William D. Freeman
William D. Freeman was born in Florida, raised in Georgia, and served in the United States Army during World War II prior to serving in the Korean War. He recalls that he was in the United States Army Reserves when the Korean War broke out and details leaving behind a wife and two children when shipped to Korea. He recounts the Hoengsong Massacre and elaborates on his Prisoner of War (POW) experience where he spent two and a half years with North Korean and Chinese captors. He speaks of his time in the POW camps and relates how he pretended to have a mental illness in order to receive better treatment and extra food for fellow POWs. He comments on South Korea’s progress since the war and shares that he is proud of his service.
William Freeman describes a little known event during the Korean War, the Hoengsong Massacre. He recalls his capture as a Prisoner of War (POW). He describes the details of the event as well as his project archiving the experiences of the American soldiers captured there.
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Recaptured as a POW
William Freeman details his experiences being recaptured as a POW after his release in Panmunjeom. He recalls the rough march to the camp and being buried alive after US forces blew up the camp. He discusses the differences in treatment by Chinese soldiers versus North Korean soldiers, describing the North Koreans as being the most brutal.
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Life at Camp One
William Freeman elaborates on his experience as a prisoner of war at Camp One. He shares that Camp One was managed by Chinese soldiers. He explains how he purposely acted "crazy" at the camp because the Chinese would treat him better due to their superstitions of people with mental illnesses. He recalls acquiring roughly forty-two dozen eggs over a period of one and a half years which helped keep him and his comrades alive.
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Gone for Good
William Freeman elaborates on how he has no interest in returning to the Korean Peninsula. He communicates his knowledge of South Korea's successes today and adds he has a great rapport with the South Koreans in his community. He shares his pride for his war efforts but continues by stating that he had enough experience in Korea for a lifetime.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
William D. Freeman: My name is William Dewey Freeman. I’m a junior, but I don’t use junior that much.
W: I was born in Jacksonville, Florida
W: On October the 3rd 1928
I: Mm-hmm. Tell me about your family.
W: My mother was a Seminole Indian. My mother and father both death. My mother died
When I was born.
W: So I never did–I never was–knew my mother. I have one half-brother and one half-sister. I did have, I don’t have them anymore.
W: And I had four sisters and I’m the only boy out of the Free–Freeman family of my father’s generation and well, I was–I
lived in Jacksonville until I was 18 months old and then my father moved back to Georgia.
W: And then he remarried and I was raised by a step mother.
I: Okay what school did you go?
W: I–I didn’t–I went to–I didn’t finish high school until I got out of the Korean War, and then I took the GED
and finished. And then I went to the University of Ohio and studied food technology and I got a course of that. And I also went to Texas A&M and studied computers. All the time I was working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I worked for them for 43 years.
I: What were you doing when the Korean War broke out?
W: I was–
what kind of work I did?
I: Yeah. What were you doing? Were you in working or–?
W: Yeah I was working. I was in the– I had been in World War 2 and I was in the reserves.
I: Oh, you went–you fought during the World War 2?
W: I didn’t fight. I was in there but the war ended before I got at– when my basic training ended the war was over with.
W: But it was in 1945 that I went in.
W: And then I got out in 1947. And then I was in the reserves when the Korean War broke out. I was called back in.
I: When did you join the military?
W: In–in–February–I went into the military on August oh no October–October the 7th 1945.
I: nine–October the 7th 1945?
I: Join what, Army?
W: In the Army.
I: Why did you–why did you want to join the Army at that early age?
W: I thought–I thought I would be a good soldier. I wanted to be a soldier.
W: At that time, we were still fighting the war and I thought I want to get in on it.
Then the Korean War come along and I didn’t really wanted to go because I was already married then.
W: And just bought a new house.
W: And I had two small children.
W: And I thought–
I: So, you didn’t want to go to Korea? You didn’t want to go to Korea?
W: Not–no, not particularly at that time because I–at that time I didn’t even know what–where Korea was, never heard of it.
Until I got over there
I: Hm. So how did your wife react to the decision that you had to go?
W: Well, like any other wife, well she was saddened, but there was no–nothing she could do about it. You know, I was in the reserves and when they call the reserves I wa–I would have to go whether I wanted to or not. I was already trained during World War II.
