|Back to "Memoirs" Index page|
Franklin "Jack" Chapman
Santa Fe, New Mexico -
- Jack Chapman
<------ NOTE: picture size MAX 248 width...
Cherokee Warrior Contents:
There is certainly no glory or honor to being captured and incarcerated as a Prisoner of War. While there is no disgrace, it’s a traumatic, frustrating and often humiliating experience to be coerced into circumstances and situations beyond one’s control, and more significantly, having to unconditionally surrender one’s most precious right...… Freedom!
The Geneva Convention is a treaty agreed upon by several nations, and put into effect in 1950, for the protection and the conduct of the prisoner of war. In general, its main purpose is to provide rules that prisoners of war must be treated humanely. Specifically forbidden are violence to life and person, cruel treatment and torture, and outrages on personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment. As a young soldier, this and the words “If captured” had little or not significance to me……… except when it became my reality and personal nightmare for three years.
Sir Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of England, so aptly described the ordeal of a prisoner of war as follows:
During the Korean War of 1950, I and hundreds of my fellow servicemen were captured by Communist Forces and spent the next three (3) years as Prisoners of War. Although we had little or no training in the Communist tactics of torture and brainwashing, many valiantly resisted and some survived until 1953, when we were finally liberated and put under control of the United Nations at Panmunjom, South Korea.
This is my story, an actual, factual and chronological account of events occurring before, during, and after my incarceration. It is written without malice or prejudices, but with a profound feeling of hope that no other American in the armed forces of the United States, or any other nation for that matter, will ever have to endure the pain, suffering, and humiliation as a Prisoner of War.
I'm a humble survivor striving to put past experiences and nightmares behind me while enjoying my freedom in the company of my lovely and caring wife and our four wonderful children. It’s been many years, many sleepless nights, and many trips to doctors seeking medical care and attention for what I endured to ensure the freedom and security of my family, and families of all free nations. I am here…… putting my life in order, while wondering how to deal with the disturbing world news confronting me whenever I turn on the television set.
Sadly, I think of the “freedom” George Washington, the father of our country, had envisioned for this new nation, the “freedom” dreams of President John F. Kennedy and the startling awaking of the American people following his assassination. Add to this the hate groups, the left wingers, the right wingers, Cuba, Panama, Vietnam, Cyprus, and I ask myself, "WHY? WHY?” When will the American people rise from their placid, quick-to-forget, "I pay my taxes" attitude and realize the possible fate that awaits our country. “They are over there, and we are over here. Why bother?”
As I regress into the events of my childhood, I am reminded of young men and women longing to come to terms with themselves and their future, for I was one of them. However, I am encouraged and drawn to the “courage” exemplified by these young service men and women who valiantly face and honorably prevail over adversities in the services of their country.
With profound respect and admiration, I proudly salute the honor and dignity of my fellow comrades who survived and those who died in the Korean War. And, I humbly dedicate this story to my family, to all former Korean Prisoners of War and their loved ones, and especially to all those with whom I have had personal contact and the honor of serving.
I personally want to “acknowledge” and thank all of my friends and buddies who shared their stories and experiences with me. Also a special acknowledgment and thanks to my good friend and buddy Benjamin Comeau for giving me copies of his drawings and a copy of the Military Script with all of our names from Company Seven, Camp One/Three, Ch’angsong, North Korea, from October 1951 to August 1952.
Chapter 1 - FJ Chapman
I am Franklin Jack Chapman, a patriotic American who survived incarceration as a Prisoner of War for 33 months during the Korean War.
I grew up in the middle and far western half of the United States, and I’m especially proud and respectful of my Cherokee Indian heritage, my nationality as an American, my family customs, traditions, kinship, and above all, the freedom enjoyed by all Americans.
I was born in the Flat Rock area of Mazie, a township in Mayes County, Oklahoma, a short distance from the Grand River, in the house of my mother’s father on January 24, 1933. I never knew any of my maternal grandparents, except that they were of Cherokee Indian stock. My grandmother had died on January 9, 1929, and my grandfather had died 11 days before my first birthday. As for my father’s side, I can only relate what I have been told over the years, since I never really knew him or what he was like. My mother never spoke of him.
My mother had remarried, and by the time we moved to Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1939, there were three of us boys. However, due to misunderstandings and a faltering relationship with my stepfather, I decided to take control of my life. I had dropped out of high school at the early age of 14. By the time I was nearing 15 years old, I had already traveled (by myself) from Oklahoma to California, then to Washington, back to Oklahoma, then to Michigan and back to Oklahoma.
At age 15, the only work I could find was gathering pecans and walnuts, and working the cotton and hay fields. During this period, I lived with my mother’s brothers and worked at odd jobs. Then in the summer of 1948, I worked in the onion fields while staying with my uncle in Michigan. It was here I had decided, “This is not the life for me!”
With my meager savings, I bought a bus ticket to Oklahoma, where I had a couple of uncles and an aunt who lived there. While there I tried to get a job working on the railroad. I had heard the railroad was looking for help around Oklahoma City. So with little more then a few dollars in my pocket, I took off for Oklahoma City in search of a job on the railroad.
It was late in the afternoon when I finally found the Railroad Foreman’s office. When I entered the office, I told him I was 18 years old and needed a job. The foreman took one look at me and said, “You can stay the night here, but tomorrow morning, I don’t want to see you around.” He took me to the mess car where I was fed, then showed me the sleeper car where I stayed until morning. When I awoke, I didn’t really know what I was going to do! I had less then a dollar in my pocket. I picked up my bag, which contained a change of clothing and my Bible, and started hitchhiking to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Around lunchtime, I found a store and bought some bread and a soft drink. This left me with about fifty cents. Hitchhiking was bad, so I kept walking. Occasionally someone would stop and give me a ride, but only until they turned off of the main highway. It was well after dark when I saw a light in the distance and headed for it. It turned out to be farmhouse. When I knocked on the door, the man of the house came to the door. He asked what I wanted. I explained my situation, was given some water, and told to be on my way.
The next afternoon I found myself at the outskirts of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where to my dismay, the police stopped me. They searched my bag and couldn’t find anything but my change of clothing and my Bible. Without further comment, they let me go and I was on my way.
I don’t recall where I stayed that night. Somehow, on the next day, I had made it back to Muskogee, Oklahoma. My mother fixed me a meal, and because I didn’t want to hang around the house with my stepfather, I left. A couple of days later, I was hitchhiking to the place of my mother’s uncle, where I worked for about a couple of weeks. Aunt Mary and my uncle had several children and fortunately for me, considered me as one of their own. Aunt Mary had nursed me when I was a baby. She was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian, petite and beautiful, and not a mean bone in her body.
When I left their home, I went to the nearest Naval Recruiting Office, wanting to enlist in the Marines or the Navy. I completed all the necessary paper work, putting my age down as 17, although I was only 15, with my address being that of my uncle and aunt in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Recruiting Officer asked me to come back the next day. When I returned, he informed me I had lied about my age, and therefore, I could not be accepted, but to come back when I was old enough.
I was getting desperate and really wanted to find a decent job. The only thing I came up with was a job setting pins in a bowling alley. It wasn’t much! I worked at setting pins from the moment the lanes opened until they closed it. Since the manager liked the way I worked, he made sure I was given the best bowlers. After a month or so of working at this job, I decided to try the Army Air Force.
Three days after my 16th birthday, I went to the Army Recruiting Office. Since I didn’t have a birth certificate, all I would need was for someone to sign for me, and I was in! At the same time, several young men were being recruited into the Army and several others were being drafted. I was the only one who had signed up for the Army Air Force. However, during our physical examination, several Army candidates talked me into joining the Army with them. Everything went well. I didn’t have any problems getting on board. Perhaps it was because the Recruiting Officer was too busy processing the other men being drafted into the Army that he totally forgot about me.
I was in! I had a new home and had taken my first step toward total independence with a decent job. I was a soldier on my way to see the world, to seek out what fate had in store for me. I was shipped off to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas for 8 weeks of Basic Training, which turned out to be a breeze. During my first month there, I was selected as Soldier of the Week.
Following Basic Training, I was assigned to the 14th RCT, Heavy Weapons Company (4.2 Mortar) at Camp Carson, Colorado, just outside of Colorado Springs. In the platoon I was assigned to, there were two veteran soldiers who served in WWII. One was from Arkansas and the other from Mississippi. They were darn sharp too! One day the Sergeant from Mississippi called me aside and wanted to know my age. I replied without hesitating, “SEVENTEEN SIR!” He said, “You sure look awfully young for seventeen. Are you sure?” “YES SIR!” I replied. Nothing else was ever mentioned of my age again, until I went to Korea.
At Camp Carson I was selected as Soldier of the Month for our Company, and for that honor, I was assigned duty as the Colonel’s Orderly for a day. During my tour there, I faced fear several times. I recall being assigned guard duty for prisoners on work detail, and at the Stockade. The prisoners were much older than I, and because of this and how young I looked, I felt intimidated and afraid whenever I performed this duty. One night, one of the prisoners tried to escape and was fired upon by another guard. This frightened me because it could have easily been me firing that shot. I always felt real glad whenever my tour of guard duty was over.
While stationed at Camp Carson, I received training in 4.2 mortar operations, cross country skiing, rock climbing, track vehicle operations, and spent two months of training in Alaska. Upon returning to Camp Carson from Alaska, my platoon was further assigned temporary duty at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, where I received orders for duty in Japan. Upon arriving in Japan, I was assigned to Company D (Dog), 31st Infantry Regiment.
And, little did I know my next stop would be a war in Korea, where my rites of passage for bravery would be tested while incarcerated as a Prisoner of War for 32 months and 20 days!
Chapter 2 - Battleground Korea
Before the war broke out in mid-1950, few people in the Western World either knew, or cared to know, about Korea or its people. Under the impact of war, knowledge became essential. Old books on the subject were dusted and new ones were quickly rushed to the printers. Maps of Korea filled the newspapers and slowly some of the strange sounding names became familiar to the man on the street. The candle of indifference was replaced by the searchlight of interest as Korean geography and history took on new importance.
Korea shares a long, common frontier with Manchuria along the Yalu and Tumen Rivers and touches the Soviet Union on the mouth of the Tumen, see Figure 1 below.
From the northernmost bend of the Tumen, Korea extends some 600 miles to the southern tip of the peninsula with a width varying from slightly over 100 miles at the waist to approximately 220 miles at its broadest part. The dominant feature of the topography is the mountainous Taebaek chain covering northeastern Korea and running south along the eastern coast. The mountain slopes dip sharply down to the sea in the east, but are gentler in the west. Roads, railroads, and the communications network follow the valleys and mountain passes in the broken terrain.
Korea is an agricultural country raising most of its dry crops in the north and the bulk of its rice in the south. The majority of its heavy industry and hydroelectric development is located in the north. Average precipitation and mean temperatures are similar to those in the Middle Atlantic States of the United States, but the winters are much colder and over 80 percent of the rainfall is concentrated in the seven months between April and October. Floods are fairly frequent during this period.
With such a long salt-water frontier, fishing villages dot the cost of Korea. Ironically, the best ports are on the southern and western coasts, where tidal variations are more extreme. There are few good harbors on the Sea of Japan, which has a tidal range of only about three feet.
Located at the strategic crossroads of East Asia, Korea has had a long and checkered history. For many centuries the peninsula experienced a series of petty wars between rival powers seeking to establish hegemony. Finally, during the seventh century, the kingdom of Silla managed with Chinese aid to gain control of most of Korea. The influence of Chinese civilization at this time brought about Korean acceptance of the Confucian system of social relationships and left a lasting imprint upon Korean ethics, morals, arts, and literature.
Despite invasions from barbarian hordes during succeeding centuries, on the whole, Korea remained faithful to its father-son relationship with China.
Chapter 3 - The Invasion Of South Korea
On June 25, 1950, the news came of a Communist aggression from North Korea aimed at the Republic of South Korea, a young struggling democracy formed after World War II. Then, more news followed… The North Koreans had invaded South Korea and overran the City of Seoul like a horde of locusts, and were pushing further south toward Pusan.
Korea was a country only a few of us (young soldiers) had heard of, much less discussed. So not really knowing what it all meant, we briefly talked about the situation and proclaimed our hope and belief that the United Nations action would settle the matter.
There were rumors that the United States forces were to be deployed to deal with the aggression, before the United Nations could begin their deliberations. Soon there were speculations on which units would do what, causing Commanders to inventory equipment on hand and attempt to make up the shortages in manpower which, they learned, was not possible in the peacetime United States Far East Command.
Armed with Soviet weapons, the North Korea People’s Army (NKPA) forces had invaded South Korea. Six days later, a battalion of the United States 24th Infantry Division was rushed to South Korea from Japan, and readily engaged the enemy on the outskirts of Seoul.
At the start of the Korean War, all US Army units were under manned. The 7th Infantry Division was stripped of all but a few trained men to reinforce units going to the Pusan perimeter. More then half of the units were replacements just in from the States, and most of them came from the 3rd Army stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia.
The U.S. military was not ready for a ground war. After World War II and the debut of the atomic bomb, the Army and Marine Corps were rapidly demobilized. Equipment budgets were slashed. In its new role as a peacekeeping force, the Army of June 1950 was ill-equipped, under-strength, and poorly trained.
US Forces in Japan is Mobilized
Within weeks, United States forces in Japan were being reinforced with South Korean Army troops to make up for the shortage of manpower in our units. When the Korean War started, my Company had about 60 men and half of our reinforcements were South Koreans. The South Koreans were hard to understand, so we needed an interpreter for everything, but they were good people.
Then news came describing how the initial American reinforcements in Korea were being virtually annihilated, and more were needed. The 7th Infantry Division, with its three regimental combat teams and support units (which my unit, "The Polar Bear Regimental Combat Team" was an integral part of), was soon to be on its way to the "United Nations Police Action." Time became an important factor, as shortages of equipment, personnel, and compliance with training schedules were forgotten and assembly for shipment began.
Then came the long array of convoys, their equipment and ships all being of World War II vintage. The hours of loading and getting underway were long, dismal, tiring, and nearly unbearable for the young and inexperienced troops at hand. We were then briefed on what lay ahead although our superiors had no idea what we would eventually encounter, since American forces had never before met hard-core Communist elements in battle. Shortly thereafter, my childhood memories rolled vividly before me; school years, the pledge of allegiance each morning before class, the study of American history and American patriots, and of the forward drive and greatness of our country's sovereignty.
The UN Counter-Offensive
In September 1950, the United Nations launched a powerful counter-offensive against the North Koreans. At first, the North Korea People’s Army (NKPA) moved down the Korean Peninsula with relative ease. But on Sept. 15, General MacArthur launched his brilliant amphibious landing of the X Corps at Inch'on, deep behind enemy lines. The landing of the 1st Marine Division and the Army’s 7th Infantry Division opened the door for an allied victory.
The US 1st Marine Division and my unit, the 7th Infantry Division, made amphibious landings on the west coast of South Korea at Inch’on, approximately 200 miles north of Pusan, South Korea, to cut off the North Korean’s communication lines and recapture Seoul.
As the United Nations Forces were 'mopping up' the southern resistance, plans were being made for another landing. This would be a back breaker landing in the North Korean heartland to isolate the North Korean units from logistical support and to force them to surrender.
The X-Corps, consisting of the 7th Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Division, was to do an amphibious landing at Wonson, on the East Coast of North Korea. They would join up with the 8th Army and attack across the 38th Parallel, its main objective being North Korea’s capital city of P'Yongyang. When this proposed action was being initiated, we didn’t know the Communist Chinese was amassing its forces of hundreds of thousands of screaming people, in support of North Korea, at the Yalu River.
Around the end of September, the UN Assembly authorized the crossing of the 38th Parallel. Within weeks, the North Koreans were pushed back across the 38th parallel.
The map in Figure 3 shows the route taken by the Inchon Invasion Task Force of the United Nations Forces for a landing at Inchon, South Korea, on September 15, 1950. General Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief Far East, was the UN Forces commander.
Chapter 4 - Landing At Inch’on, South Korea And On To North Korea
The map below, Figure 3, shows my journey through South and North Korea since landing at Inch’on South Korea on September 18, 1950, until my departure from the country in 1953. The heavy black arrows on the map show the routes I took prior to my capture. The heavy red arrows show the “death marches” routes I took as a prisoner of war.
I arrived in South Korea on September 15, 1950 with the Army 7th Infantry Division and 1st Marine Division by way of an amphibious landing at Inch’on, South Korea. Little resistance was encountered from the Communist forces during the landing, however, resistance from the area’s natural elements and terrain greatly impeded our every effort. Surprisingly enough, the landing and reassembling were quickly completed for most of our units, and we were rapidly on our way southward to trap the North Korean People’s Army.
On or about October 5th 1950, my unit, the 7th Infantry Division assembling near Suwon, commenced its motor-march southward to the huge, overcrowded (with refugees and United Nations Army Units) city of Pusan, South Korea. We used our own trucks and some from the 8th Army and the Marines. We were ordered to take a 350 mile roundabout inland route from Suwon to Pusan (Suwon-Chungju-Kumchon-Taegu).
My first real enemy engagement came in the mountainous Suwon area. After several heavy encounters, our leaders assumed the arrival of the second wave of United Nations Forces would convince the North Korean commanders to lick their wounds and high tail it back North. Eventually, the North Koreans did just that by skirting through and/or around the widely spread units of the United States and the South Korean Army, leaving behind an array of guerrilla units.
On or about October 8, 1950, the Marines and 31st RCT reached Pusan. We had been in combat wearing the same clothes since landing in mid-September. The Marines and 31st RCT boarded ships for our landing further north.
On or about October 10, 1950, the X-Corp’s mission was changed to advance northward instead of westward from Wonson. General Almond decided to land the 7th Infantry Division as close as possible to its axis of advance inland toward North Korea's northern border. The 7th Infantry Division would land at Iwon, North Korea, about 105 miles northeast of Wonson, North Korea, in the enemy's industrial region. Then they were to proceed north to the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from Communist China.
By October 16, the 7th Infantry Division with its equipment and men had been packed aboard ships for the trip north.
On or about October 27, 1950, the LSTs and ships sailed up the northern coast from Pusan to Iwon, North Korea, for the landing that was to end the United Nations Police Action in Korea and have the American GIs home for Christmas. The fleet set sail, heading north through the chilling winter waters off the eastern coast of North Korea. During the trip, we were again briefed on the "Gung Ho" American type landing of World War II. Only this time, it was supposed to be comparatively easy, with the psychological effect of a mass UN Forces landing in North Korea, to finally complete the job.
The Landing at Iwon, NK, October 29, 1950.
Two days after boarding the ships, we landed at Iwon, North Korea. The landing was not as difficult as the assault landing at Inch’on, South Korea. The beach was rocky and the water much colder, but the overall terrain was much kinder than our previous landing.
When we landed at Iwon, the 17th Regiment charged inland to take P’ungsan, while the 31st Regiment, on the 17th’s left in the Division's center, moved northward to the left of P’ungsan. My unit, the 7th Infantry Division, headed north along the northern coast through Kilchu, to the Yalu River at Hyesanjin.
Roads were non-existent in this area. We spread out, mostly on foot, into the mountains, "holding" or "advancing" in the Division's center. After moving inland, our morale was high, still believing the "Home for Christmas slogan”. However, we made a tragic mistake by spreading ourselves too thin over the northern most part of North Korea.
The 3rd Battalion of the 31st encountered a few Communist Chinese Forces soldiers who fought desultory or not at all. This led our Commanding Officers and others to unwisely regard all Chinese with contempt.
All of our units were moving “helter skelter” toward the Manchurian border, close behind the retreating North Korean Army. We skirted some straggling Chinese soldiers, believing our rear echelon units would make short work of them.
By the end of October 1950, the US 8th Army had attacked the North Korean city of P'Yongyang. The ground troops assaulted from the south, and a parachute drop north of the city by the 187th Regimental Combat Team completed its envelopment. To all of us, the fall of P'Yongyang, the enemy's capital city, symbolized complete defeat of North Korea. Practically all organized resistance had come to an end. The North Koreans had ceased to exist as an effective fighting machine and the way seemed open to a speedy end to the hostilities.
So we thought!!
The Yalu River
By mid November, elements of the X-Corps had advanced to the Yalu River. Our instructions were, “Under no circumstances are we to cross the Yalu River.” From mid November on, canteens remained frozen, so we had to melt snow for water and instant coffee when a fire could be built.
As the bitter cold North Korean winter moved upon us, we were ordered not to cross into Manchuria, pending negotiations that would end the "Police Action." It was felt the North Koreans had learned their lesson, and we could still be home for Christmas. However, in conjunction with talks of the forth-coming negotiations that would supposedly end the police action, we also heard rumors of a tremendous build-up of the North Korean lines bolstered by the Communist Chinese Forces (CCF). The word was, “This is just a face-saving maneuver by the CCF elements after having recently been driven northward by the United Nations Forces. They would not dare to try it again, but would instead, negotiate!”
We were in for a rude awakening!!
Our daily patrols began to report an estimated one million CCF soldiers were massing along the opposing lines. They seemed to have the manpower, but not enough weapons to go around. These hard-core communist elements had also been thoroughly brainwashed into thinking their first weapons would come from captured stocks taken from United Nations Forces.
A few days before Thanksgiving Day, our Marines had engaged the Chinese at Sudong. They had taken some prisoners and presented them to the higher-ups as proof of Chinese intervention in the war. South Korean troops had also taken Chinese prisoners but still, the higher-ups denied the Chinese were in Korea in full force.
The 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment (with Charlie Company of the 57th Field Artillery attached), was ordered to continue its present mission from the Yalu River, south to the Pukch’ong area. The 2nd Battalion was ordered to close in without delay and be prepared to attack north on order.
Thanksgiving, Pukch’ong, NK
After spending a few days on the Yalu River at Hyesanjin, NK, we headed back south through Kapson and P’ungsan to Pukch’ong, just south of Iwon. We arrived there on or about November 21, 1950, just before Thanksgiving.
On Thursday, November 23, 1950 (Thanksgiving Day), we were treated to a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.
A day or so after Thanksgiving Day, my unit, a Heavy Weapons Platoon from Delta Company, was assigned to Captain Charles Peckham's Company B (Baker Company), 31st Infantry Regiment. Our orders were to advance to the Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir.
What we didn’t know was the Chinese, in full force, had crossed the Manchurian border and was allowing the UN Forces to move deeper into North Korea before springing their trap.
Hamhung, November 25-28, 1950
On our way to the Chosin Reservoir, we arrived at Hamhung, NK, sometime around midnight, November 25. We remained at Hamhung, until around 12 p.m., November 28, getting supplies, replacement equipment, and waiting for winter clothing that had been ordered for us. Then we continued northward to the 1st Marine Division’s Command Post, which was located at Koto-ri, a few miles south of the Chosin Reservoir. Our orders were to open up the road to Koto-ri and fight our way in a leap-frog fashion to Hagaru.
Somehow, the supply of winter clothing that had been ordered for us had not arrived before we left Hamhung. We were not prepared for the icy weather that had already laid a mantle of frost on the ground, and capped the highest peaks with snow. At dusk, the temperature dropped abruptly for the second day in a row, to a numbing 30 degrees below zero. I had on two pairs of pants, two shirts, a field jacket, and no overcoat, and I was freezing. Man was it cold!
I had received training at Camp Hale, near Leadville, Colorado at the old home of the 10th Mountain Division where I learned to ski and rock climbing. During the winter of 1949-1950, I was on maneuvers in Alaska where we slept outside, and most of our time was spent in the field, skiing and snowshoeing. But, we were equipped with the appropriate winter clothing and gear. The only other time I can remember being so cold was when we made a stop in Great Falls, Montana, when returning from Alaska. The temperature, with wind chill factor, was around 50 below zero and it was cold!!
Thanks to my cold weather training in Colorado and Alaska, I had an advantage over many of my fellow soldiers. If we had adequate winter clothing and gear, just maybe, we would not have mind the cold so much.
Boy, we were cold, cold, cold!! It was something!!!
Needless to say, we had started our mission to Koto-ri and the Chosin Reservoir without proper winter clothing and equipment. Our C-rations were frozen! We didn’t stop long enough to thaw them out. The extreme cold made leather gloves so stiff that fingers wouldn’t and couldn’t bend, and here’s an important fact, “You can’t load and shoot a weapon with gloves that won’t bend!” I wore the wool glove inserts without the leather shell. Otherwise, my hands would freeze to the metal of my weapon and ammunition.
Through it all, we kept on moving to the 1st Marine Division’s Command Post at Koto-ri.
Chapter 5 - The Chinese Communist Forces Raises Its Head
On November 27th, the first of many Chinese attacks occurred in and around the reservoir. The Chinese had thrown seven (7) Divisions around the reservoir in preparation for the battle at Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir, one of the greatest epics of the Korean War (Figure 5 below). They had also erected 11 roadblocks between Koto-ri and Hagaru, and most of the bridges were blown, damaged, or destroyed. With the coming of darkness and intense cold, thousands of Chinese began to move over the crusted snow. Three (3) Chinese Divisions closed in on two regiments of our Marines. Two (2) Divisions struck Yudam-ni, and the third slipped south to cut off the 14-mile long route leading southeast to Hagaru.
Toktong Pass, located approximately six (6) miles southeast of Yudam-ni, was the most vital terrain along the 14-mile route. As darkness fell on November 27, the Commanding Officer of Fox Company, 7th Marines, ordered his men to dig in before erecting any tents. This they completed. The perimeter remained quiet well past midnight. Then around 2:30 a.m., November 28, all hell broke loose as the Chinese struck from three directions!
In their first assault from the high ground to the North, the enemy swarmed the forward position of a Marine platoon. The Lieutenant in charge had deployed his men with two squads forward and one slightly to the rear in a supporting position. In the initial onslaught, 15 Marines were killed and nine were wounded. The eight remaining Marines fell back slightly.
When it was over, a head count revealed three Marines missing. They were Corporal Wayne A. Pickett, and Privates First Class Robert L. Batdorff and Daniel D. Yesko. (Source: 1st Provisional Historical Platoon Interviews, April 17 1951, No.1, G-3. Historical Branch Archives, Headquarters, US Marine Corp 1st Marine Division, Casualty Bulletin 89-50, December 27, 1950).
On the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps, the 7th Marine Regiment had moved its Command Post 12 miles up the narrow mountain road to the little town of Koto-ri, an important road junction on a high plateau. The Command Post was established a little over eight miles from the vital hydroelectric power plants on the Chosin Reservoir, as fire fights were going on with Communist Chinese Forces in the hills less than 1500 yards away.
Phil McCoy, USMC
Later, my neighbor Phil McCoy of the 1st Marine Division, Field Communications, stated, “Someone must have been praying for me." This was the way Phil explained why he wasn't injured when the enemy had cut him off with part of his unit. "Someone must have done a lot of praying for me because I sure had a lot of close calls." Phil was a Reservist, called back to active duty on August 9th, 1950. As we talked for a long while, Phil stated he didn't think they were going to make it back to Hamhung. “A lot of the guys didn't get back, and I was scared out of my wits.” he said. He also said, “I used to think it got cold at home (Kent, Washington), but when we were in North Korea, the temperature was around 28 degrees below zero, and we slept outside! When you heated coffee, you had to drink it right away or it would turn into a block of ice.” Phil’s feet were frostbitten.
Chapter 6 - Arrival At The 1st Marine Division Command Post, Koto-Ri
After leaving Hamhung, we arrived at Koto-ri during the evening of November 28. We were bone tired, nervous, and tried to get some rest in the freezing cold without much success. Throughout the evening, there was gunfire off in the distance.
Formation of Task Force Drysdale
During the day of November 28, 1950, General Oliver P. Smith ordered Colonel Lewis Puller, at Koto-ri, to send him desperately needed reinforcements to hold Hagaru-ri. General Smith wanted reinforcements, although it meant they would suffer heavy casualties in reaching Hagaru-ri Colonel Puller's 1st Marines, who still had the job of opening the road and reinforcing Hagaru-ri, also had their hands full defending the Koto-ri perimeter.
Colonel Puller could only spare one Rifle Company to reinforce the Marines to the north. Clearly this was insufficient, particularly in light of the action being fought by Dog and Fox Companies that same day! The only solution was to form a composite unit with whatever forces that could be pulled together.
On November 28, 1950, the British 41st Independent Commando Royal Marines Battalion had also just arrived at Koto-ri to operate under the X Corp. When transportation and equipment had been found, the initial intention was for it to serve as a reconnaissance group. Although the unit was new to Korea and had not seen any action as yet, there was a matter of urgency to reinforce the Hagaru-ri perimeter with every available man. The British unit’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Douglas B. Drysdale, was ordered to command the composite unit which was named Task Force Drysdale.
