Norman Spencer Hale
Norman Spencer Hale was born in Morgan County, Alabama on the 10th of April 1930. He dropped out of school to enlist in the Army. Prior to joining the Army he worked at a butter and cheese factory in Coleman, Alabama. He also worked on the family farm. Upon entering the Army Normal Spencer Hale was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky where he was trained as an infantry rifleman. After training, he was sent to Korea and participated in numerous combat actions. It was during one of these actions that he, along with two other men who were defending a hill, were captured by the Chinese. It was late November of 1950. Norman Spencer Hale served out the rest of the war, until August of 1953, as a Prisoner of War at Camp 5 near the Yalu River. Upon returning home, he used his educational benefits to finish high school and completed three years of college.
On the Front lines
Norman S. Hale speaks about being in combat surrounded by the enemy. He also talks about a friendly-fire incident.
Preparing to be Captured
Norman S. Hale describes how he and two other men were captured by the enemy.
Norman S. Hale speaks about the food his Chinese captors gave the prisoners. He also speaks about the "March" to POW Camp 5 that began in early December 1950 and ended in February 1951.
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
N: Norman Spencer Hale. I was born in Morgan County Alabama. Four, ten, 1930
N: Well, when I went into the service. I didn’t completely finish. I was in the uh, dropped out and went into the service, when I got out of the service, now, they gave me schoolin’ then. And then I went to three years of college of after I went to work down there.
I: So, you have a high school diploma and three years of college. So, what are the occupations you had prior to the military service?
N: prior to it, I worked at the buttery factory in Cumming. They had a butter and cheese factory there. I worked in the butter part. Then most of my growing up I worked on the far. My dad had a farm out there, and we worked out there.
I: In Cumming. That same town?
N: Yea, in cumin.
I: okay, were you drafted, or did you enlist?
N: I enlisted two weeks before they drafted me. While I was in basic two weeks later, they sent me a notice that I was to be drafted.
N: two weeks after I got there, I got it, they sent it to me.
I: did you do basic training anywhere around here?
N: In fort Knox, Kentucky
I: Fort Knox
N: 17 weeks. I got a 30-day layover, is what they called it back then. Then I went straight to Korea.
I: so, from basic training you had 30 days off and then you went to Korea?
I: Now what are the days that you started in Korea, 1950.
I: what do you remember about your first impressions arriving of Korea? Your first visions?
N: Well, you know the ship had to land about a mile out, and we had to get on LSTs to go to shore, but before we got off the ship, we could smell Korea.
N: and it smelled like an outhouse and we thought we never could eat again because that smell was so bad.
I: Smelled really bad like decay?
N: yea, they used human waste on the land
I: What were your military duties?
N: Well I was a rifleman in the infantry. My weapon was an N1 that I had to carry and of course I fired 50 calibers and 30 calibers. I had to fire all of the weapons in the Army, Bazookas, rifles, grenades and all this. I was in the second division, second infantry division.
N: the 9th regiment over there in Korea. We rolled up so far in there, we hit a battle while we were on the train.
I: they attacked the train?
N: yea, they attacked the train and we all had to get out. We never could see the enemy because it was at night and a they said they were snipers that was out there and that’s who fired on the train. There was no town there. It was when we were going up on the front line.
N:Then when we were getting out of there, we had to get on the back of a truck and the truck I got on was an ammunition truck and I had to lay in the back. I hadn’t had any sleep for a couple days, and I wanted to sleep on the back of there. They said we went through a battle after I got on the back of the truck, but I don’t remember because I was dead sleeping.
I: so, you were sleeping on the ammo boxes?
N: Yea, and tarp was pulled over.
I: so, when you woke up, they said there had been a battle?
N: Yeah, and if a shell had a hit that truck I would have been blown up. We had to join in a…a…a company there. Which the company had been wiped out twice already. That infantry, the first infantry division. I’m sorry the second- the second infantry division. And they said they wasn’t but two or three left, so we had to make a company there.
I: so, you were like the replacement for those guys?
N: yea, we were all replacements. We had to fall in line and march all the way to the front line and we dug in there right on the front line in fox holes and we stayed there until we took that hill and then we had to move on to the next.
I: What hill was that? That you took?
I: you went up on a mountain and dug holes? Where about was that?
N: Well that was right after we got there, hit the front line. I don’t remember the date because we didn’t keep up the days when we were in battle anyway.
I: So, while you dug in you got attacked?