W: I’d already had my training I–I was in the armored division.
I was a–a tank driver. And when I got to Korea, they said we don’t need no tank drivers, you’re in the infantry.
I: Oh, okay.
W: So that’s how I wound up in the infantry and I was with the second division 38th regiment A’s company, first platoon.
I: When did you ar–arrive in Korea, where?
W: I landed
in Korea on February the 1st
I: Uh-huh. Where?
W: In Pusan.
I: How was Pusan at the time? When you arrived at Pusan how was Pusan?
W: How was what?
W: Well, I didn’t stay there very long. They moved us up to the front and then
I was captured.
W: 12 days later.
I: From Pusan where did you go?
W: I, well I went up to–well we was still in South Korea fighting. I don’t remember the first place we went, but the second place we moved up seven days. We was up on a mountain I don’t know where it was. But we moved up to a place called Hongseong.
W: That’s east of
Seoul, I believe.
I: Yeah Hoengsong, I know Hoengsong.
W: And that’s where I was taken prisoner. And I was taken prisoner at what they call the Hoengsong Massacre.
I: Hoengsong massacre–tell me about it.
W: In that–in that massacre the Chinese and North Koreans slaughtered us. There were over 2,000 American troops that were killed.
W: 2,000. And it was February the 12th and February the 13th. And they stripped all their clothes off of them.
I: February 12th of ’51?
W: In ’51. The reason I know that, the Chinese released the wounded they had 14 days later. There were 31 of us. We went round back through the battlefield and I saw some of my officers laying over there.
W: That had nothing on but their shorts. And one of them I never met, but I knew him when I saw his body. It was Lieutenant Owens. He lived in Georgia. He fought in World War II. The reason I knew him, when I had came into the outfit, the other boys in my squad says we got another Georgia man here in the company. His name is Lieutenant Owens
And he wants to meet you.
W: But he got a care package and he was showing off these polka dot shorts that he got. And so when I looked over there and saw his dead body, ain’t nothing on but them polka-dot shorts I knew exactly who he is. And my wife, after that she saw that his body was coming back, she got in contact with Mrs. Owens,
his mother, and they corresponded with each other. And that’s so–I got captured. And what I’m saying- I didn’t know what happened to my rest of my company until I saw him later, laying over there dead.
W: And they call that the Hoengsong massacre.
W: And it was one of the bloodiest battles, the one of the bloodiest fights that went on over there
But the American people never knew about it. Now, they’re beginning to ask questions. I’ve got all this in my archives at home. I’ve got every name of POW that came back to this–that was in the prison camp and I’ve all the names that came back.
I: You have your own archive?
W: Oh I’ve–well I call it my archives I’ve–I’ve–I’ve got my memoirs in the internet.
W: My entire story is on the internet.
I: What is your–what is the name of it?
W: Well, you go to what they call the Korean War educators.
I: Oh okay.
W: And you punch in my name, William D. Freeman. And a little picture of me will come up. I was–I had a picture of me taken in the prison camp. But they didn’t show the entire picture. They just showed the head but I got the entire picture with three of us–four of us sitting on a bench where one of the pho–
American reports that had got captured. The Chinese used him for going around the camps to take pictures for propaganda purposes.
I: So, you were captured on February 12th ’51
I: in Hoengsong?
W: I was a POW for 930 days. That’s 2 ½ years I think and six days. I was a relea–I was released on August
the 19th 1953 at Panmunjom. I didn’t get to a prison camp to–let’s see it was February, March, April–May 17th.
I: Mm-hmm. Where did you go?
W: We went and then after we left got recaptured by the North Koreans. They just moved everywhere. They–they some of them–they had–there was 28 of them they had recaptured out of the 31.
We stayed with them for 22 days. Only two of us out of that group survived. North Koreans shot three the first night they had us. And every one of us was wounded. But some of these guys was worse off than I was. I was able to–I was shot in my leg–I was able to take care of my own wounds. Some of these boys that was in bad shape they couldn’t hardly walk.
W: So, they wouldn’t keep up they just up and shot them.
