Korean War Legacy Project

Charles Elder


Charles Elder was born on July 27, 1927. He graduated from Towson High School in 1945 and worked for his father as a farmer. In 1949, without the possibility for a deferment, he volunteered to the US Army. He arrived at Pusan in May of 1951 and was stationed near the Punch Bowl while serving in the 2nd Infantry Division, 38th Regiment. Later that month on May 23, while on patrol, he was captured by North Korean soldiers. During that skirmish, he was wounded (hip) by friendly fire with artillery shrapnel. After an arduous journey, he was taken to Camp #5, a Chinese encampment on the Yalu River where he spent the next two years recovering from his wounds as a prisoner of war. He was finally released after the signing of the Armistice agreement.

Video Clips

Taking Care of Myself

Charles Elder talks about the cycle of taking care of himself during his time as a wounded prisoner during the Korean War. He had moments of extreme highs or lows. He had to remind himself to have hope of survival.

Tags: Aprokgang (Yalu River),Chinese,Depression,Fear,Front lines,Living conditions,Personal Loss,POW

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Transcribed Material]


C:        My name is Charles Elder.  Birthday July 27, 1927.

I:          Um hm.  And where were you born?
C:        Baltimore, Maryland.

I:          Baltimore, Maryland.

C:        Towson High School in Towson, Maryland.

I:          Tyson?
C:        Towson, TOWSON.

I:          TOWSON.  And when did you graduate?
C:        1945.

I:          1945.



Wow.  That’s the year of the end of World War II, right?
C:        I wasn’t in World War II.

I:          Right.  What did you do after graduation?
C:        My father was a farmer.

I:          Um hm.

C:        And I went to work for my father.

I:          Um hm.

C:        After high school for a couple years.

I:          Um hm.

C:        And then, the Korean War came, my father, by the way, was on the draft board.

I:          Uh huh.

C:        He got me a deferment from the Second World War.



I:          I see.

C:        So, when the Korean War came along, he said he couldn’t get me another draft deferment.  So, I volunteered for the Army in 1949 and went to Korea in 1951.  I was captured in ’51 and released in ’53.

I:          What was your specialty?
C:        Infantry, Second Infantry Division.



In Korea, I was with the Second Infantry Division, the 38th Regiment.

I:          Thirty-eighth Regiment?  Um hm.

C:        George Company.

I:          Um hm.  And do you remember the day that you left for Korea?

C:        May, I’m not sure exactly.

I:          May of 1951.

C:        Yes.

I:          Um hm.



Where did you arrive in Korea, Pusan, or Inchon?

C:        Pusan.

I:          Oh.

C:        Actually, we landed in Japan first and then went from there to Pusan.

I:          Yeah, right.  Did you know anything about Korea before you landed there?
C:        No.

I:          Nothing.
C:        Never even heard of it.

I:          Did the history teacher talk about it?  No?

C:        I guess Korea, when I was in high school, it was, you know, five or eight years before Korean came into the United States situation.



I:          Um hm.  What happened to you after you landed in Pusan?  Where did you go?
C:        Went by train up to the, just north of the 38th Parallel.

I:          Uh huh.  And do you remember the camp name?  Was it Punch Bowl, Porkchop?

C:        Punch Bowl.

I:          Punch Bowl?  Ah.



C:        Is that Punch Bowl, is that Heartbreak Ridge area?
I:          Yeah.  That’s right.  Heartbreak Ridge and the Punch Bowl is just almost like adjacent.

C:        Right.  That’s where I was.

I:          Yeah.  How was the situation at Punch Bowl at the time that you arrived there?  Were there severe battles always going around or just artillery?  What was the situation there?



C:        I guess it was, we were close to the front lines.  We could hear artillery.

I:          Um hm.

C:        And at nighttime you could see the bombs exploding and things like that.

I:          Um hm.

C:        I was a replacement.

I:          Um hm.

C:        For the Second Division, 38th.  And we got captured, we were on an outpost on Heartbreak Ridge.



And the Chinese came around the base of that mountain I guess you would call it.

I:          Um hm.

C:        And closed the door behind us.  And that’s how we got captured.  We couldn’t get back.

I:          Do you remember the day that you were captured?
C:        May the 23rd I think it was.

I:          Fifty-one.

C:        Yeah.

I:          Captured by Chinese?
C:        Captured by North Koreans.

I:          North Koreans.  How did they treat you?



C:        Terrible.

I:          Tell me about it.
C:        I was wounded the day I was captured.

I:          Where?  Where were you wounded, in your head?
C:        Body?
I:          Yeah, where?

C:        My hip.

I:          Hip.
C:        Shrapnel from an artillery round hit me.

I:          Oh.

C:        And it was friendly fire.

I:          Oh.  And were you bleeding hard?
C:        Oh yeah.

I:          So, what happened?



C:        We walked north to the prison camp by the Koreans.  And enroute on that march, the Koreans tried to operate on me with no anesthetic or

I:          You said that you were wounded in your hip.  How were you able to walk?

C:        I wasn’t very (INAUDIBLE) I walked as far as I could, and for a couple days, some of my buddies were carrying me.



And when it go to where they couldn’t carry me, they put me on an oxcart.  So, when we got to the camp, of course you know where the camps are on the Yalu River.

I:          What camp, number what?

C:        Five.

I:          When did you arrive there?
C:        Oh Lord.  I don’t have any idea.

I:          Oh.

C:        Cause the Koreans got us.  Instead of going to the prison camp like the crow flies, we went back and forth across Korea.

I:          Uh huh.



C:        I guess that was a way of torturing us.

I:          Oh.

C:        After I was in the prison camp, the Chinese took over.

I:          Yeah.

