Korean War Legacy Project

Edward T. Smith


Edward T. Smith enlisted in the US Army in 1948 and attended basic training in California. After being trained as a specialty combat engineer for special weapons, he was dropped off in Pusan where he witnessed wounded trying to leave while new soldiers arrived. During the Battle Kunuri on December 1, 1950, Edward T. Smith was captured by the Chinese. Throughout his interview, he recalls what life was like as a Prisoner of War, including the indoctrination that took place. He witnessed a lot of death and terrible living conditions before he was released. He returned to Korea in 1960s after receiving orders and then again for a Korea Revisit trip with his wife.

Video Clips

Becoming a POW during the Battle of Kunuri

Edward T Smith was taken as a POW during the Battle of Kunuri at the beginning of December in 1950. He remembers being with a few stragglers when they ran into a Command Post of Chinese. He states they were told they were not being killed but that the Chinese wanted prisoners.

Tags: Chinese,Cold winters,Front lines,Living conditions

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Life in Camps

Edward T. Smith describes life in the camp. He shares that most of the day focused on whatever work detail there was, often either wood or burial detail. He recalls how the Chinese tried to indoctrinate the prisoners and some believed it enough to move to China. He remembers the cramped sleeping quarters and limited uniforms.

Tags: Chinese,Cold winters,Food,Front lines,Living conditions,POW

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A Letter of Lies

Edward T. Smith recounts only receiving one letter which was from his aunt. He believes that the only reason he even received that letter was because it lied about how terrible Thanksgiving was, making it seem like life back in the US was terrible. This supported the ideas of Chinese propaganda.

Tags: 1953 Armistice 7/27,Panmunjeom,Chinese,Letters

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Life as a POW

Edward T. Smith describes what it was like being captured, including his treatment by the Chinese. He recalls they were relatively decent but there was the looming unknown of what was going to happen. He remembers the living conditions, including how they were often just fed kernels of corn.

Tags: Chinese,Living conditions,POW

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Death in the Camps

Edward T. Smith recalls how many peopled died in the camp, stating there were eight to ten burial details per day. He explains some died of malnutrition, illness, or wounds. However, he believes that some of the men "just gave up."

Tags: Living conditions,POW

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Recorded Materials]


Edward Smith: My name is Edward T Smith. I born in Fresno California October 1930.


Interviewer: Oh


E: My dad was the deputy sheriff and my mom she was a bookkeeper for linen supply house and we lived on the ranch. I milked a lot of cows and when I thought I was too smart I left that and joined the army.


I: (Laughs) you thought that you’re smart


E:  That’s right. Nobody could teach me nothing, I knew it all.



I: You enlisted army?


E: I enlisted in the Army in 19- in January 1948. Took my basic training in Fort Ord, California. It was, went to you first assignment was Camp Cook, California which was a disciplinary barracks down south and from there, I was only there six seven months and then they closed out the personnel and I moved to Fort Lewis Washington.


I: mm-hmm



E: And I stayed there until I was shipped out to Korea for the war.  Didn’t know where it was at or one single thing. on the way over we did thought was going to Japan. We didn’t know where we was going. When I got off the boat we said, where we at? And they said you’re in Pusan. Said where the hell is Pusan? That’s in Korea. We were there.


I: What was your specialty?


E: My specialty, I was in the combat engineers and I was a special weapons




I: What special weapon?


E: Along with being just a plain old foot soldier like everybody else but the engineers are no longer engineers when you get into combat there, that’s just a secondary assignment.


I:  Mm-hmm


E: When there’s no war you’re not shooting, well then you’re out either building a bridge or doing the road repair or whatever but basically you’re just good old infantry



I: Mm-hmm when did you leave for Korea?


E: had to be in August because some, or first part of September cause we got there what in September and captured the first day of December.


I: So you went through Japan and arrived in Pusan?


E: No went directed


I: directly to Pusan


E: yeah


I: how was Pusan when you arrived


E: Oh it was sort of a turmoil. They had people all over,




I guess the second day out we were seeing wounded and getting shot at occasionally. And there on the further we, North we left, well the more shooting we got into. But it was a sort of a turmoil. Everybody was trying to get out and people were trying to get in.


I: So tell me about how you were captured and when you captured?



E: well we




were on the Kumari, Battle of Kumari and our battalion was supposed to hold the line while did the division fell back and regrouped. And they see that they were going to get overrun and they just said well everybody get out of here the best way you can and try to make way south like the (Suchon) or somewhere. And so everybody just went every which way they could go



and I was with four or five stragglers and we picked up some stragglers and next thing we knew we run into a command post of Chinese who have a couple hundred and so we had an officer with us that could


I: When was it?


