Joseph W. Grainger – Major, United States Air Force Agency Of International Development (AID)


Name: Joseph W. Grainger
Rank/Branch: Civilian
Unit: Foreign Service Officer, USAID.
Date of Birth: 01 May 1925
Home City of Record:  West Hartford, Conneticut
Date of Loss: 08 August 1964
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 125903N 1091047E (BQ972338)
Status (in 1973): Killed in Captivity
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: ground

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project with the assistance of 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 with information provided by Elizabeth Grainger.

REMARKS: DIED – ON PRG DIC LIST 650317 [Widow states date of death is 650125]

SYNOPSIS: In February 1964, President Johnson ordered the withdrawal of American dependents from South Vietnam. Two months later, North Vietnam began infiltration of regular army units into South Vietnam. General William Westmoreland was appointed commander of MACV in June. By October the war was heating up. On October 7, the U.S. Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution which allowed the President a de facto declaration of war.

Wartime requires the presence of more than just soldiers and pilots. Private industry is needed to assist in building roads, airstrips, housing for the military. Private industry consultants might be on hand to solve problems with sophisticated military hardware. Even as early as 1964, there were many American civilians in Southeast Asia; some were CIA operatives, some were missionaries, some were journalists, and some were simply technical or construction specialists.

On October 8, 1964, one of these civilians, Joseph W. Grainger, was captured about 15 miles southwest of Tuy Hoa in Phu Yen Province, South Vietnam. During the remainder of the war, the U.S. compiled lists of Americans believed to be captured, to have ready at the time POWs would be released. This, they hoped, would eliminate the possibility of anyone being forgotten. They wanted to make sure all possible missing were accounted for. Joseph W. Grainger’s name was not on this list, later called “list of descrepancy cases”.

According to his Vietnamese captors, Grainger died in captivity on March 17, 1965.

Some 100 Americans were listed on Vietnam’s list of died in captivity whose remains were not returned. In the cases of some, maps have been drawn indicating the exact location of burial by fellow POWs. Some may never be recovered because of having been buried at the side of an obscure trail while the POWs were being moved from one location to another. Curiously, the Vietnamese do not feel compelled to account for these men they say died in captivity, even though it seems apparent that most of them could be easily
accounted for.

Tragically, since American involvement in Vietnam ended in 1975, nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing, prisoner, or otherwise unaccounted for in Indochina have been received by the U.S. Government. Many officials, having examined this largely classified information, have reluctantly concluded that many Americans are still alive today, held captive by our long-ago enemy.

American civilians who went to Vietnam during the war knew the risks they were taking. They understood that they could be wounded, killed, or captured. Probably Grainger never believed that his country would completely abandon him — alive or dead.

May 18 1998

Joe was a Foreign Service Officer with USAID.  He was the first civilian U.S official to be captured in South Vietnam. Contractors and a doctor had been captured before, though uptil then none had been killed.  With him were two assistants, a Filipino technician and
the Vietnamese director of a sugar plantation, a former NCO in the french army.  These two were later released.  Joe was the first civilian to be killed.

After six months in captivity, chained in a cave, he went on a hunger strike and managed to escape.  Captured a few days later, he struggled and was shot. Because USAID had offered so much money for his return, the Vietcong tried to save him but they lacked the medical supplies.

The two Viet Cong who had shot him were inturn executed since the Viet Cong would not beable to collect on the USAID reward money.

When the First Cavalry came through the region several months later, the villagers told them of a white man who was buried nearby.  His body was exhumed, identified and sent back to Washington where he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery and was posthumously awarded the State Department’s highest award.

The plaque is inscribed:

“For courageous sacrifice of his life in the service of his country while resisting return to illegal captivity by Viet Cong armed forces in Vietnam.”

Under repatriation actions, dated 31 May 1994, this record reports as follows: “A recent internal review resulted in determination that the remains of Joseph W. Grainger REFNO 0037-0-01 were returned to the United States in 1966 and subsequently interred in Arlington Memorial Cemetery that year. On 23 May 1994, the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Office released public affairs guidance for release of this information.”


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 05/01/1925
  • DATE OF DEATH: 01/12/1965
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 05/10/1966

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