The mission of Task Force Drysdale was to cut through the Communist Chinese Forces along the 10-14 miles road stretching between Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri. The Task Force numbered around 900 men with armor support. Among others, this included 235 members of the Royal Marines, about 205 US Marines, of Captain Carl Sitter's "G" Company, some 190 soldiers of Captain Peckham's Baker Company, 31st RCT, and about 82 U.S. Marines (clerks, truck drivers, military policemen and several US Navy corpsmen attached to the 1st Marine Division). In all, the Task Force would consist of personnel from 10 different organizations.
On November 29, 1950, my Heavy Weapons Platoon, Dog Company, 31st Infantry Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant White our Platoon Leader, and attached to Captain Charles Peckham, Commander of Baker Company, 31st Infantry, was made part of Task Force Drysdale.
There was no time to feed the men before we started our journey toward Hagaru-ri. After starting the move north, the Task Force was reinforced with 29 tanks, 76 vehicles and trailers, and 287 Marines from different Marine units. Their arrival increased the size of the Task Force to nearly that of a Battalion. The official Marine Corps history of the operation, accounts for approximately 922 men plus vehicles, trailers, and tanks.
However, in spite of its impressive numbers, the heterogeneous make-up of the unit rendered the Task Force ineffective as a fighting organization.
This fact soon became evident at Hell’s Fire Valley.
Hell Fire Valley
"Hell Fire Valley" was the name given by Colonel Drysdale to the scene of the all-night battle between the Chinese and more than half of Task Force Drysdale on November 29, 1950. In the confusion along the road, roughly 400 members of Task Force Drysdale were left stranded and out of radio contact in Hell Fire Valley and completely surrounded by vastly numerically superior Chinese forces.
The valley was about one mile long, covered with a frozen crust of snow and offering very little cover. It provided a convenient approach to the rear, with the Communists having the advantage, since they were entrenched on the upper regions of the precipitous slope.
The higher ground rose sharply on the right side of the road, a railroad to our right was infested with Chinese soldiers, while on the left a frozen creek wound through a field several hundred yards wide, bordered by the Changjin River, the Communists were dug in, and there was a mountain to cross.
About 50 to 100 yards ahead of us was what was left of Colonel Drysdale's 41st British Commandos, getting cut to pieces. They withdrew to our position sometime around 2000 hours (8 p.m.). The whistles, bugles, and battle yells alerted us to be ready for the mass of Chinese Communists forces that spilled out of the night. The screeching blasts of their damn whistles and bugles made our flesh crawl, as the sound reverberated through the chilled night air. After several minutes, the sound of gunfire, bugles and whistles would die down and stop.
The map below, Figure 7, illustrates the battle chronology of events that took place in the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir, including the area of Hell Fire Valley.
The Chinese Communists were very clever. They were well trained and had perfect discipline. They enjoyed the comfort of the darkness, and during this time, they would crawl in close and then, with the sounds of the damn whistles and the blaring of bugles, the night was suddenly shattered. The night was in turmoil, broken only by the sounds of bugles, loud blasts of whistles, and then the battle yells at the onslaught of the attack.
For what seemed like an eternity, a death-like silence hovered over the bitter cold darkness. We listened and waited. Suddenly the eerie sounds of the bugles and whistles could be heard again, only this time much closer. We gripped our weapons, pointing them into the darkness that cloaked everything. Mortar rounds and grenades slammed into the ground close by, spraying a shower of shrapnel over us.
Here we were, the United States and United Nations Forces getting the hell kicked out of us, running out of ammunition, with malfunctioning weapons caused by the extreme cold, and about half of our men either dead or seriously wounded, while wave after wave of Chinese Communist soldiers, screaming and blowing their damn bugles and whistles, descended upon us! The killing was so savage!! The Chinese had to climb over the bodies of their own men to continue their onslaught.
In addition to our small arms (rifles, carbine, and pistols) and some hand grenades, we had no weapon larger than one 75mm Recoilless Rifle. What 60 and 80mm mortars we had, were out of ammunition. We were nearly out of ammunition and, because of darkness, had no air support. You've got to understand what it feels like to be in combat with your ammunition nearly gone, or with a weapon that doesn't work!
Among other thoughts of anxiety and apprehension, the feeling is ……. total helplessness!
We would shoot down a whole wave of them buggers, and another wave would be right behind. They kept coming, stopping only to pick up the weapons of those who had fallen, to continue their charge like the first wave. It seemed like this went on forever, and ever, and ever!
The onslaught was horrifying………it was HELL! There were so many of them!
Chapter 7 - The Battle At Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir
The Battle at Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir was considered one of the greatest epics of the war in Korea. The place was inhospitable, even for the battle-tested men of the 1st Marine Division and the Army's 7th Infantry Division, some of whom had fought through the worst of World War II.
It was here that we met the might of the Chinese Communist who swarmed upon the UN Forces like hordes of ants attracted to sugar! They were well trained and battle hardened in guerrilla warfare, and carried none of the baggage of a modern army. They were masters of concealment who moved and fought only by night. Their working day began about 7pm, wearing thick, padded, green or white uniforms, caps with a red star, carrying a personal weapon, grenades, 80 rounds of ammunition, a few sticks of grenades, spare foot rags, sewing kit and a week's rations of fish, rice and tea. They would march until about 3 a.m., and then prepared camouflaged positions for the day. To determine routes for the next night’s march, scout units moved during daylight, and they were ordered, under penalty of death, to freeze motionless if they heard aircraft. Their only heavy weapons were mortars, but they made up for that with increasingly vast numbers of people in their forces.
It was remarkable how the Chinese could keep their numbers and activities concealed from the UN Forces. Even our air power couldn’t discover the large Chinese forces hidden in the mountains of North Korea. Many of the bridges at the Manchurian border had been blown up, but this mattered little to the Chinese because, when the Yalu River froze, they just walked across! And, the Yalu River was frozen solid! They were dressed in quilt padded uniforms with an overcoat, and wore padded tennis shoes for footwear. I don’t recall ever seeing any of the soldiers wearing gloves.
The Chinese ambushed Task Force Drysdale about halfway to Hagaru-ri, in what became known as "Hell Fire Valley". We were outrageously outnumbered, and it was only a short time before the wave upon wave of Communist Chinese Forces had cut us to pieces!
It was 0945 Wednesday morning, November 29, 1950. The mist was low over the snow-covered bitter cold countryside of Koto-ri, as the convoy of Task Force Drysdale began its move north toward Hagaru-ri. Behind the British Commandos came Baker Company, 31st Infantry. We huddled in the trucks, with our heads buried deeply in our field jackets against the biting cold.
Almost immediately, we met resistance and began engaging elements of the Communist forces. At first, we didn’t hear the sharp crack of small-arms fire, but when the mortar rounds began to fall and machine guns opened up, that definitely got our attention!!
A truck about one third of the way along the mile long column got hit and began to burn. The damaged truck blocked the center of the column, and Chinese small arms and mortar fire prevented its removal. We had no communications due to the distance, terrain, and other circumstances, so neither the front nor the rear of the convoy realized the center of the column had been cut off. In the center column was some British 41st Commandos, most of Baker Company, the Marine Military Police Detachment, and some Marines from service and support units.
As brakes slammed and trucks skidded to a stop on the narrow icy road, a hand grenade landed in the bed of my truck near my feet. Without thinking, I grabbed the grenade and tossed it out of the truck toward the railroad. Almost at the same time, we all jumped from the vehicles and dove for cover in the ditch on the side of the road.
What we thought was a ditch, was just a low place between the railroad embankment on one side and the roadbed on the other. The Chinese began lobbing a steady rain of mortar shells, and from the hills machine guns raked the ditch banks with gun fire. They didn’t come in close just then. Allied aircrafts, seeing the burning truck on the road, would swoop back and forth all day long rocketing and strafing the Chinese.
Then the resistance we had encountered earlier had stopped, and we mistakenly believed the Chinese had withdrawn and we were in the clear. The head of the column, which included the British 41st Commandos, a Marine rifle company, and several tanks, pushed their way on to Hagaru-ri.
As soon as darkness put an end to the Marine air strikes, all hell broke loose!
The Chinese became increasingly bold and the struggle began in earnest. They started firing again, just enough to keep us on our toes. For several hours there was no attempt from them to get within grenade throwing distance. We fought back the attacks, only glimpsing the enemy briefly by the light of flares and gun flashes. The center portion of the Task Force came under increasingly heavy enemy fire.
The Chinese had succeeded in splitting the Task Forces even more, reducing it to one large perimeter and three small sections. Casualties continued to mount. Bodies were stacked all around the hastily formed perimeter. And, freezing temperatures dipping to 20 degrees below zero threatened to take an even greater toll. We attempted to turn our vehicles around and head back to Koto-ri, but this attempt was unsuccessful, the convoy section I was in was cut off from both Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri.
In addition to our rifles, carbines, pistols, submachine guns, and some hand grenades, we had one 75mm Recoilless Rifle mounted on a truck. It was a clear, bright, starlit night, and the truck burning on the road provided more light. We could see the Chinese, by the hundreds, coming across the snow. They had our convoy zeroed in. The only cover we had were our vehicles and the shallow ditches, on either side of the road and the narrow railway, for protection from rifle fire and grenades. The Chinese didn’t bother to creep or crawl, they just came on, standing and walking. And from the shallow ditches, we kept on firing, and firing, and firing!!
During the early evening of November 29, I received my first of seven wounds. My left arm was hit with shrapnel, but it wasn’t too serious. After it was cared for at the Aid Station, I refused to return back to Koto-ri. Instead, I returned to my squad and shortly thereafter, was wounded with shrapnel to my right leg. Once again, I returned to the Aid Station, only to find the Corpsmen busy treating more seriously wounded men, so I returned to my position. The fighting was getting pretty fierce. One of the men standing next to me got a bullet in the forehead. The bullet went through his skull and embedded itself in his helmet.
Manning the 75mm Recoilless Rifle
Around 2100 hours, November 29, the gunner of the 75mm Recoilless Rifle, a Sergeant from my squad, jumped down from the weapon, got down on his hands and knees in front of the vehicle and started praying. He refused a direct order from Captain Peckham, Commanding Officer, Baker Company, to reassume his position. Captain Peckham insisted, and finally told the Sergeant he was going to be put in for a court martial for refusing a direct order….. But still, the Sergeant refused!
Knowing the importance of the 75mm Recoilless Rifle (Figure 5 below) to his Company’s firepower, Captain Peckham immediately looked for someone else to take over the gunner’s position, but was unsuccessful. So, I told him I would take over the weapon.
While manning the rifle, I sustained shrapnel wounds to my left leg, and bullet wounds in my right arm and right leg. This was in addition to the wounds I received earlier. Undaunted, I and what was left of my crew continued to fire the rifle at any enemy machine gun/mortar flashes, until I was shot in the forehead and the gun put out of action. I had just finished reloading the rifle when I was hit in the head, above the right eye, and I didn’t get a chance to fire it. Sergeant Charles Hrobak from Baker Company told me that it was the last 75mm round.
It was about two days after being captured when I noticed a hole in my field jacket pocket. I had a pack of Philip Morris cigarettes (C-ration cigarettes from World War II) in the left breast pocket of my field jacket. When I pulled out the cigarette pack, I found a Chinese burp gun bullet in the pack. This pack of C-ration cigarettes had saved my life!
Of the 900 men of Task Force Drysdale, approximately 300 arrived at Hagaru-ri, 300 were killed or wounded and about 135 were taken prisoner, with the rest making it back to Koto-ri. Seventy-five of the 141 vehicles were also destroyed.
Heroics of the 75mm Rifle Crew
During my research of the battle at Chosin Reservoir, I found the following excerpts citing the heroic actions and valor of the Army crew manning the 75mm Recoilless Rifle.
The following statement was made by Major John N. McLaughlin, on 5 November 1956, in a book entitled “The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, US Marine Operations in Korea” by Lynn Montross and Captain Nicholas A.Canzona, USMC.
The following is an excerpt from a book, entitled “Breakout (The Chosin Reservoir Campaign), Korea 1950,” by Martin Russ. Martin Russ earned a Purple Heart when he served with the Marines in Korea.
It was around nine o’clock when the gunner, a Sergeant, jumped down from the weapon because enemy fire had gotten so heavy. Captain Peckham told him to resume his place at the gun, which was mounted on a weapons carrier. The sergeant refused to obey and proceeded to get down on his knees and start praying in a loud voice: “O’Lord, protect us.” Captain Peckham told him he was going to recommend a court martial, but this had no effect. The Captain tried to find someone else to take over the gun and PFC Chapman finally volunteered. “You are to commended,” said the captain, “and cited for valor.” With help from the rest of the crew, Chapman began firing at the enemy machine-gun and mortar positions.”
Chapter 8 - The Ultimatum
The fighting was really intense when the ultimatum to “surrender or be wiped out” came to us from the overpowering Chinese forces. Now, surrender or die is a decision no soldier takes lightly. However, our situation was becoming futile and something had to be done! We would either fight to the end or surrender to be incarcerated as Prisoners of War, and who knows what else. A decision had to be made, and this fell on the shoulders of our ranking officer and the senior ranking survivors.
Major John N. McLaughlin, USMC
Major McLaughlin was hitching a ride with the Task Force Drysdale convoy to Hagaru-ri in the capacity of liaison officer to the 1st Marine Division. This was the only convoy scheduled to make the trip at that time and he took it. Initially, his role was simply that of a passenger with the column, but as fate would have it, he ended up as the commander of our group who would be faced with a major command decision.
As November 29 faded into a new day, Major McLaughlin assumed command of the battered center portion of Task Force Drysdale and took command of what troops and vehicles he could muster. He realized he was cut off and surrounded, and in a display of bravado, demanded a Chinese surrender. “It made little impression,” McLaughlin later recalled.
As the night wore on, our situation became increasingly grave. By 0200 November 30, 1950, we were out of grenades. All the guns were silent, when Major McLaughlin came down the line of quiet, waiting men. He said that the Chinese had captured a GI and had sent him back with a message that, if we did not surrender in fifteen minutes, we would be wiped out!
Major McLaughlin began negotiating with the Chinese trying to stall them until daylight in hope that we might be relieved. We had some hope that the tanks of Baker Company, 1st Tank Battalion, would come to our rescue. But they had run into heavy opposition along the road which had been cleared only a few hours before by Task Force Drysdale. A few men wanted to hold out until daylight, when our planes would come back. However, the Chinese had moved in so close to our positions that the planes would not be able to strike them without hitting us. This would have meant sure death to the wounded. Eight out of ten men were hurt and bleeding or numb from concussion shock, and we were beginning to freeze. Ammunition dwindled, and by 0300 hours, November 30th, we had only a hand-full left. The temperature had fallen to 20 degrees below zero, with most of our men wounded and in dire need of shelter and medical care. Our medical personnel had provided whatever treatment they could for the wounded. It was clear we were not in a position to resist and that further resistance by our group would be futile. Major McLaughlin had to make a command decision!
Prior to making the decision to surrender, Major McLaughlin had discussed the matter with as many of the senior ranking men as he could, and explained that we would surrender on the condition that we be allowed to load our wounded aboard trucks and they be sent back to Koto-ri.
Word was passed on that surrender was imminent. In preparation for this, most of the men rendered their weapons useless by throwing vital parts into the snow or by breaking the stocks of their rifles and carbines.
Then sometime between 0300-0400 hours, on the morning of November 30, 1950, Major McLaughlin made his decision. In a few minutes, Chinese soldiers stood up all along the railroad bank, across the narrow road, and ridges on the hills beyond. The Chinese had continued to slip in close to our positions during the surrender demands, and when the surrender was agreed upon, they sprang to their feet from positions all around our perimeter and at distances as close as 30 feet away! The Communist Chinese Forces had captured what remained of our unit, a few Americans and British Marines. They were virtually unopposed in their wave-after-wave attacks that climaxed in overpowering and “visually” demoralizing all the UN Forces in this area.
Many of the Chinese first to enter our position weren’t paying much attention to us. They were swarming all over the unburned trucks, looting happily at whatever they could find. The Chinese forces that followed the first group surprised the US Marines and British Commandos with their friendly attitude. They smiled, shook hands, and clapped the Marines on the back. Through sheer superiority in numbers, wave upon wave of Chinese, in their quilted cotton uniforms and tennis shoes, unceasingly filled the skyline. They grabbed our weapons, ammunition, food and any other valuables they could find.
Then the Chinese ordered the wounded to board the trucks that were not damaged. We thought we were being returned to our lines! After a few minutes, those who could walk were ordered to dismount. From what I can remember those who were left on the truck and those who could not walk, were immediately put to death, or white phosphorus thrown on them. The Chinese had reneged on their promise to Major McLaughlin to permit the evacuation of the wounded to Koto-ri!!!
I still remember (though wounded, bleeding and in a daze) that immediately after our capture a Chinese soldier, who was unfamiliar with the 75mm Recoilless Rifle, while examining it, accidentally pulled the trigger. As I mentioned earlier, I had just reloaded the weapon and before I could fire it, I was shot in the forehead. About four of their officers, who were standing to the rear of the weapon, were completely disintegrated by the terrible back-blast of the weapon, and although I was half conscious, I had the urge to smirk at my captor’s inexperience with modern weapons.
Prisoners of War
Despite my pain and suffering, I soon realized I was lucky as compared to several of my fellow men, who would probably die from their more serious wounds. During these two days of intense combat, I had sustained a total of seven (7) wounds. This included wounds to the forehead, both arms, both legs and left hip. I wondered how much blood one can lose before you died. Fortunately, the freezing cold stopped the bleeding from my wounds. My clothing was frozen to my wounds and every time I moved, they would start bleeding all over again.
I remember a young soldier lying on the ground next to me with half of his stomach blown away by a Japanese type mortar. He kept crying and screaming for help, only to be rolled off the road by the Communist Chinese, to die.
We were hastily herded into farm houses that were hidden in a depression in the mountains some distance from the road. When I came to, we were in a small house and I remember how my head, arms and legs were hurting something awful. There was this terrible burning feeling, like a hot pin in my arms, legs and head, making them feel like they were on fire.
Not really understanding what had happened, one of the soldiers explained to me that we had been overrun at about 0300 hours (3 a.m.) and only a small number of us had survived this ordeal, approximately 143 survivors.
I don’t know exactly how long we remained in this Korean farm house. I was told we were kept there one day and one night. When we lay down to sleep, we would lie very close together for warmth. During the miserable cold morning, the Chinese fed us a can of corn for each five (5) men then herded us outside for a miserable, unforgettable death march to our first Prisoner of War camp at Kanggye, North Korea.
This was the start of my 32 months and 20 days in captivity as a prisoner of war, and my battle for survival!!
Chapter 9 - Death March to Kanggye, NK
On the morning of November 30, 1950, I and about 142 others were captured and found ourselves Prisoners of War! My group marched down the mountain to the road where we had fought the battle of ‘HELL FIRE VALLEY’. Many of the wounded were still there, slowly dying. Some of the prisoners took blankets from the trucks and covered them up. The dead still lay on the road and in the ditch where they had fallen, rigid with death. The carnage around us was unbelievable. The bodies of hundreds of dead Chinese and American soldiers littered the frozen ground.
As we passed the trucks, some of the prisoners snatched up bed rolls from where the Chinese had tossed them and stuffed their pockets with C-rations. Most of us were still too numb and dazed to think straight. We continued on past the site, crossed the road and moved out on a frozen stream, where we were forced to stand on the ice for hours before we began the forced march north.
Then in a single file, with the Chinese guards beside us, we began climbing up the hills that lay to the north and west. We were herded together under instigation of the guns of the Communist Chinese, who needed no coaxing to shoot down any prisoner bold enough to attempt an escape. Our destination was northwest towards the P'Yongyang-Manojin railroad to a place called Kanggye, approximately 60/70 air miles from where we had been ambushed.
We marched for hours, finally stopping at a Korean farm house deep in the mountains of North Korea. Here, our captors stripped us of all personal items, pictures, wallets, identification cards, field jackets and/or overcoats. The only thing I managed to keep was my dog tags which were taped together around my neck. The Chinese took my wallet, driver's license, social security card and military identification card.
We also found out that two of the Chinese interrogators had been raised near the international settlement in Shanghai, the pre-World War II home of the 4th US Marine Regiment. As a consequence, they were familiar with American customs and slang.
During the march the officers and Frank Noel an Associated Press Photographer, and many of the men who were in better condition with minor or no wounds, were separated from the rest of us. We didn’t see them again until we arrived in the north a few days before Christmas 1950.
Chinese or North Korean Guards
We marched under control of either Chinese or North Korean guards. The guards were provided according to the sector we were passing through. When the Koreans provided the guards, the treatment was noticeably rougher than the Chinese.
On the seventh or eighth day out, we were turned over to the North Korean soldiers. The North Korean guards were young members of the 'Home Guard' unit who had taken the place of the North Korean regulars. They were given the assignment of escorting us to our final destination. They were willing and capable of killing us. When we were marched through Korean villages, the villagers would come running out of their huts, hitting us with sticks, spitting on us, kicking us and throwing rocks at us. Not one of us went un-tortured. We marched by day only when the clouds protected us from our planes, and by night, when the days were clear.
About the eighth or ninth day out, I saw a North Korean guard throw his burp gun in one of the prisoner's face and shoot him. A US Marine who was shot in the leg refused to move. That was the last we saw of him. Those too weak to continue, or didn’t have the will power to continue, were left behind with a guard. Eventually shots would be heard, and the guard or guards who had been left with the prisoners would return to the group.
Those of us whose feet had been frostbitten the night of our battle in the ditch were the worst off. The flesh began to break down into sores and scabs formed on the sores during a long rest period. When we started to walk again we cried out in agony as the scabs began to tear loose. During the day, when we halted, those of us whose feet were causing us agony got up and walked about, causing the guards to be alarmed. They feared our aircraft would spot us walking about. However, we would not lie down, even when we were threatened. The worse was the mountain climbs on icy trails at night.
We walked on painfully frozen feet, wincing each time the purplish flesh touched the frozen ground, staring blankly ahead, not knowing where we were or where we were going. There was an older Marine named Gus who was 59 years old. When he could go on no longer, he would suddenly sit down in the middle of the trail, scoop up some snow and rub it on his throbbing head, saying over and over, "Shoot me, shoot me!" The Chinese didn’t take him seriously because he was just an old man.
Some of the men whose feet had been frozen began to die of gangrene. When they pleaded for medicine, they were told, sorry there was none. The Chinese would say, "Tonight we reach a place where there is much medicine. Tonight we will sleep in warm houses. There will be good food." But, there was never warmth, or food, or medicine. With few exceptions, we marched with the wounded being carried on improvised liters or helped by the stronger ones.
A Marine by the name of Hayton was both father and doctor to many of us. He would take a man on his back and carry him, or with a bull-like rush, grab two around the waist and help them climb the last bitter feet to the top of a hill.
The Chinese and North Koreans provided no special considerations for the wounded. All of us who were wounded were half carried and/or dragged along by other prisoners, or we just limped along as best we could. Chinese or North Korean guards walked along side, ahead, and behind us, making no attempt to help in anyway. We all felt a keen sense of imminent death. I recall most vividly, my own half-conscious dilemma, the brutality we suffered being shoved from the snow covered mountain trails, being kicked to our feet and beaten with rifle butts when we fell and could no longer get to our feet, and some being shot when they refused or would not continue to march.
I was very fortunate. I was being helped by an American Marine and a British Marine. They carried and dragged me over some of the most dangerous mountain trails in North Korea. I realize now how I would have died were it not for these valiant men. Many died and/or were killed on this death march to Camp Kanggye.
The Communists marched us for hours without stopping, then gave us a short break, and continued the march until day break before stopping. We just dragged along in the darkness. Like many others, my muscles were stiff and sore from the prolonged exposure and exertion. I had to be helped getting on my feet. The first few steps were always agonizing ones. I had to force myself to get going and to walk endless hours. One thing for sure, I had no desire to be left alone on a mountain trail. By morning, or dusk, we could hardly walk any more and when we halted, we fell exhausted to the snow covered ground and laid there until the call came to start again. We slept pitifully with no shelter or bedding for protection from the snow and ice.
Warmth and Food
Many of us had only a field jacket, which was totally inadequate for the bitter North Korean cold winter. Our back packs, containing additional clothing, were left behind in the vehicles. When we stopped, we all huddled together for warmth. Our bodies trembled violently throughout the long day.
During the first few days of the march, our only food was C-rations some of the prisoners had slip into their parka pocket after being captured. These small cans of food were shared by all. If we were lucky, we would receive one ration of food per day. However, frequently there was no food for two or three days. Our captors carried only enough food for themselves in a small bag and when they were eating, they would harass and torment us by flaunting the food in our faces.
Once, we were given boiled potatoes, and on another occasion, we were given a cold rice ball. Sometimes, when we slept in barns, we would find ears of dried corn which we would chew on during the march. When the guards did bring us food, it would be about an hour before they started marching us again. Our meal usually consisted of watery soup, made from barley, and or sorghum seed, that was always served cold and consequently was no source for protection against the bitter cold. We gagged on the stuff, but managed some how to get it down. We simply did our best to force the so called food down. Many times, I would imagine candy bars, hamburgers and French fries, and other good American food just in front of me, but always…….. Just out of my reach! Then the march would resume again, at dusk or at dawn, with many of us starving, exhausted, and feverish from our wounds, trying doggedly to keep pace with the man in front.
Village of Kanggye, NK
After about 19 days on the march, we finally reached Kanggye, NK, see map below. We had covered a distance of approximately 120 to 150 miles, mostly at night to avoid allied aircraft.
We had marched through snow storms without adequate clothing or foot gear. The journey to Kanggye was characterized by the lack of food, shelter, forced marches, and exposure to the harsh winter elements. The only water available for drinking was snow. The Chinese were deathly afraid of the Korean water and would not drink it, or let us drink it. By the time we arrived, dysentery had rampantly invaded the group.
During the forced marches, our wounds went unattended and stuck to our clothing. Whenever we moved, our wounds would break open and start bleeding. We had no material for bandages and no way to clean them. However, due to the extreme cold weather lives were saved because the freezing weather slowed the flow of blood, otherwise many of us would have bled to death. Medical supplies were non-existent and treatment was limited entirely to first aid provided by our own people using improvised splints and rag dressings. Other injuries resulted from the prolonged marches and exposure to the cold, especially on trails that were knee-deep in snow. Many had died and/or were killed on this march.
There was virtually no opportunity for escape. Freezing weather, lack of food, and numerous Communist troops in the vicinity, in addition to the adequate guards, discouraged any attempts to escape. We had arrived with one of the Marines who was ready to lie down and die. His tortured, frostbitten feet were extremely swollen in his shoes and they were hurting him very much!
When we arrived at the village of Kanggye, we were billeted with North Korean families in huts made from mud with no heat. The civilian occupants were moved into one room, and we were crowded into the other. About 20 plus men were packed into rooms approximately 8 feet by 8 feet in size, huddling together for warmth in temperatures of zero degrees and below. Housing for the most part consisted of typical small buildings that were in a poor state of repair, constructed of mud with thatched straw roofs and no heat. The huts that we thought would shelter us from the elements were so flimsy that the cold wind blew straight through them. Some of the rooms had the windows and doors broken out. We slept on the earth floor with our heads to the wall and our feet to the center of the room, and there wasn't any room for any passage between us. We were so crowded that about half of us had to sit with our knees under our chin so the remaining half could lie down. We had no blankets and slept in the clothes we had on, which wasn’t much.
For the first few days we were so tired and beaten that we didn’t move! We lay in the huts, huddled on the cold floor, barely able to reach from beneath our jackets to take the food the Chinese poured into our ration cans. Some of the men, had no cans, and had to eat the boiled sorghum, bean curd, etc., from their caps. I recall that when some of the prisoners removed their boots for the first time after reaching Kanggye, skin from their feet came off with their boots. The cold was so intense that our feet froze to the bottom of our boots and the skin just peeled off when we removed our socks and boots. Skinner, from Baker Company, lost his toes from both feet.
We stayed here for a few days until the Chinese found out that the North Koreans who had been guarding us had talked of exchanging us for medicine and other badly needed supplies. The Chinese immediately took control and moved us to the northern part of Kanggye, to my first POW Camp.
Chapter 10 - First Pow Camp, Kanggye, NK
Camp Kanggye was my first POW camp. It was located about 80 miles north of the village of Kanggye, and about 10 miles south of the Yalu River and the Manchurian border.
We had arrived just before Christmas 1950, and were immediately organized into two companies. The enlisted men were separated from the officers, and we were further separated by ethnicity as well. All of the Blacks and Filipinos were kept apart from the rest of us. Once again, we were billeted with Korean families in huts that were spread out in a valley along a river that appeared to be the main road to the border. About fifteen of us were put in a room no bigger than a small motel room, all sick with dysentery. At least this offered some shelter from the icy winds, and some time for our wounds to heal. Fortunately we had a medic who begged the Chinese for some Epsom salt which we finally got to cure our dysentery. His persistence sure saved the lives of many prisoners.
Being the youngest member of my squad, the Chinese appointed me squad leader. I don't know why to this day! Perhaps it was because they felt they would be able to easily convert a younger, low ranking soldier by giving him power over his superiors. My squad consisted of 8 to 10 Army personnel. In the room next to ours were six Marines and a Navy corpsman.
