|Rank/Branch:||Master Sergeant/US Army|
Binh Dinh, South Vietnam
|Date of Birth:||22 November 1921 (Philippine Islands)|
|Home of Record:||Waipahu, HI|
|Date of Loss:||25 February 1970|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||none listed|
|Other Personnel in Incident:||none)|
SYNOPSIS: Mateo Sabog enlisted in the US Army on 15 December 1945 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. During his flawless 24-year military career, he had a variety of assignments in the United States, Hawaii, Japan, Europe, Korea and Vietnam.
On 25 February 1970, he completed his second tour of duty as a logistics sergeant with the 507th Transportation Group at Binh Dinh, South Vietnam. He out-processed from his unit with orders to a new assignment with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 12th Transportation Group, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The Army presumed he departed Vietnam through Tan Son Nhut Airbase, which was located on the northwest edge of Saigon, on schedule. However, US Army records indicate "there is no evidence that MSgt. Sabog used his plane ticket, or that his personal effects were claimed." According to an Army spokesman: "Unfortunately, because of an administrative glitch, he was not missed by authorities at Fort Bragg since the post was not informed that MSgt. Sabog had orders to report there. It was not until 1973 when Mateo Sabog's family in Hawaii asked the US Army to help locate him that the Department of Army realized the career soldier was missing. In June 1974 the US Army arbitrarily declared him a deserter."
In 1979, Mateo Sabog's brother wrote then-President Carter seeking assistance in finding information about his missing brother. Further, the family challenged the military's determination that he was a deserter. As a result of that query, the US Army convened a Board of Inquiry to review all available evidence and to determine an appropriate status for MSgt. Sabog. After evaluating all available material including statements from unit members and friends, letters from the family and FBI reports reaffirming that Mateo Sabog could not be located, the board concluded that he "did not absent himself voluntarily," and that he should not be classified as a deserter. The board recommended Mateo Sabog's status be changed immediately from deserter to "Missing - Presumptive Finding of Death." This change was made retroactive effective 26 March 1970, the date he was to report to Fort Bragg. MSgt. Sabog's family was notified that this recommendation was approved in December 1979.
In July 1993 the Pentagon's office in charge of POW/MIA affairs told the US Army that Mateo Sabog's name would be added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as having died in the war.
On 11 April 1995 the same POW/MIA office in the Pentagon informed Mateo Sabog's brothers that remains that the Vietnamese government had indicated were their brother's had been recovered. These remains included 22 teeth, 5 showing possible restorations, along with some bones. At the same time the Vietnamese turned over some personnel effects and clothing. These remains and artifacts were shipped to the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CIL-HI) for examination. Dental analysis of the teeth was inconclusive. CIL-HI did not come right out and positively identify these remains as belonging to Mateo Sabog; however, according to a USG source, "CIL-HI did indicate that the bones might belong to MSgt. Sabog." The Army decided to conduct DNA analysis on these remains in an attempt to confirm their tentative identification. Ironically, Mateo Sabog was discovered in northwestern Georgia before that could be accomplished.
In late February 1996, Mateo Sabog used his correct name and social security number to apply for veteran's benefits. When computer records indicated the application was being made in the name of a man who was officially classified as dead, fingerprints were taken and compared to those maintained by the military. That examination confirmed that the man applying for benefits and Mateo Sabog were one and the same.
To date few details have surfaced about where he had been the last 26 years. What is known for sure is Mateo Sabog went by the name of "Bobby Fernandez" for the past 10 years. Also during the last 10 years, he lived in Rossville, Georgia as a live-in caretaker/companion for an elderly lady for little more than room and board. According to other residents of Rossville, the man known as Bobby Fernandez believed he had served in Vietnam, but could not remember more then that. In 1993, about the same time as his name was being added to the Vietnam Memorial, he told the local police department that he thought he might be AWOL from the military, but knew no details that might support that belief. The police checked his information, made several calls, but were told it was not possible because "Mateo Sabog was dead."
According to an Army spokesman,
MSgt. Sabog's case is not being treated as a criminal matter. "This is not
another Bobby Garwood situation. We are not going to hardball this case. Here
is a guy who, for whatever reason, disappeared. He's been somewhere for the
last 26 years. But he served his country honorably. We will treat him with dignity."
In early March 1996, Mateo Sabog was returned to active duty in order to be admitted to the Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Fort Gordon, Georgia for a complete medical evaluation and to be given any necessary treatment. Subsequently, he was honorably retired from the United States Army. Shortly thereafter he returned to Hawaii to live.
Any American who served his country honorably and faithfully deserves to be treated with dignity, particularly if he was a Prisoner of War. That includes Bobby Garwood whose POW history and return bears a striking resemblance to that of Mateo Sabog. If he disappeared in Southeast Asia, was captured and held by the communists against his will by communist forces, he deserves that respect. And if that is the case, then how and when did he return to the United States? Have other POW/MIAs been returned to this nation surreptitiously since the end of the war? On the other hand, if he boarded the aircraft in Saigon on which he was manifested, and got off of it in California as some reports imply, then he deserted the US Army he proudly served for 24 years.
The US Army is faced with a dilemma to determine Mateo Sabog's actual status. There are many questions that need to be answered. The verdict on his guilt or innocence is undetermined, and will probably remain so for some time to come. Regardless of those answers, Mateo Sabog's fate is no longer in doubt and his family, friends and country have the comfort of knowing where he now lives.
Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
American military men were called upon to fly and fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.