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James Calvin DeLong
"We lost a lot of men when they were marching us north from the reservoir. If someone fell, he was killed. They shot him or bayoneted him. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They just shot him. They were left on some mountain trail. Some animal ate them. Ate their bones. That’s where they’re at today. They have no home. They don’t have a resting place."
- James DeLong
I was born in Redding, Pennsylvania on August 10, 1931, a son of Thomas R. and Clara S. Beam DeLong. I am the oldest of the three DeLong boys. During the Depression my father worked in a shoe factory. We didn't have much money, so were also on relief for a while. My folks moved a lot when I was young. We went back and forth out of the country. My grandfather on my mother's side owned a farm out there. When my father got a job, we moved into the city. As times got tough, we moved back out on the farm and then we lived off the farm for a while. When my father got another job, we went back into the city. I started working on the farm when I was 13 years old. I did anything and everything--hauling in the hay, plowing with a one-horse plow, etc.
I started first grade in Conorbin grade school. We moved down the road a little bit when my father built a house there and then I went to a one-room schoolhouse called Kellars. I think I went up to sixth grade there--one to six. It went up to eighth grade. After eighth grade, everybody quit school. Nobody went on to high school. I went to 10th grade, but I quit in the tenth grade and joined the Army. I was 17 years old. That wasn't okay with my mother, but I talked her into signing for me. All of my uncles were in the Army in the Second World War, and that’s where I wanted to go.
I was in grade school during World War II. I remember school programs that had to do with the war, like scrap drives and such. We used to collect milkweed for parachutes, save glass and cans, and all that. We did everything. I guess I joined the Army because it was the thing to do in those days. I couldn't find a job so I joined in 1948. There wasn't a war going on, but it was still the thing to do. Since my uncles had served in the war, we were patriotic. Just common folks.
I went to Camp Pickett, Virginia for basic training. I learned how to tear my M-1 down and they put us in shape. We had calisthenics, learned how to march, and went out on maneuvers. They took us out on bivouac and showed us what the Army life was like. I liked the Army. I really did. It gave me three meals a day. When I lived at home, we had no running water, electricity, or inside plumbing. When I got into the service, we had electricity. We had inside plumbing. I could take a bath and shower. I was living. We didn’t have that at home.
I had never been away from home before, but in all the time I was in service--almost five years--I was homesick only one time. That was in basic. When we first got there, they put us in a repo depot and gave us our clothes. Then they put us in a regular company. When I got into the regular company, I looked down that barracks and there wasn’t one soul that I knew. I sat on the end of my bunk and I just choked up and started to cry. It was something. But when I got over that about an hour later, I was never homesick again. I made friends.
I got out of basic in the end of February in 1949 and I was shipped right to Japan where I was put on occupation duty. I had never been on a ship before and got seasick before we got out of the San Francisco harbor. Once we got away from the shore, I got over my seasickness. We went through a typhoon on the way over, but I didn't get sick again. In fact, I spent almost four months aboard ship while I was in the service in Korea, including the trip to Japan, then to Korea, making the invasion at Inchon, going from Pusan to Ewon, and then coming home again.
As I said, I was in the Army of Occupation In Japan. I didn't get to see the countryside or see the devastation from the atomic bomb that had been dropped on Japan in World War II. I never saw Hiroshima or Nagasaki. I was busy serving as a machinegun squad leader. Of course, we were on maneuvers a lot and we were out in the lot. I was stationed with the 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Division in Camp Crawford on the island of Okido in northern Japan. In the winter there was snow. We got three to four feet of snow at a time. That helped prepare us for Korea, I think. We used to go out in the weather and have battle war games and bivouac out there in the snow to learn how to survive in it. In fact, I learned how to ski over there. I was pretty agile in those days and I learned my lessons fast. I became an Army ski instructor to teach soldiers how to ski. If we wanted to get across deep snow we could either go in snow shoes or, if we wanted to do it fast, we could do it on skis. We had platoons that we taught how to ski. They got on top of a hill and learned how to ski into the enemy. Don't ask me why the Army wanted them to do that, but they did. I still ski today, but we didn't even have snow shoes in Korea. We were lucky to have good boots.
When the Korean War broke out, I knew we were going to go to Korea. They took all of our Second World War sergeants. Anybody who was a sergeant or above automatically went to Korea. I was a corporal, but I was only 18 years old. I was 19 on August 10, 1950 and shipped over to Korea in time to be in the Inchon Invasion in September. I don't know the name of the troop ship we were on, but I remember that there were probably about 5,000 guys on it. On the way over to Korea, I was promoted from corporal to sergeant and was assigned as the squad leader for the fourth squad of K Company, 31st Infantry, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment.
The Marines made the actual invasion. I think we went in on the 16th. I remember seeing the USS Missouri there, shelling. We sat off shore and watched them shell the harbor. Before the Marines went in and took the little island that sat off to the side, they shelled everything in the harbor. Then they went into Seoul. My company and squad made the invasion after them. We went in and then went south to secure Suwon and Taegu and move on down into that area. We went south and tied up with the 1st Cavalry. After that, they came up and we came down, traveling by trucks.
We didn’t see a lot of fighting on the first couple of days for the simple reason that the North Koreans were trying to get away from us. We had snipers. I think we had one man killed the first night. I have no idea who he was. I didn’t know everybody in the company because when they took us to Mt. Fuji in Japan, they gave us some replacements. I had three guys in my squad when I left Camp Crawford--my machine gunner, my assistant machine gunner, and me. Holloway was the machine gunner and Humphrey was my assistant machine gunner. Holloway was a little older than I was. He was probably 20 years old. But Humphrey was only 17, I think. He might have been 18. I was 18 and I had the squad because I had more time in the company than they did.
