Cecil Phipps was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on May 20,1930. After high school, he worked at several jobs before enlisting in the US Army in 1950. He attended basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas, before being sent to Okinawa, Japan, shortly thereafter. On August 1, 1950, he was deployed to Korea, arriving on a Japanese fishing boat in Pusan where he was assigned to K Company, 35th Infantry Regiment. After being separated from friendly forces, he was captured as a POW by Chinese soldiers in November 1951. He spent the next thirty-three months in captivity at Camps Five and Three. On August 28, 1953, he was released at Panmunjeom and sent back to the US and was celebrated as he returned home to Iowa.
Cecil Phipps talks about his capture by Chinese soldiers, becoming a prisoner of war. He describes his initial three-day evasion and a fateful decision that led to his capture. He shares how he and seven fellow soldier were made to march north at night until they reached the Chinese border.
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Cecil Phipps talks about the Chinese buildings he was housed in as a POW. He describes how these dwellings were built and what materials were used in their construction. He details the heating system that was important for cold Asian winters.
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Life as a POW
Cecil Phipps talks about life as a POW. He describes Poyktong POW Camp (#5) and the harsh living conditions he lived through as prisoner, offering remarks about cold weather, starvation, lice infestation, and other diseases. He mentions he went from one hundred ninety pounds to seventy-five pounds during the first six months of his imprisonment.
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"Always Trying to Escape"
Cecil Phipps talks about a fellow soldier that attempted and failed several times to escape Camp #3. He describes how he tried to aid his friend and what happened when he was captured and returned.
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Cecil Phipps recalls his released from Chinese captivity on August 28, 1953, at Panmunjeom after thirty-three months as a POW. He describes the trip from Camp #3, taking several days by truck and train and spending a week in another POW camp, before finally reaching freedom at Panmunjeom.
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First Days of Freedom
Cecil Phipps talks about his first hours and days after his release as a POW. He describes being deloused, talking to military intelligence and reporters, and eating his first meal. He shares memories about his journey back to the United States by ship.
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[Beginning of Transcribed Material]
C: Cecil Phipps.
I: Do you have a middle name, Cecil?
I: Eldon? ELDON?
I: What’s your current address?
C: 1867 North Boulder Court, Casa Grande, Arizona.
I: Do you belong to a Korean War veterans’ chapter besides this Prisoners of War one?
I: Okay, just this one.
Is there a name for it? Do you have one, is it the National organization, or is it a local one?
C: Just this one.
Female Voice: It’s an Association.
Female Voice: Of ex-prisoners of war.
C: Korean War Ex-POW Association, I think.
I: Where were you born?
C: Fort Dodge, Iowa.
I: Your date of birth?
I: What’s your education?
C: High school.
I: What’d you do before you went into the service?
C: Oh, I worked at two or three different jobs. I trimmed trees, worked for a tree trimming company.
And I worked at Hormel’s packing plant in Fort Dodge for a while.
Female Voice: (INAUDIBLE)
I: Where else?
C: I worked at Rosedale Creamery. I worked there all through high school.
I: Were you drafted or enlisted?
C: I enlisted.
Female Voice: With your best friend.
C: Yes, my best friend.
I: And what branch of the military did you enlist?
I: Army. And what rank did you achieve?
I: When you enlisted originally, did you right away go to Korea?
C: No, I took basic training in Fort Riley, Kansas. My friend and I were separated during basic because he got sick and had to go to the hospital.
And so of course, he had to make up the time. So, they put him in a different company.
I: So, you went to basic training how many months?
C: Three months. And then I had a 30-day leave of absence. And then I went over to Okinawa actually. Then I was in Okinawa about a month.
And the War broke out. And then they started pulling all the people they could spare to ship to Korea.
I: So, right from Okinawa to Korea?
C: Yes. On a Japanese fishing boat.
I: With lots of other men?
C: Yes. We landed in Pusan/
I: Um hm.
C: Which was all the territory they had at that time.
I: Everybody was squeezed down.
I: So, you landed in Pusan.
C: Yeah. And I was assigned to K Company 35th Infantry. And I was with that company until I was captured.
I: Now you get to tell me what life’s like while you were there.
C: At one time when we were moving north, we had an accident. A truck rolled off of a bridge and down into a gulley. I was on that truck.
