Clarence J. Sperbeck
Born in Clark Mills, NY on November 27, 1931, Clarence Sperbeck describes “scrapping by” with his family owned farm during the height of the Great Depression while raising 12 children! His father who joined the Marines during WWII, told Clarence while he was gone he would be the “man of the house.” Clarence Sperbeck recalls the grueling, but necessary task of carrying as many as 7 sacks of groceries to feed their family for over 7 miles before reaching home, as well as serving as a janitor in a one-room classroom where most of his brothers attended. After his re-enlistment and completing basics at Fort Dix, NJ, he was shipped to Pusan and took a train up to the front line which was north of the Imjin River as a Riflemen/Ammo bearer 57 recoil-less. While strangely receiving orders to pull back, not realizing General Ridgeway’s tactic was to draw the enemy into the “killing zone,” Clarence and his platoon made the wrong turn and walked right into the Chinese army who had captured Army vehicles Clarence thought were safe. As a POW he vividly recalls stories of his march to the POW Camp 1, soldiers who resisted the Chinese, and his affliction with illness and exhaustion during his 27 months in Camp 1. Clarence Sperbeck’s pride and mental toughness was a large part of his survival.
Chinese Were Everywhere
Clarence Sperbeck describes when he arrived on the front lines when the Chinese were all over the place they controlled everything. When he came back to the states, counter intelligence asked him how he knew the Chinese were everywhere dominating the region, and he said, "that was easy to detect." When you entered a traditional Korean home, you were supposed to take off your shoes outside and put rubber slippers on. Clarence Sperbeck said most of the houses he saw had Chinese Army Boots at the door, so that's how he knew they were sleeping in the Korean houses.
P.O.W. Capture: Right Into The Lion's Den
Clarence Sperbeck retails the story of being captured as a prisoner of war north of the Imjin River. He was sitting with a group of experienced "ol' timers", who told him that the Chinese were going to come around this valley, but Clarence Sperbeck told them there was no way it was going to happen. The soldiers heard the bugles blow (as a means of communicating with each other from afar) and mass firing ensues as they are given orders to pull back (which he never understood). General Ridgeway devised a trap within this valley to make the Chinese think that we were pulling back giving them the advantage, but when the Chinese made it to the center, General Ridgeway closed the gap which killed over 50,000 Chinese. However, when the original order was given, Clarence Sperbeck's platoon started to retreat and took the wrong turn. Turns out there were captured vehicles and they walked right into a group of Chinese soldiers.
Frozen In Fear
Clarence Sperbeck recalls while on the move picking up extra men who had been displaced from their unit and abandoned weapons. He found one guy frozen (not literally), just sitting there whether fear or uncertainty, Clarence Sperbeck kicked him in the shin with his combat boot (said it hurt like hell), handed him a weapon, and told him to fall in line with the rest. The other soldier was a new replacement paralyzed again with fear who didn't speak or move even after being kicked by Clarence Sperbeck.
Clarence Sperbeck remembered April 25, 1951 because that was the day he was captured by the Chinese. Having been warned not to walk on the ridge line since it made it easy for the Chinese to detect your movement, the US troops walked the ridge line anyway. Clarence Sperbeck made an attempt to shoot in the direction of a sound behind him when a concussion grenade landed near him knocking him to the ground damaging his back. When he came out from under a rock, a Chinese soldier screamed at him to put down his weapon; he jumped behind a pine tree to try to shoot at the enemy, but the Chinese soldier's buddy was pointing his weapon at Clarence and he wouldn't have been able to shoot both. He put his rifle down and spend the rest of his time with the Chinese after walking for 3 months to get to the POW camp.
Treatment By the Enemy
Clarence Sperbeck said when the Chinese capture you, they don't feed you. He started on the march at 165 pounds and ended at 110 pounds. It was said that if you were captured by the NKPA (North Korean People's Army), these marches were the worst in recorded history. If you were sick or injured they put a pistol to your head and blew your brains out, rolled you in a ditch, and kept going. Chinese didn't do that; they wanted information from the prisoners.
Do You Have Any Final Words?
