James Berry was born in Madison County, VA, and worked for the VA Highway Department before he enlisted in the army in 1947. He arrived in Korea on August 25, 1950, in Pusan, as part of the 2nd Infantry Division. During his service, was a tank driver and participated in the Nakdong River battle before being captured. James Berry was a POW in Camps 5 and 3 until the armistice in 1953. For his efforts, he was awarded the American Defense award, the POW award, the Good Conduct award, the Korean Service Medal, and the UN Service medal. After James was discharged, he worked at Henkel Harris Furniture.
Life in POW Camp 5
James Berry describes some of his experiences at POW Camp 5. He explains where they slept and how many people were in the room, many of them who died. He describes his interactions with a Chinese interpreter who had been a college student in Texas before the War.
James Berry describes the moment he was captured at Kunwoori. He explained that they were surrounded there for several days before he was captured on November 30, 1950. He recalls what was said to them when they were captured.
Diving a Tank
James Berry gives some insight into being a tank driving during the Korean War. This was an extension of a time as a heavy equipment operator in Guam. He explains why they needed 5 people inside of the tank.
Berry- my name is James berry and I was born 1929 in Madison county Virginia, and I went to school Wolftown- Wolftown Virginia W-O-L-F-T-O-W-N and went to school in roof Virginia then the Wolftown school then I got out I had to get out when my father passed away to help on the farm and I had to get out of school so I didn’t finish school.
Interviewer- So you were working?
Berry- Yeah, I worked yeah.
Interviewer- On the farm?
Berry- On the farm right.
Interviewer- What did you do?
Berry- Oh a little bit of everything, a little bit of everything. Made hay, cut corn, shuck corn, just regular farm work back in them days
Interviewer- Uh raising livestock?
Berry- Had to raise some livestock right yeah yeah.
Interviewer- So you were working in the farm when the Korean War broke out?
Berry- No I enlisted in the army
interviewer- 1947 you enlisted?
Berry- in the army
Berry- well I just wanted to-
Interviewer- you had a job working in the farm
Berry- no I was working in the highway department. Virginia highway department when I enlisted in the army
Interviewer- oh so you chose your job and farm too
Berry- went to Virginia worked for Virginia highway department. And then I decided I wanted get in the army and to see a different life and uh and so
Interviewer- was it popular at the time? Everybody wants to join the army?
Berry- Well at that time, my cousins and I went together and we just went in and had our basic training and went to Guam came back, went to Washington for the second and third division. And when the Korean war broke out we went to Korea.
Interviewer- so what was your specialty? Were you a rifle man or what.
Berry-No I was a tank driver when I was on guam I was a heavy equipment operator, operating cranes holes and everything else. They told me I got to Washington they say I have an MOS of heavy equipment operator say I will and imma put you in a heavy equipment to drive.
Interviewer- what was the name of your tank?
Berry- M26 uh no M4 M4
Interviewer- how is it to drive inside of the tank
Berry- I liked it I liked it yeah
Interviewer- how did you feel, tell me the details
Berry- well I mean it was rough rough going see
Interviewer- how many soldiers inside of the tank
Berry- 5 5 people
Interviewer- why do you need 5?
Berry- well you need the driver and the assistant driver and the lower and the gunnar and it was a 5 crew
Interviewer- so how did you know that the Korean war broke out?
Berry- well they let us know the war broke out and we was the first division army to leave the states go to Korea.
Interviewer- most of the Korean veterans say that they always stop at sasaybol
Berry- no we didn’t stop
Interviewer- so what did you feel going into the war? Were you scared
Berry- no not really, I was young I just tried to survive not be a hero just did what I was told and the man at the tank told me where to go and how to put it and he said you put it and I said you know how to get out so that was a yeah
Interviewer- so what happened after you arrived in pusson tell me about it
Berry- after we arrived I went to my tank and we was in combat the next day yeah, the 18-mile perimeter we landed in pusson
Interviewer- how was the situation was the battles everyday was in severe
Berry- well yeah you see something every day yeah we just kept going and we got them on the push and Mack made an invasion up at involve and we just kept on pushing
Interviewer- so were you using tank at the time
Berry- yeah we go off the ship and went to my tank and we wnt
Interviewer- tell me about it how was it, how exactly was it? You drove the tank to the front line and what did you do. You just stood there and start bombing or what
Berry- well we was just far from everything else from one place to another yep
Interviewer- well it was a kind of trench war right you didn’t move around and and just went around with the soldiers
Berry- well yeah we uh moved and trying to ambush and everything else firing on them and moving tying to get them
Interviewer- did Korean have tanks too. Where they better
Berry- they did yeah well they had T30 something Russian tanks and they were good too
Interviewer- had you faced the Russian tanks pretty close?
