31st Infantry Regiment
7th Infantry Division
Prisoner of War
I was born on January 24, 1933, in Flat Rock, Oklahoma. At the age of fourteen, I dropped out of school, and by the time I was fifteen I had already traveled to California, Washington, and Michigan. I returned to Oklahoma and tried to find a job with the railroad company around Oklahoma City.
Not being able to get a job with the railroad, I made my way back to Muskogee, where my mother lived. After staying there for a few days, I was back on the road again. I hitch hiked to Tulsa, where I stayed with my uncle and Aunt Mary. She was full-blooded Cherokee and a small, beautiful lady with not a mean bone in her body.
After staying with them for a couple of weeks, I went to the nearest Navy Recruiting Office. I listed my age as seventeen and when I finished filling out all the necessary paperwork, they told me to come back the following day. When I returned, the recruiting officer told me I had lied about my age and for me to come back when I was older.
I tried the Army Air Corps; then three days after my birthday, I went to the Army Recruiting Office. All I needed was for someone to sign for me, since I didn’t have a birth certificate. There were several guys being recruited, and several being drafted, into the Army. Since I was the only one that had signed up for the Air Corps, the rest of the guys talked me into joining the Army with them. So, we were shipped off to basic training at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas.
After completing basic training, I was assigned to the 14th RCT, Heavy Weapons Company (4.2 mortar) at Camp Carson, which was located outside Colorado Springs, Colorado. Two guys in my platoon were veterans of the Second World War. The one from Mississippi called me aside one day and asked me my age. I replied, “Seventeen.” He wanted to know if I was sure, because he said I looked awful young for seventeen. Again, I replied, “Yes, sir.” That was the last I heard anything mentioned about my age—until I went to Korea.
We went to Alaska for two months of training and upon our return, my platoon was assigned to temporary duty at Camp McCoy, in Wisconsin. While there, I received orders for duty in Japan. After arriving in Japan, I was assigned to Dog Company, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.
On June 25, 1950, North Korean Forces invaded South Korea. Six days later a battalion of the 24th Infantry Division was rushed to Korea.
At the start of the war, the 7th had been stripped of all but a few trained men to fill in the units that were headed to the Pusan Perimeter. More than half of our units were replacements fresh from the States.
Reports were coming in that the early American troops sent to Korea were being annihilated, and more were needed. The three regiments, and all support units of the 7th were soon on their way.
In September the UN launched a counter-offensive with the 1st Marine Division and the 7th making an amphibious landing at Inchon, South Korea; thereby cutting off retreating North Korean troops. Our first real encounter with the enemy came in the mountainous area of Suwon. After several heavy encounters, our leaders assumed that the arrival of a second wave of UN Forces would convince the commanders of the NKPA to high tail it back north. They did, but left guerrillas units behind.
It was near the end of September, and the UN authorized the crossing of the 38th parallel. In mid-October, the 7th was pulled out of action and moved south to the huge, but overcrowded city of Pusan. Here we took on replacements. Plans were being drawn up for a landing in the North Korean heartland. The Tenth Corps, which consisted of the 7th and the 1st Marine Division, was to make an amphibious landing at Wonsan, North Korea. The Eighth Army was to attack along the western side of the peninsula, going through the North Korea capital of Pyongyang. This way we could isolate the NKPA units from their support; thereby forcing them to surrender.
On, or about, the 8th of October we reached Pusan. Two days later there was a change in the plans. General Almond decided to land the 7th further north—at Iwon. It was 105 miles northeast of Wonsan, in the enemy’s industrial region. We were then to proceed to the Yalu River—China’s border.
The division, with all its equipment, had been packed and loaded onto ships. Our LST set sail from Pusan on, or about, the 27th of October. We continued northward in the chilly, winter waters off the eastern coast. Finally, two days later we made our landing at Iwon, which was not as difficult as the Inchon landing.
As we landed, the 17th Regiment moved inland to take the city of Pungsan, while the 31st Regiment was to their left and in the division’s center. The 7th was to continue north striking through Pukchong on its way to Hysenjin—on the Yalu River. As we continued, morale was high and we still believed we would be home by Christmas.
By mid-November, elements of Tenth Corps had advanced to the Yalu with the orders, “under no circumstances were we to cross the Yalu River.” By now the bitter North Korean winter was moving in on us, and we were hearing rumors of a tremendous build up of NKPA troops, along with the Chinese Peoples Army. Word came down that this was just a “save face” maneuver. However, our daily patrols began to report an estimated million Chinese Peoples Army had amassed along the border; however, they only seemed to have manpower and no equipment.
It was Thursday, November 23, 1950—Thanksgiving Day—and we were treated to a turkey dinner, with all the trimmings. The next day or so, my unit along with two heavy weapons squads of Company D were assigned to Capt. Charles Peckham’s Baker Company. We received orders to advance to the Chosin Reservoir, not knowing the Chinese had already crossed the border. Prior to this, the Marines, and some ROK troops, had captured some Chinese soldiers—in their padded uniforms and wearing tennis shoes.
The 27th of November would bring the first of many Chinese attacks around the reservoir. They had thrown seven divisions around the reservoir and set up eleven roadblocks between Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri. And most of the bridges had been destroyed.
We moved out for Hamhung, where we received supplies and replacements. Around noon on the twenty-eighth we headed for Koto-ri, which was the location of the 1st Marine Division’s CP. Arriving during the evening, we were tired and nervous, we tried to get some rest—in the bitter cold—without success.
