John M. Hilgert Jr. enlisted in the Army in 1950 after graduating from Park Falls Lincoln High School. He went through basic training as an engineer but once in Korea, he became an infantryman. In April of 1951, he was captured by the Chinese Army and marched to a prisoner of war camp in Chungsan. At the camp the captives were inundated with communist propaganda and were given little nourishment. During his time as a prisoner, he saw many of his fellow troops perish as a result of poor and inhumane conditions. He was held prisoner for two years, before finally being released a month after the Armistice was signed. Despite being a prisoner of war, he is proud of his service though he wishes the war would have lasted long enough for communism in North Korea to be defeated.
John Hilgert describes the events that led to his capture by the Chinese Army. He explains that after the Spring Offensive, he and two other men were cut off and alone. After the third day, they were found by the Chinese and taken prisoner. He recalls that of the seven thousand men taken prisoner, just over three thousand made it long enough to be released, partially due to the poor quality of food the Chinese provided.
March to the Camp
John Hilgert details some of the humiliation and perils experienced by him and other prisoners as they were being marched to the prison camp. He explains that in addition to walking, they also were transported by train. He describes the thick, noxious smoke from the train's engine that would waft into the first cars, killing the men on board. He goes on to explain that the Chinese walked the men through towns as a show of force, often times marching the same men over and over.
John Hilgert describes what conditions were like in the camp where he spent two years as a prisoner of the Chinese Army. He explains that the Chinese were not as brutal as the North Koreans who would dismember the enemies. They slept in dirt floored huts, eight to twelve men to a hut. He describes the terrible lice infestation they experienced that was out of control until they were able to boil their clothes. He goes on to describe how he gathered wood to heat their hut during the winters.
Food in the Prison Camp
John Hilgert recounts the food prisoners were given in the prisoner of war camp. He explains that the food was not very appetizing, which was difficult for some of the men. The Chinese gave the men sorghum, which is more nutritious than rice but not as flavorful. He goes on to explain that the Chinese stopped giving the men sorghum when they realized that it was used to fatten livestock in the United States. The men were then given rice twice a day.