Berry- yeah pretty close
Interviewer- how close
Berry- well how many yards yeah not that a lot
Interviewer- were you wounded ever
Berry- no I was never wounded no
Interviewer- oh so they protect you
Berry- hahaha yes
Interviewer- what did you eat inside of the tank did you sleep inside of the tank, tell me about being inside of the tank
Berry-I stayed inside the tank, and this tank from North Africa from the second World War
Interviewer- Oh from North Africa?
Berry- Yeah we had a history of where the tank were see…and had the seals all around the hatch where you sit down, it was all gone and you sittin in the tank and water is just running down your back
Interviewer- it was very hot in the tank right?
Berry- that’s right
Interviewer- So what happened to you after that? Did you move north?
Berry- Well we moved north that’s right correct, and we went on up I don’t know where in this big schoolhouse.
Interviewer- Big what?
Berry- Big schoolhouse, different outfits. So they come in that night told us about 10 o’clock that uh we want you to get ready tomorrow, we thought we was coming home by Christmas, that’s what we thought. And said uh get ready to march by 4 o’clock in the morning that 300,000 Chinese done crossed the yellow river, and well I thought a thousand times and I said “why didn’t we set up and wait on them instead of movin and they got up back around us” surrounded us. And we started to move out and
Interviewer- Where was it? Do you remember?
Interviewer- So you are in what south chosen?
Berry- I was on up up in the North and uh so we run out of gas and uh so other tanks and something movin out of there and it just pushed us off the old lot thing to get through see and we cut off free day, we stored the guns in the tanks and stuff and we uh stayed up that night and we stayed out 3 nights 4 days before I was captured. And well they cap- on the thirdish they dropped a note in a hand grenade box and it said uh “helicopters are gonna be in here to pick you up” and I had uh the only food I had left was a can of cherries and they was froze and I take my bandit, I was gettin it stirred out of the can when they dropped this note said the helicopters were comin…no helicopters never come. We got captured they walked us up the road about 100 yards and they put us in this ditch, and they said uh “put your head down between your legs” and they set up machine guns all up the banks and said put your head down between your legs, take your helmet off and put your head down between your legs. I thought that was my time to end then they said raise your head and then they said “no we are not gonna harm you not gonna hurt you American Imperish” they call it, that we gonna try to take you out of here so…
Interviewer- That’s what Chinese said?
Berry- Yes that’s what they said and…
Interviewer- So they been nice to them
Berry- Well they were pretty pretty pretty pretty hard course, well I heard before and I seen it that just Korean was captured they going to kill you, they gonna get you.
Interviewer- Did you destroy your tank?
Berry- Yeah we destroyed the guns and things on it yeah
Interviewer- No no the tank, destroy the tank when you leave the tank
Berry- We left the tank and destroyed the guns on it so nobody could use it
James– “November 30th, all at night. Slept in caves. All in villages, then walked all at night. Sometimes 7 below 0. We walked from November 30th to January 25th I think, but you know we stopped along different places.”
Interviewer– “And where did you go? Did you go in the camp?”
James– “Yeah, and we got landed in Camp Fire”
Interviewer– “Camp Fire?”
James– “They interviewed me, and asked me one time about radar, and I said I don’t know a thing about radar, and they slapped me up-side the head with the bud of a rifle, and again they asked me how many guys are on a tank, and I told them I didn’t know how many were on a tank.”
Interviewer– “But you knew.”
James– “I knew yeah, I didn’t want to tell him.”
Interviewer– “Why not?”
James– “I didn’t want to tell him, you weren’t supposed to tell nothin’ like that.”