C:        They came in and talked to me about my wound, if I needed to have an operation or I could lose my leg, and I’m not gonna let you do it because I don’t know what you’re gonna do to me.

I:          Yeah.  So, they were willing to operate on your wound?

C:        They finally did.



I:          Oh, finally they did?
C:        One day they came in and said you either let us operate and stand a chance of losing your leg and don’t let us operate and lose your leg.  So, I hadn’t anything to lose.

I:          Wow.  I didn’t know that Chinese really provided operations at all.

C:        Yeah.

I:          So, what happened?
C:        They gave me a spinal block to deaden the area I guess (INAUDIBLE).  But the guy in front of me gave a spinal block to, and they paralyzed him from the waist down.



And that really shook me up.

I:          Right.

C:        They did okay with me.

I:          How long did it take for you to recover from the operation?
C:        Completely, I would say about just before I came home, August of ’53.  Yeah.  They took me to a different building to do this operation.  But I stayed there, I think, about three weeks.



And then they took me back to the regular camp where the rest of the guys were.

I:          Did they give you medicine?
C:        No.  They dressed the wound and changed the wound.

I:          Uh huh.

C:        But I took no medicine by mouth.  A large crowd, maybe 50 or 60.

I:          In a room?
C:        It was like a big hall, an open hall that housed quite a few people.



I:          What made you get through?
C:        Faith in God.

I:          Did you believe in God?  Do you believe in God now?

C:        While I was recuperating, I went through a cycle that I call taking care of myself and not taking care of myself.  And when I stopped taking care of myself, I got down to such a low ebb and I said, hey, wait a minute.



I can still have a chance to get home.  So, then I started taking care of myself, and it built me up, and I got to the top and I see nothing’s happening, so I says I’m not gonna make it.  So, I just dropped down again.  So, I went in that kind of cycles.

I:          Ups and downs.

C:        Up and down or taking care and not taking care.

I:          Uh huh. Did you get special treatment, like special food because you were operated on, or were you treated just regularly?



C:        Same as everybody else.

I:          Oh.  Did anybody help you?
C:        Oh yeah.

I:          Who?
C:        Who?

I:          Yeah.

C:        By name?
I:          Yeah.

C:        The fellow you had earlier, Ray Unger.

I:          Hm?
C:        Ray Unger.

I:          Um hm.

C:        We were in the same barracks we called them.



I:          What is Korea to you?

C:        I really don’t think about it.  I have no interest in going back.

I:          You don’t.

C:        And

I:          You don’t wanna go back.

C:        No.  And I have deleted a lot of activities and things that happened to me from my mind.  So, I don’t recall a lot of stuff.

I:          Oh.  How did you do it, intentionally?  You’re trying to wipe out your memory?
C:        Um hm.

I:          Um.  What was



C:        I felt it wasn’t worth to keep it in my memory so

I:          Um hm.  When did your parents come to know that you were in the prison camp?
C:        They first were notified I was missing in action.

I:          Um hm.

C:        And later on, they got a letter from me.  So, they knew I was in a prison camp and still alive.



I:          What was the most difficult thing to you during the camp?

C:        I would think one, getting used to the food.

I:          Um hm.

C:        Medical treatment.



I:          Um. How often did they actually dress your scar?

C:        At the beginning, every day.  As it healed, maybe every other day or third day or whatever.

I:          Do you have any animosity against Chinese?
C:        Well, I don’t like Communism if that’s what you mean.

I:          Right.  Um hm.



But you don’t have any animosity against Chinese.

C:        I have no reason to.

I:          When did you first come to know of your release?
C:        When the Armistice was signed, July 27th.

I:          They announced it?

C:        Um hm.

I:          Um.

C:        July 27th is my birthday.

I:          What is the impact of your POW experience in your life?

C:        I really don’t talk about it much except when I come to the reunions.



I:          Um.

C:        And that’s why I enjoy coming to them because we hash over the same thing year after year.  But it wasn’t, I’m not one that will bring up POW experience or capture experience.

I:          Um.



Do you know what happened to Korea after you left, that Korea?

C:        You mean North or South?
I:          South.  Do you know what happened to South Korea, how its’ economy

C:        I understand from some of my buddies that have been back there it’s really up-to-date, modern area.

I:          Um.  So, are you

C:        Now it has superhighways and big, tall buildings.



I:          Um hm.

C:        None of those wood shacks are visible anymore so they say.

I:          So, what do you think about the kind of changes that took place in Korea after you returned?

C:        I’m glad that South Korea’s improved as much as they have.

I:          Um.  But you don’t wanna go back to see it.



C:        No.

I:          No.

C:        It looks nothing like it did when we were there.

I:          This is going to be the last reunion of ex-POWs.  What do you think?
C:        I’m upset.

I:          Yeah.
C:        Cause I look forward to these every year, you know.

I:          Any other message that you want to add to this interview?



C:        I can’t think of anything off hand.

I:          Why do you think it happened to you?  You’re going to a war in a country that you never knew before.  And all those horrible experiences, wounds and the life in the camp.  Why did it happen to you?

C:        I don’t know.



I guess it’s something that you’re called up to do, and you had to do it.

I:          Um hm.
C:        God sent me there.  I don’t know.

I:          Um.

C:        It’s my duty as a citizen of the country.

I:          Um.  And something good came out of it.  Republic of Korea, South Korea.

C:        Yes.  I made it through, that’s right.
I:          Um hm.  Yeah.



I want to thank you for your fight, and I’m sorry about your suffering.  But because of your suffering, South Korea came out beautifully.

C:        Good.

I:          Right?
C:        Um hm.

I:          Thank you very much.

C:        You’re welcome.

I:          Thank you.