W: The North Koreans, I mean they were very brutal, very brutal. And like we just–they finally turned us over to the Chinese in a place called Suwon North Korea. And there was a camp there that we call–the GI’s called it bean camp. But I found out later,
Through my research after I came back that was actually a Korean War Army post, North Korean Army post was in Suwon North Korea, just over the 38th parallel.
W: That place got blowed up by our Air Force while were POW’s there.
W: I was buried alive under those buildings for I don’t know how many hours,
but I came out without a scratch on me.
I: So, you moved to Suwon camp, mining camp by May 17th.
W: Yeah, I don’t remember the date we got there. But when the–when the North Koreans turned us over to them.
W: But we were with the North Koreans 22 days.
W: And then they turned us over to the Chinese there at–in Suwon. Which Suwon was
was a main MSR, I think they said that came through there.
W: And they bombed it quite often.
I: How did North Korean treat the POW?
W: How did they treat us?
W: Rough. Very rough.
I: Tell me the detail.
I: Tell me detail.
W: The details? Well, I can tell you what happened to me on–on–on–on the march. It took–when we left Suwon,
they took us 23 days walking up to Cheongsong, North Korea. And Cheongsong is way up North, close to the Yalu River.
W: In fact, we was only five miles by road to the Yalu River–Yalu River.
W: But they–they were very–they were very rough with us and I was beaten several times. One time
I tried to escape. I tried to play like I was dead because they would leave the dead bodies laying on the road.
W: And the group that was with us, about 750, to my knowledge we got there with less than 300 in that 23 days. We would get gassed in a tunnel. They would put us in a tunnel still on a train and what they had left, I don’t know
that they had intended on doing this, but they left the engine hooked to it. And they had boarded up the back of the tunnel and the carbon monoxide from that engine backed up and they killed about 35 or 40 prisoners.
I: Ugh. So from there, where did you go?
W: From where?
I: From there, from Chungcheong.
W: Oh, from the tunnels?
W: Then they
They–walked us from there we walked then from there through Pyongyang–no not Pyongyang–yeah the capital of North Korea.
W: It was in the springtime when we got there.
I: So, 1952?
W: 1951, yeah.
W: ’51. It took–
I: No–no–no–no– you were captured–captured in February.
W: February and we didn’t get there til May 17.
W: So that’s, what?
Three, four months.
W: Four months walking. And now. We would–we would stop–they’d go into a village and–and whether the civilians were there–we might spend the night there and get out and move out the next day or the next night. But they just moved us around, North, South, actually I–I think they was lost. But we knew which way
we was going by looking at the stars. We knew where north was, we could tell and that was the only way we knew that we were either going north, south, east or west.
W: And they walked us to death is actually what they done. They was trying–to not kill us, but that’s why there’s so many of them my age over there. Over 8,000 in my age. And the sad part about it, the ones that died on the road,
that never got to a POW camp, were not considered prisoners by our government.
W: They were considered MIA’s.
W: But there were 8,000 that the-the last count I have is 8,177, but there have been some bodies that have been found since then, so its–its just a little over 8,000 left over there.
W: They don’t know where they’re at. They wouldn’t let
us burry them. Saddest thing I had to do is go to a mother that lived in Georgia and tell her that her son had died on the road. And the–the dear lady looked at me with tears in her eyes, she asked me, she said did you see them burry him? I said no, ma’am. She said well, you don’t know whether he’s dead or not. And then that kind of
made me think about how the–the ones that were still left back here were suffering knowing their loved ones were over there and hope–still had that hope that they would come home.
I: Tell me about the life in the Camp 1.
W: I got to Camp 1 and I, for some reason, I was able to find out that the Chinese they made–made us call them
s–we were students to them and there–they were now let’s see I can’t think of the name right now what they said–they were instructors.
W: They were our instructors. Actually it’s not a prison camp like most people think. We had no barbed wires around us.
W: we just–they just moved in the village and moved everybody out on that end of it. and they–I learned
the–the regular Chinese that–that we were around were superstitious.
W: Very superstitious. And I used that to my advantage. I did something that most people thought I was actually crazy. Only 10 people knew I wasn’t crazy. I was putting on an act, because I found out that they were–they were very superstitious
about a person insane. So, I learned what they–what person insane in Chinese was, [lomopeen] and I played crazy for a–over a year and a half, the last year and a half that I was there. and able to con them out of–over that period of time–42 dozen eggs and I shared it w the 10 people that was in my little hut.