While hiding out in a Japanese school house (near Pyongyang), sick with amoebic dysentery, the Chinese ordered the POWs to move at night to avoid being detected by American Airplanes. The night before, the POWs were supposed to leave from the school, but an American soldier who had made an attempt to escape the prison earlier was brought back to the camp and was put on the platform where the Chinese would usually conduct their daily exercise. They sentenced him to death and asked him if he had any final words and asked if he wished to be blindfolded before being shot by a firing squad. The US POW said, "Yes, go screw yourself you slant-eyed SOB." Clarence thought this soldier had a lot of guts.
Hope This Never Happens to You Too
Clarence Sperbeck commented on how fast the Chinese moved compared to the US troops. It was said that the average number of steps per minute the Chinese took were 140 to Americans' 120. While unable to hear, see, or walk due to his illness (amoebic dysentery), most of the American prisoners bypassed Clarence Sperbeck when he needed help, but a few soldiers helped him up. He was often the last in line (so weak/sick) during the march which would put him at a greater risk of being shot.
White Rice Riot
When the prisoners were marching north, they would give POWs white rice which had no nutritional value.
Fortunately, they got a can of Russian shredded beef and rice that they considered the beef to be the "Nectar of the Gods". With no refrigeration, prisoners were allowed to have seconds which started a riot since they were grabbing handfuls to eat. The Chinese stood back laughing at the prisoners because some of the POWs were wealthy businessmen back in the states acting like pigs trying to get as much as they could.
Camp 1: Sustenance
When Clarence Sperbeck arrived at his first POW Camp (Camp 1-Ch'ang Song), Chinese soldiers gave each man a wash cloth and a bar of soap, but then they were instructed to go to the polluted river at the camp to take a bath. Korean civilians (women and children) stood on the bridge overlooking the river and watched the G.I.'s take a bath. Men were given little food and Clarence Sperbeck describes the pork they ate and how the Chinese would slaughter and drink the blood of the pig.
East Is Red With The Blood of Our Dead
Daily life in prison camp began with a lecture on Chinese politics and required POWs to recite the Chinese National Anthem," The east is red with the blood of our dead.." and Clarence Sperbeck continued to recite the anthem after being released. Clarence Sperbeck would later discover that while the POWs were writing daily reports in the prison camp, Chinese officers had difficulty interpreting slang terms GI (a nickname for US soldiers) would write. When the soldiers discovered this, they taunted the Chinese with slang in their letters all the time just to mess with them. The GIs were allowed to send/receive letters from family with the Chinese overseeing what was written in the letters, but POWs would have to lie to get their letters sent home.
You Dream Just Before You Die
Clarence Sperbeck tells the story of another camp that lost over 1600 men in a period of 2 weeks, and the Chinese brought the survivors of that "massacre" to Camp 1 to merge those survivors with his prison camp. Clarence Sperbeck was already suffering with amoebic dysentery at that time, so when he came upon his old squad leader who had survived the "massacre" (death from other camp), the squad leader demanded the Chinese to provide medical care for Clarence Sperbeck. He said he would have dreams of cooking a full meal, then going back to cook some more. Many men declared that these were the symptoms dying men.
Performing Medical Experiments on the Prisoners
In the 3 month stay in this hospital at Camp 1, the Chinese performed medical experiments on the prisoners by implanting a gland from an animal into POW's bodies. POWs were told that if the gland stayed in their body, they would potentially run a high fever and die from an infection. Clarence Sperbeck said the soldiers wouldn't let the incision heal over and they would attempt to squeeze the gland out to keep it from infecting their body.
Hey! Wait A Minute! That's Us!
On the date of Clarence Sperbeck's release, August 19, 1953, the first thing the US did was give him a physical examination. He said while he was there, he picked up the "Stars and Stripes" Newspaper, and saw the headlines read, "Chinese attempt to keep 400 POW's." Clarence Sperbeck said, "Hey they were talking about us!" He mentioned the Chinese kept over 800 prisoners, took them back to China, and used them for atomic experiments. There were others who refused repatriation and were not well liked by the men when they returned.