All the while, my sense of honor, attitude, and wounds prevented me from performing the duties of squad leader, so the Chinese finally appointed a Sergeant from my unit, Company "D", 31st Infantry, as squad leader. As it turned out, this person would also participate in writing several articles for the Camp Newspaper, as well as, in the indoctrination of newly captured prisoners.
Who was the 75mm Rifle gunner??
Shortly after our arrival, the Chinese tried to find out who was the gunner of the 75mm Recoilless Rifle. As I mentioned before, just prior to being wounded in the forehead, I had been firing a 75mm Recoilless Rifle and had just reloaded the last round when I was hit in the head. After being captured, a curious Chinese soldier was examining the weapon and pulled the trigger. The back blast from the weapon killed or wounded several of their Officers.
My squad leader who had replaced me suggested I tell them I was the gunner…….. I didn’t!
Questioned at Chinese Headquarters
Two or three days later, I was called up to the Chinese Headquarters for questioning. They asked me over and over again, time after time, “What was your job on the front lines?” I replied I was only a Jeep driver and that was all, that because of my age (18 years old) and being inexperienced, I had not been trained in any special field. They would say, “You are lying! We know different!” I maintained that I was only a Jeep driver and that was all! They insisted that I was lying, and proclaimed that I had the blood of innocent Koreans and Chinese People on my hands…… and it was left at that.
Food at Kanggye
Someone was always sick in our squad. Every one had dysentery in varying degrees. There were no facilities for bathing, no heat, and temperatures as low as 35 degrees below zero. Food was very poor but our captors were eating the same thing they were feeding us. The main diet consisted of boiled sorghum and a couple of spoons of boiled soy beans, sometimes twice a day. The food was cooked by the Chinese, and on two occasions such as Christmas and Lunar New Years, we received a small portion of rice with boiled fatty pork. We were told over and over that we were being fed because the Chinese People were good!
The Korean civilians with whom we were housed were very sympathetic to us. When our guards were not around, and often at night, they would slip corn to us through a side door. A Korean boy about 15 years old kept us informed on what was going on by whispering in Japanese to Sergeant Harrison, a Japanese ex-prisoner of World-War II.
Chapter 11 - The Indoctrination Process, Camp Kanggye
Camp Kanggye was used primarily as an interrogation center. From here, prisoners were interrogated and shipped to other camps along the Yalu River. A significant part of our imprisonment was an immediate introduction to a series of “political education” classes motivated by a process they called “The Leniency Policy.” We were going to be put through a period of schooling to enlighten us in the “true” political situation existing in the world, and when we learned these facts to their satisfaction, we would be released to return to our homes.
Our introduction to the political indoctrination program would come to be known as “Brainwashing” as reinforced with the Leniency Policy. The Chinese would employ this system in hopes of converting us to Communism. All of us knew our system of government was not perfect, but it sure as hell was better then theirs. Those who were converted (brain washed) or were willing to collaborate with the Chinese were called “progressives.” The “progressives” would be compensated with favors and some would be released early.
The Camp Commander had a small staff of Chinese who worked directly for him and assisted in administering the two POW companies. The staff included about 15 interpreters and 15 administrative aides in addition to several cooks and well over 100 guards. The administrative aids were charged with the political instructions and indoctrination of the prisoners.
The Lenient Policy
The North Koreans treated their prisoners cruelly, but their brutality was physical. They made token efforts to extract military information from their prisoners, taking more pleasure in maltreating them.
On the other hand, the Chinese Communists were very effective in their intelligence gathering activities. They introduced a more insidious form of cruelty we called brainwashing! With them physical violence was more purposeful, and it was liberally spiced with mental pressure. They indoctrinated their prisoners with mental persuasions to gain a propaganda advantage. This system was designed to support their goal for control and use of POW's. They called it the "Lenient Policy."
We who had been captured in the Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir campaign, and those captured in the northwestern region of Korea, were the first to encounter this so-called Lenient Policy.
Simply stated, the policy meant calculated leniency in return for co-operation, harassment in return for neutrality, and brutality in return for resistance. We would not be treated as prisoners of war, but as friends in need of help!
Christmas Eve, the Initiation
Our indoctrination began on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1950, at a centrally located site we called the Barn, or what the Chinese later called the Big House.
On Christmas Eve, the Chinese decorated the Barn with wreaths, candles, two Christmas trees, and a sign bearing the cheerful inscription, "Merry Christmas." Two huge placards also decorated the barn. They read, "If it were not for all the Wall Street Imperialists, you would be home with your wives and families on this Christmas night." Communist slogans and posters stating, "Who is responsible for you being away from your wives and families at this Christmas time?" We too want to be with our families. “The capitalist are using you to kill the peace loving Korean people.” “You have been liberated from the Capitalist war mongering camp by the peace loving Chinese Volunteers.” Another poster read, "Why are you freezing and dying here in Korea, 5000 miles from home, on this Christmas Eve, while your money-mad bosses, the Capitalist Warmongers of Wall Street, are enjoying Christmas dinner in their warm homes?" Some of the posters were amusing.
We were each given a handful of peanuts, six (6) or seven (7) small pieces of hard candy, six (6) Chinese cigarettes. We sat on the dirt floor for a long while before the Chinese officials walked to the stage and sat down. One of them got up and started talking in Chinese. He must have talked for two hours or more with none of us understanding one word he had said. When he sat down an interpreter stood up and translated what he had said into English.
The interpreter started by saying, “Comrades. I welcome you to the peace camp of the Chinese People Volunteers. You are very lucky to have been liberated by us because we have a lenient policy for all the people we liberate. If it was not for that, all of you would be dead by now. First, I have to tell you that we do not have to treat you well because no war has been declared between the United States and China, nor the United States and North Korea. Your government has intervened in the internal affairs of the peace loving Korean people who are seeking liberation. The Korean people have asked the Chinese for assistance in fighting and driving the American imperialist into the sea. The United Nations does not recognize the People’s Republic of China but recognizes the bandit, Chian-Kai-Chek instead of our glorious leader, Mao-Tse-Tung.”
The Chinese high camp official also made it known that they had planned a party for us on Christmas.
We were also told we were not to think or speak of ourselves as prisoners. We were newly liberated friends and should refer to ourselves as such. The Officer said that the Chinese were not angry at us for being in Korea, for they realized that it was not our fault. We had been duped by our aggressive, capitalists warmongering leaders. We therefore would be treated with kindness. But if we disobeyed the rules laid down for newly liberated friends, we would be severely punished. We would be made to stand at attention or we would be rebuked in front of our fellow prisoners.
Christmas Day, 5 Hour Lecture
On Christmas day, we were given a pork stew and white rice, the first meat since our capture. It was very good, but as we thought of the annual holiday meal being served to the United States forces in South Korea, ours became not as enjoyable as it might have been.
The speaker on this festive occasion was a wheel of some importance and had great lung power. He wished us a Merry Christmas, denounced General MacArthur and President Truman, stating that Americans had launched the war in Korea. They also showed a photograph of John Foster "Doolus" Dulles, peering across the 38th parallel toward North Korea.
A British doldier who had been told to lead the singing got up, paused a moment and then launched into God Save the King! Before the Chinese had the time to grasp the words, his own Marines shouted a warning, and he quickly swung into Roll out the Barrel.
Then we sat through a five (5) hour lecture on the subject of, "Who is the real aggressor in Korea". The gloating, smiling, Chinese high camp official informed us of their victory over the retreating UN Forces and how they were going to drive them into the Sea, of the impossibility of escape, and that on a daily basis, our lines being driven further and further southward away from our position. The more the Chinese talked, the more resentful we became.
Shortly after Christmas, we were allowed to clean up. We heated water in an old 55 gallon drum, and I think everyone from our hut (about 30 prisoners) washed in this water. This was the first opportunity we had to clean up since our capture.
Chapter 12 - The Campaign to Capture Our Minds, Camp Kanggye
Indoctrination Classes, 7 days a Week
The first meeting in the Barn, was in the nature of a welcoming session. Three days after this get-acquainted meeting, the Chinese began their campaign to capture our minds.
Our schooling started one night when the Chinese herded us out into the bitter cold. Then they marched us for two to three miles to the centrally located, huge barn (which they later called the Big House) where we were herded together and sat on the cold earth floor. There was no heat. The walls were full of holes and cracks that allowed the cold wind to blow through. The walls of the building were lined with large banners denouncing and condemning our American leaders, Acheson, Dulles, Truman and of course MacArthur. At the end of the building was a small stage with a table and some chairs on it. These were the only chairs for seating.
By this time there were about 325 prisoners in the camp. Many were suffering from wounds, extreme cold, malnutrition, and barely conscious of their surroundings. This group consisted of some British Royal Marines of the 41st Independent Commandos and some Puerto Ricans from the 65th Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division, with most of the group members coming from the 1st Marine Division and the 7th Infantry Division. Some of the prisoners were captured a few days before we were hit at Hell Fire Valley.
Lectures were held on alternating days, and on days when there were no lectures, the squads were supposed to hold group discussions with Chinese interpreters sitting in, taking notes on what each man said.
Reading material was passed out----copies of the Peking Daily News, People's China, the China Review, and the Shanghai News. Often, these newspapers were only a week old. The Chinese Officers, who spoke English, would mark certain articles they wanted us to study and discuss.
Many of the newspaper articles dealt with the courage of the Chinese soldier who was awarded membership in the Communists Party (rather than medals) for great acts of heroism. One article was so imaginative that it humored the Army and Marine tankers. It was an account of Chinese soldiers who leaped onto the backs of US tanks, "ripped open the hatches with their bayonets, and threw in hand grenades to kill the crew!”
A Chinese instructor would met with a squad of prisoners each day and give us a warm, humble, sincere speech requesting our cooperation. During these periods of interrogation, the Chinese would abruptly shift from brutality to shining kindness, offering cigarettes, allowing one to sit down, etc. If this failed, then relentless punishment would continue.
The term “Menticide” was used in reference to this type of physical and psychological pressure. The Chinese Communist also used letters and pictures and other personal effects during these periods. The letters and pictures were those taken during the search that was made after we were first taken prisoner. They would repetitively asked, “Wouldn't you like to be home with your loved ones? All you have to do is cooperate and you will be returned to them.”
If we didn't reply or state, “Go to hell” or something similar, they would tell us it would be a shame if we never returned to our loved ones. Those who were married took more punishment then the single ones in regards to harassment over their family lives. The Chinese would say their wives were probably sleeping with their best friends, etc.
Interpreters Egg Head, BB Eyes, etc.
If we didn’t have much to say, the interpreters, known as Egg Head, B.B.Eyes, Stupid, the Snake, Pluto, Ace and Little Caesar, would take us aside and personally lecture us at great length, trying to clear our mind of any "misconceptions." Soon, word got around that the men who showed themselves to be the most "progressive" would be released. This enticed many prisoners to show greater interest in the discussions. Since the Chinese wanted everyone to be released (according to them), the brighter men would coach the less-imaginative ones in what to say to please Egg Head and his friends.
As the indoctrination program continued, many of the progressive POWs gave lectures on the same subjects the Chinese had covered. Group discussions were encouraged, and with the help of the progressive prisoners, the Chinese exerted influence over the "non-progressive" prisoners to quiet their opposition and to bring them in line.
Through the entire indoctrination program, the Communists denounced religion as a superstition and a device for controlling people's minds. So they attempted to teach us Darwin's theory of evolution. But when they encountered strong resistance, they dropped the idea and some of the prisoners were allowed to keep whatever religious items they had with them. As a result, this gave us access to several testaments, rosaries, and other religious items in Camp Kanggye. An older soldier even stated bluntly, “These people are no good! They don’t like GOD!”
B.B. Eyes, Egg Head and their friends encouraged us to argue. But we soon found out that to do this meant that one of the “Wheels” would call a special lecture session in the Big House, or Barn, to answer those questions. After awhile, when we began dreading the long cramped hours of sitting in the cold, we would tell Egg Head, “You have made everything very clear. There is no reason to ask questions.”
One day, the Chinese told us that they could help us if they knew more about us, and that by letting us write a statement of our personal history, they would know where to start to improve our camp life. The personal history questionnaire had a lot of questions, such as, who is your commander, who is your best friend, what did you do in the service, and so on.
The question of who was your commander, received many different answers, such as, “I do not know. I was new in the company and never met my commander,” or “That's a military secret and I can’t tell you.” One man wrote, “The only friend I have wants to borrow money.” Another kid put on the form, “I filled out something like this before and I ended up in the Army.” Still another wrote, “This is too much for me. I request transportation to go back and have my lawyer fill it out.”
Our humorous comments pissed-off the Chinese. Their treatment and punishment of us, coupled with their questions, were designed to weaken our resistance and, I might add, they proved somewhat effective under some or a combination of the torturous conditions.
Write a Letter Home
We were allowed to write a letter, which was supposed to be sent to our parents and families. Contents of the letter, "We are in the hands of the Chinese Peoples Army. They have been very nice to us. They gave us a very good Christmas dinner and that we would be home after the war."
The letters was received by a Sharon Maffioli from her husband Leonard J. Maffioli, who was also captured at the reservoir. My parents received the above mentioned letter during the spring of 1951. That was the last news that they had from me until some time during 1953.
We discovered our captors recognized neither the Geneva Convention nor the humane treatment of prisoners of war. The fact that they meant nothing to our captors immediately placed us in a fearful dilemma. I don't think the Chinese had any compassion for life, especially American lives.
Their favorite excuse for poor food, lack of medical care and clothing was that the United States aircraft was constantly bombing their supply lines, preventing necessary supplies from getting through. We were told that we were being fed because the Chinese were good and were concerned about our well being. We never received any Red Cross packages, (until July 1953) as the Chinese regarded the International Red Cross as a "Running Dog" of the American imperialist.
Fully Interrogated Several Times
Every man was fully interrogated several times. A record was kept of each man, including an identification photograph. These interrogations were more economic than military. They appeared more interested in family and economic backgrounds than any military information we might be able to give. Things such as, salaries, prices and the availability of different commodities before, during, and after World War II, if we had money in the bank, owned a radio, automobile, television, what kind of work we did before entering the service, why we entered the service, etc. They also wanted to know of any political connections we might have had in the states and our opinions on different leaders in the United States, both military and political.
They asked a lot of personal questions. They wanted to know how much money we made as civilians, how much did our fathers make and whether we own any land. When one of the prisoners was asked if he was wealthy enough to take his wife to a restaurant once a month, he told the Chinese officer that he could take his wife out 4 times a week if he felt like it. That seemed to make the officer angry. Many times, we and the interrogators got into sharp arguments. They asked one prisoner if he was oppressed by the capitalists. His reply to them was, “The hell I am!” He told them that he had a wife, two children, a car, a place to live, plenty to eat, and that they (the Chinese) were crazy.
From the very start, it was obvious the Chinese interrogation techniques were an integral part of their indoctrination program. Instead of soliciting truthful answers to their questions, the interrogators were satisfied only with answers that suited their purpose. We found ourselves arguing with the Chinese over such matters as the amount of income or social status of our families. However, when we revised our status and income downward, the Chinese would be pleased and less prone to argue. Soon we began to realize that these were the correct responses. As the questioning continued along the same lines, we began to down play our estimates of our family income, and the beauty of the family home. We began to fabricate stories of hungry childhood, a family income so small that after food was bought there would be no money left to buy clothes. This seemed to please the Chinese immensely.
The Chinese continued to stress the virtues of Communism at every opportunity in lectures, in discussions, and in casual and informal conversations. They continually exhorted their charges to progress more rapidly in our studies, and their promise of release for the more “progressives” of their newly liberated friends.
After Christmas we were marched to the Barn two (2) or three (3) nights a week for lectures. We would also use this time to consult with our officers, discussing any problems that had come up, and asking their opinion on what our attitude and behavior should be in dealing with them.
Major of Kanggye
Major McLaughlin, also known as the Major of Kanggye, was the senior officer and in direct opposition to the Chinese. He began the task of establishing communications between our scattered groups. By doing so, he sought to maintain effective control of our group and to present a united front against the enemy. Because we were scattered throughout several farm-houses, it was extremely difficult to create any effective organization. Every few days, however, we were taken to this large barn where we had to listen to the damn lectures.
It was at these meetings that the Major was able to issue instructions, advice and encouragement to the enlisted men. His advice was always followed and undoubtedly saved us from many hardships that we might otherwise have had to endure.
We learned to tell how long a Chinese Officer would speak by the way he was dressed. If he wore a fur cap with a leather bill, he was just a little wheel and wouldn't talk very long. If he wore a fur cap with a leather bill and had a wrist watch and a fountain pen, he was a medium-sized wheel and might speak for an hour or two. If he wore a fur cap with a leather bill, had a wrist watch, a fountain pen and a leather jacket, and if he smoked tailor-made cigarettes and had a small boy bring him hot tea as he talked, he was a big wheel, probably straight out of Peking, and we would have to huddle there in the cold the better part of a day or night.
The Major was also one of the better speakers in our group. His speeches, though always brief, would communicate separate meanings to both the Chinese and us. For example, he would say, "The Chinese have told us why we are in Korea. So now, of course, we know why we are here. When we return to our homes we will have our work cut out for us. There, we must continue our fight for peace." To the Chinese this would show some inclination toward becoming “progressive”, since they were hearing what they wanted to hear. But to us, it would clearly tell us to be strong, to persevere; we know exactly why we are in Korea.
Each day an interpreter came to our huts and we had discussions on the last lecture in which we were to ask questions and air any doubts we might have as to the ‘truths’ they were expounding. Squad leaders were held responsible for proper discussions by their squads of assigned topics in Marxian dialectical materialism. There was little opportunity for opposition to the indoctrination for the study periods were mandatory, and we did not have the option of refusing to attend or to participate in lectures and discussions. Saturdays and Sundays passed like any other day. It was evident that the Chinese wanted all of us to concentrate on the enforced studies.
The curriculum was more intensive than most college courses. This leniency was coldly calculated to neutralize possible resisters and to convert those who would bend to the will of the Communist Chinese. We argued with them and asked questions that obviously angered and embarrassed them. Such questions went unanswered. It was made clear to us that we were expected to believe anything we were told simply because they said it was true and that our doubts and foolish questions would only prolong our period of instruction; therefore, prolonging the day when we would be released.
We were told the more progressive we were and the faster we learned, the sooner we would be released. This was discussed with our officers and the Major of Kanggye. It was decided that cooperative attitude would be best, that no useful purpose would be served by antagonizing our captors, and the promise of early freedom was most appealing.
The Major of Kanggye directed us to listen to their lectures, answer their questions the way they wanted them answered, ask a few simple questions ourselves, and accept their answers without argument. I believe this led to improved living conditions, averted many deaths due to slightly improved food ration (cooked barley and some white rice) which tasted much better than that horrible, indescribable, watery mush we had been given during the march and the first few days here at Kanggye.
About 10 Weeks of Classes
Later in the course of lectures, which lasted about 10 weeks, during a brainwashing lecture, the Chinese Camp Official decided that it would be a good thing for the prisoners to draw up a document similar to the Stockholm Peace Appeal, which all of us newly liberated friends would sign.
One Marine was chosen by the Chinese to draft the document, which he did with great care, for he knew it would probably be broadcast in the United States. Unfortunately though, he was one of the POWs on the Chinese list of those who appeared to be taken in by their indoctrination program. Somehow he failed in this great task.
Lieutenant Pan, the chief interpret, rewrote it completely. They demanded that all prisoners sign this appeal to the United Nations denouncing the war in Korea and that the United Nations should pull out of Korea and let the Korean people form their own government. We all refused to sign such an appeal. I recall the continuous threats and brutality because we would not sign such an appeal, and how they called us "War Mongers, War Criminals and Murders." After several days of demands for signatures, the Chinese instructors informed us that we were reactionaries, opposing the Chinese People, their plans for world peace, and all the things that they and the other peace-loving people were striving for.
We were again told that a few prisoners would soon be released. This prompted some cooperation and or collaboration by some of the prisoners who believed that by cooperating they would gain favoritism and possibly be among the first to be released.
The "Major of Kanggye" passed the word to other prisoners via the grapevine to appear to be cooperative, but not to do anything that would hurt or harm a fellow prisoner or his country. He was always concerned about the men in his group. Finally, we all signed this "peace appeal" which was sent to the United Nations, and got our names published in the outside world.
From this time on, things went fairly smoothly. The schooling continued and the discussions kept on. During one of the discussions, a Chinese Officer asked me, "Who started the war in Korea?" I replied, “you damn people did" after which he informed me that I was very young and that I had a lot to learn. I replied that I didn't have a damn thing to learn from them. This caused them to leave the squad room very angry, but, they returned to lecture me about their policies and told me "they were my friends and were only trying to help me". I told them that I did not need their help.
We had to perform daily chores which consisted of several hours of wood chopping, gathering dead wood from the surrounding hillsides, hauling water from the river, which was about three quarters of a mile away, and keeping the snow cleared from the court yard of our quarters. During these daily work periods, the Chinese herded us into the hills to gather fire wood for the camp. These work details would leave camp and walk two or more miles to gather dead wood which was covered with snow. We had to carry the wood back to camp on our backs.
There being little chance to escape, as any escape was doubtful, the Korean people were smaller than us, no food, and at least a couple of hundred air miles from our front lines, our chances was about a thousand to one on succeeding.
Still recovering from wounds like so many others, I did not give damn, as I was hurting, hungry and cold and when the guards pushed me around, I got angry and threw a large chunk of wood at one of the guards. I was knocked down by another guard with a rifle butt against the small of my back. Another time I was hit against the right ear.
We were forced to do work that called for men in top physical condition instead of the weakened condition that we were in. The Chinese on many occasions claimed that I was not doing my share of the work and that I was too slow and lazy. Any organization or preplanning on the part of the Chinese when we were herded into the hills to gather fire wood was lacking. Most of the time we did not have any tools to cut the wood.
They reminded us daily that they were peace-loving people who had come to the aid of their North Korean allies. They told us on many occasions that they did not want to keep prisoners, but were forced to keep us temporarily as they were unable to negotiate with the United States and the United Nations, and that they would be as lenient as possible with us. They continuously reminded us that we would be released as soon as possible, if we would cooperate during interrogations, classes, and work details, and if we did not impede their efforts by being rebellious or attempting to escape.
One of the prisoners who had walked for two days and nights in the snow without shoes made a speech for the Chinese, because he understood that "we would make it home if we acted like we were studying." He wrote two or three articles for the camp newspaper. When he was asked to write more, he refused. He finally told the Chinese that he was through and that he was going to depend on God to get him out of there. On the march to Kanggye this particular soldier had removed his boots after several days of marching and a Chinese guard took them. He continued the march but lost his toes from both feet. We saw each other after the Police Action ended in 1955 at a Military Court Martial for one of the Sergeants who collaborated with the Chinese. As I may have stated, one form of early POW collaboration was making speeches denouncing the United States and its policies, democracies, etc.
During the first three months of captivity, approximately 35 or more of the prisoners here died and these deaths were not accidental, but caused by deprivation and dehumanization and on top of all this came severe illness without any medical care. Later, probably in February, several sick prisoners were loaded on ox-carts supposedly for movement to a hospital.
One of the prisoners, a Sergeant, related that the sick prisoners were told they were being taken to a place where there was a large hospital with beds, doctors and nurses. The small caravan of ox-carts departed from Kanggye at midnight, but instead of taking the prisoners to a hospital the Chinese turned them over to North Korean Police. According to the Sergeant, the sick died like flies. The Chinese took control of the group for about two weeks, but then they were turned back over to the Korean Police again. Finally in May 1951, the survivors were turned over to the Chinese at Camp One, Chang Song.
We, like the Chinese guards, were beseeched with body lice, our skin was infected and we were constantly scratching lice from our clothing and hair. Our thumbs turned black with ingrained blood from killing the lice between our nails.
Medical Care, Marines Version, Kanggye
Not all of the prisoners captured during the Chosin Reservoir battles shared the same problems or experiences. According to some of the Marines, a Chinese doctor provided medications that were of lower standard than those found in a normal field first-aid-station. Aspirin or APC pills seemed to be a common remedy for everything. The next most common service seemed to have been removing black, frozen toes without sedation. We noticed that some of the sickest prisoners had disappeared from camp, and were told they had been taken to a hospital.
In January 1951, a Sergeant and a Corporal were among those taken from Kanggye to the so-called Chinese Hospital. One had been wounded, and the other was suffering from, among other ailments, frozen feet. The one with frozen feet was a medic from the 31st Infantry. Two others were also taken at about this same time. One was suffering from wounds and the other from acute dysentery.
Of the four, only one survived. He later stated, “The group was moved to a nearby valley about 10 miles from Kanggye where they stayed with the Koreans until sometime in April 1951. The Chinese Hospital seemed to have been a primitive collection of mud and wattle huts. During our stay, a Chinese nurse would come around to take care of the wounded for a week or so. The nurse cut off all of my toes, except the big toes, with a pair of shears and wrapped my feet with old newspapers.” He ended up at Camp One where he learned to walk again, and later broke off his big toes. He was released during Operation Little Switch in April 1953.
Personally, I don’t recall any medical care being offered since the Chinese soldiers had no medical personnel in their ranks. Seven weeks had passed and my wounds still had not been treated. They kept breaking open every time I moved. There was no doctor in camp to care for the sick and wounded. American corpsmen (medical personnel) were allowed to assist, however, no medication or medical supplies were provided. At no time did the Chinese provide any help. We used our undershirts for bandages. The Chinese never attended to my wounds, and my wounds took nine (9) months to heal.
Exploitation, Propaganda Lectures
We were exposed to a series of propaganda lectures designed to make us believe the United States was the aggressor in Korea, to publicize information obtained from prisoners, and to make us accept the communist propaganda agenda. The Chinese strategy was to intimidate us into believing that the sooner we learned and cooperated, the sooner we would be released.
The lectures (schooling) continued seven (7) days a week, either at the Barn or in our squad rooms. The lectures at the barn was normally conducted by a suave, high-booted Chinese Communist Big Wheel, which was spoken in Chinese, and translated to us by another Chinese Officer who spoke better English then many of us.
These infernal lectures, consisted of talks on how the Communist Party began (The Doctrines of Marx and Lenin), encompassed about four (4) to five (5) hours. We were lectured on the Chinese-Japanese War and on when the Communists Party was founded. We were told that they followed the leadership of MAO-TSE-TUNG and MAO accepts the interpretations of the Communist Philosophy as put forth by Stalin. We were lectured on how the People's Republic of China had overthrown Chiang-Kai-Sheri’s government and that Taiwan (Formosa) rightly belongs to the People's Republic of China.
They tried to teach us the People's Republic of China's National Anthem," DONG FONG HO" and the song of "MAO-TSE-TUNG." However, none of us wanted to participate and that made them mad.
They constantly remained us that the United States had nothing to do with winning the Second World War against the Japanese. They questioned us about who started the war in Korea, why we were in Korea, and what were we fighting for! They kept telling us that the blood of innocent North Korean people was on our hands.
We were reminded daily that we would be home with our loved ones if our Capitalist leaders had not sent us to war upon the peace loving people of North Korea. We responded by stating that if North Korea had not attacked South Korea, none of us would have been here including you, the Chinese People's Army. Most of us during these discussions would only talk about how good an American meal would taste, that most of us had asked to be sent to Korea, and that no one had forced us to fight in Korea. We stated that we came to Korea in response to the cry for help of the South Korean people.
About half a dozen brainwashed prisoners made speeches denouncing the United States, its policies, interventions, leadership, etc. One of the American POWs, in his speech, asserted the Korean War as a "Millionaire's War" and that we, the prisoners, had innocent Korean blood on our hands. Another recounted his experience as a Prisoner of the Germans during the Second World War. He said that the Germans treated their prisoners badly when compared to the Chinese. Another American (Dusty) sang a song for the Chinese.
Articles written by Marines and US Army prisoners were similar in nature whereby our leaders came under heavy attack in several of the articles. Peace was the basic theme demanded by the Chinese Communists, however, this only served as a front to their true motive of exploitation. A squad of Marines in our hut stood very high in the group, due mainly to the efforts of a Staff Sergeant and a Technical Sergeant who were very good with a pen; they were among the 19 Marines who were released during the spring of 1951. Other brainwashed prisoners wrote a substantial number of articles that was published in the Camp Newspaper called the "New Life" by the Chinese. These articles were explicitly anti-American and pro-Communism in nature, and derogatory toward the cause of the United Nations in Korea.
A prisoner drew cartoons which promoted Communism and reflected adversely on the US. This individual participated in the publication of the newspaper called the "New Life”. He was one of the most active workers in the Chinese indoctrination program. The charges brought against this individual after the Police Action ended was: Assisted the Communist propaganda program by (1) writing and circulating peace petitions promoting Communist causes(2) writing and publishing articles containing information adverse and inimical to the interest of the United States (3) drawing cartoons which promoted Communism and reflected adversely on the United States (4) participating in the preparation and dissemination of front-line surrender leaflets (5) attempting to influence prisoners of war to accept communist (6) participating in the publication called New Life and (7) actively participating in a group called "Yen-so-yen" (meaning workers) whose apparent mission was to interrogate and indoctrinate newly captured prisoners of war.