For the second day in a row, the temperature hit twenty degrees below zero, and we weren’t equipped for this kind of weather. I was wearing two pair pants, two shirts, and a field jacket—I still froze. Our C-rations were frozen, and we didn’t stop long enough to thaw them out. Also, the extreme cold made out leather gloves so stiff the fingers wouldn’t bend. So, I only wore the wool inserts to keep my hands from freezing to any metal part of my weapon.
On the 29th of November, we became part of Task Force Drysdale, which was named for Lt. Colonel Douglas B. Drysdale—the commander of the British 41 Independent Commando, Royal Marines. It consisted of 235 men of the Royal Marines, 205 men of the U.S. Marines (Capt. Sitter’s George Company), 190 men of the 31st Infantry Regiment (Capt. Peckham’s Baker Company), and approximately 82 U.S. Marines that included clerks, MP’s, truck drivers and Navy Corpsman. The task force total 712 men, plus armor support. It’s mission—to cut through the Chinese forces along the ten-to-fourteen mile road between Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri.
General Smith had ordered Colonel Chesty Puller to hold Hagaru-ri. Puller’s Marines had their hands full defending the perimeter of Koto-ri.
At 0945 hours on the 29th of November, as a mist hung over the snow covered countryside, Task Force Drysdale moved northward. Behind the British Commandos was Baker Company. We were huddled-up in the trucks with our heads buried in our field jackets to protect us from the biting cold. Not hearing the small arms fire at first, suddenly mortar rounds began to fall, and then came the machine gun fire.
Quickly the drivers slammed on their brakes and the trucks came to a sliding stop on the icy road. Our truck came to a stop—on a narrow road—just as a grenade landed in the trucks bed, near my feet. Without thinking, I quickly grabbed it and threw it out of the truck. We bailed out, diving for a ditch along the side of the road. It really wasn’t a ditch, more like a low place between a railroad embankment on one side and the roadbed on the other.
The Chinese began lobbing mortar shells on us, along with raking the ditch banks with machine gun fire. We fought Chinese attacks throughout all hours of the night. However, due to distance, terrain, and other circumstances, we had no communication. So, neither the front nor rear of the convoy knew the middle of the column had been cut off. Those in the middle were us (Baker Company), some of the British Commandos, some Marines from the service and support units, and a detachment of Marine MP’s.
As darkness set in we came under increasing enemy fire, and casualties continued to mount. We stacked the bodies around our speedily formed perimeter; the freezing temperature wasn’t helping either. We tried to get our vehicles turned around and head back to Koto-ri, but we were unsuccessful.
I received my first wound on the twenty-ninth; a shrapnel wound to my left arm. It wasn’t a serious wound, so I got it cared for and refused to go to Koto-ri. I returned to my squad and shortly thereafter received a shrapnel wound to my right leg. By this time the fighting was bad and one of the guys standing next to me was shot in the forehead, with the bullet embedding itself in his helmet.
When I went to the aid station, I found the corpsmen were too busy treating the more seriously wounded, so I returned to my position. About 2100 hours, on the twenty-ninth, the gunner sergeant from my squad jumped down from his weapon and refused a direct order, from Capt. Peckham, to return to his weapon. In front of the vehicle, the sergeant got down on his hands and knees, and started praying.
Without success the captain tried to find someone to take over the rifle, so I volunteered to do it. During the fighting, I received shrapnel wounds to my left leg and bullet wounds to my right leg and arm. With what was left of the 75mm recoilless rifle crew, they continued to fire at the enemy mortar flashes. Just as I finished reloading the rifle, I was hit above my eye—not getting a chance to fire it.
Hell Fire Valley, which was about one mile long and had very little cover, was the scene of an all night fight.
Ahead of us about fifty-to-one-hundred yards, were the remnants of Drysdale’s Commandos, who were getting cut to pieces. Under the cover of darkness, the Chinese would make those nerve wracking screeches on their damn whistles and bugles, and then the onslaught would begin. They came in wave after wave, and the killing was furious. The Chinese climbed over the bodies of their own fallen men.
We shot down a whole line of them, only to have another line behind them. The second line had no weapons, so they stopped just long enough to pick up a weapon from a fallen comrade.
We had no weapon larger than the 75mm recoilless rifle. However, we did have 60 and 80mm mortars, but no shells. Our ammo was running low and we had no way of getting air support. You’ve got to understand what it feels like to be in combat and not have enough ammunition, or a weapon that doesn’t work. That feeling is—helplessness.
Major John McLaughlin had assumed command of the ill-fated segment of the task force. By 0200 hours, on the thirtieth, his men were out of grenades and they were completely surrounded. As our guns lay silent, the major walked down the line of quiet men. He informed us that the Chinese had captured a G.I. and sent him back to tell us that if we didn’t surrender in fifteen minutes, they would wipe us out.
The major asked the men what they wanted to do. If we said stay and fight—he would fight. After some debate, few of the men wanted to hold out until daylight when our planes would come back. However, the Chinese were so close our planes could not strike them without hitting us. With most of the men wounded, and the temperature dipping to twenty below zero, we were in dire need of medical care and shelter. Major McLaughlin had no choice—surrender.
He went away and a few minutes later, all along the railroad bank and across the narrow road—and even the hills beyond—the Chinese stood up. They were as close as thirty feet of our perimeter.
The Chinese were not familiar with our 75mm recoilless rifle. Earlier I had reloaded the rifle and before I was able to fire it, I was hit in the forehead; therefore, it was still loaded. One of the Chinese soldiers pulled the trigger, and the four officers standing at the rear of the rifle completely disintegrated from the back-blast. Even though I was wounded, bleeding, and half conscious, I had the urge to smirk at our captor’s.