N: yeah, they were all around us at the time. But at that time, we thought it was just the Koreans, but then we had to march further on up. And when we was up there, we was in battle all night and all next day.
N: and we found out it was the Chinese that came and surrounded us. They said it was about 250,000 of them that came in.
I: that was 1950?
N: that was 1950 yea. We run up on them. We were firing in a rice patty.
N: I had three shells, that almost scrapped my helmet and then I had a machine gun and I was crawling.
I: so, you were shot at quite a bit?
N: yeah, but the Lord took care of me. He protected me.
I: so, you are crawling along, and the bullets are hitting the water in the rice patty all around you?
N: it was hitting me all and knocking dirt down my collar. And then I hit a little ditch and I went to the top of the mountain where I met up with another fellow.
I: so, you crawled up the mountain?
N: well it was a ditch and it was grown over, so I walked up that. Stooped over of course you know.
I: you went up the ditch to meet up with some buddies?
N: yeah, well there was about 40 men up on top of that mountain and the next morning we hadn’t eaten in a couple of days and didn’t have nothing to drink so the men went down off of the mountain and they had a little place where they dug coal out of the ground and they had a tunnel made up in there and those other men started getting shot and then fell down there and they were hollering at us to go up on top of the mountain so the boy and I went back on top of the mountain and we stayed there the rest of the night.
I: so, were they just wounded or did some of them die?
N: some of them died. They took them down to a little mud house and there were two mud houses there. I don’t know which mud house it was, but one of our planes came by and dropped two rockets and you couldn’t even tell what it was made of.
I: not the one with the men inside of it?
N: I don’t know if it was that one or the other one. So, we watched that, and the plane strike was within three feet of the other guy and myself
I: oh boy, what kind of plane was it?
N: it was a jet fighter, it had rockets under its wings and then it had a 50-caliber machine gun.
N: that was really striking us.
I: they didn’t know you were friendly?
N: they didn’t know you were friendly. [long pause] but after we stayed on that mountain two days, we started off the other side, we thought we could get off. Machine gun fire came, and I never did know what marijuana was until then.
I: marry what?
I: oh yea.
N: it grew wild over there in the woods and they started cutting the tops off that marijuana with machine gun fire. And we went back to the top of the mountain.
I: this was the Chinese.
N: yea, and we went back to the top of the mountain, we couldn’t get off there and I began to say, I was so thirsty I began to see water at night and I could hear it running and that night we crawled off of the mountain to find the water that I thought I saw and it was sand down there. This boy and I met up with a Sargent and another man and uh, we all three went down and the there was light. There were four search lights that lit up the whole place.
I: were those the enemy search lights?
N: yeah, it was the enemy. And we looked around we was down next to the Chinese, down where they had their headquarters set up.
I: they were searching the mountain for you guys.
N: they were searching the whole land around that. Then the Sargent, he froze up, he couldn’t talk, he couldn’t move. He couldn’t walk.
I: he got hysterical or something?
N: he got scared to death.
N: and this boy and I, we found the water it was coming out of the rice patty and I filled up my canteen up and drank all that I could. That’s where the we’d had the battle for a night and a day, uh, so you can see what was laying out. But when you get starving for water, you’ll drink it anywhere. Then the boy and I got the Sargent around the neck and we carried up back up on the mountain.
I: but he wasn’t wounded right? He was just in shock?
N: he was just in shock. He was completely… but the next morning he came to himself. And I told him then, I told the boy that was with and told him as well. Tear your weapons apart. There is no way we are going to get out because the Chinese were walking right in front of us.
N: it was about 30 of them coming up that mountain and walking with there weapons and we were under some bushes down there. And I told them to tear there weapons down and that’s what they taught in basic training to do. And throw one piece one way and one piece the other another. We threw all of em away.
N: so, we started off the other way, and there were about 30 Chinese men. So, we went behind them and the first thing I saw was a 50-caliber machine gun, pointed right in my face.
I: oh boy.
N: and of course, the only way we got out- we raised our hands and showed them we had no weapons and that’s the only reason that they… and they took out there and put us separately in fox holes way over our head and we sat there the rest of the day.
I: how many guys where you?
N: it was just the three of us.
I: just the three.
N: but I didn’t see, I didn’t see the other two men anymore because they put us in separate foxholes. And we didn’t know if they were going to burry us alive. Because it was noted over there that they buried some alive.
I: so, it was very deep fox holes?
N:yea, way over our heads.
I: so, you just sat there all day?
N: it was in the morning we got captured and they left us there the rest of the day. We’d had nothing to eat for about three days.