The Chinese took phrases from some of the articles and speeches and used them in their every day conversations and lectures. The United States was accused of fighting an unjust war for the sake of capitalism and imperialism and was charged with being responsible for the death of innocent people.
The “Progressive” prisoners who ended up collaborating with the Chinese Communist received compensation for their articles and speeches, while their material were repeatedly rubbed in our faces as we fought to survive the miseries of subzero weather, inadequate clothing, poor food, no medical attention, inadequate shelter, and other miseries these sadistic masters of cruelty could dream up and throw at us.
Psychological and Physical Pressures
Here at Kanggye we were subject to psychological and physical pressures. On a daily basis, we were confronted with demands for propaganda participation, such as signing peace appeals and petitions, and for information about one another.
Men were divided into small groups and indoctrinated by the Chinese instructors, normally one Chinese to every 10-15 prisoners. The squads were broken up and reorganized. The slow learners were put into squads with those considered to be good students. Many of the instructors had been educated in American Universities, spoke English better then most of us, and were familiar with American idioms, attitudes, and value systems.
Use of Soviet Methods to Exploit Prisoners
The Soviets had set the stage at the end of World War II, when, through fraud, coercion, deception, and the use of German collaborators, they compiled large numbers of signatures on various peace petitions, which then received wide circulation.
A US Senate Subcommittee, investigating Communists exploitation of American Prisoners, concluded that the Chinese made extensive use of Soviet methods after adding a few refinements of their own. Source: US Congress, Senate, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee Government Operations, Hearing on Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination and Exploitation of American Military and Civilian Prisoners, Report No.2832, 84th Congress, 2nd Session.1957, p.2.Cited hereafter as Senate Subcommittee on Investigations POW Hearings. Report No.2832.
Chapter 13 - Brothers In Combat
Before we leave Camp Kanggye and head south to Somidong, I would like to introduce and share the stories of some of my personal friends who were in combat at Hell Fire Valley and the surrounding areas of the Chosin Reservoir.
John D. Agostini, USA
John was with 720th Military Police Battalion from 1947 to 1950, when the Korean War started and managed to break out during the fall back of the Marines from the battles surrounding the Chosin Reservoir.
Now, some men just have a good time wherever they are in any circumstances. They are the inventors, and live within the spirit of the phrase, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." John Agostini fits the mold. Busted seven times, he soldiered on to finish thirteen honorable years (1946-59) before leaving the Army with the rank of Sergeant First Class.
During the occupation of Japan, Private First Class (PFC) Agostini brought some extra style to the 720th MP when he purchased a 1939 black Cadillac and hired a personal chauffeur. Measured against the General of the Army Douglas Macarthur’s Caddie, John found that his car was slightly longer. It was an altogether impressive vehicle. He added an extra touch by equipping his limousine with two pennants. One pennant had the 720th MP Battalion Crest and the other showed the single stripe of a PFC.
His chauffeur, a Japanese national, unfurled the flags whenever John was on board viewing the passing world from the back seat, and hooded the flags whenever his employer was absent. The officers of the 720th MP probably regarded this private demonstration of regal splendor with mixed emotions, but drew the line when the chauffeur started to call the Orderly Room for John's instructions.
One day, in the Post Exchange parking lot, John offered a Battalion Commander’s wife a ride. She stood there looking at this fine automobile, the attentive chauffeur holding open the door, John in his enlisted uniform, shook her head and said, "Isn’t it a God dam shame! My husband's a Major (Major Smith) and we drive a 1941 Chevy.”
The Cadillac limousine did not satisfy John Agostini's depth of automotive vision, so he also bought a surplus amphibious vehicle called a "Duck." The Duck was 34 feet long and weighed 7 1/2 tons. But, gas was cheap. At Camp Burness, John even managed to get a post tag for the Duck, and parked it next to the 720th MP Commander's Plymouth. Needless to say, the sight of this spectacle made the Colonel an unhappy man. But John was enamored with the Duck because he could get 16 to 20 of his friends aboard for cruises in downtown Tokyo.
One day, the vehicle's amphibious capabilities were put to the test and everything went fine, except that no one had checked on the existence and use of the sea cocks. Full ahead worked fine, but going in reverse forced the water into the hull through the open sea cocks. The swamped Duck and a wiser Agostini ran aground near the shoreline and had to be winced on land. However, the Duck was so heavy that it pulled the rescue vehicle into the water.
When the War broke out, John with three or four other guys, ask for a transfer to the Infantry. However, the 720th MP Battalion would not release any of them. Perhaps, the 720th probably thought John's departure could threaten Battalion’s morale. Try as he might, his attempts to get to Korea was stymied.
At last, frustrated and determined, the group took desperate measures. They deliberately went AWOL, taking off to a comfortable hideaway on Mount Fuji, because, "It was nice up there."
After a week or so, John called his Company Commander, Captain Denton. "Sir, if we come back now, can we get our transfers to the infantry approved?" he asked. Captain Denton replied, "I guarantee you'll go into the infantry, Agostini, when you get back here.” John Agostini got his wish and he was transferred to Company "D", Mortar Platoon, 31st Infantry Division.
On November 29, 1950, John stayed and fought with the Marines. With wounded Marines all around him, John gathered and loaded them into a jeep and evacuated them to the aid station at Koto-ri. He voluntarily returned several times, driving the length of the convoy under Chinese fire, to collect and evacuate other wounded Marines. In disregard for his own safety, John saved the lives of many Marines while he himself was wounded. John Agostini was awarded the Bronze Star with “V” device for valor and a Purple Heart for his wound.
James Nielson, USA
James, another "D" Company, 31st Infantry Division soldier, was born in Houghton Lake, Michigan, on July 28, 1931. He enlisted in July 1949 at the age of 17 and took basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas. After basic training, James was stationed at Camp Carson, Colorado, with the 14th (RCT) Infantry.
James and I were stationed at Camp Carson, and took rock climbing and cross country ski training at Camp Hale, Colorado, the home of the old 10th Mountain Division.
James joined Company "D" (Heavy Weapons), assigned to the Machine Gun Platoon, 31st Infantry at Camp Zama, Japan in July 1950. James was wounded and taken prisoner on November 30th 1950, and taken to Camp Kanggye. From there he was taken to Camp Number One at Chang Song, arriving there on or about March 27, 1951. He celebrated his 20th, 21st and 22nd birthdays at Camp Number One as a guest of the Chinese. James was released on August 13, 1953.
Captain Charles Peckham, USA
Captain Peckham, Commander of Baker Company, 31st Infantry Division was taken prisoner along with Lieutenant George Snipan from Baker Company. My platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant both was killed along with many of the squad members. My assistant platoon Sergeant and one Squad Leader were taken prisoner along with me. Approximately 143 of us were taken prisoner during this encounter with the Chinese.
Captain Peckham’s Baker Company was caught in the ambush and cut to pieces. Baker Company’s losses were more than 100 killed or missing in action, and 19 known wounded who managed to get back to our lines. Our two heavy weapons squads incurred heavy losses.
Sergeant Charles Harrison, USMC
The snow lay deep on the hills. It was bitter cold as our convoy moved out of Hungnam, North and West along the road to Hagaru-ri, to the advanced Command Post of the 1st Marine Division. In the ditch with his weapon, was a Marine Military Policeman named Charles Harrison, a Sergeant from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I met Sergeant Harrison on the march to Kanggye.
As night set in and our airplanes left the area, the enemy began moving in closer to our positions. It was a clear, bright, starlit night, and you could see them by the hundreds coming across the white snow.
It was very easy pickings as the Chinese came down the bank from the road and the railroad and start up the ditch, two and three abreast! At one end of the ditch was a little dam. Sergeant Harrison with two other marines and an Army Lieutenant lay behind this dam waiting. They let the Chinese approach until they were very close, then cut loose with everything they had, relentlessly shooting them down until they piled up in the ditch. But, the Chinese kept coming! Most of the men along the ditch bank were wounded, and their ammunition was almost gone. Harrison began to realize this fight was as bad as it had been at Wake Island, where the Japanese had captured him during World War II.
Then Harrison was hit with a rifle bullet across his left wrist and he took a splinter from a grenade between the knuckles of his right hand. The bullet didn't bother him, but the splinter sure hurt. He wanted to have it attended to so he started back down the ditch, to where the wounded were being collected. When he finally found a medic, there were wounded men all around him. Needless to say, Harrison didn’t ask him to treat his “little” wound. Instead, he immediately returned to his position at the little dam.
Just as he got there, a mortar shell exploded very close to him. He got hit with the full force of the blast and the concussion. Dazed and bleeding, he crawled along the ditch, went up the side of the railroad bank, and just laid there waiting to be killed or captured.
Unfortunately, the Army Lieutenant whose name they didn’t know was later killed with a shot between the eyes.
As a matter of reference, Sergeant Harrison was captured by the Japanese during WWII at Wake Island on December 23, 1941, and held as a prisoner of war until his release on September 7, 1945. He was able to read and speak enough Japanese to help gather information and to determine our general location from sign posts and Koreans who spoke Japanese. He was also helped by Corporal Shimamura, a US Army Interpreter attached to the 1st Marine Division. Harrison compared the treatment of the Japanese with that of the Chinese. As he put it, the Japanese hated our guts and were just plain mean. He admired them for this because they really believed in their cause and was loyal to it. On the other hand, our Chinese captors treated us with what he refers to as deceit, brainwashing, and false friendship.
Ray Hikida, USA
I first met Ray Hikida at Kanggye where we were together for some time as guests of the Communist Chinese.
One year, when I was going to reunion back east and had to make a stop over in Denver, I was shocked to see Ray and his wife. We were boarding the same flight. As they were being seated, I remarked to Ray, “Don’t I know you? You are…… Ray Hikida!” Both he and his wife were so shocked at how, after all these years, I had recognized him.
Ray Hikida told me his story of what had happened to him after he was separated from our group of 28 men. Ray stated he was incarcerated in a Chinese People Volunteers (CPV) prison for CPV troops. He was the only GI there and was treated like an animal, in much the same way as the CPV treated their own convicts. His interrogator had him write home to ask his parents to send several thousand US dollars to help in his release. Apparently the CPV found out and the interrogator was thrown in jail. Ray was then moved to Camp Five with a downed USMC Pilot at the end of 1951. For some reason while he was there, he was put in the Sergeants Company.
In August 1952 when the Sergeants were moved out to the Sergeant’s camp, Camp Four, Ray was moved over to the British Company. He was then moved to Camp Three Annex and finished out his time there.
Sergeant James B. (Smokey) Nash, USMC
Sergeant James B. (Smokey) Nash, a US Marine Corp Military Policeman, was with Sergeant Harrison’s group during the fight. He was wounded in the heel of his right hand and the back of his right thigh when he was blown off the railroad bank running along the road. When he fell down the bank, his left knee was badly wrenched. As Nash would say, his wounds were caused by mortar fire. I first met Sergeant Nash soon after we were both captured and was on the march north to Kanggye. We were later assigned to the same squad.
This is Sergeant Nash’s story. After an all night fight, during which heavy casualties were taken and we were almost completely out of ammunition, a message was sent in demanding we surrender. Major John N. McLaughlin, the senior officer of our group, negotiated with the Chinese trying to stall them until daylight hoping we might be relieved. Finally, when he could stall no longer and our position looked hopeless, he agreed, but only after discussing the situation with as many of the senior men as he could. His condition was that he would surrender the group provided we be allowed to load our wounded aboard trucks and they be sent back through the lines to Koto-ri.
The Chinese promised to meet our terms, but it was a promise they would not keep. So as dawn was breaking on the morning of November 30, 1950, we became Prisoners of War.
We were marched north to a point between Kanggye and the Manchurian border. On the march we had quite a few deaths due to wounds, frozen feet, exposure, etc. There was no medical care whatsoever. We were fed a few cold boiled potatoes, boiled sorghum and on one occasion a rice ball. By the time we arrived at our destination, dysentery was highly prevalent throughout the group. The officers and the one civilian captured with us, Frank Noels an Associated Press photographer, were separated from us and we didn’t see them again until we arrived in the north a few days before Christmas 1950.
Every man was fully interrogated several times and a record was kept of each man, along with photo identification. The Chinese appeared more interested in our family and economic backgrounds than any military information we could have had. They also wanted to know about any political connections we might have had in the states, both military and political.
Sergeant Nash was released on May 25, 1951, along with 17 other marines and one army soldier.
Corporal Andrew (Chief) Aquirre, USMC
I first met Andrew (Chief) Aguirre at Kanggye. We were together throughout our period as guests of the Communist Chinese. Andy and I became life long friends. We communicate with each other several times a year. This is his story as related to me.
Andy (Chief) Aguirre was a member of Baker Company, 1st Tank Battalion, US Marines and a crew member of Baker-22. Andy was born on January 4th, 1925. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserves in May 1944. After Basic Training, he joined the First Marine Division at Russell Islands. Andy made the "D" Day landing in Okinawa in April 1945. After V-J Day, he went to Tients, China in November 1945, where he learned to speak Chinese. He returned to States, separated from the Marine Corp in August 1946, and after three years, rejoined the Marine Corps active reserves in October 1949.
During the epic withdrawal from North Korea, the tanks of Baker Company, 1st Tank Battalion were the last vehicles in a long column winding its way down the narrow Funchilin Pass from Koto-ri, when the brakes froze on an M-26 tank in the middle of Baker’s column. Tanks following the stalled vehicle began piling up.
Confusion reigned as tank commanders attempted to contact their platoon leaders to find out what was the holdup. Due to the mountainous terrain and winding road, radio contact was sporadic. Some tank commanders could not reach their leaders. With a small platoon from the Division Reconnaissance Company covering the rear, most of the stalled crews were able to bail out and reach the part of the column that was still moving; all but the crew of Baker-22 (Andy’s tank), the very last vehicle in the convoy. The Baker-22 crew remained in their tank waiting for the return of their tank commander, who had gone ahead on foot to see what the trouble was. By the time he started back, the Chinese troops were already swarming on and around the tank, preventing his return.
There are various accounts of Marines banging on the hull of Baker-22, yelling for the crew to abandon the tank. But as Andy later stated, "How in the hell, did we (the tank crew) know who was doing all the banging, and if it was other Marines, why didn't they use the tank infantry-phone?"
Whatever the case, the crew finally dropped the escape hatch and slid out from under the vehicle, slipping, sliding and tumbling down the steep, snow-covered incline in the darkness, undetected by the enemy.
While they were never able to catch up with friendly forces, the crew, now led by Andy, managed to elude the Chinese for two days. Andy had a working knowledge of Chinese, which he acquired while on post World War II occupation duty in China, and he was able to slip his crew past enemy road blocks and check points in the darkness by mumbling some familiar greetings when challenged. Their luck finally ran out when an alert sentry detected the ruse and took the crew prisoner. The tank crew eventually ended up at Camp Kanggye, some 60 air miles northwest of Hagaru-ri and about ten miles from the Manchurian border.
After our stay at Kanggye, we were marched south, our group drifted and roamed with the Chinese for a while. Then around July of 1951, our group was broken up in small groups of twos and threes and these small groups found themselves with the Chinese troops close to the front lines. We were told our function was to explain the "Lenient Policy" to newly captured personnel. Well anyway, Paul Gray and Andy were separated from the group. They roamed with the Chinese, still dreaming how they would be turned loose or maybe get close enough to the front to make a break for it.
Around September of 1951 or so, they were reunited with most of the old group at a place that looked like a mining camp in the P'yongyang area. Andy said one of the guys he remembers at this place was Jim Delong. Jim had been paired off with Augustus Stough. There were other familiar faces from Kanggye. They included James Schear and Gorka.
Paul Gray and I spent much time together with the Chinese. Some of those times were pretty hectic such as when we and the Chinks ran out of food. We, the Chinks included, would forage the meadows for weeds like ferns and Mustard leaves. What we found would be given to the cook who would boil them, add a little salt and oil, and we would eat this. I remember being so hungry and depressed one day that I broke down, cried, and was ready to hang it all up, if it were not for Paul. Paul Gray would talk to me and consoled me, and made me snap out of it.
We lived in the forest of the mining camp for a long time. During the rainy season he and I spent hours playing Checkers with a checker board we made out of paper and a pencil. We used twigs and small rocks for checker pieces.
I don't remember how many newly captured prisoners there were, but I do remember that the majority were acting like animals when the guard brought the wooden bowl around with sorghum. I mean they dived into it with no regard for the rest. It was at this place where I lost faith in all those that are suppose to be men of God such as preachers, fathers, and chaplains. I watched as this British Chaplain and a Filipino Sergeant dip their mess kit cups into the sorghum and rat hole it into a large juice can. When it was full they would dip again and then eat from their cups while rat holing the rest for later.
Joe was the driver on my tank. I used to feel sorry for him, Nick, and Jim. Soon after we were caught, the Chinks threw us in with about 12 Puerto Ricans who spoke Spanish all the time. They would jabber all day and night. I didn’t have any trouble understanding or talking to them. However, the rest of my Tank crew did, and only each other and myself to talk with.
The Puerto Ricans were very clannish. They would go after the food like starved animals. My crew and I had a hard time trying to get chow, until one day I decided to play their game. I would intentionally enter the hut last so I could look out the door and see what was going on outside. In this position I could also see the guard coming with the chow. When I saw him coming, I would give my crewmen the high sign so they would be ready to pounce on the chow.
I was elbowing, shoving, and grabbing just like the Puerto Ricans and one of them said in Spanish, “Ave Maria Mexico you don't have to be so rough." I told him I had enough of their shit and if they were going to act like animals so was I.
I said, “If any of you Mari Cones (Faggots) did not like it stand up!" They might have gotten up. However, a guard heard all the commotion and came to ask what was going on! I told him in Chinese they wanted to fight, and he told me to tell them to be quiet and settle down. When the Puerto Ricans found out I could speak a little Chinese, they settled down and there were no more chow problems, everyone got equal shares. The Puerto Ricans were afraid I would use my little knowledge of Chinese against them.
We, who had been captured since November and December of 1950, had only small tin cans and wooden paddles to eat with, so we could not compete with the new guys and their mess kits.
Fighting for food was a ritual until Sergeant Daniel Martinez, from Dog Company, 31st Infantry, with the backing of other older men in leadership managed to take command and establish rationing of the food. As I recall, he kind of kept control of the group during the march North until we reached Camp One, where he was later moved to the Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) camp.
Yes, the question of "Escape" was a mischief. I talked to Smoky Nash a few years two years ago when he gave me a copy of the letter he wrote to the Commandant of the Marine Corp. He also said that one day our artillery was hitting in the general area. When they looked for the guards, they saw them walking away with all their gear. The guards were not running, they were just walking away. Escape or release? I sure would have been glad to have been with them when this opportunity happened. Some of the Tankers that came to pick them up took pictures of the group and Len promised me a copy of each. However, I don't understand where all these guys escaped to, since none of them made it out! All they did was get out of camp for a few days.
All of us had been captured for close to five months. During that time, we had been exposed to forced marching, starving rations, dysentery, lice infestation, freezing cold, confinement in overcrowded shelters, air raids, had slept in animal shelters, caves and lived with many types of individuals. We considered ourselves capable of withstanding anything.
But we were not prepared for the heart breaking disappointment we felt when we were told we would not be released with the others. We were told the Chinese were anticipating the capture of many prisoners and that our job was to explain to them the “Lenient Policy”. We never met any new prisoners but if we had, I would have told them the truth about being a prisoner of the Chinese and all the hardships and deprivation they could expect. I damn near busted out crying, and by the expression on the faces of the others, I could see they too shared my feelings.
I learned later that 17 Marines and one Army Japanese American, who had been an interpreter for the Marines, were taken to the front by truck. They were loaded down with communist literature and left to themselves, eventually coming under American control. When they were under American control, they furnished the military with the names of many POWs who were still under Chinese control including mine. My parents never told me if the Marine Corps passed this information on to them.
Our small group of four Marines and six Army soldiers was herded from Village to Village without a purpose. We had no idea where we were going or why. We continued our march over mountains, valleys and across rivers. The rainy season started and the land got wet. The roads and trails were filled with puddles, pools of water, and lots of mud. One guy in our group, made me angry because when he was tired from walking, he would cuss the Chinese up and down calling them every dirty name in the book. Yet, when he was rested and relaxed, he would scurry to a Chinese who was smoking a cigarette and beg for the butt. He never did anything to help himself. During the long marches, he was always groaning and moaning. He never took a chance to steal from the Chinese or Koreans like the rest of us.
When we arrived at the Mining Camp near P'yongyang, it was like a homecoming. We met all the guys we had been with in Kanggye. There were a lot of guys who had been captured in 1951. Some of them still had a lot of Army gear like canteens, duty belts, and mess kits. Some of them had clothing that looked fairly new. One of the guys I remember was James DeLong, who had been paired off with Augustus Stough. Other familiar faces from Kanggye included James Schear, Gorka, Daniel Martinez, Roy Farley and you Jack Chapman. It must have been late September or early October 1951.
James DeLong, USA
James DeLong was assigned to “K” Company, 31st Infantry Division, and 7th Infantry Division. Here is an account of his experiences.
We saw no action at Suwon, South Korea when we were loaded on trucks for a long move to Pusan, South Korea. On the way south, the truck I was on overturned. One man was killed and many were hurt, broken legs and all. I was standing when his happened and was able to jump clear of the truck as it rolled and landed upside down with all the men under it.
October 27, 1950. At Pusan, we were all loaded onto ships and sat there a long time before finally sailing to North Korea. Our ship was called "Randall." We landed at Iwon, North Korea on or about October 27, 1950. There was little or no resistance as we boarded the trucks and began our journey deep into North Korea.
November 27, 1950. We later traveled by train to Hamhung, North Korea, then on trucks, all the way to the Chosin Reservoir. A Marine whom I met along the way told me there was nothing up there. Nothing, no enemy! It was around dusk November 27, 1950 when we arrived at the Chosin Reservoir. We were on the ridge overlooking the valley. Lt. Replinger, our platoon leader, told us to dig in. The ground was very hard, so we dug slit trenches.
November 28, 1950. Around 0100 to 0200 hours November 28, 1950, all hell broke loose in the valley below! We on the ridge had taken no fire at all. The next morning at dawn, I looked at the opposite side, not toward the valley, and saw the Chinese digging in. I thought there must have been at least a hundred of them. I passed the word to open fire. When we opened up with the machine gun, I never saw so many Chinese in my life! They didn't know we were on the ridge, but they only took about 20 minutes to get us off that hill!
We had no one on our flank at that point. I lost my machine-gunner. He was shot in the head. I also lost a couple of Koreans, so we started fighting our way off the hill. The Chinese in the valley saw us. We just kept firing to keep them off our backs. We got off. My assistant gunner got shot in the stomach. I carried him off the hill, and he was taken to the aid station.
The Platoon Leader of 1st Platoon, or maybe it was the 3rd Platoon, was killed in the valley. A Sergeant, a real good friend and a real nice guy, got killed in his sleeping bag that night. I think most of the members in his platoon got caught in that way.
Another Sergeant, who was in Burma during WW II said, “Delong, we'll never stop them! They have no regard for life. They'll run right over the top of us. They're going to get us one way or another.” The Sergeant didn’t make it out. He died with 21 dead Chinese piled up in front of him. He was another real good friend, and a good Sergeant.
November 29, 1950. It was very cold…… my hands were raw from hitting the machine gun lever to keep it firing. I pulled all the tracers out of the belt. It must have been November 29 when I got hit by with shrapnel in the left shoulder when a mortar round hit my position in the valley. Down at the aid station there was a bunker. We found a Chinese soldier in the coal cellar. Sure was hard to get him out of there.
It was about a half mile from the high ground, where we were, to the mess area. We positioned the machine gun to cover a draw, and pulled in real tight. During the day, we drew very little enemy fire. Our Corsair air support kept the Chinese pinned down with fire power from their quad 50’s and twin 40’s. The fierce fire from the quad 50's and twin 40s would also dig the Chinese out of the hills….. They were fantastic!
During the first night, we lost about 60% of our forces. The 3rd Platoon in the valley received the most casualties because that was where the Chinese broke through. We might have had 40% casualties. Surprise was definitely the reason…. We were not prepared! Our intelligence told us there was no one there, never any indication. ”Dig in and we're going to move out tomorrow,” was the order of the day, but it was not so…. I had men awake all night because of the heavy fighting in the valley. It was a massive overrun. I think that's exactly what happened. The Chinese broke through and, with sheer numbers, just overran our forces in the valley.
November 30, 1950. On November 30, the third day, we moved up near the artillery with my machine guns, and got behind a bunker. The enemy kept coming with Bangalore torpedoes, trying to run them through the line. But, we had a machine gun in position, and they could never get through. However, they did make one last attempt, 100 of them, when we opened up. This is when another of my good friends, another Sergeant, got killed. He only had a rifle. The next morning when I looked, I saw he had been hit in the head.
This Sergeant was a fighting man, a wartime soldier. He would get so drunk every payday that we would have to bring him home. Then for the next 28 days or so, he would soldier broke. He was the best wartime fighting man we had in K Company. He knew what to do.
December 1, 1950. On December 1, we got orders to move out. We weren't getting any rest or anything. We were going to take the wounded with us. We loaded as many wounded as we could get onto the trucks. There's an old saying, “Don't volunteer,” but I did. My shoulder wound wasn’t bothering me that much, so I volunteered to stand rear guard.
All of the trucks got out until they were about 400 yards down the valley. The Chinese had been following us, and what we didn't know was that they had set up a road block ahead of us. We kept getting hit by machine gun fire and trucks were taking cover off the road. The attack was organized, yes, in the beginning. They were attacking us from the road blocks, not from the rear.
A man running next to me had his hand shot off, but he kept right on running. We got to the first bridge. The Chinese had blown that, however, we stayed there for a while. One of our trucks got out and around the bend, when the driver drove it off the road, jumped out, and took off. I stayed with the truck until the next morning.
About 0400-0500 hours, the Chinese were coming in on us. I had a carbine and 500 rounds of ammunition. I was well prepared. As far as I know, I was the only one on the truck with a rifle. I knew they were coming in on us. I was there talking with the wounded. I knew what the Chinese would do if I opened fire. They'd massacre us. They were right on top of us, so I took my carbine, smashed it over the bumper, and took the 500 rounds and threw them out into the fields so the enemy couldn't get the ammo. I had a shoulder holster with a 45 caliber pistol. I carried it for five days after I was captured and Chinese never found it.
I was with the last truck in the column. The Chinese made the wounded that could walk get off the truck; there were about 10 to 15 of us. The wounded that could not walk, were left on the truck and were terminated by the Chinese.
We were made to double time up the road. Then a small Chinese soldier tied our hands behind our backs and took us into a ditch. There we were made to kneel, and that's when I thought they were going to shoot us. We were there for about an hour when a Chinese came up the road with a slip of paper. Then they marched us up the road to where we had been captured.
Well, I thought if I'm going to be captured I'm going to have something to sleep in. There was a sleeping bag off on the side of the road, so I went after it and got it. I paid dearly for it, got a rifle butt in the back and almost got killed. When I was hit with the rifle butt, I hung on to the sleeping bag, never letting it go, and kept moving. Guess the Chinese figured that if he hit me that hard and I could take it, I could keep the sleeping bag; I kept it all winter, two of us slept in one sleeping bag.
We were marched to a shanty on the side of the mountain in the pine trees. We sat there for about half a day while the Chinese kept bringing in more prisoners. Then they started marching us out, at least a couple hundred of us, marching until 20 December 1950. We’d march by night for about 19 days or so, while spending the days in houses, with nothing to eat but frozen potatoes. My breath smelled like my rear end, and I was suffering from dysentery.
We were marched a Camp Kanggye, where we arrived just before Christmas. Major McLaughlin from the Marines was the senior officer. About fifteen of us were put in a room no bigger than a small motel room, all sick with dysentery. We had a medic who begged our captors for Epsom salt. After a while, he finally got it. The Epsom salt was used to treat and cure our dysentery. Thanks to the medic a lot of lives were saved among the prisoners.
The next time I saw James DeLong was about 20 years ago, when he and his wife came to one of our reunions. They have not missed a reunion since.
Leonard J. Maffioli, USMC
Leonard J. Maffioli, a Marine truck driver, was assigned as our squad leader after our squad broke up and was reorganized. Leonard was born in Berkeley, California, on July 1, 1925. After graduating from high school in 1943, he immediately enlisted in the Marine Corps and saw combat in the Pacific.
In 1945, he was released from active duty and returned home to work with his father. To help supplement the family’s income, Leonard then joined the 11th Tank Battalion, a Depot Reserve Unit, and began training on the Sherman tank.