I: Did it just get hit or something that/
C: Well, I got thrown out of the truck and landed in a creek bed.
I: Did your truck get hit by
C: It was raining, and there was a bridge that they had just built to carry these trucks across. And it was muddy. And the truck just got too close to the edge, and it slid off. And so anyway, everybody on that truck was sent back to the first aid camp. And I was there about three days, and they were gonna reassign me to another company.
And I told them I’d just as soon go back to the company I was with. So, they said go ahead. So, I hitch hiked back to the base. Just maybe one of the dumber things I did. But that’s alright.
I: You obviously met up with them again?
C: Yes, I did.
I: How long did it take you to do that?
C: About two days.
I: Two days.
I: Two days of hitch hiking and
C: But I’d catch a ride with a truck that was going part way or whatever. And every time I’d see an outfit, I’d ask them where K35 was, they’d say well, it’s on over that way some place. So, I finally caught up with them.
I: What battles did you participate in?
C: I don’t know the names of the battles. I was busy holding the gun.
I: Just the towns? The what?
C: I was busy holding a gun. I don’t know the names of the battles.
C: But we walked basically all the way from Pusan to the Chinese border. We did do some leap frogging at one time which is they hauled a bunch of guys ahead, and they’d walk, and then the next batch they’d haul ahead, and then they’d walk.
So, it was quite a bit of that for a few days.
I: How long did that take you to get from Pusan to the Chinese border?
C: Till the 28th of November.
I: Okay. When did you get to Korea again?
C: August 1.
I: August, August, September, October, so it took you four months.
I: Wow. The weather must have been pretty warm.
C: Well, it was up till October and November. Then it started cooling down.
I: Yeah. Did you have the proper clothing and boots?
C: Summer issue.
I: Summer Issue. Summer issue boots and coats?
C: Boots, coats, the whole thing.
C: And a field jacket was the only jacket I had.
I: Oh boy. Were you hurt or wounded in any way at this point?
C: Not actually. They examined me at this first aid station.
And they said, well, you look like you’re alright. So, you can go on up to the front. But I landed on my knees in this creek, and I think that’s what started my knee problems. But there was never anything verified about that.
Female Voice: He’s had four knee replacements.
I: Oh. You think that all originated then?
I: Left knee, right knee?
I: Both knees. That’s from jumping out of those big trucks or something or
C: Probably when we went off the bridge, I suppose. Of course, there’s rocks in the creek.
I: Oh yeah, hit the truck or hit the creek bed. Wow. Did the other guys get hurt, too?
C: I don’t know. They took us all to the aid station. I don’t know what happened to any of them cause they split us all up in there.
And I didn’t see any of them again.
I: Describe the circumstances and the time that led to your capture.
C: Okay. We were on top of a mountain. And this is the period of time when the Chinese were coming across the border.
By the hundred thousands. And there was a company of Chinese coming up the trail towards where we were, and when they got close enough, the captain hollered fire, and so we opened up on them. And of course, they scattered and eventually surrounded the company, completely surrounded us. And the captain said, this is long toward evening,
And the captain said everybody head south. And so, we all started going south. And we had to fight our way through the perimeter the Chinese had closed around us. And when we got out of there, there was seven of us that were stuck together. And we were walking south at night.
We’d walk all night long over the mountains, mountain paths and ravines or whatever. And then we’d hide during the day. And we did this for three nights. We had no food to eat, and the water we drank was out of the streams.
And on the third night, we were getting kind of loopy in our thinking, you know, getting lightheaded and what have you, we decided it was too tough walking over the mountain pass, so we decided to get on the road. And we did. And we came to a village.
I: You became lightheaded from no food and stuff like that?
I: And exhaustion, right?
C: Um hm.
So, we came to this village and just walked in and no noise, nobody around. It was probably two or three in the morning, somewhere around there. And no dogs barking which if I’d have thought about it, you know, that’s a no no because every Korean village has a lot of dogs.
And they just raise cane when you come through, whether it’s day or night. But it didn’t really sink in that there was no dogs barking. And so, we walked on through the village and came out on the south end of the village and run into Chinese guards. And they had the south side guarded so that the Americans couldn’t sneak up on them.
They knew you were coming in from the other end. Anyway, they surrounded us, and we had a choice. We could surrender or get shot. So, we surrendered. And we stayed there for two or three days in that village. And they talked to us and tried to find out what outfit we were from and where we were headed for and all that kind of stuff.
