WASHINGTON — After decades of denials, the Chinese have acknowledged burying an American prisoner of war in China, telling the United States that a teenage soldier captured in the Korean War died a week after he "became mentally ill," according to documents.
China had long insisted that all POW questions were answered at the conclusion of the war in 1953 and that no Americans were moved to Chinese territory from North Korea.
The little-known case of Army Sgt. Richard G. Desautels of Shoreham, Vt., opens another chapter in this story and raises the possibility that new details concerning the fate of other POWs may eventually surface.
Chinese authorities gave Pentagon officials intriguing new details about Desautels in a March 2003 meeting in Beijing, saying they had found "a complete record of nine to 10 pages" in classified archives.
Until now, this information had been kept quiet; a Pentagon spokesman said it was intended only for Desautels' family members.
Two months after the March 2003 meeting, the Pentagon office responsible for POW-MIA issues sent Desautels' brother a brief written summary of what a Chinese army official had related about the case.
"According to the Chinese, Sgt. Desautels became mentally ill on April 22, 1953, and died on April 29, 1953," the summary said. It added that he had been buried in a Chinese cemetery but the grave was moved during a construction project "and there is no record of where Desautels' remains were reinterred."
American officials believed from the earliest days of the armistice that China and North Korea withheld a number of U.S. POWs, possibly in retaliation for U.S. refusal to repatriate those POWs who chose not to be returned to their home country.