On June 25, 1950, the Korean War broke out. Leonard immediately reenlisted in July 1950 and sailed for Korea with the Tank Battalion. In November 1950, when his unit received a call for 22 truck drivers to join a “joint-relief convoy” heading north to Hagaru-ri and the Chosin Reservoir, Leonard was one of them. He was assigned to a truck carrying the British Royal Marine’s galley equipment, along with several of the Marines.
Leonard was one of the 18 Marines and one Army soldier released on May 25, 1951 in the vicinity of Ch’unch’on, SK.
Chapter 14 - Train Ride From Kanggye To Somidong, Northwest Of P’yongyang
The indoctrination process at Camp Kanggye continued from December 24, 1950 until about March 3, 1951, when we were abruptly shoved outside. The camp was abandoned, and some 290 men began the 80 mile march south to the town of Kanggye.
When we arrived in town, we were immediately loaded onto boxcars for a two (2) day train ride to a location near Somidong, a place somewhere northwest of P'Yongyang. We traveled only at night and hid in the tunnels during the day to escape detection from our aircraft. Three days after our arrival, we were gathered in a schoolhouse and informed that we were going to be divided into two groups.
1st Split into 2 Groups, Somidong
The Chinese announced that all but 60 of us would be going north of Somidong to Ch’angsong, the location of POW Camp One. Of course, no explanation was given for this sudden change in plans. So the group of about 230 prisoners with Major McLaughlin was separated from the group of 60. While they marched north to Ch’angsong and Pyoktong, the group of 60 went on a march in an entirely different direction.
The Group of 60
I was in the group of 60 which included 24 marines with Lieutenants George Snipan of Baker Company, 31st RCT and George Shedd of the 3rd Infantry Division, and a Marine Lieutenant. For about five weeks we marched southeast, by way of Tokchon and Yangkok through the rugged mountains across north central Korea covering about 300 air miles, to Majon-ni near Wonsan, North Korea. The temperature at this time of the year fluctuated between 20 degrees above zero during the day, to way below zero at night. Needless to say, we all froze from the lack of suitable clothing and bedding.
During the march two Marines became very ill. One was a Negro named Leon Roebuck, who died on March 12, 1951 from what appeared to be peritonitis. We buried him there, in the middle of nowhere, using our hands to dig his grave. I was given Roebuck's boots since my own boots and frost-bitten feet were wrapped with rags and whatever material I could get my hands on. They were immediately put to good use in helping me endure the pain and suffering of the march in the extreme cold with frost-bitten feet. I believe this was sometime around March 10, 1951.
The second Marine, who had been carried for several days by (Chief) Aguirre, became too sick to be carried, so the Chinese left him behind with the Koreans. It is presumed he died shortly after being left behind, because he was never seen or heard from again. So now, our group was down to 58 prisoners of US Marines and US Army personnel from both the 3rd and 7th Infantry Divisions. Lieutenants George Snipan and George Shedd were still in charge of our group.
An older Marine (Gus), who had barely survived the brutal march to Kanggye, on at least one occasion on this march south, sat down in the snow and dared the Chinese to shoot him. Gus spent the march across Korea, in the spring of 1951, amusing himself by charging at the guards and the Koreans whom we passed. For a handful of cigarettes and/or pieces of yud, a kind of molasses candy, Gus would let them see him take out his false teeth and put them back in again. The guards seemed to be fascinated by this.
The country sides of North Korea were made up of barren hills and mountains and whatever concentration of industry or township that did exist had been reduced to rubbles by our air support.
2nd Split into 2 Groups, Ch’orwon
On April 5, 1951, after leaving Majon-ni, we headed south arriving at a temporary camp near Ch’orwon, in a village deep in a valley of a very beautiful and rugged area that could only be reached on foot. By this time we were down to 58 men and it was no surprise when we were informed that our group would be further reduced by 30 men. Everyday until we left, the Chinese would call us together to ask for our opinions on just about anything. However, they didn’t want these opinions verbally. They wanted them to be put in writing! After about seven days, we were finally split into two groups and each group continued to head south, but through different routes. My group consisted of 28 prisoners and the other 30.
The Group of 30
The group of 30 prisoners consisted of Harrison and the other Marines. They were told they would be meeting some newly liberated friends, and would be helping the Chinese introduce them to their new life. This they did, explaining to the newly captured prisoners that the Chinese would not hurt them and would feed them as best as they could. However, the food supply was very low and consisted mainly of sorghum seeds. The group also helped the newly captured prisoners fill out the interrogator’s questionnaires.
Then the Chinese picked out 18 Marines and one Army soldier and separated them from the group of 30. The 11 remaining members of the group would be marched north to eventually join up with our group of 28.
The 19 selected prisoners were marched a few miles south and stopped at another temporary location. At this location, the Chinese fed them well, loaded them down with pamphlets on the peaceful aims of the Chinese, and gave them surrender leaflets to pass out to their fighting comrades when they met them.
We didn’t see the selected 19 again until the end of the Police Action (War) in Korea. Many of us met at a Military Court Martial in 1955. While there, I was informed they had been released around May 25, 1951 in the vicinity of Ch’unch’on, SK, where they were picked up by three tanks from the 7th Division.
Chapter 15 - The Group Of 28, Death March To The Mining Camp
My group of 28 consisted of two (2) officers, 26 enlisted men and about 50 Chinese soldiers. After we separated from the group of 30, we began a series of marches for the next six (6) months that took us, first north, then southwest, and then west, before arriving at Camp One Ch’angsong, North Korea.
Throughout the march, the Chinese guards tried to talk with us, but due to the language barrier, it was difficult to communicate. However, one of our guards named Pan spoke English. And there was Leo, who spoke a few words of broken English. We had Pan with our group until we arrived at the Mining Camp near P'Yongyong.
Eventually we were joined by the 11 men from the group of 30 who were separated from the 18 Marines and one Army soldier. The 11 member group consisted of seven soldiers and four Marines. The Marines were Sergeants Mathis and Roberts, Corporal Aquirre and PFC Daniel Yesko. Our group of 28 now grew to 39 prisoners.
It was during our marches that many of us began to experience more physical pain and suffering than at any other time during our captivity. We had not suffered very much from dysentery and had managed to avoid other illnesses. However, my wounds began to bother me even more. I started having excruciating pains in my legs from the knees down. My bones throbbed like a bad toothache. The pain was much more intense at night, so I got very little sleep. As long as I was walking, the pain was not too bad, but when I stopped and sat down, the pain would take over.
Around the end of May 1951, we met approximately 200 American soldiers who had been captured in the vicinity of Seoul near the 38th Parallel, around the end of April 1951. Most of them were from the 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions. After about 10 days with this group, the Chinese decided to separate us from the other prisoners, and we began our march toward the Hwachon reservoir.
Summer 1951, Near Hamhung
We welcomed the coming of summer, since it was comparable to a mid-western US summer. However, many of us came down with beriberi, the result of malnutrition and starvation. In addition to this and the snakes, most of us were suffering from dysentery and weakness that was brought on by the flies, mosquitoes, lack of rest, and unclean conditions. Everyone was also suffering from extreme vitamin deficiency and severe psychological depression. So, with each day's labor, we continued to drift closer and closer to death, and at times, blacking out from pain, fatigue and total exhaustion!!
One day the Chinese herded us together and we started marching again. We were probably somewhere in the vicinity of Hamhung, as we could hear the United States Navy's battleship USS Missouri with her 16 inch guns off the coast, bombarding the surrounding area.
This continued for several days. Every day we could see the communists retreating further and further north away from our position. During this time, we were not allowed to leave our hiding place, for the fear of our planes, except during darkness to relieve ourselves, and then only for a few minutes at the most, with only three or four men allowed out at a time. We sat there, hungry, tired and thirsty, waiting for darkness to come so we could get out of the hole in the ground for a few minutes. We grasped for air since none was coming into the hole.
After a few days at this miserable place, we too, were hurriedly herded together and moved further north. The last couple of days in the vicinity of the caves, we had observed small observation planes overhead and could hear gun fire off in the distance behind us.
The desire for food was increasing. I would be marching along with my eyes closed thinking about it. My mouth would water. Then I would start thinking about all the different food that I've eaten and what I'll eat if and when I got released. I had visions of ice cream, candy bars, and all the wonderful food back home and how I would pig out if and when I returned.
Whenever we crossed a stream or a river, we looked for dead fish lying about on the bank and ate them raw. Most of the fish we found was crawling with maggots, but as we were starving, this didn't matter and we ate whatever we could get our hands on. The millet and barley would give you awful cramps. The indigestion was terrible. There would be little worms in our barley. If it was cooked dry you didn't notice them and ate them. But if the stuff was soupy, you could see them little buggers floating in the soup!
Throughout this time the communists discontinued their attempts to brainwash us with their indoctrination lectures. It was their way of stopping us from making any attempts to escape or resist in any way. They literally marched and worked the hell out of us, even though we were all starving and half of us were either sick or half crazy.
Temporary Camp about 100 Miles South of Kanggye
We kept on marching until around August 1951, moving from one place to another while dodging airplanes, when we arrived at a deserted village along the way that became our temporary camp. During our stay, Ray Hikida was taken from our group, and we never saw him again until after the war ended.
It was here where the Chinese also took a Sergeant and a Private from our group. This was no big loss. Ever since our capture, both of them had been suspected of ratting to the Chinese and, they were looked upon as favorites of our captors. They always seemed to have cigarettes and received better treatment than anyone else. No one trusted them, and we never discussed anything in their presence.
North Korean Farm Family
Our temporary camp was at a North Korean farm located in a small valley about 100 miles or so south of Kanggye and away from all concentration of activities. The farm was occupied by a family of four; husband, wife, son and daughter-in-law. Their house was an average Korean home, with three rooms. The Chinese guards took up two rooms, one for the officers and one for the prisoners who were seriously ill and our two officers.
The rest of us slept outside on the ground in the cattle stalls, which in itself was not really bad, aside from the bugs, lice and the smell that wasn't very noticeable to us because of our weakened and exhausted physical condition. The untreated drinking water and outdoor toilets became the greatest cause of our dysentery, along with the fact that our diet consisted only of the thin, watery mush.
One day the husband of the Korean family brought home a small deer he had killed. He skinned it and quartered it as we looked on. He cut off pieces from the deer and threw them to his small dog. The rest he put away. That evening when the family was in their one room with the door open, some of us watched through the open door fantasizing on what the deer would taste like. We would watch the husband get up, walk to the door and look around outside. He would then return and resume his eating. Once in a while he would cut off a piece of the meat and throw it to us. He did this many times during their meals. This family would also give us tobacco and small amounts of food when they could without the Chinese knowing it. They even supplied us with some improvised bedding, straw mats, and helped several of us mend our shoes and patch our clothing.
Illness Continues, No Medical Help
Even with the slightly improved conditions, several of us still came down with hepatitis, typhoid, malaria, and diarrhea. The Chinese promised they would get us medicine and better food if we would only cooperate and write an open letter to the United Nations denouncing the war. Instead, they cut our food ration and no medicine or medical help was brought in. Those of us, who were ill, pulled through thanks to our fellow prisoners and the Korean family who was very helpful and decent to us.
Dysentery was one of our biggest problems. If one developed dysentery and did not get up to walk around, he would most likely be dead within two or three days. It didn’t take much to lose bowel control and there was no means to clean up afterward. Once a person got sick, it was very hard to get him to eat and many times we had to sit on our friends and push the food down their throats. The worst thing was seeing a friend give up and die.
One of our soldiers, James Barber, who was from the 3rd Infantry Division and with us at Kanggye, became very ill. We had no choice but to force the mush down his throat to keep him going. He pulled through and made it back home.
Several years after our return home, I made contact with James. He stated he was doing great, thanks to us. I also met with Roy Farley for the first time since our days in Korea. He told me they had almost lost me during the summer of 1951. He said I was very ill due to my wounds and lack of medical care…… I had totally forgotten about this!
We remained at this location for about a month before we began our march to a location some called, “The Mining Camp” near P’Yongyong.
On the march to P'Yongyang, we stopped in a small town about forty (40) or so miles north of the 38th parallel. While there, we saw two (2) women who had been taken prisoners. One appeared to be Korean and the other one we believed to be French. The lady whom we believed to be French could have been one of the French Nuns, or the lone German lady who had been with the French, when taken prisoner during the summer or fall of 1950. The women were dressed only in their slips and looked like they had been put through hell.
The Mining Camp
After several days of marching we came to the place called “The Mining Camp,” which was located near P’Yongyang. This was a prisoner of war collection camp. The Chinese would assemble all prisoners at this location until they had a large enough group. Then they would move the group to other camps along the Yalu River. We met several newly captured prisoners. We recognized them immediately. Their clothing was fairly new, not torn or in rags like ours. One could sense they didn’t like us, for they looked at us suspiciously and kept their distance. However, when they realized how long we had been captured, they would warm up to us.
Before arriving at the Mining Camp, we never had problems dispensing food within the group. However, with this larger group, it became “dog eat dog!” Many of the newly captured prisoners still had their canteens and canteen cups. When the guards brought the container of food and left it on the floor, it was chaos! The new prisoners would swarm the container and quickly fill their canteen cups. We, the older prisoners, didn’t stand a chance. Our cups were small cans, about one fourth the capacity of the canteen cups. The food container emptied quickly. And when the food was done, many of the prisoners, including some of the wounded, didn’t get anything to eat!!
I don't remember how many newly captured prisoners there were, but I do remember the majority were acting like animals when the guard brought the wooden bowl around with sorghum. I mean they would dive into it with no regard for the rest of us. It was here where I lost faith in preachers and chaplains, who are supposed to be men of God. I watched as a British Chaplain and a Filipino Sergeant dipped their mess kit cups into the sorghum and rat hole it into a large juice can. When it was full they would dip again and eat from their cups while rat holing the rest for later.
There was no order! Everyone scrambled for the food until Staff Sergeant Daniel Martinez from Dog Company, 31st Infantry Division, who hailed from Colorado, put a stop to this. Sergeant Martinez took control of the group and wasted no time bringing order to chaos.
With leadership and military tact from years of experience in the Army, he said, “All right, listen up!” It was more of a command than a request, “How many of you did not get anything to eat this morning?” Some of the prisoners raised their hands. He went on to say, “All of you are Soldiers. You are still in the military, but a few of you have forgotten this, and are starting to act like animals! Some of you are rat holing the food, taking more than your share and leaving little or nothing for the others.” Then he gave the following directions, “This afternoon when the food is delivered, all of you will form a line and in an orderly manner, get your food from the two guys who will be dishing it out. Everyone will get an equal share!” No one in the group challenged him.
With our airplanes actively patrolling the airspace, our food situation became very serious. Our rations now consisted of a course of brown flour which we mixed with water to make a mush. It was almost inedible and gave no nourishment. At every temporary camp we stayed at for more than three days, the Chinese would single out ten (10) or fifteen (15) of us for the supply runs. About twice a week we had to form the work party and travel at night, walking about twenty-five (25) miles to get some food. This meant marching night after night, wading through small streams and/or rivers, and resting under any available cover during the day to avoid detection from our aircrafts overhead. Sometimes these marches lasted two or three days, depending on the distance we had to travel to get supplies. When we arrived at our destination, we would shoulder 50 pound sacks of grain for the trip back to our camp. This would have been manageable except that some of the guys would feign illness, thus placing a greater burden on the rest of us.
Chapter 16 - Death March Mining Camp To P’yongyang City
In September 1951, our group at the Mining Camp was herded together once more and started to march further north, this time toward the city of P'Yongyang, one of the most miserable and unforgettable prisoner of war camps in all of North Korea.
After several days of marching, we arrived in a large valley several miles north of the front lines near Suan, North Korea. After a few days there, we named the place “AWOL Valley,” or absent without leave, for it was here where nine of us had attempted an escape, only to be recaptured, beaten and bound for long periods of time. This was an impulsive and stupid move on our part because we had no plan, food, or other essentials to make the escape successful.
Several American prisoners who had been captured during the late spring or early summer of 1951 joined us at AWOL Valley. They had also been doing some type of forced labor for the Chinks. We witnessed fellow prisoners being mistreated, hands tied behind their backs, prisoners tied by their wrists and left hanging from poles or whatever else was available to hang them from.
We even met and saw other United Nations soldiers who had been taken prisoner only a short time before. Many of them were Turks and South Koreans. Also, I recall this place was just crawling with fleas. It was here we lost our two officers and about 12 others from our group. We later met them at Ch’angsong. Our group of 39 was now down to a group of 25 prisoners.
On our route to P’Yongyang, we saw hundreds of Communist Chinese soldiers, moving toward the rear. We never saw more than a hand full of North Korean soldiers in formation that I can recall. At nights, probably near Sanghwaan-ni, we saw large search lights on the southern horizon moving toward us, but they never came close enough for us to attempt an escape. We later learned that the United Nations forces were using large spotlights for artificial moonlight.
As we moved further north, we saw Chinese soldiers pulling, and/ or pushing by hand, United Nations artillery pieces, trucks, and other equipment that had either been left behind or overrun.
The day we arrived in the city, everything in the area was a complete wreck. Our aircraft had done a damn good job of reducing all concentration of industry to complete rubble. The city smelled of death. You could feel it in the air, on your skin, like something crawling on you, and you could see hundreds and hundreds of graves on the mountain side. Death seems to be everywhere. Americans and other United Nations troops were buried here, in graves so shallow that arms and legs extended from the earth.
There were several other United Nations prisoners still "alive.” I say "alive" because most of them were so bad off that they knew neither their names nor their whereabouts. Most were half alive, just sitting or lying about, without the strength even to move or care for themselves. They were too sick to care for the dead and dying. Several of the dead had not been buried and remained where they had died, in cells, outside of their cells, with nothing to cover them and no one to look after them.
The filth of this place was indescribable. The smell of the huts and the cells was out of this world. Everywhere you looked were horrible things, making any normal person sick at his stomach, and the stench of death was everywhere.
We stayed here until around October 12, 1951, I was never so glad to leave a place in all my life.
Chapter 17 - Death March To Camp One, Ch’angsong
It was now mid October 1951 and signs of winter were in the air. I vividly recall my anxiety and anguish at having to leave behind all of the poor suffering soldiers who could do nothing for themselves and were beyond help. The cold winds were more frequent and in the mornings there was lots of frost on the ground. All of us who had survived the last winter knew what was coming, so we did not need any urging to reach our destination.
The Chinese army moved at night. At night walking north, the roads were congested with Chinese troops, trucks and pack animals going south to the front lines. The threat of our airplanes did not entirely cease at night. One night as we walked north, this mass of Chinese soldiers were walking south when we heard the familiar Chinese cry “Air Plane.” Shortly after, we heard the drone of the airplane swooping over us dropping a string of flares lighting up the road and the dark night, then another plane came right behind strafing the road. Everyone, Chinese and prisoners got off the road and drove for cover. It seemed like an eternity before the first string of flares burned out. No body moved. The road was now deserted, where a few minutes before, it had been full of people.
From the time we left Kanggye to our arrival at Chang Song, North Korea, there was a group of Chinese who did the cooking for the prisoners and the guards. They were always a head of the column. Some of them carried large black metal pots and grain sacks suspended from each end of a pole (we called them idiot sticks) they carried on their shoulder.
One of our English speaking Chinese (Wong) wore a black arm-band on his sleeve. We called him the "Black Arm Bandit." During the death march, Wong pushed a number of prisoners off of the trails. He was Lin's assistant at Chang Song, Camp One and did all the punishing of prisoners. He claimed that he had studied at a University in the United States.
Malnutrition had begun to take its toll. We all suffered from a series of painful muscle deterioration, where the muscle would stiffen up, causing first mild, then extreme pain from the tip of ones toes to the top of ones head. The food ration was very small mainly millet and we were down to one meal a day. We were put on a train and rode a few miles. We stopped in a tunnel, and the Chinese claimed that an American aircraft had sighted the train and that we had just made it to the tunnel. We almost suffocated from the smoke of the train. This ended our ride north to camp one. We were forced to march the rest of the way and during this trip we were strafed numerous times by our own aircraft.
Russians Soldiers in Sinuiju, NK
As we moved further north, we saw many Russian trucks and near the end of our march, the Chinese marched us right into the City of Sinuiju, North Korea. I believe that was the name of the city. At the outskirts of the city, we walked right by some heavy Anti-Aircraft Batteries manned with Russian soldiers. I recall the Russian soldiers giving us some bread.
The North Korean villagers would line the road to see us, spit on us, throw rocks at us, and also tried to hit and kick us. At least the Chinese guards did their best to protect us from this harassment.
Sinuiju to Camp One, Ch’angsong
Our trip to Camp One took about 13 days. We arrived on or about October 25, 1951. I was glad we had arrived because this meant we would no longer have to walk every night. We entered the village and saw Americans milling about. They were startled by our appearance. We were still in the same clothes we were captured in, about a year ago, that was just utterly filthy.
There was a small fence separating us from the section where British soldiers were quartered. All the prisoners, British and Americans looked the same, filthy, with scraggly facial hair. The camp was surrounded with sentry outposts that were within sight of each other.
The Chinese knew it would be foolish for anyone to try to escape since the camp was in the middle of a mountain range with only one road that ran through the center of camp and beyond. They also knew the Korean civilian population would not hesitate to capture or kill us if we tried to escape.
Chapter 18 - CAMP ONE, CHANG SONG, NK
Camp One was the town of Ch’angsong, about 30 miles or so northeast of the Korean border city of Sinuiju. Very few North Koreans lived in Ch’angsong or around our compound. Most of them had moved into the hills away from the Main Supply Route (MSR) that ran right through the center of town.
When the Chinese Communists took over the town, they ran the rest of the Korean families into the hills so they could use the entire town as a POW Camp. Many of the Korean families living near the camp were quite friendly with us, giving us tobacco and other things we could use, without the Chinese knowing about it.
There were more than one thousand United Nations prisoners in this camp. This was the most western camp along the Yalu River. It was near a railroad junction, which we could not see, that was bombed just about every night by American aircrafts. We could hear the bombing and see the search lights, piercing the night sky for the bombers and fighters.
Upon our arrival, I remember seeing American GIs locked in the dark, stinking cells of solitary confinement. They had been placed there after pain and infection from wounds had driven them insane and /or for some infraction of camp rules.
Our captors had savagely, without proper medical knowledge and/or equipment, removed bullets and amputated infected limbs. Then they would place these suffering, animal-like creatures in solitary confinement for months, to live or die, just to get them out of the way so their moaning and screams could not be heard.
As we straggled in, the POWs who were already there saw us coming and gathered around, hoping for some news. Some of them had been here for 6 months or more. They were surprised when told that we had been captured nearly a year ago. Some of them were taken prisoner during the battles at the Chosin Reservoir, while others were captured during the early spring of 1951.
Billeting in Compound Seven, Camp One
It was a cold freezing day and the Chinese kept us standing around for hours waiting to be assigned to one of the several huts in the compound and to be given some food. The next day, we were registered at the Guard Headquarters and assigned to squads and huts in Compound Seven with anywhere from ten (10) to twenty (20) men to a room. Each squad was assigned a room of a hut to live in. Our room had a dirt floor and all the walls were plastered with mud. This would be our home. This of course, was much better than what we had been living in.
The housing arrangements were similar to the average Korean home, with straw roofs, mud walls, paper windows (in the doors only), and an earthen-floored kitchen, consisting of an old kettle, used for cooking and heating water. The room was not very big, but we had enough space to lie down and stretch. There was a small square opening on one of the walls which served as a window. Instead of glass the window had a piece of light brown paper glued to the inside through which very little light filtered through. When it got colder, our breathing condensed on it, making it wet and easy for the wind to tear it up. All the rooms the prisoners were living in were in the same shape, drab and cold.
Things didn’t change much; we were still wearing the raggedy torn clothes we had been captured with. The food was still the same, steamed sorghum with a watery turnip soup for a side dish. The only good thing was that we no longer had to walk at night.
Our living conditions got worse as the first snow of winter fell and the temperature dropped below zero. We were all housed in three rows of thatched huts with under the floor heating contrived centuries before. The system called "Nodal" consists of a kind of furnace from which hot air and smoke flow through the passages under the floor.
Our huts were on the right side of the supply route with the last row being approximately 100 yards from the main road and with a fence enclosing three sides. The Chinese guards occupied the housing on the opposite side of the road.
Our food which consisted of barley and millet was brought to us in a bucket twice a day and served to us like pigs. The morning meal was usually a barley or millet soup, and occasionally we would get a bowl of white rice for our evening meal. One day we found a dead chicken and we cooked it, not caring how rotten or diseased it might be, and every one in my squad tried to get a piece of the cooked meat. We had been experiencing near-starvation conditions from the time we were captured and during our isolation over the past 10 months. Here at least, we were getting two small meals a day.
Compound Seven housed about 200 or more starving American suffering from wounds and other illness. During the first week, we were given one blanket for every two (2) men; our first since being captured. A barbed wire fence separated us from another compound on the south side of our compound. It also housed about the same number of prisoners who were also in the same physical condition as us.
The main road was also the Main Supply Route that ran right through the center of our camp. On several occasions, our planes strafed and bombed the Chinese trucks using this road. During one of these attacks, several of our men were wounded. One was Roy Farley, who got a piece of shrapnel in his foot.
Our Air Force had no way of knowing we were being held here. There were no markers that indicated this town was being used as a prisoner of war camp. It took about six months to finally convince the Chinese to put up a camp marker, which stopped our aircraft from flying directly over our camp. However, we still had to be alert for the bombers that flew over us just about every night. We could hear the bombers flying north, and then return a short time later.
Officers and NCOs Moved to Other Locations
Near the end of 1951, the Chinese separated all the officers from the enlisted men and moved them to Camp Two. Around March 1952, the Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) were moved to Camp Four. I never saw any of them again during the so called "Police Action." With the exception of a very few men we had a good group, both black and white, working together, helping each other, and sharing without complaining.
During the day we could see American and Chinese Communists planes firing at each other overhead. The US planes were always out numbered two-to-one. One thing that cheered us up was the air fights between our planes and the Chinese. Our camp was right under Mig Alley, and we could see the Migs and our planes going after each other almost every day. We had a hard time identifying who was who, until one day when they brought in a captured pilot, and he told us to listen to the rate of fire. The Migs had a slower rate of fire than our planes. After that we cheered every time a Chinese plane got shot down.
A friend, Barnes from Missouri, made up crazy country stories, jokes and songs, which we would all join in and sing. Farley (from Baker Company, 31st Infantry) told us about his life as a boy growing up in West Virginia before joining the Army. Farley and I both were eighteen (18) at the time of capture. After this, we all took part in relating something that we did as a youngster and why we joined the service. One of our friends, Harbour, also from Baker Company, knew how to hypnotize and he tried to teach us.
As soon as the sun went down, the Chinese herded us back into our dark cells where we sat in the dark until we fell asleep, which happened almost immediately. Soon afterwards, the Chinese would come around to each room to take a head count and to position a guard at each hut. They would also have a couple guards or so, patrolling between the huts and a dozen or so posted around the back of our compound.
If we had to step out to go to the out house (latrine), which was located approximately ten feet directly behind the huts, we would be challenged by the guards in front and rear of our huts, and they would remain near us until we returned to our room. Little did we know or realize that their eyes were also as bad as ours at night from night blindness. The blindness was caused from a lack of food nutrients. We all suffered from night blindness, the condition varies from a simple small dot to total darkness. I could not see anything at night. When we went out at night, we had to be led by the hand. What a sight, a line of grown men holding hands going to the toilet.
Black Prisoners Relocated
I believe that it was early 1952, when the Chinese moved the black prisoners to another location. The treatment and status of these prisoners was and still is unknown to me. I am sure they were treated better than we, since the Chinese claimed we were all prejudice and that we treated the Blacks like slaves.
One of the Chinese officers made the statement, that he had been to the United States and saw how the Negroes were the scum of the land, how they are raped, beaten, and hanged. He went on to say, we the Chinese people feel sorry for you, the American Negro. We want to be your friend. We the free people of the world, welcome you like a brother, with you as our equal. One of the Black prisoners (Turner from Michigan) refused to be moved and told the Chinese that he was an American and that he wanted to stay with us.
Routine of Camp Life
After the separation of the Officers, Non-commissioned officers and Blacks, we settled down to a more routine camp life, working in the hills, cutting trees, hauling the cut tree from the mountains, three to five miles to the town center on our shoulders and backs. Many times these logs would require three to four men to carry them. The logs were used to build outdoor toilets, repair the bridges around Chang Song, and for fire wood.
The Chinese asked an American Indian, "What is your nationality?" Hatch, replied, "FBI". The Chinese immediately became very interested in him and started asking him a lot of questions. They wanted to know what was he doing in Korea, and why would the FBI have an agent in Korea and the US Army. Hatch was with the 31st Infantry Medical Company, captured at Chosen Reservoir. Finally, after several days of questions, Hatch told them that he was a Full Blooded American Indian, "FBI" for short.