There was a young soldier lying on the ground, next to me, who had half of his stomach blown away from a mortar round. As he cried, and screamed for help, the Chinese rolled him off the road to die.
After our capture, the wounded were ordered to board trucks. We thought we were being returned to our lines as requested by the major in the terms of the surrender. We soon found out that the Chinese had no intention of honoring such an agreement. They quickly herded all 143 of us into some farm houses. As I regained consciousness, my head, arm, and legs were in pain as if some one was sticking me with a hot pin. What I did not consider was the possibility that for the next thirty-two months and twenty days, I would be fighting just to survive.
I don’t know how long we stayed here, but I’ve been told it was for one day and one night. When morning came, we were fed one can of corn for every five men; then we were herded outside for our miserable, unforgettable death march to our first prison camp at Kanggye, North Korea.
We marched back down to the road where we had fought in Hell Fire Valley. Many of the wounded were still there—slowly dying. Some of the prisoners took blankets from the trucks to cover their fallen comrades. The dead were still lying in the road, and in the ditch, where they had fallen—rigid from death and cold. Bodies of hundreds of dead Americans, and Chinese soldiers littered the frozen ground; the carnage around us was unbelievable. As we continued past this site, we crossed the road and moved out onto a frozen stream. Here we were forced to stand—on the ice—for hours before moving north.
We marched northwest towards P’Yongyang-Manojin railroad, and a place called Kanggye, which was roughly sixty-to-seventy air miles from where we were ambushed. Traveling mostly at night to avoid detections by allied aircraft, we covered a distance of 120-150 miles in nineteen days.
During the march we witnessed several deaths due to wounds, frozen feet, exposure to the weather, and from the hands of the guards. We received no medical care and were fed boiled sorghum, and on one occasion a cold rice ball. Dysentery had become prevalent by the time we reached our destination.
For hours we marched until we stopped at a farm house that was located deep in the mountains. This is where we were stripped of all our personal belongings, pictures, wallets, ID cards, jackets and or overcoats. The only item I was able to keep were my dog tags, which I had taped together around my neck.
During the seventh or eighth day of our march, we were turned over to North Korean soldiers. They were given the assignment of escorting us to our final destination, and they were capable of and willing—to kill us. As we marched through the villages, the North Korean locals would come running out of their huts, and throw rocks at us. There was not one of us who went un-tortured.
Those too weak to continue, or didn’t have the willpower, were left behind with a guard. We would hear gunshots and the guard, or guards, left behind soon returned to the group. I was very fortunate during our march to have been helped by an American Marine and a British Marine. They carried and dragged me over some of the most rugged mountain trails in North Korea. If it had not been for these valiant men, I surely would have died.
Our Chinese and North Korean guards gave no special considerations for the wounded; we were carried, or dragged, by other prisoners or just limped along as best as we could. I vividly recall the brutality that we suffered, men being pushed off the snow covered mountain trails, and being kicked and beaten with rifle butts. Many died, or were killed, on this march; we all had a sense of imminent death.
Finally, after nineteen days of marching, we reached our stopping place. It was located near the village of Kanggye, which was southeast of the Yalu and north of Chonch-on. It at least had some shelter to guard us from the cold, biting winds. This camp was used mostly as an interrogation center; from there we were sent to other camps along the Yalu.
Upon our arrival, we were taken to a hut—on the edge of the village—and the locals were moved into one room and we crowded into the other. When some of the prisoners took off their boots for the first time, after reaching the camp, the skin from their feet came off with their boots. A guy by the name of Skinner, from Baker Company, lost his toes from both of his feet.
We were divided into squads and housed in Korean homes, which were made of mud and had no heat. They packed twenty-plus men into rooms that were roughly eight feet by eight feet. Since the homes had no heat, we huddled together to keep warm.
During the first few days we were so tired, and beaten, we hardly moved. We reached from underneath our jackets to get food the Chinese had poured into our ration cans. Those who had no cans used their caps. They fed us boiled sorghum, bean curd, etc...
After a few days, they moved us to the north end of town. Being divided into two companies, we again were housed in civilian homes. I was in a group with eight-to-ten Army personnel. The room next to ours consisted of about six or so Marines and one Navy Corpsman. Then we were informed that we would go through a period of schooling—to educate us on the true political situation in the world. After learning this, and to our captors’ satisfaction, we would be returned home.
A record was kept on every man, including a photo ID. Their interrogations seemed to be more economic than military. We soon found ourselves arguing with the Chinese over the amount of our income, or the social status of our families. The Chinese seemed to be pleased, and less likely to argue, after we made a downward revision to our economic and social status. We started making up stories about having little to eat as children, and after our parents bought food they had no money to buy clothes; these stories seemed to please our Chinese captors.
By now the camp had grown to roughly 325 men, all suffering from wounds, the bitter cold, and malnutrition. The group consisted of men from the 41 Independent Commandos, some Puerto Rican soldiers of the 65th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division; however, the largest group was made up of soldiers from the 1st Marine Division and the 7th Infantry Division. Some of the prisoners had been captured before we were.
The Chinese began their campaign to capture our minds. It was Christmas Eve and they decorated a barn with wreaths, candles, two Christmas trees, and even put up a sign bearing the cheerful inscription, “Merry Christmas.” They also hung posters asking questions like, “Who is responsible for you being away from your wives and families at Christmas time?” Another one 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 these were amusing.