And all ten of us survived, while the others were dying around us. And I was able to. Because they were superstitious.
W: They were superstitious, anybody insane they quit mistreating me after that.
W: They didn’t even allow me to do any– any detail. And I–we used to have to go out in the summertime and gather woods, you know, in the mountains. And after I went crazy
they didn’t let me do any of that, they just figured I was getting lost up there And I guess that I didn’t–they left me alone. I didn’t have too–you know they try to do a lot of indoctrination. I would go to where they had them and I’d break it up sometimes. You know, putting on a crazy act.
I: What kind? Tell me about it.
W: Okay, one time I’m walking around like I was catching flies.
W: Snapping up at the air, catching flies. And a buddy of mine, this fella that was with me, named TJ Martin, they had him in another part of the camp and he slept over–slipped over there one evening trying to find me. And somebody told him, just stand here a while you’ll see him come by, but you don’t want to say nothing to him because he’s crazy. And I’m there snapping at the air and TJ say
Willie, what’s the matter with you? I said don’t bother me now, I’m crazy. He says well, he told me Willie, he said well I guess you are I’m gonna–I better get back to my company. But TJ’ll be here at the–he always comes every year at this reunion. But anyway, I used to walk around like I had a dog at the end of a–there wasn’t no dog there. I’d act like I got a dog.
And there’s one time I actually took the gun away from a guard.
W: I was running around–around this compound where the Chinese stayed. It was a house. And they had–of course the guards never had any physical contact with the prisoners, just the–I mean the ones that carried the guns. These ones that did had their own compound where we were and they were
sitting on their little porch, of course they all had pistols on them when they was sitting there and I’m running around there just like I’m jogging and this new guard evidently didn’t know who I was and he started chasing me around that building trying to get me stop. And I turn around real quick and he came right around like that and they holl–they hollered [lomopeen]!
W: At that time, I had a hold of his gun like this, he’d–he’d
let go of it and he took off running because I guess he was superstitious.
W: And–but I–I realize what I’d done real quick and throwed the gun down and kept running and they kept–they kept hollering to me Freeman no good with their thumb down like that. Freeman no good. [laughing].
I: You’re smart, huh?
W: There was another occasions where they wanted some–they’d brought some chickens in there and they were going this–
this one Chinese cook, I can’t think of his name, but he couldn’t speak any English, didn’t know how to count. So I went down in this little–at that time, they had a bomb shelter that was for them, but they weren’t using it because they kept bombing the camp–I mean the prison camp. And they had– they had brought some chickens in there and they wanted somebody to go in there and get some chickens out. After a while I go in and I let–I let all of them out.
I: The Chinese really didn’t treat you too harsh?
W: Well, the– the–the front line troops that captured the wounded, they kept us in a warm room.
W: See, it was winter time over there in February. You well aught know that.
W: It was cold. And they kept–they–they–they went–they didn’t–we weren’t mistreated, I’ll put it that way.
W: But they
they–like TJ talked them in–TJ got to talking to this one to speak English. He was an officer and knew we–we didn’t know what his rank was. We knew he was an officer because they Chinese had red stripes down their britches and they–they were officers they didn’t have no insignias up here. But TJ had talked him into releasing us and they gave us a guide to go through their lines.
And we got down as far as the Han River. And that’s south of Seoul there. And they put us in the little hut up there, and went off and left us. When I woke up, I was the only one sitting there another guy sitting there and I asked him where they at? He said they went outside. I went outside and my first sergeant, sergeant Mashburn was bent over helping a fella that begin to here, had been shot in the neck and he was hemorrhaging. Ad he says
You need to go out and stop them, they going off the–they be going the wrong way. When I got down there, one of our airplanes came over. A–a mustang, do you know what a B-38 looks like?
I: Yeah, I know, I know.
W: He come diving down and he was coming down like this. And we wound up waving him off and he made a circle and came down, he was so low and coming down the riverbed you could see him in the cockpit. And he rocked his wings
like this and shot across the river. By that time, the North Koreans, we didn’t know they was North Koreans then, started shooting at us. And they recaptured us. They put us in that little guardhouses up there where the bridge had been blowed out for about–we wasn’t in there I don’t think a minute and then they took us out. And the other planes came over and then started dropp–dropping napalm. And they dropped a napalm bomb right on top of that building.