Medical Care at Camp One, Squad Member Kaver
The Chinese doctors were not properly trained for their jobs. On the average, their medical training consisted of no formal training whatsoever, to approximately six months in a hurry up course designed for bandaging, which is somewhat similar to the first aid course provided to us. Surgical problems were handled in a haphazard manner. It was necessary to wait several weeks to obtain a few surgical instruments and the barest minimum of anesthetic materials. As a result, when they performed medical care, it was crude, without anesthetics, and with improvised instruments. These included removal of bullets, amputating infected limbs and toes, and making incisions for the drainage of abscesses.
I recall that during the winter of 1951-52, one of our fellow prisoners, had feet that were frozen so badly that he could not walk. The Chinese proceeded to amputate the toes on both of his feet with an old pair of scissors. They did not use any medication to prepare him or later to avoid infection or to kill the pain. His name was Red Campbell. The Chinese then turned him loose in the compound, where he ran around, screaming with pain, on his swollen, bloody, and blackened feet. He eventually went out of his mind and at nights, you could hear him screaming from his cell across the way from us. We tried our best to comfort him and looked after his feet as best as we could, but as we had no medication, there was nothing that we could do for him. After the operation, he could no longer recognize anyone from the compound. Finally, after weeks of agony, the Chinese moved him to some other location. We never saw him again after that.
Another close friend and squad member, Kaver, had been wounded in the throat with the bullet still lodged there. He could only eat soup because of the infection, and we stole anything that we could get our hands on to keep him alive. He was eventually exchanged during Operation "Little Switch," in the spring of 1953, with many of the sick and seriously wounded prisoners through an agreement worked out between the United Nations, the Chinese Communists and North Koreans. Kaver's weight went from approximately 180 pounds when he was first captured to about 90 pounds of skin and bones when he was released. In 1954, I received an invitation to his wedding. I am sorry to say, he died a couple of years later after being released.
Every one suffered from dysentery and beriberi. Surrounding us were cases of malaria, jaundice, and bone fever illness. Many of the men would merely lay down, staring empty into space, refusing to eat, until one morning they were found dead. It was easier to die then it was to live. One of our friends refused to eat. We told him, "Go ahead and die. We will help your young wife spend your insurance money when we get out of here!" This made him dam mad and also helped him to make it back.
Friday, who was from Massachusetts, took sick one night and the next day, he was dead. Kilpatrick disappeared one day and the Chinese said he had gotten himself killed.
Camp Hospital, Spring 1952
The Chinese finally made a so called camp hospital sometime around the spring of 1952. Just about every one tried to get into the hospital for better food. The hospital compound was frequently as cold as our own huts, however, there were some sleeping cots and better food was provided.
The average Chinese doctor who conducted sick call elicited only the chief complaints and prescribed medicine for that symptom. It was a general rule that only one symptom would be treated at a time. Many prisoners who went on sick call complaining of pain in any part of their bodies were treated by the so-called needle doctor.
This treatment consisted of a short blunt needle connected to a spring device and a handle which was placed on the skin in various parts of the shoulder of the patient. After the needles were in place, the so-called needle doctor then thumped the handle of the needle so that the spring would cause a vibration. Another practice was the administration of a small piece of chicken liver which was implanted in the prisoner’s arm in the skin on the right side of the chest.
For a short time in Camp One, we had a Red Chinese woman doctor, an English-speaking woman about 30 years old, who was the chief surgeon. She did much to help the American and British prisoners. One day she disappeared from Camp. We didn’t know what had become of her. But, I did know that she had saved many prisoners who were able to return home instead of ending up in “boot hill” outside of Camp One.
Camp Rules were posted and/or made known to us at Camp Number One. The punishment set for violations of discipline and the system included; hard labor at least three days, or lock-up at least seven days; imprisonment and hard labor for not reforming oneself, at least three months and life imprisonment.
Students committing the following misbehavior would be considered violators and disciplined; reactionary elements (Imperialist elements) who adopt a hostile attitude toward the Chinese People's Volunteers; swear at the Chinese personnel; refuse to go on work details; continued stubbornness after being questioned; organize and take command of an escape and cross the wire fence at random; throw away or burn one's clothing, shoes, bedding or blankets (such as those who defecate in their pants and with lice on them, or adopt any other method to destroy them.); rob the Korean People's personal belongings; urinate or defecate at any place other than the latrine; leave the compound without asking for leave; and damage any book or magazine for no reason or use them as toilet or cigarette paper.
All captured officers and men must correctly understand the Lenient Policy of the Chinese People's Army, observe the directions, and strictly adhere to the disciplinary rules.
Every Sunday each squad shall hold a daily life criticism meeting to review in focal points, the carrying out of life and study disciplinary rules and regulations of the past week.
While attending classes; everyone must be serious and in an orderly manner, should line up to report the number of men present, pay full attention to lectures and taking notes, ask permission from the instructor before leaving for the latrine. The bad behaviors of disobedience such as making noises, joking, and dozing were strictly forbidden.
Chapter 19 - Indoctrination Program 2, Camp One, Chang Song, NK
Winter 1952, Indoctrination and Exploitation
In the winter of 1952, the Chinese Communists again started their brainwashing classes. One of the English speaking Chinese officers would make his rounds to each hut, bringing with him newspapers from Shanghai and Peking that were printed in English especially for us. He would lecture us on the material contained in the newspapers, which was mainly on the Korean War, American Imperialism, and how the United States and United Nations (which was controlled by the American Imperialism according to them) were at fault in Korea.
The interrogations started again and were more or less constant, being intermingled with the lectures. Harassment, deception, repetition, and writing essays and personal history were some of the techniques used. We would be called for interviews at odd hours of the day and night, awakened from our sleep, or summoned during meals.
All that they ever got from us during these lectures was how good American food would taste, about how good some American ice cream would taste, and how every American family owned at least one car and that some families had two.
After a period of time the Chinese Officers would question us about our life in America and if we owned a car, home, etc., and they became interested in what we had to say about our American dream. Soon they would forget about the lecture for a few minutes.
We were allowed to write a letter home around the spring of 1952, and some of the prisoners who had been there prior to our arrival received their first mail somewhere after the new year of 1953. If we used such phrases as, "I am in good health, being well treated," and "wish that the war was over" in our letters, it helped to get them out. I believe I received my first letter somewhere around June of 1953, which was a dream in itself. Most of the letters received by the prisoners were the “Dear John” types or notices of illness or death in the family.
If you disobeyed an order, you would be ordered to write a self-criticizing confession that you had done wrong. If you refused to self-criticize yourself in front of the compound, you would be interrogated and/or stood at attention for hours at night. A fellow prisoner was put in a dug-out for a month or longer for talking back to a Chinese Officer.
During some of the self-criticism, we would make statements such as, "I promise not to call Pan or Lee, that no good, son of a bitch,” or, “I am very sorry that my hostile attitude had to be pointed out to me,” or, “I promise I will never again be caught stealing the property of the Chinese and/or the Korean people,” or, “I promise not to destroy the property of the Chinese and/or the Korean people.”
No matter how demoralized they made us feel, as long as they were around, we never showed them that we were down. They never could understand how we could still laugh and joke in our condition.
Many of us expressed our opposition to communism within our compound, and we were punished by being jailed or by being stood at attention for hours. A fellow prisoner who, when he was exposed to one of the lectures, came back to his hut and mentioned to another prisoner that the lecture he had just listened to was not worth the paper it was written on. A Chinese officer (interpreter) who happened to be standing outside the hut overheard the statement. The prisoner was taken from the hut to Headquarters where he was taken out and punished. He was required to stand there in front of the guard headquarters for a prolonged period of time until he completely collapsed.
Several men, Raymond Goodburlet, Thompson Lively, and Bill Carter (Bill was a leader of our group who harassed our captors) were confined for 90 to 120 days in cells with no heat, sometimes with their hands tied behind them, for not signing confessions or self-criticisms. Some of the cages were not large enough to stand up in, or sit down comfortably.
We hated the damn lectures and their discussions. Each day we would be herded together for these lectures which lasted for hours. We would have to listen to the lectures in Chinese and then translated into English. We were forced to participate in the damn lectures and discussions which lasted six to eight hours a day, and if we were unable to produce what they considered the right answers they wanted during the discussions, they would continue far into the night.
Many times during these discussions, we talked about our home life and all the good things about home and what we would do if and when we returned home. Some of the men who were captured during the spring and summer of 1951 had managed to keep some of their pictures and would show them. The Chinese officers would take a look at them and comment to the other officers, "Look comrade, he says he owns that house, a car and bicycles. But you and I know what Comrade MAO says about these imperialists.” The other officer would reply, “Yes, he says they lie and exploit the working class people.”
A fellow prisoner whom we called “The Pig Farmer” said, “When they see the pictures of our farm with our tractors and other machinery that my Dad owns, they will say that I am an imperialist too.” Another said, “Wait until they see the picture of my new car that is waiting for me when I get back home.”
At a lecture, the Chinese Commander told us, "Study hard, Comrades, with open minds and you will get to go home soon, but if you don't, we will dig a ditch for you, so deep that even your bourgeois-body won't stink."
We had to write a damn autobiography, over and over again. Each time we lied like hell. The questions they asked were a big joke. We wrote down anything that came to our minds and sometimes we would get together and make up things. They called us "Capitalist Pigs" stating, “You have refused to examine your conscience and confess, so we must punish you.”
After nearly a month of negative results from these lectures and classes, they gave up and started to have study groups on a much smaller scale, consisting of volunteers from our rank. It included two individuals from our compound who refused to go home after the Police Action, Wills and Tenneson, in 1953.
Spring 1952, Organized Resistance
In the early spring of 1952, several of us formed an organization that called itself the "True Americans" better known to the Chinese as the "Reactionaries." We made plans for escapes and organized other resistances. During this period, we were still located in Compound Seven at the south end of Camp One, Ch’angsong.
During the day when we went out on work details, we carried what food we could spare into the hills, hiding it in preparation for an escape. We would help any one who wanted to a make a break. We gathered whatever items we could for them and when the time came to leave, we would attract the attention of the guards.
Not once did an escape from Camp One succeed. Flores, a Marine who was captured at the Chosen Reservoir, managed to be gone the longest that I knew of. He was recaptured by a Soviet anti-aircraft artillery unit.
There were too many obstacles for us to overcome. The mountains offered one of the toughest problems, for their height would soon have you crawling and the dogs from the Korean farm houses would chase you, revealing your location and of course we certainly did not look like the Koreans or Chinese.
One of our protests was to refuse to stand in the freezing cold and be forced to listen to the Communists and their damn lectures. One cold morning, right after we were called out for roll call, several of us broke ranks and ran back to our huts and refused to return to the formation. This action caused many of our inmates to break ranks and run to their huts too.
May Day Parade, Ch’angsong
In April 1952, we were informed by the Chinese that we would be marching in a May Day parade through the center of town (Ch’angsong). Our group passed the word around to those we could trust and told them not to march in the parade and everyone agreed.
About a week before the May Day parade, the Chinese issued us new clothing, blue summer uniforms. The uniform consisted of a light-weight shirt-type jacket and baggy trousers. They did not want us to wear our old worn out American field uniforms in the parade. This was our first issued clothing since we had been captured.
We were given a hair cut and shave. We somehow managed to write POW across the back of the jacket/shirts and kept them hidden until the day of the parade. We then began to put our plans for refusal to march into effect and told everyone not to move after being lined up. Before we could carry out our plans, a “progressive” ran to the Chinese and informed them about our plans for refusal to march in the parade. The Chinese herded us all together and once more lectured us about their lenient policy.
May1, 1952, the Chinese Communists herded us onto the main road for the parade. We were all dressed in our new DRESS BLUES that the Chinese had issued a short time before. When they saw what we had done (painted POW across the back of the jackets/shirts), they became extremely upset and began lecturing us on the destruction of clothing the Chinese people had worked so hard to provide for us. They said we deserved to be severely punished, accused us of being nothing but American War Mongers, and that we were against the peace loving people of the world.
When they tried to assemble us into a parade formation on the main road, everyone in my squad except for a couple of guys sat down and refused to move. The Chinese began running around us, screaming about their lenient policy, telling us that if we did not cause any more trouble, they would forget about the incident.
Eventually, they did get us back into a formation on the main road, and once again, we sat down and refused to comply with their commands. This time they forgot their so called "lenient treatment" and started pushing and threatening us with what they would do if we did not obey their orders. Still no one moved.
They began screaming and pulling individuals to their feet. Whenever the guards succeeded in getting someone to their feet, others would sit back down, until finally the Chinese Officer in charge called for more guards and brutality forced us to walk down the main street with kicks and shoves from the guards.
In the public square that night, the men, emboldened by the open mocking of Mao Tse Tung by a British Marine, came close to rioting.
When the parade was over, we were herded together and lectured on their so called "lenient policy" and once again told that we would be severely punished if we continued to behave in a reactionary manner such as we had at the parade. Once again, we had to go through our "self-criticism" act. We promised we would never again destroy the property of the Chinese people!
The “progressive” who ratted on us (Richard T.) was kept under guard at Chinese headquarters for several days for his own protection. When he was returned to our compound, he was badly beaten by members of our group. After that, it was rumored the Chinese had given him a knife to protect himself against other prisoners. He was one of the 21 individuals who refused to return to the states after the Police Action ended in 1953. However, he did return to the United States, but in the late fifties or early sixties.
Cutting and Hauling Timber, Chang Song
We labored in the mountains, cutting timber and carrying the logs down the mountains for miles, with two and sometimes three or four individuals per log. We needed the wood for fuel, wood for the Chinese, and wood for the cooks.
Each morning the guards came around, screaming ..."ROLL CALL! ROLL CALL! EVERYONE UP!" He further emphasized these orders with kicks and pushes as we lay on the earth floor. We worked and/or were lectured from dawn to dusk, and froze during the cold winter months. The guards would take a head count before and after we went on work details. They were always afraid that someone would escape, even though escape was only our dream. No one in their right mind would dare to try an escape during the cold winter months.
During our work details in the winter months, the guards were always in a hurry for us to get our trees cut and get back to camp. Many times, they would try to speed us up with threats and hard blows from their weapons. Not having proper foot wear, we stumbled and fell on trails covered with snow and ice.
Grinding Grain, Ch’angsong
The Chinese often took several of us from Compound 7 to grind grain at a Korean farm that was located about three miles south of our camp. We used an ancient-type ox-powered mill but, we didn’t have the ox to do the job. This meant we had to take turns turning the mill, going around and around. This primitive grinder was a large flat-stone base and an upper round stone with a long pole going through its center. The mill used an ox to tread around and around, rolling the upper stone over the grain that lay on the flat-stone base.
Compound Seven Divided
I remained at Compound Seven until August 1952 when it was broken up. I and some other prisoners were moved to Company Four at the north end of Camp One, Ch’angsong, and many more, including Daniel Yesko, Bill Carter, Bobby Gene Rains, were moved to another Camps further north. There were four companies of Americans and one of British soldiers.
Chapter 20 - Company Four, Camp One
Howard Evans, Ben Comeau, Bob Blewitt
It was at Company Four where I met Howard Evans from Binger, Oklahoma. Here’s how Howard remembers the day we met. Howard said one day shortly after my arrival at the fourth company, I came over to his squad room which was located next to mine and stated, and “I understand that there is a soldier here from Oklahoma”! From that time on we became close friends. After mails stated arriving, Howard received several letters from his young bride (Loretta). Loretta managed to put a cigarette or a stick of gum in each of her letters.
Howard was drafted into the Army on January 8 1951. After basic training and prior to being shipped to Japan, he and Loretta were married.
They enjoyed one week together before Howard had to report for shipment to Japan. Howard joined the 1st Cavalry Division in Korea during October 1951 and was captured on November 2, 1951.
He was wounded on the right side of his head. After being captured, his trip to Ch’angsong, also known as Camp Three and later known as Camp One, involved a truck ride and on foot. He and Ben Comeau and a few others made the trip together.
Howard and Ben arrived at Ch’angsong on or around November 19 1951. Howard was assigned to the 8th squad of the Fourth Company. It was here that I also met Ben, after being transferred from Company Seven to Company Four in August 1952. Ben Comeau was one of the few artists in our compound who drew some pretty good pictures about camp life after we returned to the States. A couple years before Ben died (1987) he gave me a copy of his drawings and I have included a few of them in this book. Ben also had managed to keep a few pieces of his military script (military payment certificates) and most of us in Company Four wrote our names on this script, copy included.
After our arrival at Company Four, and until we were released, a few of us paraded around the compound pretending to be playing imaginary music instruments or taking our imaginary dogs for walks around the compound.
One day a friend, Bob Blewitt, complained to a guard that my imaginary dog had bit him on the leg. The guard did not understand what Bob was complaining about, so he called for an English speaking officer. When the English speaking officer arrived, Bob explained that he had been bitten by my dog. The officer wanted to know what dog! Bob, stated, there he is, can't you see him? Before the officer could answer, Bob called out, Jack, get your dog off of his leg....don't let your dog piss on him. The officer jumped and grabbed his pant leg. We broke up laughing over the reaction of this officer. After this little incident, the Chinese informed us that we could no longer have dogs in our compound. The Chinese could not figure us out, AND thought that we were all crazy.
December 1952, a fellow prisoner from West Virginia went to the hospital and was operated on for a rupture. Just as he was about to be released, he suddenly came down with a pain in the testicles and a Chinese doctor operated on that. As a result of this operation, they removed one of his testicles, claiming that it had become gangrenous. He was returned to the compound after this operation. The doctor informed him that he was better. However, sometime in January 1953, he was back in the hospital complaining that he still had pains in the same area. They kept giving him shots to cure the pain each day, but the shots only provided temporary relief. He was in constant pain for about two months. The Chinese doctor informed two other prisoners that they each had the same problem as the young man from West Virginia. They went on to explain that their problem was caused from VD and that they would give them special shots to cure the problem.
The young man from West Virginia started acting crazy at times, say crazy things and having fits. He said that the Chinese who gave him the shots always had to stick the needle in 4 or 5 times before he finally got the needle in the right spot. One day three (3) Chinese soldiers went to his room and beat him over the head with a metal pipe. They stated that he had attacked one of their guards. The Chinese then put him in a cell which was the last time we saw him.
With the coming of winter, the Chinese issued us a blue cotton padded jacket, pants, overcoat and a pair of padded tennis shoes. They were warm, but we wore them without being washed throughout the winter. By the time spring came, they were stinking and filthy, you could hardly stand them.
Better than half of our company had night blindness. The winter of 1952-53 was really bad. It was comical in a way, but also pathetic. Every night, just before bed-time, there would be a long line of men holding onto each other going to the latrine. We ran into fence posts, huts, etc.
Several of our fellow prisoners were losing their eye sight, both during the day and night. They had to be led everywhere. A friend, Austin, lost the center vision from both eyes, but he was still required to work in the hills cutting and carrying the logs back to camp.
We knew that the Chinese guards also suffered from night blindness and we knew also that they were afraid of strange noise and eerie night sounds. After learning of this, we waited for the darkness to start making weird noises and sounds. The Chinese guards suffering from night blindness would run into the fence poles and huts while rampantly searching and chasing down the origin of the sounds.
We were repeatedly threatened and stood at attention over this. Every night thereafter, the Chinese posted a guard at several of the huts, hoping to catch us making the weird sounds. They never found out who or where the sounds were coming from. The guards remained posted around our huts to keep us under surveillance and to halt our harassment of them.
We had wood cutting details which took us several miles from camp, and we each had a quota of wood to carry back to camp. During one these details, my saw partner, Tony, and I tried to fall a tree on one of the guards. Another prisoner who saw that the tree was going to fall on the guard rushed to the guard and pushed him out of the path of the falling tree. Tony and I had a hard time trying to explain how the tree had fallen the wrong way.
On another wood gathering detail, Norman Deatherage and another member from our hut came down from the hills fairly late. Upon arrival, they dumped their log in the river hoping to wait until the next day to weight it, thinking the wet log would weight more. However, the Chinese guards didn't buy that little trick and made both of them return to the hills for more wood
On occasion we would meet up with some Korean locals when cutting wood, and we would trade our small sugar ration (we were given a small ration of sugar, starting around the end of 1952) for whatever vegetables we could get from them, mostly turnips.
The Chinese were very skillful in their form of torture. A favorite one was making us stand at attention, holding our arms straight out from our bodies for hours, and if we dropped them, they would strike our arms. We were also made to sit for hours at attention on our damn little stools and it was very miserable after a while. Throughout the period of captivity there were many instances of individual brutality, solitary confinement, beatings, with-holding of food and water, and exposure to cold weather.
Special confinement consisted of restriction from freedom on the compound, either in a small area with other prisoners or individual cells measuring approximately two (2) and one half (1/2) feet by five (5) feet, with an earthen floor, no bedding, only the clothing you had on and the friendly rats. Solitary confinement always included restrictions on the quantity of food and water, time spent out of doors and other activates.
Prior to being placed in solitary confinement, you were tried by a so-called "Kangaroo Court" for alleged crimes against the Chinese and/or Korean People and for resisting or being a reactionary. The punishment would vary depending on the nature of each offense.
After being confined for a couple of months, you would resemble a caveman. You would have long coarse masses of hair and shaggy beards, an unsteady walk, scratches all over your skin from digging for lice and other types of bugs crawling over your skin and through your clothing, and would be horribly filthy from not being able to wash for weeks.
Occasionally at nights, the men in solitary confinement could be heard screaming from pain or the anguish of being in solitary confinement. Sometimes the Chinese would give you a glass of water and a few peanuts for your meal. The peanuts played havoc with your bowels. You couldn't talk to anyone and no one was allowed to come near your cell. You were allowed to sleep, but you were continuously aroused by the guards to make sure you were still there.
The Communists frequently tied up prisoners, hands to feet, with rope or whatever material that was available. You were tied so tightly that the circulation of blood would be cut off and/or the material would cut into your arms and legs and causing you to lapse into unconsciousness.
They never beat us in camp, but as soon as they got you away from the compound, they would have a fun time beating you.
One prisoner refused to give the Chinese Communists the information they wanted. He was taken out one evening and beaten by two Chinese guards until the early hours of the morning. At one point another guard came and took him to the river and gave him a personal beating. Winter months provided the Communists with opportunitys for increased torture.
With temperatures well below 20 degrees prisoners were known to have been marched barefooted onto the frozen river and water poured over their feet. The Chinese guards in charge of the prisoners in solitary confinement were adept at this sort of brutality and seem to have been given full reins to stand prisoners at attention, spit on them, kick them, and wake them at odd hours throughout the night and humiliate them at will.
Ten of us were taken to the guard headquarters three times a week for four weeks, where we were made to stand at attention for hours, holding our arms straight out in front of us.
One day, I was pulled from the morning formation and made to stand at attention in front of the compound until late in the afternoon without food or water to drink. When one of my friends brought me some food and water, the guard took the food and water and threw it on the ground.
They were good at tying prisoners up for long periods of time, standing one at attention for unbearable periods, or until you dropped. These and other forms of treatment forced many a prisoner to assume a less defiant attitude and became less resistant. The Communists had no rules about the treatment of prisoners of war. They used browbeating, mental pressures, and varied physical tortures that they had learned over thousands of years.
Goodburlet, another friend, was subjected to continuously inhumane treatment because he refused to pay attention during the lectures and discussions. He spent many hours in solitary confinement.
Lively, Bittner, Patton, and Fulk, all were placed in solitary confinement because one of our fellow prisoners had informed on their activities of trying to keep some of prisoners in line. Benton refused to sign any confessions and was put in solitary confinement in January 1953.
Many times I was awoken at midnight or the early morning hours, taken to the guard headquarters, lectured to, and stood at attention for some infraction of their damn rules. Austin, upon his release during an interrogation made the statement, to the Military Intelligence Processing Board that I openly made statements against the communists.
During the winter of 1952/53, the Chinese singled out many of us for intensive individualized pressure and torture. One or more nights each week they would come to our huts, get us up after midnight, and we would be taken to the guard headquarters to stand at attention, and be forced to listen to the guard commander lecture us on being a reactionary.
One night during the winter of 1952/53, Douglas, I and several others risked severe punishment by breaking a fellow prisoner out of solitary confinement, where he had nearly frozen to death and suffered from malnutrition and cold. When we got to him, he had turned blue, almost purple, from the cold and was unable to move.
The Chinese guard discovered our act and tried to herd us back to our huts, but by now our group had grown and we had the prisoner mixed in our group, long enough to get him some food and some warm clothing.
From that night on, once again we were pulled from our huts between midnight and two a.m. taken to the guard headquarters, where we were made to stand at attention in low ceiling rooms, for hours, arms held straight out in front of us, while the guard commander lectured and interrogated us for participating in the break out and about being reactionaries. During these interrogations, they read statements which they had allegedly obtained from other prisoners, with the names of each one of us who had participated and who had been named as reactionaries.
They kept us there for hours with threats that if we didn't cooperate, we would be sentenced to hard labor and not returned to our loved ones. This harassment went on for about three weeks. Several nights later two fellow prisoners were taken from our compound to some other camp/or place.
We lost many good men because many just refused to eat the stuff that they called food. If you didn't eat for three or four days, you would die.
We had many who just stayed in their huts, lying down and refused to get up. We told them to get up. We had to harass them so badly that they would occasionally get up and say "If I could get my hands on you, I'd kill you." If you got them angry enough, they would get up and had a chance to survive. There were at least 500 who died in Camp One.
At Camp One, I recall one prisoner whose legs were so infected that the Chinese attempted to amputate them with an old pair of scissors. During the first operation, the skin was not peeled back to cover up the amputation and further infection set in. Several weeks later, his legs had to be amputated again. This operation was performed by a Chinese doctor who had been educated in the United States. This individual suffered agonizing pain and had to be carried everywhere until finally, he learned to walk on his stumps. This young man was very remarkable, considering that after losing both legs and suffering the most horrible pain, he still maintained a high morale and returned home after the Police action ended.
Several of the prisoners still had their US Army combat boots, and when they wore out, we took the metal insteps and sharpen them with a stone until eventually, and they were razor sharp. We used these homemade knives for shaving and as weapons to swipe at the crueler guards during the night, trying to inflict jagged wounds upon them. After a couple of these instances, the Chinese tore up our thatched huts looking for these instruments.
During the evening hours we would parade around the compound, pretending to be out of our minds, harassing the guards until they chased us into our huts.
Life in a prisoner of war camp, no matter where, is hard and the days are long and it took every ounce of strength to survive, and if it had not been for several of our fellow POWs, the hours, days and months would have been much longer still.
In our compound we had several such friends who could help make the time go by a little faster. There were especially a few that I would like to mention here and they are:
The Ranger, Lew Villa, loved to talk and within a matter of seconds he could pick out an individual and start making up a tale about this individual and the person mentioned would get right into the act. He would go on for about an hour or so, and soon you would almost forget that you were in a prisoner of war compound.
At the end of 1952 when the peace talks were going well, Lew, Niebrand and Eveland put on a little side show for our group. They had a sign made up which read B.J. Producer. To this day, I still don’t know where Lew manage to get the cap that he wore!
There was Tony Barnes, a country boy from the state of Missouri. He could make up stories about living and hunting in the back woods of Missouri where he grew up. He could hold one’s attention for hours with his tales.
We had three that we named the “Laughing Trio” they were, Draper, Miller and Nichols.
I remember during the winter of 1952/53, we had to remove snow from the straw roofs of our huts. One of our fellow prisoners got up on the roof and in an attempt to push the snow off, came down with the snow, landing on top of one of the guards. Other times we would throw snow balls at the guards over the huts or from behind the buildings.
The Chinese would come around to our huts and made us put something over our mouths, claiming that the United States was using germ warfare against the North Koreans and the Chinese People's Army. The subject of bacteriological warfare was not new in the Korean War in 1952. The Chinese give it a new twist charging that the US was waging a bacteriological warfare. They claimed that the flies, fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and spiders had been spread by the US Air Force to disseminate contagious diseases over North Korea.
There was very little humor to be found in the day-to-day routine of a POW camp, to be sure. That which did surface more than likely involved one of the ingenious schemes that we came up with from time to time, both to antagonize our captors and to help maintain our own sanity. One such story which certainly bears telling was the case of two American officers who, having been tired of the Chinese falsely accusing the US of germ warfare, fashioned a tiny parachute and drew an Air Force insignia on the canopy. Attaching a dead mouse to the "shroud" lines, they then hung their handiwork on a bush where it was certain to be seen by the Chinese. The screams of the guard who found the abomination brought camp officials running. One of whom carefully lifted the mouse from the bush with a pair of tongs and placed it in a glass container.
The container was then placed on exhibit in a nearby school house as irrefutable evidence that the Americans were in fact engaging in bacteriological warfare. The dead -serious Chinese, so satisfied with having proved their case, never realized that they had been the butt of what the whole camp though was a hilarious practical joke. (This incident is also described by: Ed Hunter, Brainwashing; The Story of the men who defied it. New York; Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1956. page 154.)