E: Well this was the first day of like a December there when we got captured and he could parlay either Chinese Japanese or whatever and they informed him




that they weren’t gonna kill us that day they wanted prisoners and if you did something, you know, I mean if you killed one of them or some level then naturally you might get shot but otherwise they just wanted prisoners


I: Mm-hmm


E: So they just rounded us all up. We sit on a hilltop all, all night long while they were gathering and questioning and shaking people down and next thing we know we got up and



we started on the road marches moving north


I: How did the Chinese treat you on the day that they they arrest you?


E: relatively pretty decent I mean most of them were combat orientated already they’d been shot at and they knew what it was all about


I: Mm-hmm


E: I think some of them want to go home just as bad as we didn’t want to get captured. You know the further north we got, if they change guards or anything,



then they got a little cocky because they thought they ruled the world, you know, they got


I: What were you thinking when you’re captured?


E: I wondered what was gonna happen naturally. What they were gonna do with us? And we, cause nobody knew what was gonna happen or where we were going. They just started marching us and moving us and where we’re going nobody knew, you know. So curious, sorta of scared




as to what was going to happen but


I: What did you say to yourself? Why am I here? Did you say that?


E: No, nothing like that ever entered my mind. you know I knew why I was there and I knew we’d gone the wrong way or whatever but there’s nothing you could do about I figured we don’t either get liberated or or something would happen we’d you just have to take it from day to day and see what was going on.


I: What did they feed you?


E: Well best I can remember, the whole kernel of corn




I: Corn?


E: Corn yeah


I: How many times a day?


E: Well I let’s see, basically normally, it was like once and that was at night when you moved up for the road marches at night. They’d load you up with whatever you could eat and most the time when you’ve in the villages during the daytime, they kept you off the road and didn’t do too much for you and they wouldn’t let you out of the huts that were in the housing you know because they didn’t want you running around



they was afraid that somebody might see you from the air.


I: So they didn’t give you anything to eat during the day?


E: Once in a while did they come around with it some chow you know a corn or some millet you know around noon or whatever but


I: Not much


E: It wasn’t a regular routine thing. I mean, you may get some today then you might not get something tomorrow you know.



I: And was very cold


E: It was good and cold real cold


I: where did you sleep then? Dur- during the night you didn’t sleep because you marched?


E: Right


I: Where did you sleep then?


E: They would like pick a- a village or something. I guess they run the people out because you would stay in their houses, their huts and they just cram everybody into a room you know a small room that they jam in 8, 9, 10, 12 guys




in the room and, and they would just disperse everybody through the little villages like that


I: Hm


E:  That was the only place you could sleep you know.


I: How was your clothes? Was it ready for the winter?


E: No, no just what I had on when I got captured and I was fortunate I had a pair of O D pants with a shell and I had a field jacket with a liner and a pile hat which was 90% more than a lot of guys had




I: Uh-huh


E: A lot of guys had just the raw fatigues themselves and there they stayed there three or four days and they buried a lot of people if they both these places (ABRUPT START) wounded, sick—they just, they buried them there. Then you had a big pit out there and they just put ‘em  in a pit and then they cover ‘em up or whatever.  We just moved on and on and continued, well I guess about 20 some nights




I guess we marched. You know, you had night time, sundown to sunup, and next thing I know we entered this ar- area with all the houses and everything but was at that time there (INAUDIBLE) where we were at and that’s where I stayed. I was only a corporal so they didn’t kick me out with the sergeants or anything so I



stayed in Camp Five which is there, was actually I was told later and I knew later that was a base camp because


I: Yeah


E: So but I stayed there the whole time so


I: From when did you arrive at the Yoduk Camp. do you remember?


E: Oh I don’t know when it was.


I: Was it 1951 or 50-


E: Oh no ’50.


I: 50?


E: Yeah


I:  So must be end of December around 1950 right?


E: Yeah all, all the wintertime there.


I: Tell me about your life.



E: Oh there was no, no prescribed routine and they get you up in the mornings and they’d have a roll call and call you out on the parade field there and check you out. They move around you. If you were any kind of help at all they put you on a burial detail or wood detail to go out and you know get, bring in the wood. And like in ‘51 when the boats would come in, the river was thawed they’d have rations- it was for them and you’d haul it all up to their kitchen and this you know this type thing.




But basically it was wood detail or something like that or burial detail the first year and a half anyway.


I: Oh, oh.


E: And there was.. They’d have a lecturer, they’d run you off the lectures and


I: Indoctrination?