Each of us was given a handful of peanuts, six or seven pieces of hard candy, and six Chinese cigarettes. We sat on the earthen floor—for a while—before the Chinese officials walked to a stage and sat down. One of them got up and talked for two hours, in Chinese; not one of us understood a word he said. After he sat down, an interpreter stood up and, in English, repeated everything the first guy said. However, he first started by welcoming us to the peace camp of the Chinese Volunteers and how lucky we were to have been liberated by them; we were lucky because they had a lenient policy towards all people they liberated. He went on to tell us that our captors did not have to treat us well because no war had been declared by the U.S. and China, or the U.S. and North Korea. The more he spoke, the more resentful we became.
After his speech, a British soldier was picked out to lead the group in signing. Pausing for a moment, he launched into “God Save the King.” Before the Chinese could understand what was happening, one of his fellow Marines warned him, so he quickly changed to “Roll out the Barrel.”
We were soon to learn what their “lenient policy” entailed. It simply stated calculated leniency for cooperation; harassment in return for neutrality; brutality in return for resistance.
The camps high ranking official made it known to us they had planned a party for us on Christmas. They gave us a pork stew and white rice, which was the first meat meal we had since being captured. It was very good until we thought about the holiday meal our troops, in South Korea were being served, and then ours wasn’t that enjoyable.
After Christmas we were marched to the barn, two or three times a week, for these brainwashing lectures. Our senior officer, Major McLaughlin, who was in direct opposition of the Chinese, began to establish communication with all our scattered groups. During our barn meetings, he was able to give instructions, advice, and encouragement to all the men. His advice was always followed, and undoubtedly saved us from many hardships that we otherwise might have had to endure.
We continued this routine until about the 3rd of March, 1951, when we were suddenly shoved outside and marched from camp—to the town of Kanggye. Here some 290 men were loaded into boxcars for a two day journey to a place near Somidong—somewhere northwest of P’Yongyang. We only traveled at night and during the day we hid in tunnels, so we would not be detected my allied aircraft.
Three days after our arrival, we were all placed in a schoolhouse and told we would be split into two groups. The first group, which included sixty of us, without any explanation would be returned to the south. The second group, which consisted of the remaining 230 men including Major McLaughlin, was taken back north.
After leaving the larger group, we sixty men marched for about five weeks—covering about 300 air miles. We finally reached a point in the vicinity of Wonsan, North Korea; based on information obtained from the local civilians.
However, along the way two U.S. Marines became sick. One, an African-American named Leon Roebuck, died on March 12, 1951 from what appeared to be peritonitis. Using only our hands to dig his grave, we buried him in the middle of nowhere. The second Marine, having been carried for several days by Andrew “Chief” Aquirre, had become so sick the Chinese left him with the locals—he was never seen again. My shoes were beginning to fall apart to the point I was holding them together with rags, or what ever material I could find; so, the Chinese gave me Leon Roebuck’s shoes to wear. We continued southwest through the rugged mountains of north central Korea, passing through Tokchon, Yangkok, and Majon-ni.
After leaving Majon-ni, on the 5th of April, 1951, we arrived at a temporary camp that was located in a village deep in a valley that could only be reached by foot. Seven days later, our group of fifty-eight would be split into two groups; one of twenty-eight, and thirty in the other.
From the group of thirty, the Chinese picked eighteen U.S. Marines and one Army soldier to be released. These nineteen were marched south a few miles, stopped, fed well, given pamphlets of peaceful aims of the Chinese, surrender leaflets that they were to hand to their comrades when they caught up with them, then they were released.
The remaining men were brought back north where they rejoined our group. The four Marines that returned were, Sergeants Mathis and Roberts, Cpl. Aquirre, and PFC Daniel Yesko. It was during this time that many of us began to physically suffer more. My wounds had begun to bother me, and from the knees down my legs were in excruciating pain. During the nights the pain became more intense, so I got very little sleep.
We arrived at a deserted village after several days of moving around, and dodging allied planes. Here, the Chinese removed a sergeant and a private from our group, which we didn’t view as much of a loss. Ever since our capture, both of these guys were suspected of ratting guys out to our captors; these two were favorites of the Chinese. They received better treatment, and always had cigarettes. No one trusted these two.
Near the end of May 1951, we met approximately two-hundred American soldiers that had been captured a month earlier around Seoul. Most of them belonged to the 24th and 25th Infantry Division’s.
Roughly ten days later, the Chinese moved our group away from the other’s and marched us toward the Hwachon Reservoir. They marched us until August, then we were taken to a village where we stayed for about a month; then we moved again, heading back north. At our next stop they moved Ray Hikida from our group; we didn’t see him again until the end of the war.
Next, we headed to a place called “The Mining Camp,” which was near P’Yongyang. This is were the Chinese collected prisoners and when they had a large group, would walk them to various camps lining the Yalu River. While here we met some newly captured prisoners; their clothes looked fairly new, not torn or ragged like ours. They kept their distance and looked at us suspiciously, as if they didn’t care for us. However, they began to warm up to us after they found out how long we had been captured.
We never had problems with the dispensing of food until now. Being in such a large group, it had become dog-eat-dog. A lot of the new prisoners still had their canteens, and canteen cups. When the guard left the food container on the floor, it was chaos with the newer guys filling their cups. Us older ones didn’t stand a chance; our cups would only hold about a fourth of the canteen cups. Many of the prisoners, especially the wounded, got nothing to eat.