I: so, they left you there for three days?
N: they didn’t leave us in the fox hole, they took us out that night. When it got dark, they took us out of the foxhole and took us to a mud house where they had captured many many more of the Americans. And they said they was gonna feed us and they brought us some stuff in there that was green looking, and it taste like gourd and we couldn’t eat it made us vomit. And we couldn’t eat it.
I: it was like a vegetable, like some kind vegetable?
N: I don’t know it might have been green gourds, that they boiled up. That’s what it tasted like. After that they poached corn in a wash pot, and they told us to gather some and put it in our pockets that we were going to take a walk.
N: We were going to start a match. It was getting very very cold at that time. There snow was on the ground. The further we marched the colder it got.
I: so, this is what like November?
N: I got captured in November, the last part of November and we started the march the first of December.
I: so, this is not just the three of you, this is like many men?
N: it was, before it was over it was about 3000 men.
I: 3000 men were marching? That’s a lot!
N: then we marched, um… till the weather and the snow got so deep and the weather got down to fifty below zero and they marched us up in a little place because we couldn’t march any more.
I: forty below you said?
N: Fifty below zero. And um, we marched up in a little place. It was a mining gap. And that’s where I seen my first American soldier froze completely all over. He was still.
I: he was just lying there?
N: he was laying there, but he was still moaning. So, the Chinese said they would take him out of the room, so they did but of course he died.
I: so, was this little huts?
N: little mud houses.
N: it was all made out of mud. And little sticks, you know that.
I: when you went into this house and saw the frozen soldier, it was just one guy frozen?
N: It was one frozen, but later…
I: he was all alone?
N: he was all alone in that room; he was swollen about three times as big as he was supposed to be. His arms looked like the little dough boy.
I: so, you stayed there two weeks and you did the same thing every day?
N: I had the same thing every day. I had to get my own wood, which was a little branches and stuff that I could pick and pull off and burn under there. My eyes got burned.
N: I couldn’t see for about two or three days. It was hard marching again after that was over with. And we were so high up on the mountain that we could look down and see the trees. One boy walked on the edge of the little road to keep me from walking off. We marched from December 1950 to February 1951, till we hit camp 5 right up on the yellow river.
I: What happened next?
N: we were there, its when so many people died. And I got a poem where a man was in our camp, and he wrote this poem of the 1600 that had died during that winter.
N: and something happened to him and we don’t know what. If he died, or if he was moved, or… we don’t know what happened to him, no body knows his name. but it was written in camp five, and the poem goes:
N: the 1600, not a bugle was heard, nor funeral made, or even a drum sounding retreat. As over the eyes the corps where carried to the hills where the GIs are buried. Six foot, by 2 foot, by one foot deep. The Korean hills while they sleep. One and all are wondering why 1600 had to die. No little white cross with there name, but there not buried in shame. Although they lay in an unknown in an unknown grave, 1600 American brave. No useless casket encloses their chest. GI clothing for their last rest. All color of man, black, brown and white, 1600 faded lights. In their illness tossing and turning, most of them knew there would be know returning. Some went easy, some with pain. 1600 died in vain. When we go home to enjoy our field, there still there laying on that hill. Forgotten by some, remembered by most. 1600 in their last post.
N: if you read the encyclopedia. This is the world book encyclopedia. You can see that for the amount of time, this was the bloodiest war in history. More men died in the three and half years we were there. Young men and more men were wounded, during that three and half years.
N: they had something for us to do every day. They had us to dig part of the mountain out and make a place as big as a ball field. They gave us so much to do a day and if you didn’t finish it you had to finish. You had to finish what they marked out for you that, before you got to your little cracked corn.
I: why where they going to build a ball field?
N: well during the summer they made the boys get out there and perform and play softball and stuff like that.
I: They wanted you to get exercise or something?
N: yeah, they said they wanted us to get exercise. But most of us got down to 65 or 70 pounds.
N: that’s what the doctors said because we had no scales, but we got down just skin and bones and he said that’s how much we weight. That was an American doctor that told us.
I: did you also get down to 70 pounds?
N: about that much at one time.
N: and then before, they told us at one time there that we would never get to come home. Wed never get out of there, because Truman had quit all the talks and everything.
N: But then one day that they, we fell out every morning at 5 o’clock. We had to take pointed sticks and knock the ice and snow off the field where they’d throw us out. And they told us all the bad news of the Americans and they voted Eisenhour in. And he was a military man and he told em if you don’t come back to the table, I am going to complete destroy Korea and then I am going to destroy china too.