And I just gave them my name, rank and serial number, and that’s all I was required to do. Anyway, they kept us there for two or three days. And then they started marching us north at night for probably a week, I don’t know how long.
I kind of lost track of time.
I: They only marched guys at night. Is that right?
C: Right. Nothing in the daytime. And if it got towards morning, they’d find a Korean house and run the Koreans out and put us in.
I: What was the reasoning for night, just to keep you hidden?
C: So that the airplanes wouldn’t see us. They were deathly afraid of the airplanes.
I: The American airplanes.
I: So, you can’t march.
C: Then they, we marched north for a week or so. I have no idea how much ground we covered.
But a guy at one time told me it was about 300 miles from where I was captured to the border. I don’t know that. Anyway, when we got to the Chinese border, another thing. They made you take off your shoes when you went in one of these buildings.
I: They called a hooch or something. Is that the name they gave to these little houses, a hooch or a house?
C: That was the name of the (INAUDIBLE) group gave you.
I: Yeah. It’s a shack basically?
C: Yeah. It’s, the houses are built out of probably young timber about so big around. And they have grass and straw woven through, between the sticks.
And then plastered with mud on both sides. And then they have the thatched roof on it which is made of straw. And they had a mud floor. And there were usually two rooms, the room they lived in and the kitchen. And in the kitchen room, they had a recessed floor in it,
And they’d build a fire, and the smoke from the fire would go out underneath the under floor and up the chimney on the far end.
I: So, to keep the floor warm.
I: So, it was indoor heating.
C: Yeah. And that’s pretty much all they had for heat in those places.
I: This building was off the ground a little bit or on the ground?
C: Right on the ground.
I: And they made these like tunnels for their heat or something?
C: Yeah. Well, they would take a rock or just make a tunnel out of rocks. They’d take two rocks like this and set another one flat across, and then they’d put mud over the whole thing and make a fairly smooth floor there.
I: So, like an underground culvert almost for heat.
I: Okay, going more north?
C: Yeah. And we just kept going north all the time.
And of course, you had to take your boots off, and it was really cold at night. And in the morning when you’d come out to put your boots on, they may not be there because the Koreans might have wanted them. Some of the guys had just got new shoes or new boots. Mine were pretty old and beat up. I hadn’t gotten new ones since I hit Korea.
And I suppose they decided they’d take the new ones and help themselves. But anyway, then the only alternative was to walk barefooted or wrap rags around your feet or whatever.
I: So, the enemy was taking your boots?
C: They never took mine.
C: But a lot of the guys lost their boots. Course when we first got captured, we lost our watches, our rings, anything else we had that was worth anything.
But we got to China, and we walked across the river into China, walked across a bridge. And
I: You said not a bridge, you walked across the frozen.
C: On a bridge, yeah.
I: You walked across a bridge. The Yalu River?
I: How many were you at this time?
C: There were seven of us.
C: The original seven that I was with when we were captured. And they kept us in a large building over there like a community gathering building or like a community theater or whatever. And they marched us down the street during the day, you know, and let the people see how they caught the Americans in high schools. I don’t know what all they was thinking.
I: They put you on display.
Female Voice: And you were missing in action from November 28 till February 12th.
C: Yeah, sometime in February.
Female Voice: Sometime in February. That’s the first that his name appeared on the list of POWs, in February.
C: And the Department of the Army would send my parents telegrams every once in a while that I had been reported missing in action.
And my name had been reported on a POW list, but there was no confirmation of that, things like that. And I have most of those telegrams yet.
I: We have thousands of artifacts from the veterans. We have thousands of artifacts from the veterans.
I: If you could take a picture of one of those letters and send it to me, we’ll add it to the website.
If you go to our website, there’s thousands of things that people have brought to us and took photographs of it. I don’t want you to mail it. It’s too important. Take a picture of it. So, they sent notices to your parents that you were missing in action. And what happened next?
C: We were there, I don’t know, three or four days when we arrived. It’s getting foggy as to how long, it wasn’t a long time.
And then they brought us back into Korea, and they moved us around a lot. We’d be in one place for a couple of days to a week. And one of the buildings, the first one they put us in was about the size of a double garage. It was like a mud building, same as the houses were made out of.