Daniel Martinez, a staff sergeant from Dog Company, 31st Infantry Regiment, immediately took charge of the group. He asked how many didn’t get anything to eat that morning—several prisoners raised their hands. Continuing on, he told us that we were all soldiers and still in the military, but some had forgotten this and were acting like animals. He told us that when the afternoon food arrived, everyone would line up in orderly fashion and two guys would dish out the food. And that he, the two guys, and a group standing behind him, would see that everyone received an equal share—no one challenged him.
Allied planes had wrecked havoc on Chinese supplies, so now our food ration consisted of course, brown flour that we mixed with water to make a mush which provided no nourishment and was almost inedible. Due to supplies being low we formed a work detail and twice a week traveling at night, walked roughly twenty-five miles to obtain food.
Being forced to carry fifty pound sacks of grain back to camp on our shoulders caused some to fake illness; thereby, placing a bigger burden on the rest of us. Each time we stopped at these temporary camps for more than three days, about ten-to-fifteen of us were singled out for these food runs.
In August of 1951, our temporary camp was a North Korean farm about one-hundred miles south of Kanggye. The farm was occupied by a family of four, the husband, wife, son and daughter-in-law. Their house was an average Korean home that had three rooms. Our Chinese guards took two of them, one for the officers, and the other for the seriously ill prisoners and our two officers. The rest of us slept outside, on the ground, in the cattle stalls, which in itself wasn’t bad—away from the bugs, lice, and smell.
One day the husband killed a deer and he skinned and quartered it as we watched. As he quartered it, he would cut off pieces and throw them to his small dog; the rest he put away. As the family gathered in their room that evening with the door opened, some of us fantasized about how that deer would taste. The husband walked to the door looking around outside; he then returned and resumed eating his deer. Several times he would cut off a piece and throw it at us. It’s hard to believe how low we had come in order to survive.
During September 1951, as we were being marched north, we saw hundreds of Chinese soldiers moving to the rear, but only a handful of North Korean soldiers. Finally, after marching for several days, we stopped in a large valley that we named AWOL Valley. It was here that nine of us attempted to escape, only to be recaptured, beaten, and bound for long periods of time. This place was infested with fleas.
While at AWOL Valley, we were joined by several American prisoners who had been captured during late spring, or early summer. We also saw fellow prisoners being mistreated, some with their hands tied behind their backs, others had their wrist tied and hung from poles or anything else available. It was still September and our group was again marched north to the city of P’Yongyang—one of the most miserable, and unforgettable prisoner of war camps in all of North Korea.
The city was a complete wreck when we arrived. Allied aircraft had reduced their industry to rubble. And the smell of death hung in the air as it clung to your skin—as though something was crawling on you. Graves lined the hillside by the hundreds; graves that were so shallow, arms and legs protruded from the earth. Men were so sick they couldn’t care for the dead, and dying. Bodies remained where they had died, inside and outside their cells with nothing to cover them. The filth is indescribable. The smell inside the huts, and cells was unbelievable. Everywhere one looked he saw horrible things.
We left this place around the 12th of October, and I was never so glad to leave a place in all my life; again we marched north. As we traveled during the night, the roads were congested with Chinese soldiers, trucks, and pack animals headed south—to the front lines.
As we journeyed on, one of our English speaking Chinese captors—Wong—wore a black arm-band on his sleeve, so we called him the “Black Arm Bandit.” Wong pushed several prisoners off the trail during our march. He was the one who did the punishing at our next camp.
Now malnutrition was beginning to take its toll on us. We were now down to one meal a day, which was mainly a very small portion of millet. All of us were suffering from very painful muscle deterioration; this is when one’s muscles would stiffen up, causing first mild then extreme pain from the tip of our toes to the tops of our heads.
The Chinese said we had been spotted by American planes, so we stopped in a tunnel. Due to the heavy smoke from the train, we almost suffocated. Since our train had been spotted, we were forced to march the rest of the way. During our march, we were strafed several times by allied aircraft.
As we neared the end of our march, we saw many Russian trucks. We then marched into the city of Sinuiju, North Korea—I believe this was the name of the city. The locals lined the road to see us, spit on us, throw rocks at us, and even tried to hit and kick us. Our Chinese guards did their best to protect us from the locals.
When we approached the outskirts of the city, we passed by some Russian manned ack-ack batteries; the Russians gave us some bread.
On, or around, the 25th of October 1951, we arrived at Camp One after a thirteen day journey. The camp was located in the town of ChangSong, North Korea, which was about thirty miles northeast of Sinuiju. When we arrived, I remember seeing American prisoners locked in dark, stinking cells for solitary confinement. These men had been placed there due to an infraction of camp rules, or they had gone insane from the pain or infection of their wounds. Our captors had crudely removed bullets, amputated limbs, and then placed these men in solitary confinement for months—to live or die.
Upon our arrival, it was bitter cold and our Chinese guards kept us standing around for hours, so we could be assigned living quarters. We registered at the Guard Headquarters the next day, then we were placed in squads and huts in the seventh compound. Here they placed ten-to-twenty men to a room. Our room had a dirt floor and the walls plastered with mud. Compared to other living arrangements—this was much better.
The housing arrangements was that of a typical Korean home, straw roof, mud walls, paper windows (in doors only), and an earthen floor kitchen that had an old black kettle for cooking and heating water. Even though the rooms weren’t very large, there was enough room to lie down, and stretch out. In one wall was an opening that served as a window; however, instead of glass, it had a piece of light brown paper glued to the inside of the opening, and it let through very little light. When it turned colder, our breath caused condensation on the paper making it wet and when the wind blew, it would tear. All prisoners had the same kind of room—cold and drab.
