The Case of Sergeant Jon M. Sweeney

In February 1969, only a few weeks after arriving in Vietnam, Sergeant Jon Sweeney disappeared from Company M, 3d Battalion, 9th Marines. Unable to keep up with his company he was left behind and told to join the rear guard that was only minutes behind. When the rear guard arrived Sweeney was nowhere to be found. During the search Marines found Sweeney’s gun and ammunition, but nothing else. It would be nine months before anything more was heard of Sweeney.

Jon M. Sweeney
Jon M. Sweeney

During World War II President Franklin Roosevelt created the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service (FBMS), under the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to monitor axis radio broadcasts. In 1947 the FBMS was moved to the CIA and renamed the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). FBIS continued monitoring foreign broadcasts after World War II ended and it was through a North Vietnamese monitored broadcast that Sweeney was discovered. In his broadcasts Sweeney referred to himself as a deserter and spoke of joining the Vietnamese cause. Some broadcasts even provided instructions to others on how to desert and join the North Vietnamese, including this statement on July 16, 1970.

In August 1970 Sweeney was taken to Stockholm on a North Vietnamese passport and released. On his return to the United States he was charged with desertion and aiding the enemy. Executive Order 10631, signed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955 established a Code of Conduct to be followed by US Prisoners of War. The Code says “I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.” At the time the US did not have a policy protecting Prisoners of War (POWs) from being tried for statements made in captivity. Sweeney admitted to participating in broadcasts, but said he did so under duress. After the trial Sweeney was found not guilty on all charges and honorably discharged from the Marine Corps.

Although he was tried and found not guilty, to this day there are some who believe that this was a miscarriage of justice and that Sweeney deserted and freely participated in North Vietnamese propaganda. You can learn more about the case of Sergeant Sweeney from the records in 127-IIFa (NAID 12005668), Sound Recordings Relating to Former POW Sgt. Jon M. Sweeney, 2/22/1969 – 9/1/1970, as well as textual records here at the National Archives.

A number of these audio recordings have poor sound quality due to being recorded from on-air broadcasts from Hanoi and Moscow.

This recording contains Christmas greetings from POWs to their families in the United States. Sweeney’s message begins at 24:48. Followed by his poem “Black Tomorrow”, which begins below.

NARA Local Identifier: 127-IIFa-16


Sweeney broadcast regarding Marine Corps Code of Conduct, May 14, 1970

NARA Local Identifier: 127-IIFa-26


Sweeney message to US Troops fighting in Vietnam, January 21, 1970

NARA Local Identifier: 127-IIFa-17