In one corner, there was no furniture in it at all. And in one corner, they had a latrine hole cut in the floor. And whenever that got filled up, they sent some guy, one of the prisoners outside to clean it out.
There were four or five other guys there when we got there. And I don’t know what country, I don’t remember where they were from. But they were GIs. And we stayed there for a while. And we were still in summer issue clothing, and this was getting toward the end of December.
I: You know what town that might have been or what area?
C: Sinuiju was where we crossed the border.
I: So, that’s pretty much where you were being moved around?
C: Yeah. They moved us, and I don’t know if they moved us south, northeast, or west. But I assume they were moving us south all the time because eventually we ended up in Pyoktong.
I: Were you there with six other guys still?
C: Yeah. The seven guys were still there.
But there were, they had, this was a large building town or whatever. And they had moved all the Koreans out and taken over all the houses in that town. And they put a guard around the perimeter. And one side of it was on the Yalu Reservoir.
I: What Reservoir was that?
C: YALU. And I’m probably not pronouncing those names right.
I: That’s okay.
C: That’s the way I learned them.
I: By this time, the water must have been frozen or getting pretty cold.
C: Yeah. This was the end, toward the end of December. And the weather is very similar to Iowa’s weather. So, it was cold.
I: It must have been freezing with just summer issue.
C: Yesh, it was. So anyway, we got to Pyoktong, and they put us in these mud huts that were scattered all over the, it was kind of a gradual valley coming up away from the Reservoir. And there were houses all over the hillsides.
They put us in these different buildings. And I stayed there until August of ’51. But there were 1,500 men died there that winter because of the cold, the bad food, dysentery, just a lot of sickness.
Female Voice: And they just gave up.
C: And a lot of them just gave up. They couldn’t force themselves to eat the food.
I: So, they starved.
C: Pretty much starved themselves, yeah.
I: And they had like the wounded probably didn’t get any medical attention, right?
C: No medical attention.
There was a GI doctor that you could go on sick call. But he didn’t have any medicine. Ground up charcoal was the only medicine he had. Pretty much everybody was sick more or less. Nobody was in good condition. And he had
Female Voice: Your weight started out.
C: I was 195 pounds when I got to Korea.
And I was in very good physical condition. And so, in the spring in May, I was about 75 pounds.
I think the mice were probably one of the biggest killers out there. They’d suck your blood, you know, and there’d be 1,000 mice on you. They’d suck a lot of blood out. There were wood trenches around every little house in that whole town. And by spring, there were no wood trenches at all. They were all gone.
I: So, it was used up by the soldiers, the enemy and everybody?
C: We had burned them for wood. That’s the only access we had to firewood. So, we used it. I don’t know whether the Koreans used any of them or not. But, or the Chinese. But I know we did.
I: You were eating rice, corn?
C: Not much rice. We had corn.
I: Was corn kernels, dried corn kernels?
C: They had some ground corn. They had maize.
Female Voice: Sorghum. Millet.
C: Sorghum and Millet.
I: What is millet? I hear that word.
Female Voice: Birdseed.
C: You know what they sell for birdseed around here?
Female Voice: That’s millet.
C: That little yellow stuff, little, tiny yellow pellets? That’s millet.
I: Where does it come from?
Female Voice: The seed.
I: Just a seed from like grass or something?
C: Yeah, just like a grass that grows up with a head on it, you know, like wheat does.
No green vegetables, nothing like that. And very little meat at all, just once in a while they’d put enough in it to flavor, you know. But we never got any meat. And they had a guard that his job was to come around every morning and check and see if everybody was there. The only thing he could say in English was how many dead.
And he’d open the door, and he’d say how many dead? And every morning, there’d be two or three anyway that died during the night. I’d say the average room was probably 10 x 12’. And they were packed in so tight that you had to lay on your side. And if you turned over during the night, everybody else had to, who was in that room, had to turn over because when you’d turn over, you got your knees pulled up, it creates a problem for the next guy.
So, he’s gotta turn over.
I: Did you see a lot of punishment of the POWs?
I: Can you tell us?
C: They had what they called a parade ground, a big flat area. And you’d see guys standing out there almost drastically different people, holding logs or something over their head.
