Donald Campbell was born in Rockford, Illinois in 1930. While serving as an infantryman and truck driver in Korea, he was captured when a Chinese grenade hit a truck in which he was a passenger. While serving as a Prisoner of War (POW), Campbell was subject to relentless interrogation by the Chinese Army at Camp 5. Although this experience was both physical and psychologically stressful, Campbell did not have long-lasting impacts of PTSD. While he is proud of his service, he does believe that the Korean War was largely forgotten on purpose, and describes a situation in which he was told to, “Go home and shut up.” when returning from service.
From Hitchhiker to Prisoner
Donald Campbell describes the events that led to his capture by the Chinese on November 2, 1950. He describes being attacked by a hand grenade. He shares how they fought back against the Chinese. He explains how he ended up in that area in the first place.
Donald Campbell explains how he was interrogated as a Prisoner of War (POW). He explains how the Chinese handled the questioning. He shares how he coped with relentless questions.
"Go Home and Shut Up."
Donald Campbell shares why he believes the Korean War was forgotten. He shares how he was told by his superiors to not talk about the war. He explains how they didn't get many benefits after the war. He explains how that all changed when the Vietnam War veterans returned. He shares that their push for recognition and benefits helped Korean War veterans.
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
Donald Campbell: Donald Campbell. Rockford, Illinois. 10/26/30. Well, I was there for almost the whole war.
D: You know how many–I don’t know how many battles. I had 7 battle stars on my Korean service ribbon. You get one little silver one for five and two for–and I think that was about the–I was there almost the whole war.
I: So you got some medals for some battles.
D: Korean service–Korean service medals.
I: When did you get captured and how?
D: 2 November ’50.
I: November 1950?
I: How’d this occur?
D: Well, I was hitchhiking.
D: And riding in the truck and going really slow, maybe even stopped and the Chinese–
this is when the Chinese came in, they first came in. They tossed a hand grenade underneath the truck and there goes my rifle and my helmet. So, I became a prisoner right there. There was only two from my company that were captured that night. Two of us.
I: And this was after some kind of battle that you were hitchhiking back?
D: Well, yeah, yeah. We–we fired our guns you know at the Chinese until
the guns were just about junk, you know. That was the–that was the second time that was our second bat–big battle.
I: you’re surrounded by Chinese–
D: Oh yeah, they’re all over the place.
I: So, they probably got captured too, you think? With you?
D: No, I think the driver got a–see we were following a big tank and that tank kept on going, but finally–finally they hit it with a bazooka. And I remember hitting that tank it went on for quite a ways, but finally the tank finally was–
But I don’t know nothing about these people.
D: I’m hitchhiking I don’t know no one there.
I: You just–you just got on any vehicle you could
I: To get out of there.
D: Yeah. Well, I sh– I would have been–I had a chance to walk out with a couple other guys but I said what the hell, I got a–I can get a ride in the truck.
D: So, I’m hi–the guys that I–that I said goodbye to that–from my outfit they made it out okay. And well, the reason that I’m by myself like that, we were being overrun
and the platoon sergeant said for us guys with the–with the–I was the squad truck driver to stay with the trucks. And the platoon–the platoon sergeant and all the rest of them, they got away.
D: November–November [thinking]
I: So, you get captured–
D: November 2, 1950
I: So, the Chinese chambered his bullet–
D: Yep, pointing it at me. And making out like he was going to shoot me.
I’m not going to see my mom again and I’m’ not going to see age 21 and I was ready to go.
I: Those were your two thoughts. You’re just stared him down. Pretty much.
D: Well, I was just looking right up that rifle barrel. Just looking up the rifle barrel. I’m not trying to stare him down or nothing, but I’m just staring at the real world. You know. You know.
I: Well, you’re still here, so what happened?
Here comes the B-26 like this– I could see them guys up in there. Okay. I don’t have a fox hole, I don’t have nothing. If that thing came back I–I’m gonna be a goner with–with the Chinese too. But he never came back. But I could see them guys in that airplane.
I: They were banking and looking like they were coming back.
D: well, more than likely they knew that–that you know they knew enough not to strafe because they figured that–
D: This–well, yeah we were prisoners or this was after this battle. So then, then we goes to a Korean house and I’m gonna drive a–a truck that night. That night we’re gonna go over this hill to the mountain path and they had me driving a Jeep and, of course Chinese and their–
I: You’re just driving around?
D: and I kept driving the truck
until finally no more driving the truck and they started marching–marching me North. Now this was between to November and Thanksgiving and this is probably around the 10thor the 15thgive or take, you know.
I: What day again?
I: What day was that?
D: it was like–we’ll probably say middle November.
I: Middle of November.
D: I’m marching North and–
I: Cold. But you had plenty of clothes.
D: I had plenty of clothes, it was no problem at all. Okay, the Chinese traveled at night.
I: Yeah. To avoid getting shot at with the jets.
D: they traveled at night, okay. This is important.
I: And you kept being brought North, right?
D: Yeah walking North.
I: March North.
D: and I’m okay– I’m in the middle of the road. It was column– Chinese on each side of the road marching south solid lines of Chinese every night. Hiding in the day time.