Our compound consisted of approximately two-hundred American soldiers and Marines, who were starving and suffering from their wounds and other illnesses. The first week here, we were given a blanket—the first since being captured—for every two men. Located to our south was another compound that was separated from us by a barbed wire fence. It contained the same number of prisoners as us, and they were in the same condition.
Running through the center of camp was the main road that was used as the main supply route. On several occasions our planes strafed Chinese trucks as they used the road. During these strafing’s several of our men were wounded, including Roy Farley who received a shrapnel wound to his foot. There were no markers indicating this town was being used as a POW camp, so our pilots had no idea we were there. We finally were able to get the Chinese to put up a marker—six months, or so, later.
From the time of our capture, we had experienced near-starvation on several occasions. At least here we were getting two small meals a day. The food, which was mostly consisted of barley and millet, was brought to us in a bucket and served to us like pigs. One day we happened to find a dead chicken, and cooked it, not caring how rotten or diseased it was; everyone in my squad tried to get a piece of that cooked meat.
If we had to go to the latrine, which was located about ten feet behind the huts, we would be challenged by the guards in front and back of the huts; they stayed with us until we returned to our room. We soon learned that their eyes were also bad at night—from night blindness—that was caused by the lack of nutrients. Night blindness varied from a small dot, to total blindness; I could not see anything at night. If we had to go to the latrine during the night, we had to be led by the hand. What a sight! A line of grown men holding hands as they went to the toilet.
It was my 20th birthday, and my friends surprised me with a small dish of food prepared from small bits that they had stolen from local farmers, after a day’s labor in the hills. This is a birthday I shall never forget.
Here, the Chinese performed operations, removed bullets, amputated limbs and toes, without the use of anesthetic. During the winter of 1951-52, I remember one of our fellow prisoners—Red Campbell—feet was frozen so badly he could not walk. The Chinese amputated the toes on both of his feet with an old pair of scissors. After which, they gave him no medication for the pain, or infection. When they finished cutting off his toes, they turned him loose in the compound; he ran around—screaming in pain—on his bloody, swollen, and blackened feet. He went out of his mind, and was no longer able to recognize anyone in the compound. The Chinese moved him to another location, and we never saw him again.
Once again they started their brainwashing classes. A Chinese officer, who spoke English, would go to each hut with newspapers from Shanghai and Peking, which were printed in English. Articles in these newspapers were mainly about how the United States and the United Nations were to blame for what was happening in Korea. Even the interrogations started again; harassment, deception, and writing personal histories were some of the techniques they used. They would come and get us at odd hours of the day, wake us from our sleep at night, or take us during meal time for interviews.
For disobeying an order, one would have to write a self-criticizing confession. If you refused, you would be interrogated and, or, have to stand at attention for hours—at night. One guy from our group was put in a dug-out for a month—or longer—for back talking a Chinese officer.
Needless to say, we hated these damn lectures and discussions. They lasted from six-to-eight hours a day; even longer if they weren’t getting what they called the right answers. Nearly after a month of negative results, they gave up and started smaller study groups—consisting of volunteers. [Two men from Jack’s compound refused to return home after the war. Even though Jack mentions them, the author refuses to recognize them with the brave men and women mentioned in this book, and along with those who served.]
In early spring of 1951, several of us got together and formed what we called “True American” better known to the Chinese as “Reactionaries.” Even though we were still located in the seventh compound, we helped plan escapes.
We went on work details during the day and carried what food we could spare, into the hills and hide it. We helped gather whatever items we would need for anyone willing to escape, and provided a distraction for the guards. Unfortunately, there was no successful escape from Camp One. However, a Marine named Flores who had been captured at Chosin was gone the longest—that I knew of. He was recaptured by a Soviet anti-aircraft unit.
In April 1952, the Chinese informed us that we would be marching in a May Day Parade that would go through the center of ChangSong. We passed the word around, to those we could trust, not to march in the parade—everyone agreed.
We had been issued blue summer uniforms a week before the parade. The uniform consisted of a light-weight, shirt type jacket and baggy trousers. This was the first time we had been issued any clothing since our capture; they also gave us a hair-cut and shave.
Somehow we had managed to write the letters POW on the back of our new jackets, and hid them until the day of the parade. Our plan was for no one to move after we had been lined up, but before we could carry it out a progressive ran and told the Chinese our plans. We were all herded together and once again told about their leniency policy.
It was now May 1, 1952 and the Chinese herded us onto the main road for the parade. We were all dressed in our new blue uniforms when they noticed the letters POW on the backs of our jackets—they were very upset. They lectured us about destroying clothes that Chinese people had made. When they began to assemble us into formation, except for a couple of guys, everyone in my squad sat down and refused to move. After getting us back in formation, we again sat down. Now they forgot about their “lenient treatment” and started pushing us around; they proceeded to tell us what would happen to us if we didn’t obey—still no one moved.
They began to scream, and pull each one of us to our feet. After getting some to their feet, others would set down. Finally, a Chinese officer who was in charge, called for more guards; now they brutally forced us to walk down the main streets—with kicks and shoves.
When the parade was over, they herded us together again lecturing us on their “lenient policy.” They went on to tell us we would be severely punished if we continued to act this way. The progressive who told on us was kept under guard, at the Chinese headquarters, for several days for his own protection. When he returned to our compound, he was badly beaten by members of our group. After this, it was rumored he was given a knife to protect himself.
We labored in the mountains, cutting timber. Then we had to carry the logs for miles down the mountains, with two and sometimes three-or-four guys to a log. The wood was used for fuel, to cook with, and by the Chinese.