Of course, it was cold out. And you’re standing there freezing to death. And I don’t know how they arrived at how long you had to stand there. But it would vary. Some guys stood there a long time, and some of them just a couple hours was good enough.
I: And they did this for what crime or what offense?
C: Well, whatever they wanted, you know. If you spoke unkindly about the Chinese, you could figure on getting punished if they heard you. If you were caught stealing food out of the kitchen down there, they’d stand you out there. That was a major form of punishment in that camp.
I: Were there any, you hear of holds. Were there any like pits that they put you in or anything?
C: Not in that camp.
Female Voice: A box.
I: Were there any pits like they said a hold, you know.
C: In Changsong there was.
I: There was.
Female Voice: The gravel pit.
I: Did anybody try to brainwash you to be a Communist?
C: Every day.
I: Every day. How would they do that?
C: Well, in Pyoktong, they’d send everybody out in this parade ground, and the company commander there would give a big, long speech, maybe a couple hours, in Chinese which was, nobody understood it of course. Then the interpreter would tell you what he said for the next couple hours. And all the time it was very cold out there, you know.
And they’ve got these big warm coats and we were standing out there in summer gear.
I: And the interpreter was Chinese?
I: What are the things they kind of said? Do you know, do you remember?
C: It was basically the same thing every time. It was how bad the Americans were. They were war mongers.
They liked to pick on Ridgeway, you know, Ridgeway in particular, because he happened to be in command when I was captured.
I: That’s General Ridgeway?
C: Yeah. And they would say bad things about him like he was a war monger. And they’d draw ridiculous pictures of him, caricatures, and tell you how good the Chinese people were and how well we were being treated which, you know, we were living in.
We weren’t buying any of that. But the theory is if your friend does something wrong or says something bad about the Chinese, you go tell the chief, and then he’ll reward you. And he’ll put your friend in prison. And that’s basically how the whole system works over there.
I: I heard that there was like subordinate soldiers, like no rank pretty much, and they were like, thought they were the boss or something, and they beat up everybody. Is that what you saw?
C: I did see some, yeah.
I: For like no reason at all or just looking at you the wrong way?
C: Yeah, just whatever they decided. They were very free with the gun butts.
They, I’d been struck with a gun quite a few times because I didn’t understand what they said or I didn’t move fast enough or they said something or, you know, minor violations. They were upset about it, so they showed their displeasure.
I: Did you get moved again to another camp?
C: Yes. I went on the same boat that Frenchie was on. And it was around the first of August I thought because, and I say the first because when we got to this camp three, all these people had vegetable gardens in the back of their house.
And when they put us in the front door, we went right on through and out the back door to see what was there. And we worked the gardens over pretty good. They didn’t have much garden left because we hadn’t had anything, green vegetables or nothing, since we’d been captured.
Female Voice: But that mask hit the wire like.
I: Electrical shock?
That mask hit the electric wire, wrapped them together, and it had everybody shook up.
I: And that electrical wire was across the river pretty much?
C: Yes. It was a long span across, probably I don’t know, probably quarter of a mile even. It was really a wide reservoir at that point.
I: The Yalu.
C: Yeah, the Yalu.
I: How many men were in these boats? Were there like four or five boats or two boats?
C: I think there were three, but I’m not positive about that. But there were probably 50 guys on each boat.
I: They were that big?
C: Yeah, they were large. They were longer than this room is. And probably 10’ wide I suppose.
I: I envisioned like rowboats. I don’t know why.
C: They weren’t rowboats. And the masts were at least 20’ high I suppose.
I: They had sails? Were the masts for sails?
C: And it may have been because the river was high, you know, higher than usual cause I’m sure they’d been up and down there before and never had any problems.
But they were actually kind of a barge. They’d just hold supplies mostly.
I: Um hm.
C: They just commandeered them, all the people.
I: So, camp three had a little vegetables.
C: Yes. There was also a corn field in the middle of the camp. But anyway, the Chinese kept us on the barges for a couple hours, and they went in, and they moved all the Koreans out of these houses.
And then they moved the GIs in, and the GIs took over everything. And then the next day we got a lecture on we shouldn’t eat the people’s food because, the Korean people’s food because that was all they had to eat. But in this cornfield anyway they, the corn was not ready to harvest at that time. So, they let the Koreans come back into the village to weed the corn and whatever they had to do with it, fertilize it or whatever.
