THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Thursday, October 27, 1994 TAG: 9410270456 SECTION: LOCAL PAGE: B6 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY JON FRANK, STAFF WRITER LENGTH: Medium: 83 lines
Martha Ann Consolvo of Virginia Beach has had a lot of hopes dashed during the 22 years since her only son, John, was shot out of the sky during the last days of the Vietnam War.
But the passage of time never extinguished her hope that Capt. John W. Consolvo Jr., a Marine fighter pilot, was alive in Southeast Asia and would someday return home. The government lists him as presumed dead.
That hope was renewed this week when reports surfaced that a prisoner of war held for 43 years by North Korea had escaped to freedom in South Korea.
Although some critics doubt the story, believing that it may be a political ploy aimed at discrediting North Korea's communist government, Consolvo has drawn encouragement from it. Consolvo thinks that if it could happen in Korea it could happen in Vietnam.
``I hope it is true,'' she said. ``There is a great possibility that it is true. It is possible and I hope some day it will happen (in Vietnam).''
Others in the Vietnam POW/MIA movement were similarly encouraged after reading about the escape of the Korean War prisoner.
``When I saw the article, I thought miracles do happen,'' said Terry Wood, president of Freedom Now, a Peninsula Vietnam POW/MIA support group that has steadfastly maintained that Americans are still being held in Vietnam and Laos.
``And I believe if those men are going to get out, it is going to be a miracle,'' Wood said.
Wood has grown skeptical, after years of disappointment, about convincing government officials that Americans are being held prisoner in Vietnam. She expects no help from the Clinton administration, which she thinks is hiding information about Vietnam POWs so that public outrage will be muted.
``They will not let the public believe that men are over there,'' Wood said.
The POW/MIA community of nationwide support groups sprang to life immediately upon learning about the Korean's escape. Wood received a copy of the story over the POW/MIA Fax Network.
It proves, Wood said, that the beliefs held by families of Vietnam-era POWs are not as farfetched as many critics believe.
``The fact that this man was in captivity for this long and escaped, and was this old - who are they to say that men who are younger have not survived?'' Wood said.
News reports from South Korea said Lt. Cho Chang-ho, 64, was rescued off that country's western coast early Sunday. Cho said he escaped from North Korea only after he caught pneumonia and was released from the coal mines to live unattended in a remote area. He said he had worked in coal mines for most of his 43 years in captivity.
Cho said he crossed the Yalu River into China on the night of Oct. 3 and, 16 days later, Koreans there helped him head home aboard a boat that Chinese men use to smuggle goods from South Korea.
The Chinese crew took him to South Korea's western coast, then used a flashlight to attract a South Korean fisheries service vessel that took him aboard.
The rescue 80 miles southwest of the port of Kunsan made Cho the first prisoner of war to reach South Korea since 1953.
Cho said he was captured in 1951 by Chinese who fought alongside North Korean troops. The South Korean Defense Ministry had listed him as killed in action.
South Korea says the communist North never returned more than 40,000 South Korean prisoners from the 1950-53 Korean War, but the North says all POWs went home when the war ended. About 8,100 Americans are unaccounted for from the Korean War, in which the United States sided with South Korea.
Thousands also were unaccounted for after the Vietnam War ended, according to POW activists, despite claims by the Nixon administration that all prisoners of war were returned to the U.S. at the war's conclusion.
``We are still waiting for a live prisoner,'' said Consolvo, whose son was 27 when he was shot down over Vietnam. ``But there is always the hope. I have never given up hope that someday, somebody will come back alive.'' MEMO: The Associated Press contributed to this story. ILLUSTRATION: Photo
Cho Chang-ho, 64, embraces his sister, Cho Chang-sukin, at a
hospital in Seoul on Monday after his escape from North Korea after
43 years in captivity. His brother, Cho Chang-won, is at right.