E: Yeah


I: Brainwash?


E: Yeah so yeah they’d tried to. So I I guess some of them believed what they were told you know


I: Really?


E:  Oh yeah. 21 of them I know believed it enough or were scared enough



for what they had said and done that they went to China you know. They, they would wouldn’t come home


I: Twenty-one went to China?


E:  Oh yeah, yeah. There was 21 of them. One of them even died over there four or five years later some of them came home and some of them had wives when they come home. They brought wives with them, you know. Of course good ol’ Uncle Sam let him come home you know.


I: Tell me about the life there–



how many were in, in a room?


E: Oh I don’t know you take this room right here. I don’t know, it would be, be divided you know


I: Right.


E: The houses were, they’d have maybe 10 guys in each half you know. It was, was pretty well cramped. When you laid down you or you’re just you’re pretty close, you know, everybody laid on your side you know (INAUDIBLE)




I: No blanket?


E: Not ’50, 1950 you know, 51 they had a real light type blanket and I think I left latter part of 50, ‘51 first part of ’52. they came out with a padded clothing for you– one uniform and then then summer uniform, but until then you just wore whatever you had. (INADUBLE) your own body heat, try to snuggle up or do something.




I: Hm. What about food?


E: Oh they had the maize or high gear, millet or whatever. Once in a while they’d have steamed biscuits, they’d mix them those steam biscuits. And of course there’s none of this happened until the peace talks got good, you know. The peace talks were good you got a little better food or you got a little more. When the Americans walked away from the table of the peace talks quit,



the food quit.


I:  how many times were they? The meals?


E: They, uh let’s see if I can remember. They had, I think twice I think late morning and then in the evening.


I: Mm-hmm.


E: They’d have somebody, normally somebody from the hut would go up and get it and bring it down and everybody had their own little bowl and they’d help yourself to whatever.




Then if you knew anybody that was in the kitchen cooking up there you, you might get some other crust out of the pot which was real good. If you had more you’d eat more but you didn’t have it so you didn’t worry about it really, so..


I:  Did you really want it to eat it at the time?


E: (ABRUPT START) I always had a sweet tooth and you know I sort of always craved the cream puffs you know American and cream puffs when I come home I got some and as soon as I ate one I got sicker than a dog too




I: Yeah (LAUGHTER) you haven’t eaten a long time right?


E: No…


I: Did, did Chinese hit you or tortured you know?


E: Myself, no. Not myself. I have heard about people getting tortured, not really tortured but beat on I guess or whatever. You know they try to force everybody that you know sign letters and all this kind of cr—




but if you didn’t sign them they, they threatened you and then they harp and brainwash you and tell you, you did this and you did that, we’re not gonna give you this. But for myself I was never beat on or anything like that no.


I: What, what did you do all of you together, your room members, okay? And what did you talk? What- was did you complain? Did you regret What was the topic?




E: They didn’t really nothing I mean you just sit around you some guys talked about home and whatever and and basically that was it there was no news I mean so you couldn’t talk about the news you know you always often wondered what was going on but you didn’t know people were more or less reserved and and stayed with themselves you know



they didn’t get you know get a lot of yackin’. There was nothing to yack about you know, so whatever. Yeah…


I: How did the Chinese indoctrination work? What do they soba -say about the America? What do they say about the American soldiers?


E: You know, we were cannon fodder and they were were the imperialist and we they said that we believed in segregation and of course in camp they segregated everybody themselves (LAUGHTER)






E: So they had the Blacks in one, the Turks in one. And then within the camp they did the segregation, but they preached about the American that we were cannon fodder, and all that we were duped and they were going to take us to the Promised Land and all that kind of crap.


I: (LAUGHTER) oh crap


E: Most guys just let it go in one ear and right out the other, you know. In fact a lot of  guy, you learn how to set up and in sleep you know you didn’t even have to




nod your head you could set there stiff as a board and be sound asleep, it would get so boring you know.


I: did you regret? Why am I here what the.. on earth? What the hell is going to be happening to my life? Why am I here? The country that– did you know anything about Korea before?


E: No, you know, it to me




I never I never give that a thought because I was an enlistee. I was an RA and Uncle Sam sent me there that was my duty whatever was for. I mean the government knew what they were doing and who was I had to question why. I didn’t even give it a thought as to why was I there, and just good GI, I obeyed the orders they say you go you go.


I: What do you think about China now?


E: About China?