There was a black guy. He was a pretty big guy, too. And he got caught stealing peppers out of the Koreans gardens. And they had, there was a rise alongside the road there about the height of that dresser over there. And the Chinese way of thinking is if you confess your sins, then we could forgive you, and you’ll be a good guy again.
So, he got up there and he said I confess. I got caught stealing peppers. But I promise never to get caught stealing peppers again. And the crowd just erupted cheering and waving, clapping their hands. The Chinese missed it all. They didn’t know what he’d said.
Female Voice: He didn’t promise not to do it, just not to get caught doing it.
I: I heard that the black African Americans or black prisoners were kept separate. Is that true?
C: Yes. Although I don’t think it was the Chinese intent. The blacks congregated together. In this building that Frenchie talked about, one end of it was all black.
I think it was by choice because they wanted to be with their fellows, you know, their own kin and, you know, and they felt more comfortable with. But the other half of the building was white. And we intermingled back and forth, talking and played cards and all that stuff, you know.
I: But the enemy didn’t distinguish.
C: I don’t think the enemy separated us. I think it was just the blacks wanted to be altogether in that particular instance, you know. I don’t know about anything else. We had a group of Mexicans in camp three. And they all congregated to one building. In fact, the Chinese had scattered about through the camp. And they would see, would run into everybody and they’d say oh, come on over and stay with us, you know.
The Mexicans all ended up in one building.
I: So, friends that congregated together, yeah.
C: I don’t think it was, the Chinese didn’t separate us racially in that particular instance.
I: They just voluntarily did it themselves.
I: Did you have like a job at the POW?
C: Nothing specific. We did work. We’d go up in the hills and haul wood back that they had the Koreans cut for them.
And sometimes we’d go up three or four miles to do that. And then you carried it on your shoulder, and you carried what they told you to carry, not what you thought you could carry. One time to get wood, we had to go over, around the end of the may there, and there was another village over there across the water from us.
And it was full of POWs. And you know, some of the guys there knew some of the guys that were walking through, and they’d holler at them, and the Chinese guards would get upset about it and start putting their rifles around. They didn’t shoot anybody, but.
He was always trying to escape. And I always tried to help him out, you know. We got some bread one day. Once a week, they had some steam raised bread which when it dried out, it was hard as a rock. But it was still bread.
So, I would save half of what I got and anything else I had that I could help him with. I made some socks for his feet out of a piece of cloth, and I traded somebody for a needle I guess cause I had a needle. I know the Chinese wouldn’t have let me carry it, too, if they’d have seen it.
And I pulled thread out of a blanket that they issued to us to sew the socks with. And the blanket was getting pretty thread bare before I got out of there.
I: What’d you use for a needle?
C: I traded a sugar ration. Somebody had smuggled a needle in. And I traded a sugar ration for it.
So anyway, he took off. He tried at least four different times to escape. They always caught him, brought him back, and then they’d take him down, well the first time, they put him in this gravel pit, a big hole at the end of camp. And there were other guys in there. And they’d keep him in there for whatever time they wanted to, you know.
It was never the same thing all the time. It wasn’t the same thing for everybody. And this was winter or summer. You were in the hole, that’s where you were. Then they, did you see Bridge over River Kwai?
C: Okay. You know that tin shack that they put this guy in?
I: Very hot.
C: Okay. That’s what he had to serve a month’s punishment in, down in company headquarters.
I: A metal shed.
C: It was
I: A metal box.
C: It was too small to sit up in and too short to lay down in. But he was only 5’ tall, so he had them boxed on that one. But he could sit in it, and sometimes they’d let him out to use the bathroom, and sometimes they wouldn’t.
It just depended on who was on duty. But he spent a month in that a number of times.
I: Thirty days?
C: Thirty days.
I: He didn’t try to escape in the winter?
I: And he would still go into that metal shed whether it was hot or cold? So, he, did he decide not to try to escape any more or did he keep doing it?
C: He finally repatriated. It’s the only way he got out. He was always trying, though.
He’d get out of that camp. I don’t know how he got out of that camp so many times, but he always did.
I: How long was he gone before he got captured, a day, two, three?
C: Sometimes a week, sometimes just a couple of days. But the Koreans always turned him in if they saw him.
I: The villagers?
C: No, the civilians.