The Chinese came out and said, “We have proof that your capitalistic Air Force dropped germ bombs loaded with sick insects. They are capitalist insects. We know that for a fact and we have proof.”
In the summer of 1952, the Chinese made us catch and kill flies. We each had to kill at least 20 flies each day and then tell them. A couple of friends and I decided that we would go down to the latrine (outdoor house) and get our catch. We caught our flies and let them suffocate. We counted the same flies for three or four days, before they got wise to our little game. The Chinese stated that we have to have sanitation and that each of us had to catch at least 20 flies each day.
Propaganda Movies and Lectures
During the summer of 1952, we were forced to attend movies about the Chinese and Russian People. Most of the films were about life in China and Russia. They were shown out under the open sky with prisoners from the entire camp herded into one big group or one compound.
After these movies, they lectured us about Russia and her revolution and how the workers lived. They boasted about how many bricks a worker in Russia could lay in a minute. Who in the hell cared about how many bricks a worker in Russia could lay!
The Chinese put up loudspeakers throughout the camp, and for our every day benefit, we heard the Chinese news report in English describing how they were beating the United States and the United Nations forces in Korea.
Come rain or snow, winter or spring, we had to go outside and sit on our little stools and listen to the lectures for hours, sitting there freezing and aching from not being able to move.
One of the worst things about the location of our compound was that we could see the British Soldiers and they would be playing ball, smoking cigarettes, going for walks and so forth, while we were allowed none of these privileges.
Near the end of 1952, our food supply did improve a bit. We were given some Soya beans, Soya bean milk, and a little meat every once in a while.
We were allowed to boil our drinking water and to take a bath in the river which was located a couple hundred yards to the rear of our compound. The river (Ch'ong Ch'on) was part of the Yalu River.
During the fall of 1952, the Chinese gave us our second set of cotton quilted clothing for the coming winter, along with a cotton quilted overcoat, which we used as a blanket.
The Peace Committee
The Chinese started what they called a "Peace Committee." This was a discussion and study group which several of the prisoners took part in. One prisoner who was chairman of this committee, refused to return to the States after the Police Action ended in 1953. This individual also organized several theatrical performances in the camp. He recruited other prisoners as performers and stated that the purpose of these propagandized performances was to promote good morale among the POWs.
The Chinese took one of the buildings in our compound that had been used as a classroom and turned it into a club room. One night a couple of fellow prisoners got into an argument with the chairman of the so called Peace Committee and threats were made to burn the place down. The chairman (Tennison) of the Peace Committee said he would have anyone who attempted to destroy the club house confined.
Several nights later, the building was set on fire. The two men who had argued with the chairman were immediately singled out and placed in solitary confinement on a water diet. Even though they were not the ones who set the building on fire, they were later removed from our compound. To this date only a very few men knew who set the building on fire.
Who Done It Interrogations
For several weeks after the fire, I and several others were harassed by the Chinese over this incident. We were taken from our huts about midnight on ten different occasions and taken to the guard headquarters for interrogation, where we stood for hours at attention.
In one of these interrogations, the Chinese showed me a signed statement from another prisoner. It contained my name and the names of other fellow prisoners concerning our undesirable activities (what the Chinese considered undesirable anyway.) I was told no harm would come to me if I would give them a written statement about my activities and that of the other prisoners. After about three hours of denying any knowledge of the activities, I was returned to my hut, only to be recalled several nights later.
This time the Chinese offered me cigarettes and I was informed they had more written statements from other prisoners concerning my activities. They said they would forget about the matter if I would give them a written statement concerning my activities. After about two or three hours of silence, I was taken back to my hut.
The next morning I was pulled from formation and was made to stand at attention in the corner of a low ceiling building, where I stood all day. The hours dragged on as the day wore on. As I stood there, with my legs and back aching, I wanted to cry. However, I was not about to give in and let them see me in pain. I was relieved when I was allowed to return to my hut and to sit down.
My 20th Birthday
I remember my 20th birthday (January 1953). My friends surprised me with a dish of food they had prepared with ingredients smuggled in and collected during the day’s labor in the hills. It consisted of small bits of items they had stolen from the local Korean farms. I shall never forget this!
Bunk Beds and Steam-Cooked Bread
During the winter of 1952/53, we talked the Chinese into letting us build bunk-beds so we wouldn't have to sleep on the earthen floor. To this date, I still can't figure out how we built those beds. We didn't have any tools and the only material available was logs we gathered from the hills.
In spring of 1953, the Chinese brought in rice flour which we used make rice bread once a day. This was our only meal in the evening with our usual barley soup in the mornings. We steam-cooked the bread, something we learned from our friends (Richard Makua and Joe Young from Hawaii.) On one occasion, we received some baked bread from China. It was during the winter and it took about two weeks to reach our camp. The temperature was about 38 degrees below zero, and that helped to keep the bread from spoiling. The bread was frozen solid, as a rock. There was no way that we could eat it!
Chapter 21 - Companions From Camp One, Ch’angsong, NK
Once again, before we continue to Operation Little Switch and my eventual repatriation, I would like to introduce and share the stories of those whom I met at Camp One Ch’angsong, North Korea.
Richard (Dick) C. Rook, USA
Richard (Dick) C. Rook, was a member of Baker Company 38th Regiment, Second Infantry division. He arrived at Ch’angsong, North Korea, a few days before I did. It was during my stay in Compound 7 that I first met Dick and NORMAN DEATHERAGE, both from the same unit. Dick was on the front lines from January 1, 1951 through May 19, 1951, when he was captured. This is Dick's story from May 19, 1951 until he was finally released in August 1953.
I was captured on May 19th, 1951 at 5:45 AM. We had been surrounded for three days before and as you can imagine, we were all very hungry and dirty. I personally hadn't shaved for 8 to 10 days. Of course, we had no idea that we were in as much trouble as we were, and it wouldn't have made any difference anyway. On the front line, a person can't keep as clean as he should. I believe that all the time I spent on the line before being captured; I had had only two showers and change of clothes. We took sponge baths, using our helmets as wash basins, whenever time and situation allowed. We though that was bad enough, not knowing how our lives were about to change. And change they did because it would be the middle of the following December before we were given soap, shave, and a haircut.
That was approximately seven and one half months for lice and dirt to have their way with us. And have their way with us they did. The lice had a picnic in our extremely long hair and in the seams of our clothes without the threat of being accosted by their # 1 enemy, soap and water. I don't know this to be fact, but I feel that some of the men that did had succumbed to thousands of lice-bites.
During the day, when we were resting from the previous night's march, we would all sit around and "snap" lice between our thumb nails. Having no soap, this wasn't very sanitary but it was the only way we had to try to keep up with their ever increasing numbers. We would rinse our hands every chance we got in rice paddies (with that good old human waste water) or in mountain streams. The adage about the "cure being worst then the disease" probably held true here.
After we were captured, they marched us back and forth cross the peninsula to try and confuse us so we wouldn't attempt to escape. They always marched us at night so as to avoid air strikes from American planes. During this time they didn't feed us very much to further hinder any escape attempts. We were getting weaker and sicker by the day. We all had lice and dysentery and God knows what else because all the water we had to drink was from rice-paddies which were fertilized with human waste.
During these nightly marches it was almost always raining and it was so dark that we had to hold hands to keep from falling on the steep mountain trails. If anyone dropped out or lagged back, they were shot right in front of whoever was close by. They wanted the word to get around and it sure did. I can't remember how long this took place, but I think it only lasted for the first two weeks or so. After about a month and a half, we arrived at the place where I was to spend my 23rd birthday, which was July 3rd. My 23rd birthday was July 24th.
We called this camp "the Mining Town" because somewhere, I can't remember now, we saw a couple of those little ore cars so that town is to this day referred to as the "Mining Town." The next two months plus, would become the worse period of not only my life as a POW but of my entire life.
By this time we were all pretty sick. We had lost several men along the trails to sickness not to mention those that were shot. We couldn't digest the "food" they were giving us, as little as it was. We all had dysentery so bad that we couldn't control ourselves. We were housed in what appeared to have been a school house. There were about 300 of us and they crammed us into 3 or 4 of these big rooms. About 15 feet from the end of these buildings they had us dig a trench about 30 feet long, 6 feet wide and 5 feet deep. This was our latrine. It was out in the open without any type of cover over it and in a few days it was crawling with maggots.
We had no way of washing ourselves not to mention our eating utensils and the flies came directly from the latrine to our mouths. Speaking of eating utensils, mine was a rusty tin can that I had found somewhere and a piece of wood that resembled a spoon.
We weren't there very long before men started dying. Every morning there would be 4 or 5 more. At first, we buried our own dead, but then after a while we were all too sick to carry the man or to dig his grave. All this time there was absolutely no medical care what-so-ever.
This was one jam I didn't think I was going to get out of and I wouldn't have if I hadn't made a "pact" with three other guys. We could always tell who was going to be the next man or men to go because he would refuse to eat and refused to get up and try to get some exercise. The four of us promised each other that if one of us refused to eat or exercise, the remaining three would make sure that he didn't get by with it. Well, I was the first to go down. I was so sick and so thin that I didn't even have enough strength to roll myself over. The other guys got me up and walked me up and down that big room until they were satisfied that I had enough before they let me rest. Every day for the next week or so they did the same thing until I got my appetite back and could move on my own.
We finally left that horrible place on September 21, 1951 and spent the next 22 days marching North to a little town name of Chang Song which was located about 12 miles south of the Yellow River. This march was also done under the cover of darkness.
When we finally arrived at our final destination, which was October 13, 1951, we were really "crawling", if you get my drift. We were assigned 10 men to an 8 by 10 foot room. At this point, we still hadn't had a haircut or been issued soap. In these close quarters, it became almost unbearable. It's hard for anyone to imagine what it's like to have thousands of little bugs feeding on you and not be able to do anything about it. We were not allowed outside of our rooms after dark, so we all had to just lie there and let the lice eat away at us. We hated for the sun to go down because there wasn't any electricity in the rooms and all we could do was lie down and try to sleep. That's when we came under attack.
When we were finally given haircuts and soap we had a fighting chance. They used the old styled, hand-operated hair clippers to give us both a shave and a haircut. They used those clippers all over our faces, including our eyebrows. We were sure strange looking guys until our eyebrows grew back.
I was appointed a squad leader by the Chinese so I told my squad members that there was going to be some changes in our lifestyle. We all agreed that one SOP (standard operating procedure) would be adopted and rigorously enforced. That SOP went something like this: Every man in the squad, regardless of weather conditions, would strip down, completely naked, and bathe. He would at this time, put on fresh clothes which had been previously boiled for not less than 15 minutes.
In just a few short weeks we were lice-free. Of course, we had to maintain our vigil for the duration of our incarceration and it wasn't easy. It was difficult to find the wood needed and also the opportunity to accomplish what had to be accomplished. It wasn't long before other squads saw the success we had had and followed suit.
In my squad of 10 men, 5 of them were Mexican-Americans who came from the barrios of cities like LA, Phoenix and Dallas. This was one reason we were able to get rid of the lice so fast. Every one of them liked to be clean, unlike some of the non-Mexican-Americans we had with us.
All but one of them had had some contact with marijuana before coming to Korea. Every time we went out on wood details (I'll explain about them later) each one of these guys would see who could steal the biggest bunch of marijuana. In those days everyone smoked and this was one of the hardest things to adjust to. Of course the Chinese didn't care if we had cigarettes or not, so it didn't take long before we were smoking anything that could be rolled up in a paper and smoked. Some of the "stuff" we smoked consisted of leaves, pine needles, rice straw, and weeds and, like I said, anything that would burn. God only knows all the crap that we smoked. There was an unwritten rule that if a guy was smoking and another guy asked for "snipes" or "butts" the guy who was smoking had to save at least a "drag" or “two” for the second guy.
The Koreans grew marijuana as a crop to be used in the weaving of their clothing. It seems that after it matures, they stack it in bunches in the fields to dry. After it dries they strip the strings (hemp) from the stalks and weave it into clothing. Then they dye the garments either white or black.
During the very few hours that we were marched in the daylight, the fellows that were knowledgeable in this area spotted this stuff almost immediately. Of course, we were guarded too closely for anyone to get their hands on any, at that time anyway. I had heard about marijuana but had never smoked any, and had no desire to try it.
Several weeks after this "grand" discovery, in the mining town camp, I asked a guy by the nick name of "Frenchie" for "snipes" on whatever he was smoking. So, according to our unwritten rule, he handed me the "snipe." It was no surprise when I didn't recognize the peculiar taste or smell because of what we had been smoking the past two months or so. "Frenchie" just stood there, waiting for my reaction. He didn't have to wait long. When he started laughing, I knew what I had just smoked. After we got situated in Chang Song, North Korea and after the camps were marked to protect us from American air strikes, we were forced to go into the local mountains to cut and carry wood back to camp. This detail had to be accomplished during daylight hours which gave those who knew what to look for the opportunity to steal all the marijuana they could without getting caught.
You wouldn't think that men in our situation would go "overboard" with something like this, but you'd be surprised. Sure there were some guys that would be "high" every chance they could, but for the most part, I think we handled it quiet well.
I myself was afraid of it. After my initial encounter, I think I only smoked it three or four times because every time I did, I though of my wife and daughter and I certainly didn't want to go home an "addict."
After they managed to get it back to camp without being detected, which in it self was no easy accomplishment, it would have to be cleaned. (All of the seeds taken out). Can you imagine what our little 8 by 10 room smelled and looked like? How we ever got away without being caught, I'll never know. The Chinese would have surely punished us for a serious crime against the Korean people.
It wasn't too long before the whole company (about 120 men) was "hanging" around our squad-room. We were not allowed to gather in groups over two, but our room was very popular anyway. There was a small tree in front of our squad and somehow, someone planted some marijuana seeds around the tree in a cute little flower bed. I was worried about what the Chinese would do to us for growing drugs in camp because I though they would recognize the plants immediately. When the plants were about three feet high, the Chinese came over to our squad one day and actually complimented us on our efforts to beautify our living quarters.
As I indicated earlier, I didn't smoke very much of that stuff because I was afraid I'd become addicted. Every night almost everyone else in the squad would smoke until the wee hours. They would laugh and laugh and speak in Spanish and then laugh some more. It was some time before they let me in on the joke-- I was the joke! They always tried to get me to smoke with them and when I would refuse, they would start speaking Spanish and laughing. Finally, they told me what they laughed at when they would smoke in the room most of the night. They were laughing at me because I was getting almost as "high" as they were by just being in the same room with them. That's how stupid I was then it came to marijuana.
Every thing in Korea was, and probably still is, very primitive. The only source of energy available for cooking and heating was wood. As soon as weather permitted, we were forced to go into the surrounding mountains to cut and haul wood back to camp, which in many cases was as far as 8 to 10 miles. The Chinese call their measure of weight a caddie (caddie), which is equivalent to the metric measure for a kilogram, 2.2 pounds.
Each man was required to bring in 1000 caddies of wood each year. In addition to carrying the wood in, we had to fall and cut up the trees into logs of approximately 50 caddies in size. The only tools supplied for this task were 2-man cross-cut saws and dull axes. We would spend several days cutting the wood and then we would spend several more hauling it in. If I remember correctly, it took five or six sessions of first cutting and then hauling, to get our quota in.
I know that 110 pounds (50 caddies) doesn't sound like too much weight for a grown man to carry but when you compare our weight to that of the log, it's a lot-a-whole lot. Most of us weighed less than 100 pounds and were weak from dysentery and malnutrition. To make matters worse, the Chinese didn't haul their own wood--we did. They told us that the wood was used only to cook "our" meals and they not only cooked their meals, they also heated their buildings with OUR wood.
They were so afraid that we wouldn't carry a full 50 caddies that they had a guard at the bottom of the mountain with a scale mounted on a tripod to weigh each log. Many men were injured during these episodes in the mountains of North Korea. I'm still suffering from a back injury from one of those details.
This was the first time in history of war that POWs were subjected to brainwashing and psychological torture. There has been a lot of criticism of the Korean POWs for collaboration with the enemy. Yes, there were some that collaborated but they were very few considering the methods that they used on us.
They had interpreters that spoke our language better than most of us did. They had several that had graduated from UCLA and USC. They even knew the latest slang and they were experts in the judgment of people. They picked only on the weak of character. They also went after the Afro-Americans and other minorities. After only a few months of total integration, the Chinese moved all the Afro-Americans to a separate camp. They told us over and over that we were nothing but "cannon fodder" for the "Wall Street War Mongers" and that our country was controlled by men like J.P. Morgan and J.D. Rockefeller. It was amazing how much they knew about our government.
For about six months to a year they marched us down town, to an area large enough to hold six or eight hundred of us. There they would lecture us on the virtues of Communism and corruptness of Capitalism. After each lecture, we would return to our squad rooms to discuss the tons of wisdom we were suppose to have gotten from our saviors. After about an hour of "discussing" the wonders of our newly acquired knowledge, it was test time. The only words (at least in my squad) that were turned in were, NO COMMENT, as large as the paper would permit. They soon tired of our antics and discontinued both the lectures and the study time but not before they made us write an auto-biography. You can't imagine the stories they got back. We compared stories for weeks after that and actually thanked the "Chinks" for giving us so much material to laugh about. I can't remember any of the stories now, not even my own, but there were some good ones. After they discontinued the lectures, they concentrated on the weak and confused and were rewarded for their efforts when 23 GIs refused repatriation.
Fly Control: As I mentioned earlier, the "latrines" were close to our living quarters and without covers! We thought it would change after we became settled into our new quarters. When we arrived in Ch’angsong, North Korea on October 13, 1951, they put us to work digging the typical hole, 30 feet long, 6 feet wide and 5 feet deep. The only difference with this one was that it had a roof, no sides, just a roof. I started to complain immediately, only to deaf ears. I told them we would make extra trips into the mountains to get the wood we needed to build a proper latrine---still no response.
The next spring, when the weather warmed up enough for the flies to breed, I renewed my efforts to get us a fly-tight latrine. Again, it was to no avail. It was then that we noticed strange goings on. The off-duty Chinese guards were running around swatting flies and collecting them in, what appeared to be match boxes. It wasn't long after we saw the guards doing their "thing" that the powers-to-be- called us together.
They told us that in order to control fly population, we would each be required to kill and collect 10 flies each day and each squad leader would be held responsible for their squad. This was so ridiculous that it wasn't even funny. I couldn't convince those stupid "Chinks" that during the time it took to swat one fly, about a million were hatching just a few feet behind our living quarters. We went along with this stupid order for about a week or so.
They collected the dead flies every evening and one night when they called me to turn in the flies for my squad, I told them again how dumb it was and that my squad would not be turning any more flies in. The other squad leaders agreed with me and that was that-- no more fly killing. In the spring of 1953, we finally got the materials we needed to build a fly-tight latrine. It was a real beauty too, everything was tight and clean. It was at least a "24-holer," with tight lids, and a urinal to accommodate from 10 to 15 men. I don't think one man ever abused this facility by not closing the lids or leaving the doors open. We even had lime to control odors--like I said it was a real beauty and I'm sure the "Chinks" learned something about controlling fly populations.
When a person's diet changes drastically and very rapidly the way ours did, you can't imagine what a situation like that can do to the human body. Beriberi was the one I suffered from the most. I remember the pain was so bad at night, that it was impossible to sleep. I would lie on my back with my knees pulled up under my chin and just rocked back and forth, back and forth.
As soon as the sun started to go down, we all went blind. It was quite a sight, for those of us who didn't get it as bad as the others, to see the half-blind leading the blind down to the latrine before bedtime. It was total confusion, believe me. There were many, many other problems suffered because of our poor diet.
This next experience just happened and I feel it should be mentioned. One night, I have no idea of what time it was; I found it necessary to visit the latrine. The Chinese word for bathroom or latrine is "Banjo" or at least it sounded like Banjo. Anyway, I yelled "banjo." When the guard on duty challenged me and I went my merry way. The latrine was approximately 50 yards behind our living quarters and between our quarters and the latrine the Chinese kept about 2 dozen chickens.
I had often dreamed about eating one of these chickens and I'm sure that there were others who shared my dream. I don't know why I decided that this would be the night to fulfill my dream but I did. On my return trip from the latrine, I made a detour into the chicken coup. Of course, they were all roosting and I knew that in this state they could be easily handled without making any noise. I felt their legs and then their breasts to make sure I picked a fat one and then I put the chicken's head under its wing and returned to my room. Once in my room, I stuffed the chicken into the sleeve of my field-jacket which I was using for a pillow.
Naturally, I found it difficult to sleep and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that one chicken wouldn't go too far among 10 men. So, I went and got another one. After being disturbed, the chickens were quite naturally, very restless and kept making little chicken noises. In an effort to keep them quiet, I started talking to them.
The other guys in the squad heard me but didn't say anything because they thought I was "losing it." About three weeks earlier, one of the squad members, Ed Campbell, came busting into the room shouting, "I’m Jesus Christ! We're having an air drop in the morning and we’re all having ham and eggs with chocolate shakes for breakfast." He was one of several who broke under the strain of being held prisoner.
Well, that was why the guys thought I had "flipped out" when they heard me talking to the chickens. I was so proud of myself for stealing not one but two chickens, that I couldn't sleep the rest of the night. When the sun finally came up and I told them what I had done, they were just as excited as I was and were more then willing to participate in the "preparations" for the upcoming feast.
The guards walked just outside our door so we would have to be very quiet while we "did" the chickens "in." I had one guy hold the chicken up-side-down by its legs, over a steel helmet, and two more guys, one each holding a wing while I did the deed. While this was taking place we were all singing. I cut the chickens up and put the pieces in a helmet filled with snow and water to a wait "dinner."
As the day drew on, I decided to cook a little appetizer for the guys (and myself too). So, I got a little soybean oil, some garlic and some peppers from a buddy who worked in the cook shack and started cooking. One of the guys came up with a little hibachi and a can--we were all set to go. It wasn't long before we had our little appetizer in the making.
I had forgotten that one of the guys had gone to headquarters that morning with a very infected finger and was told to go back to his squad until they decided what to do. They decided to pay him a visit just about the time my chicken was done. When they realized what was going on, they came "unglued" and ordered the squad leader to headquarters. Of course, that was me. They sent a guard back to the room to look for, I guessed, more chicken. This was a real big deal to these people. They even used their old threat, "maybe we shot you" if I didn't confess to stealing chicken from the Chinese People's Volunteers.
I told them that I didn't steal the chicken but found a dead one behind our quarters. I had no idea what the guard they sent back to my room found but I stuck to my original story. It wasn't long before they started to get real rough but I still stuck to my story. By this time it was getting dark and they were getting tired of pushing me around so they took me across the street and locked me in a little room abut the size of a closet to "consider my crime against the Chinese people."
Over the next three days they brought at least five different confessions for me to sign. Each time I refused, they would get a little rougher so finally I decided to sign but not until the confession said what I wanted it to say. It ended up a very single, "I, Richard C. Rook, had stolen a chicken from the Chinese People's Volunteers and I am sorry." I had to be careful of what I signed because the Chinese were masters at propaganda.
The guys were happy to see me when I got back to the squad and told me that they had hidden the rest of the chicken before the guard came to search the room. Of course, they had eaten all of the chicken so after all my trouble, I ended up with nothing. It was fun anyway and I would have done it all over again.
When the "Chinks" took my watch off my wrist back on May 19 1951, it was 5:45 AM. As I walked across the exchange point at P’anmunjom, North Korea on August 26 1953, there was a clock (on the American side, naturally) that read 10:50 AM. The time I spent as a POW was exactly 27 months, 5 hours and 5 minutes.
Richard S. Raby, USA
I met Richard at Camp One, Compound 7, and like many of my fellow prisoners, we have remained friends.
Dick enlisted in the US Army on January 11, 1949, while he was in Seattle, Washington. After basic training at Fort Ord, California, he was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas and was assigned to the 6th Medium Tank Battalion, Dog Company.
On August 8th 1950, Dick’s unit arrived in Korea from Fort Hood, Texas. At this time they had been not assigned to a particular Division, and eventually they were assigned to the 24th Infantry Division.
In April 1951, they were with the 24th Division, when all hell hit the fan (the Chinese Spring Offensive was on). At about 4 a.m., I was relieved from guard duty. It seemed that I had just closed my eyes when word came that we were to “bug out”. By daylight, after a hasty chow of C rations and coffee, Dog Company, along with either “B” or “C ’’ Company was ready to roll. Since the Chinese “Spring Offensive” was in high gear now we could be assigned any mission. First, we were to go forward about five miles and bring out some infantry units before they got overrun. The road ran through a narrow valley, (as most roads in Korea do) with hills of about 300 to 500 feet, or higher!
The other tank company and their Infantry continued south, while we and our GI’s stayed ...sort of rear guard, I guess. Where we were there was about 1/4 mile open, flat area from the road to the base of the hills. Visibility was good. So good, in fact, that we had no trouble seeing thousands of Chinese troops walking on the tops of the hills on both sides of us, moving toward our rear. They were in no rush, and amazingly, no one fired on them! At or near noon time, we ate chow, sharing what we could with the Infantry, still watching the Chinks and still not firing on them. We were not too concerned at this time for we knew that when push comes to shove, we could out-run them. This continued till late afternoon when Second Platoon was ordered to go back up the valley. This time it was to rescue a group of Rangers who were surrounded and had some wounded that they could not carry out. This time we were pretty worried, (scared really).
They were in a draw and turning the tanks around would be rough. The road was very narrow and fairly steep and a tank is very vulnerable anyway, when turning and it can’t fire the cannon, if needed. Again we were fortunate in that we got these troops to safe areas with no further casualties; no tanks lost or damaged.
Some time later we got the word to escort the Triple Nickel (555) Field Arty Battalion. to the current defensive lines, somewhere behind us. With the remaining Infantry troops mounted on our tanks we started south. Somewhere in all this, the 3rd Platoon Sergeant’s tank was being towed by the First Platoon Sergeant’s tank. By now it was early evening and frankly, we were getting scared. We had never been out this far in front of the “front lines” before at this hour of the day. Normally we were bivouacked about 5 miles behind the front lines in relative safety. Besides, we weren’t sure where we were or where we were going!! We knew we were getting into some deep “kim-chee” and, we didn’t like it!
Gut feelings are true feelings and we were right. The shit was about to hit the fan!! We lost seven tanks, all told. Of the casualties, 17 were captured and two died as POWs.
The Chinks hit us with a “road-block”. They let the lead tanks go by then knocked out the first trucks hauling the 155mm Howitzers. These blocked the road and no one, tanker or artilleryman, took command to remove them by pushing or blowing them off, though there was no guarantee how successful that would have been.
The infantrymen were now on the ground along with many artillery men and in the light of burning trucks and exploding shells (mostly incoming from the Chinese) I saw (through my gunners’ scope) scenes that I can never forget. Men were running, falling, crawling all over; some being hit with small arms fire and some being hurled through the air by mortar explosions. The lucky ones died quickly! Mortar rounds were coming in faster than they could be counted and it was pure carnage out there. Our tank had gotten off three 90 mm rounds before we had to stop firing for the safety of our troops on the ground.
My tank had been 3rd from last in the column. We went around two others that had been knocked out, and advanced to the forward high point above the paddy. At one point we teetered, and the Tank Commander gave us the option of going over the edge or to backup and try another way out. Not knowing how much of a drop it was to the paddy, we voted to back off. During this time frame we took a hit from a 122mm mortar and our engine compartment was on fire. Then we got a 3.5 Bazooka hit that blew the left track. (Damn people who run away and don’t destroy their weapons first). The Tank Commander ordered a bailout!! Three of us, the Tank Commander, the loader and I, took cover under the rear of the tank. For a few minutes we exchanged fire with the Chinks in the paddy. They were about 30 feet away and below us. I ran to the left as soon as I cleared the tank. After about 25 to 50 feet, I threw myself to the ground, with my right arm fully extended and my .45 caliber pistol pointing nowhere. I wanted to get my bearings and catch my breath. Boo! Boo! When I turned to look to my left, I was staring down the barrel of a rifle no more than 8 to 10 inches from my face.
It looked like a cannon and the face behind it wasn’t a friendly one. The Chink motioned for me to get up. He too was lying down, a little above me and with something like a bush or bump in the ground between us, so that all I could see was his face and the rifle. I got up and he motioned for me to drop my pistol. I did. Then he got up and came in front of me and placed the rifle barrel in the center on my chest. Then he frisked me for any more weapons. He smiled a bit when he found several packs of cigarettes, 6 or 7 at least, a couple of “C” rations, and chocolate bars in the upper pockets of my field jacket.
His expression changed when he touched an object in my lower right pocket. So too did the calm, numbness that had come over me. It was a fragmentation grenade. If he pulled the pin while trying to get it out, I was going to be in a big hurt. I grabbed his left arm, the one reaching towards that pocket and I very slowly pulled the grenade out and gently placed it on ground.