I: Yeah




E: I don’t know. Really I know they, they own about ninety, 90 percent of the US. (BOTH LAUGH) We owe them everything. I guess they keep borrowing, giving, and trading but, you know, given the politics and things I, I don’t even listen to them on TV or radio. In reality I could,




like care less, you know. I figure whatever is to be is gonna be ,and, and that’s it they can say. What they want to talk don’t change nothing, so that’s about some of that.


I: well you were able to write letter back to your family?


E:  Oh yeah. I


I: When?


E: I, I never wrote any letters and I only received one letter and that was from my aunt.




And the only reason I got it was because she was a good bullshit artist. She said that they were having Thanksgiving and they had rotten turkey and had everything she just degraded everything. And of course they liked that- there was good propaganda, you know. They thought they were, look at that the Americans they don’t have nothing, you know. They’re starving to death, and all this, and that’s the way my aunt wrote the letter.




I: Why?


E: It came through there was no problem.


I: She wrote that letter intentionally?


E: Oh yeah


I: To make it go through


E: Yes so I would get the letter she wrote it you know that they were they had nothing, but turkey to eat and it made everything sounded like they were in the poorhouse (LAUGHTER) and that letter come through (SOUND EFFECT) and. you know. no problems you know.


I:  That’s very interesting




E: (LAUGHTER) But she was, she wrote one letter like that you know that came through and that’s the only one I ever got. I never got none from my folks. yeah I don’t even know if they tried writing. I doubt that they did because my dad was a very staunch full army man and then he didn’t he didn’t believe in that crap, you, you know. whatever was there that’s it, you know.


I: Any, how many died? Did you see many dying?




E: A lot of them died. I don’t know how many in numbers, many though. Every day in ‘50 and up in through’ 51 there’s 8, 9, 10 burial details a day. You could, could, you could always go on a burial detail. I mean there dead people there. Yea there was, a lot of them died.


I: Why?


E:  Ugh through, they were lot of them were sick to start with, new maltrition.




Then a lot of them gave up just flat gave up. You could buy, some GI’s had a, they traded off with the guards or whatever, they had some sugar is an example and when they come around with the millet or something. I can’t eat that, I can’t eat that, you know.  Okay here put a little sugar on it. Whoa that tastes pretty good, you know. You know now these guys they say, well okay,



now if you want to sugar you gotta buy it, say you got got to pay me for it so.


I:  hmm


E: Well I don’t have no money, well then you don’t get no sugar. You know, so now they’re back to thinking ,well I can’t eat that stuff, you know. Mentally they just gave up a lot and a lot of them, you know, a lot of them I guess they just had wounds. They had a so-called dispensary or hospital or whatever atop the hill and a lot of them were there in and out. And I never went to it, it



so I don’t know what kind of treatment they really got if they got any. But I think most of them are just, they got down they got like pneumonia. They got sick you know and there was no, no facilities to take care of them so they just just died.


I:  Anybody suicide?


E: No, not that I, no. Could have, but I don’t know, but I don’t know.


I: Tell me what was the most difficult thing during the camp.




E:  Most difficult. I really don’t know. Any-anything was outstanding is to being difficult you know from one from another right now.


I: When did you know that you’re going to be released?


E: Well we had heard about the little switch and they shipped people out. And then they said, well we’re gonna get to go up now you know because




they had the little switch.


I: What do you mean by little switch?


E: Well they shipped out the wounded and the sick and it was supposed to be in the hospitals and everything. And then along with them a lot of the progressive minded turkeys that written articles and they I think they shipped them out so they wouldn’t get killed before they got out because a lot of guys would have done them in before that they didn’t went back with the regular group.




I:  When did the little switch happen first?


E: Oh I can’t even remember- do you know?


VOICE: In April?


I: In April 1953?


E: Yeah we, we came home then in last part of August first because I got off the boat, in fact, a moment a hospital boat and I got off in San Francisco on Labor Day weekend September the fifth.




See so, a couple weeks it was mid- August when, when we come home, so…


I: What was on your mind when you know that you are going to be released?


E: I was pretty, pretty, pretty glad about that you know I really didn’t give it too much thought of enthusiasm and everything until I got on the boat and then I then I knew I was going home but until then the train ride and truck ride down the



(INAUDIBLE) on to the Freedom Village well anything could happen.


I:  Anything can happen. When did you across the (INAUDIBLE). Do you remember?


E: I don’t remember the day or whatever in fact I was in a in a meat wagon or ambulance thing and I went in by vehicle I didn’t walk across like a lot of guys did and I stepped out of the ambulance, I was I was there. Freedom Village, and all, I was there. And they run us through a delousing tent.