C: Yeah. If they ever saw anybody that wasn’t supposed to be there, they would just like I told you.
You tell the chief, and he’ll reward you and punish that guy.
I: And you guys wore the green fatigues, right, the uniform?
C: Yeah. Everything was blue.
I: So, you were distinguishable.
C: Yeah. We stood out pretty well. It was pretty hard to travel around the country without seeing a Korean because they had fields like maybe a hundred-foot square on the side of a mountain.
And they planted that because there was no soil there to grow something. And all hand work. They plowed with an ox or something.
I: Uh huh.
C: Or by hand, plowed it by hand or whatever. They’d dig it up and planted it with something, harvested by hand. Their only existence was hand labor.
I: You pretty much stayed in that one camp three for
C: Yeah. I stayed in camp three until they started moving us back across the border.
I: When were you released?
C: Twenty-eighth of August.
I: Nineteen fifty-three, right?
Female Voice: Sent back to the train.
C: They’d call out a bunch of names. They started around the first part of August in our camp. And they’d call out a bunch of names, and the guys, they’d load them on a truck, a covered, it was always a covered truck.
So, you couldn’t see where you was going. Of course, we didn’t know where we was going, and they wouldn’t tell us. So, rumors were running wild. Anyway, the day that they called my name, we got on this truck. And they drove, I don’t know how far, probably half a day’s drive, they put us on a train in a box car, cattle car, something.
It had slits on the side. You could see out of the train, out of the car.
I: It was just a cargo train?
C: Yeah, just a freight train. And as you’re going through the mountains, you know, right around the edge of a mountain and you look out there, and there’s nothing there for miles, you now, just nothing but air.
So, it was kind of scary. And we were two days on the train, nothing to eat those two days. And they unloaded us and put us on a truck again with a canvas cover, and we drove a couple hours or so, and then they put us in another camp. And we were in this camp almost a week.
We didn’t have anything to do, just sat there and get into trouble mostly.
I: Pretty much knew you would be released.
I: You didn’t know yet.
C: We did not know. We were guessing. But we didn’t know.
Female Voice: They didn’t know if they were taking them down the road to be shot or what. They didn’t know.
I: They didn’t say.
C: No. They would never tell us. So then everyday they’d call out a bunch of names in this camp. And there were other guys coming in all the time and the guys leaving, you know.
So, there was all kinds of rumors going around.
I: You didn’t know where you were either, right?
C: No. I had no idea where I was. Didn’t know the name of the town or nothing. And so anyway, they called out my name one day. And they loaded us on the truck, and the Chinese guard got in on the end gate, just in the last seat.
It had seats along the side. So, we drove down the road a ways, I don’t know, 10, 15 minutes, whatever. And the truck stopped, this guard out, another guard got in with a rifle, and we drove for a ways farther and, you know, you lose track of time when you can’t see anything around you.
But anyway, this happened four times. The fourth time,
I: The guards would exchange?
C: Yes. The guards would change places. And the fourth time it happened, this Chinese guard got out and a GI got in. And he had a pistol on, too. He was
I: An MP or somebody?
C: An officer.
C: And so, he got in. And he told us you’re going home, boys. And that’s the first we’d actually heard that. So, they drove another, I don’t know 15, 20 minutes, whatever.
And we got into Panmunjom. First thing they did was run us through a shower and spray us with DDT powder because we had had lice for years, you know. And then they gave us clothes. We’d get a new issue of clothing. And then we talked to Intelligence officers,
and they wanted to know what we had seen on the way down, you know, as far as traffic for military traffic and you know, trying to find out if the Chinese were planning a surprise or something on us. And we hadn’t really seen any big troop movements or anything.
Female Voice: Because you were in an enclosed truck.
C: And so, then after we got through talking to them, they took us out into a big tent where there were a lot of reporters. There were a lot of newspapers in the country, in our country.
And there was a Gordon Gammic from Des Moines Register was there which is a large newspaper.
I: Say who it was again, Mr. Gavin?
C: Gordon Gammic, GAMMIC I think, I don’t remember.
I: From a big newspaper?
C: Yeah. From the Des Moines Register.
I: Des Moines?
Female Voice: Des Moines, Iowa, Register.
I: Yeah. Did he talk to you?
C: I talked to him for a while and told him some of my experiences. And then he wrote a big article for the newspaper.