I: Wow and they were walking south.
D: Yep and every so often, there would be one Chinese carrying their cooking pots. And everyone
had a tube of grain. So they cooked before daylight and after dark. But when they’re interrogating you, I must have been–I was pretty smart–I thought I was smart and I–I–and I was–for that particular thing. When they ask you a question,
you give them an answer. And they’ll ask you over and over. Same answer, same answer, same answer, same an–if you vary off that teeny bit then you’re in a whole bunch of stuff.
I: Yeah they’ll say you’re lying or something.
D: Yeah. So same answer, same answer. I knew that instinctively. Finally, on the end of the thing. Do you have a wish? Yes.
And I said in a very– in this tone of voice. I’ve had this–told this story so many times–it would be nice to go home. In that tone of voice, it would be nice to go home. And so, when I went down the second time, and they come to that part of the–the thing they said do you have a wish? I said it would be nice to go home and guess what?
But okay while I was at Camp 5, because I had studied Japanese and so, I more like had a priviledge and we–Capitan Anderson was our battalion
surgeon. Capitan Anderson,
D: And Father Kapaun could’ve got away. But they volunteered to stay with this group of wounded. Did you ever heard of Father Kapaun?
D: I think he maybe got–he got some high medals later, you know, for
after the–but Father Kapaun died up there.
I: Stayed with the wounded?
D: Yeah, they stayed with the wounded, volunteered they could’ve got away. And these wounded–so I may–I went with Capitan Anderson in this room to treat these wounded soldiers. And they must have piggy backed them or–stretchers to get them to the Camp 5. And
these men had–some had compound fractures, maggots in their wounds, stunk like hell in that room. And we didn’t–all–all he had to treat–we didn’t even have any bandages–bandage. We had a little bit of Methylate, that’s the only thing he had. But anyway, the strangest thing that–these guys more or less they know they’re going to die.
The way I seen it. And they were laughing and joking, you know. And other guys that were not wounded, like in my–in my case, well, of course I was wounded, minor wounds. Well all them guys could do is crying about their mama and feeling sorry for themselves
and all that bull shit, you know, and I had a good notion to tell them to sh–to shape the–shape up you’re gonna be here a while, you know. But the guys that were–that were the worst off seemed like they were the happiest, but I think the majority of those in that room never made it. Well, we slept in these Korean houses each house was full, and
Our heads would be to the wall and all the feet in the middle. In the middle of the night we’d turn over, you know.
I: Yeah you had to go
I: back to back or–
D: Turn, yeah like–like spoons.
D: so, this one in–one night after that interrogation– oh, by the way, this friend of mine went down to interrogation and in the Army, if you take like a company of men, 100, 110
men, there’s only one or two in–there’s always one or two or three in there that when they go to the club or anything they want to pick a fight. Now, this guy was maybe kind of like that. And so, he’s down there for interrogation and when the Chinese ask him, do you have a wish? And I think his name was Harry [Genero]
but anyway, you know, you know what his wish was, he goes [ba,ba,ba,ba like a gun noise] he wanted to blow them all away. Well, wrong answer.
I: What’s the most memorable part of Korean War experience you had?
D: Hand grenade under the truck.
I: Hand grenade under the truck.
D: Right. And kaboom. Helmet, rifle, everything gone. Feel a little numb.
I: So, that’s what started your POW thing.
D: Yeah that right there. That was it.
I: Okay, is there any impact from the Korean War that you think about a lot or–just that hand grenade under the truck?
D: No, I don’t think.
D: Well, I never really had, what you call, nightmares over it. You know.
I: Okay. No nightmares.
D: I’ll tell you what, I quit smoking a couple of times, you know,
well here I–I’m back in the states and I quit smoking and it was like three days of hell and I was at Fort Sheridan. And I’m a slow eater anyway and, but I was eating in the sergeants mess and everbody’d be done eating and I had just quit smoking and there’s I don’t know how many plates of carrot sticks and celery sticks.
I said–I ate all of them, you know, you know. But one of the dumbest things I did, I said to myself, if they ever send me back to Korea, I’m gonna light up okay. Okay, I get off the boat in Incheon, and they says hurry up and wait and they give us a box of C-rations and march us down to the train, it was a little ways.
There’s a pack of Camels in there. And hey we sat there, honest to God, we sat there all day and all night. And the train left. And I got off at Yongdong Po the very–I think it was the first stop. And a truck came down from the 79thengineers and took me up to the 79thengineers. And–so–you know that’s where I–
I: You did all the road work and?
D: Yeah I did all the road work and stuff.
I: Was there anything
you want to say to the people or kids or adults or anybody?
D: Yeah, well okay, okay I–I’ll tell you what, us Korean War Veterans from the–in the war, they told us to go home and shut up.
I: Who told you that?
D: We were–we were told that by our superiors. It was so unpopular.
D: To go home and shut up–I mean that– literally that’s what they said. So, as a consequence, at that particular time, we didn’t receive a lot of benefits. Okay. When the Vietnam War Veterans came home, they raised hell, and we got a lot of benefits as a result.
[End of Recorded Material]