N: So, they came back to the table and that’s how we got out. Eisenhour was my president then.
I: he said if they don’t end the war?
N: he said if you don’t come back to the table to talk, and they traded us… they said it was 20 for 1. 20 of Chinese and Korean for one American. Truman said we are not talking anymore and by the way we were prisoners, we never got a rank, we never got promoted at all. We went as privates right out of basic training and we stayed privates.
N: that’s what little we got. When we got back, its what a private got. But then they changed it.
I: So, while you are a soldier, they are supposed to pay you for your monthly allotment, but they never did.
N: they paid us for our mail, they gave us, I think it was $2.50 a day. They paid us our back time as a private, just as a private. They paid us the back time, but they muster pay after we got charged, they paid us three months and they supposed to pay us all the time we had in Korea, but they didn’t do it.
N: all the money I drew while I was there was only about 3000 something dollars. While I was in the POW camp, they made me the platoon leader, they didn’t ask, did you wanna be, they appointed you- the Chinese did. And if you didn’t get your work done, they came to you, they didn’t go to the man, they came to you and you paid the consequence.
N: and I also had to be the cook for about two years, there I was the cook.
I: so now you are in the prison still, did you get released somehow? Like more time later?
N: we had, we, the river got up and we had to move under a little ten, up on the mountain up there above it.
N: they came and told us in 10 days after Eisenhour had gotten in. they said in 10 days you will be released.
I: so, when the river overflowed they moved you up or something?
N; yeah, we had to move out of the little mud house down there. It had washed away once before, and we had to rebuild it.
I: how did you find out about the Eisenhour saying you were going to released.
N: they called us out every morning, the place we cleared as a ball field, they called us out there every morning at five o’clock and they called us out and it didn’t matter if it was snowing or raining or whatever- they filled us out every morning.
I: so that’s when you heard.
N: That’s when they gave us all the news. Especially the bad news about America
I: and in that same time, they told you were going to be released?
N: no, they didn’t tell us then, they waited till another day and then they filled us out and told us within 10 days you will be released.
I: what’s the most memorable part of your Korean war experience? Is it the prison camps? The death? What is it?
N: I can remember ever day that I was there mostly. When you see people die, it was mostly 40 a night and you didn’t know if you were going to be next, you say well I wonder if I am going to be next. You know, you get in that situation and you don’t know if one day… we didn’t know if they was going to kill us, we didn’t know if they was going to let us live or if we would get to come home one day.
N: if it had been left up to the north Koreans we would have been shot.
I: if you could say something to the American people or to kids, what would you like for them to remember about the Korean war? This is gonna go all over the place. What would you like to say to the families and kids?
N: the best way that I can put t is that you don’t wanna live in condition like.
I: as a POW
N: as a POW. But I don’t think you’d like to live as the north Koreans live. I know you wouldn’t. because they have nothing and they’re starving to death over there. The children are starving to death.
N: I want people to know that America is the greatest country in the world and we gonna have to stand behind it to keep it that way. To keep it America because if keeps going a decade from now, it won’t be America anymore. The way I see it.
N: it’ll be a mingled-up country.
I: A what?
N: A mingled up country. All different kinds of people will be in here. It won’t be America anymore. They will call it something else. But if we get behind America and start doing the right thing in the right direction, we can bring it back. Because our country has been sold out
I: so, you went on a helicopter? A ship? And you landed in America?
N: no, we got on a ship and it took 16 days and nights to get from Korea and to San Francisco. We had to go through every doctor you can think of, we had to go through a heart doctor, we had to got through the psychiatrist, we had to go through medical doctors, we had to go through the dental. The only camp I can talk about is camp 5 and that’s what I’ve given you today. Its what happened in camp 5.
N: I know there’s some boys down here, they, they, was in the chosen few. And they nicknamed it, what’s this Chinese name? they named him something because all of were mean. I mean they didn’t care about life and he didn’t care about life. .
N: They call em the chosen few- I am talking about right here. All of em where that way. They kinda wanted to separate from the other POWs
I: oh, they wanted to be spectacular?
N: yea, but its, no different either place- they, from all I can find, camp 5 was the worst camp
N: when we came in, they separated us, but I had to stay in camp 5 the whole time.
N: But ill say in closing this thing, that I love America and I would fight for it again to keep it America.
I: thank you for coming
N: I wanted to say this: God Bless America
I: Thank you very much it was a wonderful interview
N: Thank you
[End of Recorded Material]