I: You have that, right?
I: You still have that newspaper article?
Female Voice: We don’t have that one.
C: And then they fed us, gave us some food, mostly meat and potatoes.
I didn’t get ice cream like Frenchie did. Probably just as well. And then I got on a helicopter, and I went to Inchon. I was there ahead of Frenchie.
I: So, you went on a helicopter?
I: To Inchon?
I: That’s where MacArthur landed, right?
I: You got on a boat?
C: Yeah. We, you know, I think we stayed on shore that day, that night. But the next day we got on the boat, the General Black.
I: Same one that
C: Same one that Frenchie was on. On the Black, we were out, I don’t know, two or three days anyway, when this happened.
Ex-POWs were given premium treatment. I mean we got to go eat first. We got to eat whatever we wanted to eat, you know. And they did fix some special food for us because our stomachs hadn’t had any decent food for so long. They gave us a lot of ice cream if we wanted ice cream.
I don’t know what the meals were for the other guys. But I’m sure they fed them well. But the other, the GIs that were on there had to do all the details. They had to wash the kitchen, wash the dishes and carry the food up from the stores and scrub the decks and do all the work, you know. They had to do all the work. We didn’t have to do anything.
I: Doing all the maintenance and everything?
C: Yeah. That was probably a sore spot with them anyway. But anyway, this riot that Frenchie was talking about, I was on deck when this thing started.
I: Cause they were being called Communists or something or where they just, special treatment do you think?
C: There was a GI was reading a comic book.
And we had never seen anything in print except propaganda. And so, this POW asked the guy, he said, hey, can I look at that when you get through with it? And he said I wouldn’t give you Commie SOBs nothing. And that’s what started the whole thing. So, then word got spread around,
And that’s when Frenchie and them guys started coming out. Everybody back to their bunk. Everybody had to go back to their own bunk.
Female Voice: Lockdown.
C: Yeah. We were locked down for a while till they got things straightened out.
I: So, where’d you land?
I: With Frenchie?
C: Frenchie, yeah. But see Frenchie went to Presidio, and I had relatives waiting at the dock for me. I stayed there a week or so. And then I went to, I flew to Sioux City, Iowa. The city of Fort Dodge sent a delegation over to the airport in Sioux City.
The next Friday night there was a football game out at the stadium. They presented me with a watch. And had it engraved it, my name engraved on the back of it.
I: I bet you have that saved someplace.
C: Yeah. I have it. I did wear that for a long time. But it finally quit running. But I still have it.
I: So, you were recognized at the football game and everything.
I: That was a long time coming.
I: So how long were you there total as a prisoner?
C: As a prisoner, 33 months.
I: What is the most memorable part of your Korean War experience?
C: It was going off of that bridge in a truck and ending up down in the creek and then hitchhiking my way back to the front lines.
I: You’ll never forget that truck.
I: How did this Korean War and being a prisoner of war affect you or impact you to this day?
C: It made me very proud of my country.
I: Did it affect your family when you went to War? How did it affect them because they didn’t hear from you for a while?
C: Yeah. See, I was not married at that time. But my mother and father were still alive. And I had 10 brothers and sisters.
C: Yeah. So, they were all concerned about it. But six of our family served, or five of them, had served in the Second World War, and I was in Korea.
I had two sisters and three brothers during the Second World War that were in the service. But they all returned home safely.
I: None of the others were prisoners of war?
I: Any other thoughts you saw, that you wanna say, anything you would like to say, anything else you would like to say that I didn’t ask or you have on your mind?
Why don’t you join him?
C: I just think that mandatory service should be required. I think a couple years in the service with maybe six months in a foreign country so these people would see how other people live and how good they have it here. And it would wake them up if you get a little more patriotism in this country.
Female Voice: He is really proud to be an American. He didn’t talk about it for 25 years. It was bottled up tight inside of him for 25 years. The battle was raging inside of him. But until he went to a prisoner of war reunion, some of his buddies had called him and said you have to come. And he went, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place with all the emotions that were relived.
But it, I think it has really helped him through a lot of issues. And he is absolutely the best husband, father, that a wife or family could have. And I like it.
I: You answered all the questions wonderful. Thank you very much.
C: You’re welcome.
I: You get all this?
Female Voice: Thank you for preserving the stories.
I: We thank you.
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