigation is a little one sided. They kind of disreguarded what the
Marine Corps reported two days after it happened, and went with the
recollections of the viet cong, 31 years later. I don't understand that, so
I'm searching for answers that feel right with me. I am married and the
mother of three boys, that report would not have been acceptable to me if it
was about one of my sons.
I would like to tell you about my cousin, (this keeps him alive in my heart
Gregory John Harris or "Butchie "as the family called him, was born and
raised in Fulton, New York. He was an only child raised by his mom. He was
the first grandchild and the apple of my grandfathers eye. He spent weekends
and summers on his Grandfathrs farm, where he learned to hunt and fish and
pretty much take care of himself. All of us grandchildren (his cousins)
looked up to him, he was our fearless leader, our big brother and confidant,
all rolled up in one. We would play hide an seek in the hay loft, have green
apple wars in the orchard, boys against girls (boys always won) and at night
when the chores were done we would go swimming in the pond and have a camp
fire. Butchie taught us camp fire songs such as" Mrs O Leary". He also saved
a neighbor from drowning in that pond. (He was our hero)
When he left for Vietnam, he left behind his mom and a big old black dog by
the name of Inky. Well Inky waited for him to come home , but he didn't---
Inky died, so his mom went out and got another big old black dog for him to
have when he got home, but he didn't come home. His mom died, in 1974, of
cancer, fighting to the very end for the safe return of her son. The family
has picked up the fight. He would be so proud of his mom she did all a
mother could do for her son and more. I hope I can be like them both.
Thank You for all your help, the family will continue to fight.
NAME: HARRIS, Gregory J., CPL, USMC
OFFICIAL STATUS: MISSING
CASE SUMMARY: SEE ATTACHED
RATIONALE FOR SELECTION: Two Vietnamese who were wounded during the same action from which CPL Harris disappeared reported his capture by Viet Cong Forces. Although there are no reports confirming CPL Harris as a Prisoner, there have been no subsequent reports of his death.
REFNO: 0358 04 Aug. 75
(U) CASE SUMMARY
1. On 12 June 1966, CPL Gregory J. Harris, radio operator, was with the 5th Battalion of the Vietnamese Marine Corps on a search and destroy mission in the vicinity of BS 670 578 in South Vietnam. The unit was attacked by the Viet Cong and suffered heavy losses. CPL Harris was then missing. As friendly forces gained fire superiority they were able to recover some bodies, but not CPL Harris, during a two hour search. The Viet Cong remained in the area throughout the night. (Ref 1)
2. On 13 Jun 66, a three hour search of the area recovered more bodies of the dead and wounded however no trace of CPL Harris was found. An interrogation of two wounded Vietnamese revealed that one saw CPL Harris moving out of the area into some heavy foliage and the other one saw him being captured by the Viet Cong. These two men later died so they could not be questioned further. ARVN agents in the area at the time reported on 14 Jun 66 that two Vietnamese Marines were captured by the Viet Cong. There was no mention of an American prisoner. All the personnel that were with the 5th Vietnamese Marine Battalion on 12 Jun 1966 were accounted for except the two Vietnamese Marines who were reported captured and CPL Harris. (Ref 1)
3. During the existence of JCRC the hostile threat in the area precluded any visits to or ground inspections of the sites involved in this case.
4. CPL Harris is currently carried in the status of Missing.
(U) REFERENCES USED:
1. (U) RPT, lst Marine Div, Investigation Report 22 June 1966.
We can't emphasize enough how important it is to keep pushing this issue inside the Beltway... The need to get specific answers is more important now than ever before. If still alive, some MIAs are now in their 70s... They don't have much time left. We have to demand the answers from the bureaucrats and keep standing on their necks (figureatively speaking) until they get the message that THEY work for US and that we are serious about getting these long overdue responses. Diplomatic considerations aside... We can no longer allow questionable protocols established by pseudo-aristocratic armchair strategists, to determine or influence the fat of men who were "in the trences" while the diplomats were sharing sherry and canapes and talking about "Their Plans" for the future of Southeast Asia.