There were, they can, they went to ask questions if you knew anybody that was a bad guy and all this and if you did, give them their name. Then after that they said well okay you go here you go there I went over this in line and the next thing I knew was on a helicopter and I went on the hospital ship. I don’t know why, I felt healthy. I may not have been but they sent me home on a hospital ship.




I: How do they treat you the Americans in the south of Freedom House?


E: They didn’t- They knew you couldn’t eat nothing hardly because you know everything would be too rich for you we just get sick so they, they sort of cooled it. They’d try to give you, they give you a semi physical test your lungs and whatever and if you had any wounds or anything, you know, physically. and I don’t know how they treated the



guys that went by a troopship or how, how long they retained him or anything. I don’t know but they put us like on the on the hospital ship we flew out on a helicopter. And the moment we landed on the ship, they told us anything you want to eat go tell the cook. Anytime you go tell them and they’ll fix it. If you can eat it, fine you know, and they gave us a lot of eggnog and all this kind of stuff



and so as far as eating.


I: Where was the hospital ship? You took the helicopter from Panmunjom, right?


E: Yeah


I: And then you land in hospital ship, right?


E: I guess (INAUDIBLE). In Pusan I guess. I don’t know.


I: Pusan?


E: Yeah.


I: Have you been back to Korea? Have you been back to Korea?


E: Oh yeah, yeah. I spent a tour in 1960 I went back for  a tour, one year tour.


I: oh you did?




E: Yeah and then my wife and I we went over in 2003 on on, one of those revisit tours


I: Revist Korea right? Where did you, where did you serve in 1960?


E: I was in (KOREAN CITY)  right out camp above Camp Casey


I: You didn’t hesitate to go back?


E: Huh?


I: You were not hesitant to go back to Korea?


E: No it didn’t both me. They said you’re going over to Korea. My guys used to say,



“hey you don’t have to go you were there before.” You know, hey orders are orders. They’re not shooting over there now there’s no war over there what let’s go you know so it was no problem


I:  when did you come back from there?


E: In 60-61 I guess it was.


I: What was your rank and what was your mission?


E: I was in the engineer’s again. I was a Staff Sergeant then and I got promoted in Germany when we came back and I was in (INAUDIBLE) to Germany



and I was promoted to E7. Come back to the states and I retired.


I: so you been to Korea in early phase of the Korean War and then you went back to Korea ‘60 and then you went back to 2003.


E: Mm hmm.


I: You have a very clear picture of how Korea was back in 1950 and ‘60 and 2003


E: Oh yeah


I:  Tell me about it.




E; Oh a big difference that you can’t even find a murder. It wouldn’t, you know, like during the war over everybody, oxen, and in mud huts and people walk along with A- frames back on– all this stuff. And then when we went back in in ‘ 60- ‘61 duty-wise, it was it was good. You didn’t do a whole lot of running around because they still had bed check and everything going, you know, that was okay.



And you didn’t get to see a lot of the country I mean you were no tourists, and you did your field duty in whatever. Then when my wife and I – through Seoul and everywhere and we went up to Camp Casey and roads are all paved,  they got modern stores, and, and everything is good, you know. It’s, it’s really nice and that people are, are extraordinary thankful.



They’re the only people I can honestly say that are thankful for what the Americans have done.


I:  You know that because you were in Germany too, right?


E: Oh yeah and I was in France and I was in Germany. Both


I: Didn’t French and Germans


E: No, they they just spit on you, look at you.  The Korean people are the only people even today, like in Reno where I live they every year the Korean church



puts on a, a dinner and a program for all Korean veterans. And they have a full layout American food the Korean food and they treat you like kings. And they’re thankful and they appreciate it and they, they tell you and they show (ABRUPT END).


I: what is Korea to you now


E:  Well it’s just Korea to me, it’s just a country




that’s come a long way from nowhere and they’re just good people. I mean it’s just another country but I mean as far that’s it. I guess you know.


I: To you personally


E: Well it’s, I don’t know, how you would explain.


I:  how did your experience in the Korean War affect your life?


E: well for a long time. Well I don’t think it did anything in my life to change anything



I have had more respect for, for Korean people you know before like at the end of the second war the Japanese and everything everybody Orientals period yes you know t


I: Hm-hmm


E: That changed when when, when I went to Korea and they come home and everything so I have more respect


for them than I would the Vietnamese or the Japanese it, but oriental people as a whole I have more respect for them now then I have a prior to all that,


I:  Oh thank you very much and I pay respect your endurance, patience, and bravery and I want to thank you on behalf of Korean nation that




what you did for Korea


E: It’s a pleasure. Thank you.


I: Thank you.


[End of Recorded Materials]