Some of us, at the south end of camp, were often taken to a Korean farm where we had to grind grain. The farmer had an ox-powered mill, but no ox. Thereby, we had to take turns turning the grinder—round and round.
* * * * * *
During August 1952, Company Seven was broken up and several of us were transferred to Company Four, which was located at the north end of ChangSong. Daniel Yesko, Bill Carter, Bobby Gene Rains, along with several others were moved to another camp, further north.
While here everyone suffered from dysentery and beriberi. Also, there were cases of malaria, jaundice, and bone fever. Many men would just lie down and stare into space, refuse to eat, until they were found dead; it was easier to die, than live. One of our friends refused to eat, so we told him, “Just go ahead and die. We will help your wife spend your insurance money when we get out of here.” This made him mad, and he pulled out of it.
For a short period of time, in Camp One, we had a Chinese woman doctor, who was about thirty years old and spoke English. She helped several GI’s and British prisoners, then one day she disappeared from camp; no one ever knew what became of her. Instead of ending up in “boot hill,” outside of Camp One, a lot of men were able to return home because of her.
After our arrival, and until we were released, at Camp Four a few of us paraded around pretending to be playing imaginary instruments; or taking our imaginary dogs for a walk. One day a friend, Bob Blewitt, told one of the guards that my imaginary dog bit him on the leg. Not understanding a word that Bob was saying, he called for an English speaking officer. After the officer arrived, Bob explained to him that my dog bit him. The officer wanted to know what dog? Bob said, “There he is, can’t you see him?” Before the officer could answer, Bob yelled out, “Jack, don’t let your dog piss on him.” Quickly the officer grabbed his pant leg, and we broke up laughing. The Chinese soon informed us we could no longer have dogs in the compound. They thought all of us were crazy.
With winter coming we were issued a blue cotton padded jacket, pants, an overcoat, and a pair of padded tennis shoes. They were warm; however, we wore them all through the winter without ever washing them. Needless to say, when spring arrived they were so filthy and stunk so badly, we could hardly stand them.
* * * * * *
The Chinese were very skillful in their torturing of us. One of their favorites was to have us stand at attention while holding our arms straight out—for hours. If we dropped them, they would strike our arms. Then they would have us sit for hours, at attention, on our little stools that after a while became very miserable. There were also many instances of individual brutality, solitary confinement, beatings, being exposed to the cold, and to have our food and water withheld.
There were two kinds of confinement; one that restricted you to a small area with other prisoners and the other was in individual cells. The cells measured approximately two-and-a-half feet by five feet, and had earthen floors with no bedding. Your only companions were the friendly rats.
Before one was placed in solitary confinement, he was tried by a so-called “Kangaroo Court” for alleged crimes against the Chinese and or local civilians. After spending a couple of months in confinement, one resembled someone out of the caveman days with shaggy beards and a long coarse mess of hair. Our skin was pitted from digging for lice, or any other bug and our walk was unsteady.
They often tied our hands to our feet with rope, or whatever material that was available. Whatever they used, they tied it so tight it would cut off your circulation, or cut into your skin; causing one to loose consciousness. With temperatures dipping below twenty degrees, some prisoners were marched barefooted onto a frozen river and at the same time had water poured over their feet.
One day I was pulled from morning formation and was made to stand at attention in front of the compound until late in the afternoon; I was given no food or water. However, one of my friends brought me some food and water, but the guard confiscated it and threw it on the ground.
* * * * * *
In 1951, the subject of bacteriological (germ) warfare was nothing new in the Korean War. At times the Chinese came to our huts making us cover our mouths, as the U.S. was using germ warfare. They claimed that the U.S. Air Force had dropped diseased flies, fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and spiders.
Needless to say, there is very little humor in the daily routine of a POW camp. However, there at times when schemes are developed to antagonize our captors and to help maintain our sanity. One played into the Chinese’s paranoia of germ warfare.
Two American officers made a tiny parachute and drew the Air Force insignia on it. Then a dead mouse was attached to the shroud lines, and hung on a bush for the Chinese to find. The guard who found it screamed so loud, it brought the camp officials running. One of the guards, using tongs, carefully removed the mouse from the bush, placing it in a glass container. As proof of their theory about the U.S. using germ warfare, the container was put on exhibit in a nearby school. The Chinese never realized they were the butt of what the whole camp thought was a hilarious practical joke.
* * * * * *
When the Chinese took over ChangSong so they could use the town as a POW camp, they ran the Korean families into the surrounding hills. Many of these families were friendly to us, giving us tobacco, and other useful items. The Chinese never knew about this.
* * * * * *
The Chinese took one of the classroom buildings in our compound and turned it into a club house. During an argument between a couple of prisoners and the chairman of the so called “Peace Committee,” threats were made to burn down the club. The chairman said if anyone tried, they would be confined. Needless to say, a few nights later, the club house was set on fire. Immediately, the two men who had argued with the chairman were singled out and placed in solitary confinement—on a water diet. Even though these were the wrong two guys, they were removed from our compound. To this day, very few men know who set the building on fire.
Following this incident, I and several others were harassed for several weeks by the Chinese. We were taken from our huts to the guard headquarters to be interrogated. During one of these sessions, I was shown a signed statement from another prisoner, which listed my name along with several others involved in undesirable activities. They told me that if I provided a written statement about my, and others, activities that I would not be harmed. After three hours of denying any knowledge of these activities, I was taken back to my hut.