Instead of their fire spreading, it went over the top of us, like that. And the heat of it singed out beards, but we didn’t get burned. For 2 ½ years I never knew what happened to him. Until I got out. And I was in Japan in the hospital and one of the interviewers that came in to interview was sergeant Mashburn.
W: He had made a–he was a second lieutenant. Of course, he didn’t do much interviewing.
We just talked about what happened to the rest of t hem. To my knowledge, TJ and I was the only out of that group that survived. And TJ’ll be here today so, he’s always here so…
W: TJ Martin is his name.
I: So what day you were released?
W: What day I was released?
I: Yeah. Yeah.
W: I was released on August–
I: 18th? 19th?
W: 19th 1953.
I: Have you been back to Korea?
W: No, don’t want to go back.
I: You don’t want to go back?
I: Why not?
W: I–I couldn’t go back now because of my health. I just didn’t want to go at the time.
I: Too much?
W: Well, a lot of people say you need to go back you won’t believe how it’s improved. I’ve got books that shows me how much they improved. You know, I know they’ve improved.
I’ve had such good relations with the South Koreans that are over here.
W: That live in the Macon com–community.
W: They have honored me. You won’t believe. You know, they’re–I–I–you know a couple of years ago, I–I–I met one of them through one of my city councilman’s. They own the grocery store. That lady wouldn’t let me go to an isle of that store
without giving me something.
W: And I was very nice not to take no more than a bottle of pop or water, you know. But anyway, they did tell me they kept saying are you going to be around on June–I forget–the 12th it was a couple years ago, I said yeah. I–I–I didn’t know it til I got to this restaurant. Here they had all these cameras, TV’s and they were honoring me with a beautiful plaque. And I almost
wanted to cry, you know. And they’ve been very nice, all of them in my community here in Macon. And just so appreciate that–that–that I– I helped them fight over in Korea. Met quite a few of them that– that–that– live in the area around there and that. And I –I –I –this–this being our last reunion, because there won’t be no more after that.
I: What is Korea to you now?
W: Well, is–its–it means to me it’s a democracy, it’s a free country. And it’s not communist, you know. It’s sad that it’s not–it’s–it’s –it’s separated like it is. I wish it wasn’t.
W: Because this–and–and–and–and–and I’ve met, like I say I met them at other reunions that we’ve been and I–I–I’ve seen how its growed.
I’ve learned a lot about it. Most people don’t know Korea– in South Korea and down in Pusan is the largest ship building in the world. And it used to be you see mud huts and now it’s big 20 story, 30 story buildings in that capital, you know. I told somebody you wouldn’t believe it, they I–I say I don’t remember ever seeing a paved road, but now they got four lane highways everywhere.
And they end up at the 38th parallel. Yeah, I’ve got a map of it at home. I look at it every once in a while. And I got–I got books on it. And I know a lot about Korea. I know Korea had never invaded another country in its entire life, over 900 years. They’ve always been invaded by somebody else. And I know that the Japanese ruled them for 40 years.
I: Anything you want to
add to this interview?
W: No, I’m just happy to be back home. And I–li–I go–I go around and I –I–I–I do tell people my story, when they want to hear it. And I–I got to schools, churches, any kind of–I don’t advertise it’s from word of mouth. If peoples–they want to hear about what happened in Korea.
W: Because it’s not a whole lot that they talk about it over here. Not even in the history books. Nobody, never heard tell about the Hoengsong massacre.
W: And I’ve been–I’ve been fortunate over the 2010, 2011, 2012, I had the opportunity and the privilege of laying the wreath
on Memorial Day in Washington D.C.
I: Do you have grandchildren and great grandchildren in high school or college?
W: I’ve got great–I’ve got 20 grandchildren and great grandchildren together. I got 10 great grandchildren and 10 grandchildren.
I: Talk to your grandchildren’s and ask them to join me, okay?
W: I will.
I: Alright. Thank you so much William for your fight.
W: Okay, thank you.
[End of Recorded Material]