Interviewer– “It’s just simple fact that there’s five men.”
James– “Five men, and the interpreter said, “I know how many are on there”, and he said, “we could kill you for lying like this.”
James– “And so they didn’t do it, and I said well I just don’t know.”
Interviewer– “And they hit you?”
James– “Oh yeah they hit me.”
Interviewer– “And where did they hit you?”
James– “They hit me in the back, and the first time they slapped me up-side the head with his rifle butt.”
Interviewer– “Where did you sleep?”
James– “Where did I sleep? Well, when we went to Camp Fire we slept on the floor on a mat.” Interviewer– “How many people were in the room?”
James– “I think about 22, one room, and all of them died besides me and another guy. Died, and they’d come around and ask how many were died. We’d drag’em out, couldn’t bury them or anything, we just dragged them out to a hill near a river or water, just laid them. At camp 3, we had an instructor that could speak good English, and he said he was going to school in Texas, and he said when the war broke-out they sent him back to China, and he was one of our interpreters. And we asked him, “You know America’s better than China?”, and he said, “well America’s alright, but they’re too wasteful”, I said well that’s true in my head, but not to him.
Interviewer– “So how long were you in there?”
James– “33 months. And when they told us that we’d be going home, nobody got up and started yelling and celebrating. No. We were just thinking, “is this so?”.
Interviewer– “You couldn’t believe it.”
James– “We couldn’t believe it, that’s right.”
Interviewer– “So, since that day they treaded you better?”
James– “No. No. Didn’t change a bit, they were just the same same way. Imma’ ask you a question. Why can’t South Korea and North Korea, same people, why can’t they get back together?”
Interviewer– “That’s exactly the question I wanna’ ask everybody and to myself.”
James– “Why ain’t, I don’t understand that.”
Interviewer– “Mhm mhm.”
James– “And, well the north sees exactly how the south is doing. And just I can’t-“
Interviewer– “It’s hard to understand.”
James– “That’s right. There may be some people up in the north, that may have relations with people down in the south. I mean you don’t know. I mean it could be. It was the same way with the Berlin Wall. And I don’t know, it’s just…I don’t understand that.”
Interviewer– “Yeah. So what do you do after you come back to the states (U.S.)?”
James– “I didn’t do anything for a couple years.”
Interviewer– “Does the military pay you?”
James– “No, they didn’t pay me nothing.”
Interviewer– “How did you then survive?”
James– “How did I survive?”
James– “I mean they paid me money when I got back over, and that lasted me for a while til’ I went to work.”
Interviewer– “How much did they pay you when you were in the prison camp? Was it same salary as the other soldiers?”
James– “Two dollars and fifty cents a day, that’s what I got.”
Interviewer– “For prisoner of war?”
James– “For prisoner of war, right.”
Interviewer– “So you were there-
James– “33 months. So, I think it was about $1800 or somethin’. I think that was about it.”
Interviewer– “So you were able to survive with that money for a while?”
James– “A good while, yes.”
Interviewer– “And then after that what did you do?”
James– “Well, I went to work at a wood mill in Winchester, and that closed. Then, I got a job at Hankel Harris Furniture, and worked there for 32 years…furniture factory.”
Interviewer– “Would you shake hands with the Chinese soldier if I arrange the meeting?”
James– “Yeah. For a while I didn’t like him, but I got to thinking, there’re doing the same thing our government is doing. You know, yes I would.
James– “At the age of 21 I landed in Korea, with the 2nd Answer division as a tank driver. I was captured November 30th, 1950 by the Chinese. They walked us from November 30th until January 25th, 1951 to Camp Fire. This was done all at night sometimes the temperatures were 40 below zero. After spending 33 months as a prisoner of war, I was released when the war was over.” (Shows image of war) “This was the road block.”
Interviewer– “How did you get that picture?”
James– “A guy gave it to me. I don’t know. Somebody sent it to me.” (Shows image of the uniforms worn at Camp Fire during the winter) “Chinese uniforms they gave us.”
Interviewer– “That’s inside camp 3?”
Interviewer– “Our government wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for you soldiers fighting for us.”
James– “Thank you, thank you.”