Several nights later, I was taken back to the guard headquarters. This time they offered me cigarettes as they explained they had more statements about my activities. However, they told me if I would give them a written statement they would forget about the incident. Again, after three hours of silence, they took me back to my hut.
During formation the following morning, I was made to stand at attention in the corner of a building that had a low ceiling—I stood there all day. As I continued standing there, my legs and back ached so bad I wanted to cry. However, I wasn’t going to give in and let them see me in pain. Boy was I relieved when I was allowed to return to my hut and sit down.
* * * * * *
In March of 1953, the Chinese started giving us better food as the Peace Talks seemed to be going fairly well. In April an exchange of sick prisoners took place; this was called Operation Little Switch. Approximately 6000 Chinese and North Koreans prisoners were exchanged for approximately six-hundred Allied personnel, which included one-hundred forty-nine Americans. Among the prisoners released from our compound, I knew David Ludlum, James Coogan, and Virgil Kaver.
This exchange of prisoners was great news; we had lived for the day when we would hear those words, and our hopes grew that the rest of us would soon be released. We were assembled in the compound on July 27, 1953 and told that an armistice had been signed at Panmunjan; we all shouted, hollered, and cried—we knew we would soon be going home.
After hearing this great news, we were allowed to visit other compounds in our camp, and visit our old friends for the first time since our arrival. Roughly a week before the exchange started, we received our first Red Cross package. Each prisoner was issued a carton of cigarettes, a comb, a razor, and a bar of soap. These were good old American cigarettes. Not being allowed to see or talk with any member of the Red Cross, all items were given to the Chinese, who then passed them on to us.
* * * * * *
Operation Big Switch began on August 5th, and with the exchange in process we saw trucks with prisoners from camps up north pass through our camp every day. We waved to these men as they headed south.
I saw friends of mine leaving everyday and I began to wonder when my name would be called. As the Chinese read off a list of names, those men boarded trucks and headed south—to freedom. Everyday I said good-bye to friends as they left.
Still my name had not been called, as Camp One was becoming deserted. Those of us still remaining began to fear we were not going to be released. Finally, some of us were told that we would never return home; we would be staying in Korea.
About two weeks later a member of the International Red Cross came to Camp One asking to see some American prisoners. Apparently, a British soldier had informed them that some of us were still being held here.
On the morning of August 18th, the remaining prisoners—including myself—of Camp One were told we would be leaving for Panmunjon. We boarded two trucks for our journey south, to freedom. Needless to say, we were all very happy that the International Red Cross had intervened or who knows when we would have been released—if ever.
As we headed south we passed many trucks headed north carrying Chinese and North Korean prisoners. They were all standing up in the back of the trucks and they were all rosy cheeked, hog jawed, and fatter than hell. After looking at my skinny arms and legs, I glanced at the guards seated in the back of our truck; we were nothing more than walking sticks.
One of our English speaking guards told us that the returning Chinese prisoners would have to be re-educated before returning to China. They would also have to be re-brainwashed before seeing their families, because the United States had warped their minds.
Just north of Freedom Village we stopped at the release point and our guards jumped from the trucks, and tried to shake our hands; we told them to go to hell. Soon, our own troops arrived, opened the gates, and said, “Welcome Home.”
As we headed to the exchange point, we began removing our prison clothing. An American MP informed us there were women present, so we were told to keep our pants on. They loaded us into ambulances for the remainder of our trip to Freedom Village. As soon as the Village came into sight, we all got a lump in our throats and tears in our eyes. We were met by a chaplain, who led us in prayer.
I was met by an American Lt. Colonel whose first words were, “Here comes the reactionaries.” He then asked me what I would like to have.
I replied, “A dish of ice cream.”
They took us to the Red Cross for refreshments, which consisted of ice cream, milk, coffee and cigars. This was all we could have, because we weren’t used to rich food; they told us a meal would be waiting.
We then were allowed to shower after which we were sprayed with DDT, given clean pajamas, and time to relax. Later, I looked at my first decent meal in thirty-three months—roast beef, peas, mashed potatoes, and a lettuce salad. After eating we had the opportunity to meet with newspapermen; however, it was strictly up to us if we wanted to meet with them.
After meeting with the press they issued us clean clothes and new boots. Having worn tennis shoes for about two years, it was comical walking in hard sole shoes. So, we had to learn to walk all over again. We were then taken to a helicopter pad and flown to Inchon. Landing at Inchon we were warmly greeted, fed a good supper, and assigned a clean bunk for the night. The following day we were given some back pay and allowed to shop at the Post Exchange.
On the morning of August 21st, we loaded onto buses and were taken to the pier. Here we boarded a ship for our voyage home.
* * * * * *
Upon our arrival at San Francisco, I hadn’t figured on anyone being there to meet me. As I disembarked—in my Class A uniform—and began to board the bus for Camp Stoneman, I heard my name called over the load speaker. The voice on the speaker said I had visitors. I was surprised—who would be meeting me? As I walked into the visitors area, I was shocked to see my youngest uncle and his wife, and a small child standing there crying, and my great aunt. My uncle and I hugged. For how long—I don’t know. He was crying, and I had tears in my eyes as well.
After my authorized leave was over, I reported to my new duty post—Fort Sill, Oklahoma—on October 9, 1953. At our new post, there was not one person who gave a damn about us; we were treated like outcasts. A week after our arrival, we were given our discharge papers.
* * * * * *
Fourteen months later I tried to re-enlist, but the Army turned me down—I failed their physical. However, I was accepted into the Air Force, and after fifteen and a half years I retired.