What stands out in my mind even now was my fear of the Chinese officer, and the control he and the guard had over my life at that time. Later, we were moved up the nearby hill and put into several houses. Other GI’s were already in them. Shortly after our capture we started marching. The marches were long...15 to 20 miles average; the roads were rough and more of them were uphill than downhill.
By now we were just plain worn out; tired, hungry, thirsty, and filthy dirty to boot! Mentally we were developing a zombie approach...put one foot in front of the other, follow the guy in front of you, etc.; and eventually we had to stop. After about a week we were really hurting. We were so tired and hungry and thirsty and dirty and we ached so much that we didn’t know what it was like not to feel any other way. After about 10-12 days, maybe more, we reached the first rest camp, Peaceful Valley.
The second march, which was also about 10-12 days, wasn’t too different from the first. We had new guards. Some of them were good and there were those whom we wanted to kill. More of them were the rear echelon types and nastier than the mean ones from the front. I was very weak when we reached what I call the “Mining Camp”. There was quite a few GI’s there and a lot of them were in bad shape. Some had been wounded in bombing attacks from our planes. The Chinese said that we would only rest and eat there. How true! While we were asleep, there was another bombing attack, very close. A mule was killed. We ate mule meat. It sure helped to flavor the rice and we ate a pretty good amount.
The only trial and execution of a prisoner that I know of, happened here. I think it was on the third day when the Chinese announced that there would be this trial. Hell, it was a kangaroo court as far as we were concerned. Flat on my back as I had been since arriving I heard a commotion near the stairs. Shortly two guards were standing in the hallway with a young GI between them. He was maybe 19/20 years old, grimy clothes like the rest of us, but he had just washed his face, and his hands were loosely tied in front of him. He was holding a white towel, I believe, or it was around his shoulders. But as he stood there he asked if he could give it to one of the guys near him. The guards didn’t understand him but nodded OK. He gave it to someone and said he wouldn’t need it anymore. He had an almost serene look on his face that I was almost in awe of him. How can one look so calm when he knows he will soon be dead? I wondered! But that was just the case.
He had come to grips with his situation and had made his peace with his God. “Tell my Mother that I am not afraid of dying,” he said. “I am only sorry I will never see her again. Tell her I love her and my last thoughts will be of her.” There were a few other words but they were not clear to me as he was being pulled away by the guards. I heard later that his feet were wrapped in rags. He had been taken prisoner in late “50” and his feet had been frozen so bad he could not wear boots. When they got him outside they had their trial.
Later, I heard that the Chinese had taken about 20/25 guys outside as witnesses. The trial was all in Chinese but an interpreter told us what the chargers and sentence were. Briefly, he and two others prisoners were brought south and were going to be left in an area soon to be taken by the Americans.
They had been left somewhere but another group of Chinese found them first and brought them to a village. At some time, most of this group went off somewhere leaving a guard on the three. The guard went to sleep and someone; no one knows who, though this young man said it wasn’t him, took the guard’s rifle and killed him. They started to run away but because of his feet, the young man could not keep up with the other two. So they left him and he was recaptured by the Chinese.
For killing a Chinese soldier and attempting to escape, he was sentenced to die. Upon conclusion of the trial, there was no attempt to question him, and they marched him around to the right side of the building.
There was a grave already dug and they shot him...firing squad; then a single shot to the head by an officer. It was over just like that, except that when they went to tie a cloth over his eyes, he refused.
Burial Details: These details, as they became known to us, could never be called funerals. Someone died and was buried. The similarity to a funeral ended there. These deaths were shocking enough caused by untreated wounds, malnutrition, dysentery, beriberi, and some other unknown diseases; but the burials were miserable performances of an act of human decency.
On one occasion, a Chinese Officer scared the hell out of me! He was a little irritated at my answers/attitude and told me that he could tell the guard to shoot me and that he would say I had attacked him or tried to run away. It was in the simple manner that he stated this that scared me. Later up north at Camp One, this would happen again and it was a strange feeling to look into the face of someone who has the control over whether you live or die. It is not a nice feeling!!
A friend was the best thing you could have. Friends confided in one another and promised that if one died, the other would, if he survived, go to see the family, if this became necessary. Then the family would know how guys died there and knowing the truth, would be able to cope with life a little better. At least that’s how we felt then.
We arrived at Camp One, Ch’angsong a village the Chinese had taken from the locals. For the first few days we were just too happy to be off the road and getting settled in. We would be called Company Seven, they told us. We were in the southern part of the town with the Chinese occupying all houses on the east side of the road going through it. We were put in those on the west side along with the Sergeants. We arrived in Camp One, on or about October 17th 1951.
I must say, that overall the Chinese failed miserably in their attempts to brainwash us. Of that I am very proud. Mostly I am proud that I was a reactionary, and I had a lot of good company, Rhatigan, Lyke, Perry, Polack, Jack Chapman, and others whose names I can’t remember now. We did what we could to resist in any way we could and to help those that deserved to be helped. This lasted until August 1952, when many of us were transferred to Company Four.
Jack Chapman (Chappie) was another one whom I met at the Company Seven, and we became very close friends. He was still in pretty bad shape. He couldn’t motor too well due to wounds of the legs, arms, and with a bullet wound to the head. When he told me about the long, cold marches that lasted through out the winter of 50/51, and about how many guys had died and or were shot, it re-enforced my hate for the Chinese. So much for their “Lenient Policy” I thought. It is estimated that about 1200 GI’s died during that period. He too is one of those relatively small groups of people I know that make me feel good to think that they call me friend. There are just too many other friends and I can’t mention them all here.
Dick and I were released together on August 20th1953 (Names of American POWs Freed by Reds Today, dated August 20, 1953). We were in the last group to leave Camp One. To this day, we still keep in touch with each other.
Norman Forest Deatherage, was born on March 7 1926, at Argosy, Arkansas and while working at a ranch in eastern Washington State received his draft notification. After enlisting in Seattle, Washington, he was rushed off to Fort Ord, California for basic training. Assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division,38th Infantry. Norman entered immediately into combat. Displaying quiet confidence and firm leadership, he was quickly promoted to the rank of Corporal and was given the duties of Assistance Squad Leader. Norman’s unit was cut off from support and, after several days of non-stop fighting, was overrun by the communists on May17 1951.
Immediately following his capture, Norman and his fellow prisoners, which included his platoon leader, Lieutenant Conley Clarke, began the long march to North Korea. Deprived of food and water, marched to the point of exhaustion, many prisoners collapsed,unable to go further. These prisoners were ruthlessly shot or bayoneted by their savage captors. It was only through sheer will power that Norman and his fellow prisoners survived their seemingly endless journey to arrive at the first of many prison camps.
After twenty-seven months of imprisonment, Norman crossed the Freedom Bridge and returned home, a free man on August 18, 1953. Norman Forest Deatherage, another unsung hero endured the hardships of a prisoner of war, died on November 12, 1997.
Norman was a very close friend. We saw each other often and attended many annual reunions together. I had the distinct honor of meeting and knowing his children. His youngest son, Captain Ralph Deatherage, graduated from West Point.
Luis E. Lugo
Another close friend, LUIS E. LUGO (previously Luis Escribano-Lugo), was born in Puerto Rico. He was drafted in the Army on November 20 1950, ten days before I was captured. After completing Basic Training in Puerto Rico, he was shipped to Korea on April 13, 1951. He was assigned to Company “F” 2nd Battalion, 65th Infantry Regiment, and arrived in Korea around the middle of May.
Luis was captured on August 9, 1951, when his company was ambushed on a mission within the Demilitarized zone (DMZ). This action took place north of Seoul, shortly after the Peace negotiations had started with the Chinese and the Koreans. During close combat, Luis was injured in his right ear by a grenade he threw at a squad of Chinese soldiers coming towards him.
After about a week behind the front lines, Luis was taken to a place known as the Mining Camp. There were no POWs there except two or three very sick ones. After a couple of nights at this place, he marched to another place where many POWs were being assembled to start a march to POW camps near the Yalu River. This march took from 26 to 28 days. This group arrived at Chang Song on September 25, 1951. Luis mentioned that it was snowing that day, the first one of the coming winter.
Early in the march to Ch’angsong, Luis hurt his right hip and had not choice but to continue the march. He was always lagging behind and became afraid the guard watching him would take him to the woods and shoot him. With the help of other POWs, he was able to make it. Among those helping him was Roy Hewitt, of the 5th Regiment.
Upon his arrival at Ch’angsong he was put in Company Seven, Camp Three. He was in a squad that included Robert (Bob) Blewitt of Philadelphia, Richard Montanaro of New York, and seven other Puerto Ricans.
In August 1952, Company Seven was broken up and most of the POWs were put into Company Four, and at this time, Camp Three became known as Camp One.
Luis was also one of the few prisoners in company four that the Chinese didn’t care for, as he was also opposed to the Communist Indoctrination program as well.
After being release on August 18 1953, Luis returned to Puerto Rico and within one month was employed by the Federal Government at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in San Juan. Luis stayed in that job until December 1955. He enrolled at the University of Southwest Louisiana, from which he graduated in the fall of 1958 with a BS in Business Administration. He retired after 30 years with the Internal Revenue Service. He is the proud father of four boys and seven grandchildren.
Chapter 22 - Operation Little Switch
During March 1953, the Peace Talks were going along fairly well and the Chinese started giving us better food. In April 1953, three months before the end of the hostilities, the exchange of prisoners of war took place. Sick prisoners were removed from our compound under a repatriation process known as Operation Little Switch. About 6,000 Chinese Communist and North Koreans were returned in exchange for approximately 600 Allied prisoners. The Allied prisoners included 149 Americans. Among all those released during Operation Little Switch, I knew David W. Ludlum, James J. Coogan, and Virgil A. Kaver.
During Operation Big Switch many prisoners indicated that in most instances, there were less than half the sick and wounded returned, and a substantial number of those sent back were considered to be “progressives” with no obvious physical impairment. Furthermore, upon our return during Big Switch, we indicated that most of the sick and wounded that were not returned had not been examined by the Chinese physicians prior to Operation Little Switch. The following is a list of physical conditions suffered by the prisoners who were not repatriated during Operation Little Switch; chronic chest conditions, amputation of portions of lower extremities, digestive disturbances, and multiple cysts on skin, chronic amebiasis, mental illness, back injuries, severe malnutrition, cold injury, and malaria.
However, the exchange of prisoners during Operation Little Switch was great news. We had been living for the day when we would hear those words, and our hopes grew knowing that maybe one day soon we too would be released. When the group of prisoners was released, the Chinese brought in cigarettes, new clothing, our first tooth brushes and soap. This was about June or July 1953.
On July 27, 1953, we were assembled in the compound and told that at Panmunjom an armistice had been signed. We all shouted, hollered, and cried, because we knew that we would soon be going home.
We received our first Red Cross packages about a week before the exchange of prisoners began in July 1953. The International Red Cross issued each prisoner a cartoon of cigarettes, a razor, a comb and soap. Good old American cigarettes, we would sit around smoking one after another, enjoying them like we had never enjoyed a cigarette before.
Our appearance really changed after a clean shave, making us a totally different group of men. We were not permitted to see or talk with any members of the Red Cross. All items were turned over to the Chinese and they in turn passed them on to us.
After being told of this good news, the Chinese allowed us to visit other compounds within our camp, and we were able to meet and visit with old friends for the first time since our arrival at Camp One.
Peace Talks and Repatriation
Peace talks at Panmunjom would go on for over two years while us prisoners of war languished, sick and dying, waiting for freedom. There were over 7,000 Americans captured and interned in Korea (Stenger 1989). The Peace Treaty was signed in June 1953, but it was not until August 5, 1953, that the first prisoners were exchanged.
Chapter 23 - Operation Big Switch
August 5, 1953
On August 5, 1953, Operation Big Switch began. With the exchange in full progress, we saw trucks with prisoners from camps further north of us, passing through our camp each day. Daily, we watched these trucks heading south and waved to the men on the trucks. Finally, they got around to our camp and each day we waited as names were called off.
Every day, I saw my friends leave and I began to wonder when my name would be called. The Chinese would read off the list of names and those called would board trucks for the trip south and freedom. With each passing day, I would say good-bye to friends and watch as the trucks pulled away. Anxiously, I awaited my turn.
Camp One was becoming deserted, and still my name had not been called. We had been told that some of us would never return home, that we would remain in Korea. Those of us left in Camp One were beginning to fear that perhaps we were not going to be released.
The exchange had been going on for about two weeks, when a member of the International Red Cross asked to see some American prisoners still being held in Camp One. The International Red Cross apparently had been informed by a British Soldier that there were some American prisoners still being held in Camp One.
August 18-20, 1953, Freedom Village
On the morning of August 18th 1953, I and the remaining prisoners of Camp One (about two truck loads) were told that we were leaving for Panmunjom. We boarded trucks for the trip south, and freedom! We were very happy to know the International Red Cross had intervened. Otherwise, who knows when or if we would have been released?
We traveled from Camp One to Freedom Village by trucks, arriving there the morning of August 20th, 1953. All 65 of us were hurriedly exchanged. Prior to leaving Camp One, the Chinese took away our personal belongings, addresses of other POWs, and our personal notes.
On our trip south we passed many trucks going the opposite direction with Koreans and Chinese prisoners who had been released by the United Nations. They were standing up in the back of the trucks. All were fatter than hell! They were all rosy cheeked and hog jawed. Glancing at the guards in the back of our truck and at my skinny arms and legs, I could see that neither of us were more than walking skeletons.
One of the guards in our truck could speak English and told us the Chinese prisoners would all have to be re-educated before returning to China. Their minds had been twisted and warped by the United States. Now they, in reality, had to be re-brainwashed before they could see or talk with their friends or families.
Freedom Village, Panmunjom, North Korea
We stopped a short distance north of Freedom Village at the release point. Our Chinese guards jumped from the trucks and tried to shake our hands. We refused and told them, “Go to hell!” Our own troops arrived to open the tail gates and said, “WELCOME HOME!!"
We immediately started to remove our prison clothes as we headed for the exchange point. An American Military Policeman told us, “Keep our pants on. There were women present.” We were then loaded into ambulances for our trip to Freedom Village. When we sighted Freedom Village, tears swelled our eyes as lumps in our throats choked and made us speechless. We were finally going home! We were met by a Chaplain and prayed for thanksgiving together.
I was met by an American Lieutenant Colonel and his first words were; “HERE COMES THE REACTIONARIES.” He then asked me what I would like to have---my first reply was a dish of ice cream please! We were then taken over to the Red Cross for refreshments which consisted of cigars, coffee, ice cream, and milk. This was about all we could have because we weren't used to rich food and they stated a meal would be waiting.
We then went to the showers, and as we came out, we were sprayed with DDT, given clean P.J.'s and then had a chance to relax. A short time later, food was brought to us, and I looked at my first decent meal in thirty-three months---roast beef, peas, mashed potatoes, and a lettuce salad. We weren't allowed to eat very much, because our stomachs weren't used to eating rich food such as this. After eating we were permitted to visit with newspapermen. We were informed that we weren't compelled to meet them; it would be strictly up to us.
Right after our meeting with the press we were issued clean clothing and new boots. It was comical walking in hard soled shoes because we had to learn to walk all over again. We had been wearing tennis shoes for about two (2) years during captivity. We were then taken over to the helicopter pad for a flight which took us to Inchon, South Korea, the place where I had landed on September 18, 1950.
Inchon, South Korea and on to the USA
Inchon was now our golden gate, our last stop before boarding a ship for the good old USA. As the helicopter landed we were greeted warmly and fed a good supper and assigned a clean bunk for the night. We spent the night at Inchon. The next day, we were given some back pay and allowed to do some shopping at the Post Exchange.
On the morning of August 21, 1953 we were loaded on buses and taken to the pier where we boarded a ship for our trip home.
The misery, death, and deprivation could be expanded upon for pages. However, it would remain the same. We were humiliated, forced to march for months, walking long distances without adequate food, clothing, and medical treatment. The Chinese attacked our will by starvation, lack of medical care, exposure to the cold and filth, and sometime outright brutality. Thousands of our men died as a result of this treatment. We were forced to participate in lectures and discussions lasting as long as six to eight hours a day, and when we were not able to produce the right answers in examinations or group discussions, the lectures would continue far into the night.
I am sometimes asked, “Why did Americans behave the way they did?” I don’t even attempt to explain this. The average American is unable to grasp or understand. And, “Would I do it again?” My only reply is, “Yes. I would do it again, only to preserve the Americanism born and inbred in me.”
My night mares are no longer serious, although they were for a long time. Once in a while I still dream I am in North Korean captivity. In those dreams, I am aware that I have been there before, some of my friends and the guards are there with me. Occasionally, I dream of being taken to the various places in North Korea where we once barely existed. It’s just something I have to overcome and live with.
Chapter 24 - Interrogation And Debriefings
The shipboard interrogation/debriefings were really done wrong! Many people were hurt because of them. This was a first class opportunity for one who didn’t like someone in camp to say just about anything he wanted to. And to top this, the intelligence people did very little to straighten out these negative reports.
This is a sample statement taken during the interrogation/debriefing sessions that unjustly implicated innocent individuals: “When the Subject was turned over to a POW collecting point located about fifteen (15) miles north of Yanggu, two Americans, dressed in Chinese Army Uniforms, joined the group and appeared to be acting as “Guides”. He claimed the two American POWs gave them lectures on Communist ideas and beliefs, orienting them on what they could expect from POW camp life. He stated, after marching north to another collecting point, he joined other POWs. He stated the “guides” were from a temporary base camp located approximately 50 miles north west of Yanggu. Their main camp was located at Kanggye. He further stated that he was the only POW to be taken from his group by the so called “Guides” and taken to their base camp. He claimed he stayed with the “Guides” for a period of three months as they traveled North, stopping occasionally at other collecting points.”
Since his statement to the Army Debriefing Team involved several of my friends, I did some follow up on this individual and discovered that: “The subject was from the 7th Infantry, 3rd Division, was captured on 3 December 1950, was held prisoner at Kanggye, North Korea, was in Camp Number 5, and was released on 12 August 1953. He was also in the same unit as an individual named “Dusty” before his capture.”
His statement almost cost a damn good Sergeant his Army career. The Sergeant I am talking about took command of the group I was in when the other ranking members refused to do it.
This is just one example of a statement that implicated innocent individuals unjustly. To my knowledge, the Army did nothing to verify the truth of the collected statements that implicated innocent individuals, nor did they try to straighten out the records of these innocent individual.
Army Intelligence Watches Some Freed Americans
Panmunjom, August 9, 1953. United Press:
Medic Tells Lack Of Aid, Sedatives. August 19, 1953
Normal L. Long, from my compound, bitterly accused the Communists of withholding medical attention from the seriously wounded soldiers with pain or crying for help. Norman told US Officials, I tried to get some medical aid or equipment for the men but the Reds wouldn’t even give me the morphine I had in my pack when I was captured.
“Barbed-Wire Doctor Amputated to Save Lives”, Freedom Village, August 12 1953
(Pacific S & S) Doctor Anderson is the “best man I ever met,” said Sergeant Richard E. Bailey. Bailey was telling one of the stories of heroism which must come with each time of danger, death, and misery. He was talking about Capt. Clarence Anderson, a doctor whose skill and devotion had brought many Americans through the bitter days behind barbed wire. Wilson and Bailey related how Anderson amputated frostbitten and infected fingers and toes with a “few scalpels” borrowed from the meager supplies of medical equipment provided by the Red Chinese.
The American Fighting Man and Korea
THE KOREAN BATTLE: Our cause was simple and just, but our objectives in the Korean War were frequently confused in the public mind.
The Korean War had three aspects. There were the Civil War aspect-- North Koreans fighting South Koreans for control of a divided country. There was the collective aspect--the first United Nations' attempt to stop a treaty breaking aggressor. And there was the Cold War aspect--the Western powers blocking the expansion of Communist imperialism.
The causes of the war, the United Nations objectives and the need for American intervention, were not clearly delineated in the public mind. This lack of understanding prevailed among citizens and American fighting men. The Communists attempted to exploit to the fullest this condition in both international propaganda and in dealing with our prisoners of war.
Imprisonment in North Korea
During the Korean War a total of 7,190 Americans were reportedly captured by the enemy. Of these, 6,656 were Army troops; 263 were Air Force men; 231 were Marines; 40 were Navy men. The Army bore the heaviest burden of prisoner losses.
The first ordeal prisoners had to suffer-- and often the worst--was the march to one of the POW camps. The North Koreans frequently tied a prisoner's hands behind his back or bound his arms with wire. Wounded prisoners were jammed into trucks that jolted, dripping blood, along broken roads. Many of the wounded received no medical attention and some received treatment upon reaching the camp. The marching prisoners were liable to be beaten or kicked to their feet if they fell.
A number of the North Korean officers were bullwhip barbarians, products of a semi-primitive environment. Probably they had never heard of the Geneva Conventions or any other code of war, The worst of this breed were responsible for the murder of men who staggered out of line or collapsed along the roadside or trails. They were particularly brutal to South Korean captives. Many South Korean Army Personnel were forced to dig their own graves before they were shot. Some Americans, with their hands tied behind their backs, were shot by the enemy.
The journeys to the prison camps were "Death Marches." Especially in the winter of 1950-1951 when the trails were knee-deep in snow and polar winds flogged the toiling column. On one of these marches, 700 men were headed north. Before the camp was reached, 500 men had perished.
I realize there is a fundamental difference in what people may believe or perceived in regards to what occurred during a certain period of time, especially after so many years have passed. I have tried to keep my writing based on the facts I had available during the first five years after I had been released. A lot of stories have been written about our experiences as a prisoner of war, each one is a little different because experiences and treatment varied from camp to camp, some better and some worse. Each writer can only reflect his individual ordeal.
I can only relate to what took place in the temporary camps prior to our arrival at Ch’angsong, North Korea. At Ch’angsong, I was in two different compounds and the treatment in each one was different.
Company Seven (7), the first compound that I was assigned to was located at the south end of Ch’angsong. I was held here from October 25, 1951 to August 1952 and then I was moved to Company Four (4) at the north end of the town. At this location there were four companies of Americans and one Company of British Soldiers. I was held in Company Four (4) from August 1952 to August 18, 1953, two days before I was to be released.
Chapter 25 - Good Ol’ US Of A
Arrival at San Francisco, USA
When our ship arrived in San Francisco, I hadn't figured on anyone meeting me. My thoughts was, what am I going to do, I didn't even know where I was going to be stationed! I hadn't given much thought to what I was going to do or where I was going. There was no home coming welcome for me, except that of my youngest uncle and his family, and a great aunt, who was waiting for me as I came off of the US Marine Adder.
I can't remember receiving any mail from my mother. I had made up my mind that I would go directly to my new duty station and stay on active duty. The girls that I had known had gotten married while I was a prisoner and since I had left home when I was very young, I really didn't have any place to go.
I had walked off the ship in my Class "A" uniform and was just getting on the bus for Camp Stoneman, when I heard my name on the loud speaker saying that I had visitors. I was surprised who would be meeting me? My first though was that someone had made a mistake. I walked back to the visitor’s area, not knowing who to look for. I was very shocked to see my youngest uncle, his wife, and a small girl standing there crying, and my great aunt. I couldn't believe my eyes, surely I was dreaming. My uncle and I hugged each other, for how long, I don't know, he was crying and so were his children and I guess, I also had tears in my eyes. My uncle's wife had written a couple of times, and there was my great aunt, who I had not seen since 1947.
However, events which I had not perceived occurred, i.e., my youngest uncle had traveled from Seattle, Washington to meet me. Now I knew that I would go back to his home for a few days, before going to my next duty station. To my surprise, my uncle brought me a new guitar, which was waiting for me in his car. We departed San Francisco shortly after lunch for Seattle.
There were many bad times, and many more good times, friends that I made and the hardships that we endured together, we were like a big family. The names of these special friends are still fresh in my mind. For without the help of so many great friends, I probably would not be here today.
California to Seattle to Fort Sill, OK to Discharge
We departed from California to Seattle, Washington, where I received my orders and after three weeks at my uncle's home, I proceeded to my new duty post. My orders read, authorized thirty (30) days R & R leave, not chargeable against presently accrued leave or any future leave, in addition to four (4) days authorized travel time. I was to report to Fort Sill, Oklahoma on Oct. 9, 1953.
What really got me at my new duty post was that not one person there gave a damn about us. We were like some outcast. After a week there, we were given our discharge papers.
So instead of re-enlisting, I was now out of the service and had no where to go. After about one month or so, I finally decided to head back to Washington State.
Re-Enlistment and Life Goes On
After 14 months of working two jobs, trying to get my mind straight, heavy drinking, and a few medical problems, I realized that I wasn't getting any place and decided to re-enlist. The Army turned me down, I had failed their physical.
Then I tried the US Air Force and was accepted. I am proud to say I had an outstanding career in the US Air Force, once I got my head straight. There were some hard times, but the good times out weighed the bad.
While in the US Air Force, I received my High School GED and completed four years of College. My career field was Military Police and my last five years I was assigned duties with the Inspecting Generals Team, both state side and in London, England.
After spending fifteen years and six months in the Air Force, I put in for my retirement and accepted a position as a College Police Chief, from which I retired after 21 years.
I met my wife Claudette while stationed in France and we have four wonderful children; Debbie, Jack, Cindy, and Patrick. And, life goes on.
Communist Invasion of the Republic of Korea
When the military forces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea moved southward across the 38th Parallel in June 1950 the United Nations had supported the efforts of the Republic of Korea to halt the Communist invasion. The United States bore the brunt of the burden as the United Nations had first contained, then driven back the North Koreans in defeat. Only the entry of the Communist Chinese into the war in November had prevented the United Nations from attaining a clear-cut military victory as well as potential political triumph in the unification of Korea.
However, from this point on, the war had become more complicated. The expansion of the conflict to include Red China might also indicate the entry of the Soviet Union at a future date. Political considerations increasingly overshadowed the battleground as the Chinese Communists forced the U.N. units to draw back of the 38th Parallel. To defeat the North Korean forces had been one thing. The immense manpower reserves of China and possibly the Soviet Union were another. After U.N. counterattacks had pushed the Communists back to the general area of the 38th Parallel, the prospects for military victory for either side without a tremendous expenditure of lives and materiel began to fade. The time for a reappraisal had arrived.
There could be little doubt that the outbreak in Korea was but a segment of the larger contest between the Soviet Union and the United States. The major question revolved about the importance of that segment. Was Korea simply a local test of power, a part of the continuous Communist probing for soft spots that could be easily brought under control by direct action? Or could it become something more serious, the first step toward World War III if the Soviet Union felt her basic interests threatened by a setback in Korea? The search for an answer to this problem was to plague the United States and her allies throughout the war and to exert a profound influence on the direction of political and military affairs.
After a year of bitter combat, the war in Korea lost momentum. By the first of July 1951, the war of movement had come to an end and a new, more static phase began. As the battle lines stabilized, the impetus for a political settlement of the conflict mounted. This shift in emphasis introduced a new set of values and changed the complexion of the fighting completely. For the rest of the war, battle was to be the handmaiden of policy rather than its consort.
For those of us who were in captivity as prisoners of war, we were left with fighting for our dignity and survival, and dealing with the events of “brainwashing” until our release during Operation Little Switch and Operation Big Switch. Many died and many (progressives) ended up collaborating under the “Lenient Policy” of the Chinese Communist. Those who resisted the indoctrination process were brave heroes who were called “reactionaries.” The reactionaries were the last to make it out of Camp One, thanks to a “British” soldier and the unrelenting intervention of the International Red Cross. I was one of 65 “reactionaries” who was released last.
Awards and Citations
For wounds received in the battle at Chosin Reservoir on November 29, 1950, I received two (2) Purple Heart Medals and the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for valor. Copies of these awards follow.
The Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device for Valor
1st Purple Heart Medal for Wounds Received in Action
2nd Purple Heart Medal for Wounds Received in Action
Poems and Articles
Poem - Little Did You Know by Cindy A. Lugo
A special thanks to Cindy A. Lugo, daughter in law of my good friend and buddy, Luis E. Lugo. Cindy wrote this poem after we met after our reunion in Schaumburg, Illinois, in 1996
Song – The Chosin Reservoir
This poem was written by Randy Briere in the “Prison Camp of North Korea” where Randy spent 36 months as a guest of the Chinese. It is dedicated to the 1600 Americans who died during the first winter.
Poem - A TIME TO REMEMBER by Randy Briere
Not a bugle was heard
The following poems were written by good friend and buddy Andy (Chief) Aguirre.
Poem - CHRISTMAS IN CHANGSONG 1951 by Andy (Chief) Aguirre
To GIs imprisoned there
Poem – YESTERDAY by Andy (Chief) Aguirre
It seems like only yesterday
Article – Freedom Village, Thursday, August 20, 1953 (AP)-
Article – List of American PWs Freed by Reds Today
Article – Death March Kills 550 Yanks
Letter – US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Jesse Helms
Map of Associated Events
Map of My Journey through Korea from Landing to Repatriation
The Red lines show my journey as a POW. The Black lines show my journey prior to my capture.