My first impression of Korea when I got there was, "War is hell." I could definitely tell I was in a war zone. There were no houses standing when we went into a town. Everything was just flat. Burned out. The South Koreans were living in caves when we came through. I remember the kids. The old people and kids are who we saw. We didn’t see any young people. I remember that the kids were hungry. If we gave them a candy bar, they would do anything for us. They dug our hole. Whatever. They came out from hiding to see if they could do something for us to earn a candy bar. I gave them candy bars and food because I couldn’t refuse a kid anything. I guess kids have always been a soft spot for me. Seeing their poverty definitely bothered me. I saw the same thing at home when I was growing up. When I was a kid, I was hungry and I would have done anything for a candy bar. So I knew how those kids in Korea felt. I had no problem handing out rations to them or giving them a candy bar. They were hungry, and when kids are hungry they’ll do anything to get food.
We went right into Masan and Taegu on the road that runs down through the center of Korea. We followed that the whole way down. On the way down after we left Inchon, we were in a convoy. I had my squad on the truck and there was another squad on it with us. I had all of my equipment on there and everything. The truck ran off the road, hit the soft shoulder, and overturned. I was the only one that got off the truck. I was standing up when I saw it going, so I jumped as far forward as I could. The truck just kept rolling over, and when it stopped, it was upside down on its bed with everybody else underneath it. One man in the other squad--a replacement--was killed. His head was crushed between the truck. He was laying between the bed and had his head laying on the hood. He was asleep when the accident took place, so he never knew what happened. The truck just rolled over and crushed his head and that was it. One guy in my squad had a broken ankle. I've forgotten his name. His injury put him out of action just in time to never make it to the Chosin Reservoir. I met him years later, so I know he made it out. He was in Japan in the hospital when the rest of his unit was in the Reservoir. After the truck accident, they had to re-outfit the two squads that were in the overturned truck because they wouldn't let us take anything off of it. The only thing we could take was what we had on our backs. They kept our machine gun, our rifles, everything--and then they gave us all new supplies. I got a new machine gun out of it. I had had the old machine gun all the time I was in Japan, so maybe it was good to get the new one. It was a .30 caliber light machine gun. My squad carried ammunition for it. I had a machine gunner and an assistant machine gunner.
We didn't have any enemy action as such in the convoy other than some sniper fire. The enemy's back was broken by that time because the Marines had made the Inchon Landing and 2nd Infantry had been fighting the North Koreans. The 24th moved up, so we had it all. They were cleaning out the pockets while we were driving down through. I didn't really know why I was in Korea, but I had no qualms about me fighting there. My country said to go there and fight and that’s why I went. I was an American. When my country said that we were going to fight there, that’s what we did. We fought. I didn’t question that.
We went all the way down to Pusan, getting there about the middle of October. There was a lot of activity there. They put us onboard a troop transport and sent us to Iwon, which was north of Hamhung on the east coast of Korea. By truck convoy and by foot, we went over to the Fusen Reservoir (not far from the Chosin Reservoir) and we sat there for about a week.
It got cold at the Fusen Reservoir. We set up there ,and then we played cards between some probing from the Chinese. They attacked and then they backed off and disappeared into the hills. We even captured a couple of them. We knew we had Chinese in the area, but they were scattered. There were no Chinese in mass. We didn't run into an army or anything else. Still, I don't know where our intelligence was. As I said, we knew there were Chinese in there. But back in Tokyo, nobody did anything about it. This was about the beginning of November 1950. The 31st Infantry Regiment was up there. The 17th Infantry moved up to the Yalu River. The 32nd was in the same area. They came in after we did and I’m not sure where they went. But I know the 17th--which was part of the 7th--went to the Yalu. The 32nd were in back of us and the 31st was at the Fusen. We were sent to Hungnam, then they took one battalion of the 3rd battalion of the 31st and the 1st Battalion of the 32nd Infantry and moved us within two days from the Fusen Reservoir to the Chosin Reservoir. We went back up on a little road into the Chosin Reservoir on the east side. The 5th Marines were already there. I was at the inlet. The 32nd was now above us, the 1st Battalion of the 32nd was ahead of us, and the 3rd battalion was at the inlet.
When we got there the night of November 26, the 32nd was digging in above us. It was around 4 or 5 p.m. It was getting dark since it got dark over there around 4:00-5:00 p.m. That night they put my machine gun squad and me up on the top of a mountain. We couldn’t really dig in, but we scratched some dirt out so we could lay our sleeping bags down and keep the snow off of us. I set up our perimeters with my machine gun and placed my riflemen on each side so they could protect the machine gun. We camped out there for the night. Between midnight and 1:00 a.m., everything broke loose in the valley below us. No one bothered us all night up on that mountain. We didn't even fire a shot. But we could see the Chinese overrunning the 3rd battalion of the 31st down in the valley. They hit the CP, the battalion CP, the company CP. They hit every CP that we had. Our battalion commander got wounded that night. They flew him out later in a helicopter. Captain Kitz was my company commander at that time. He later made it out of the reservoir. So did Lieutenant Riley, my platoon leader. I always thought he was kind of a screwball who didn’t know that much. He was just out of ROTC when he got to Korea. Maybe he turned out pretty good after a while. Maybe he learned a lot from being in Korea. But at that point, he was not a leader as far as I was concerned. A good leader has the respect of his men. He didn’t have our respect because he didn’t try to earn it. I believe that every leader has to earn respect. All the time that we were at the reservoir, Riley sat in a foxhole and wanted me to tell him how many casualties the platoon had--how many guys were killed. I said, “Sir, they’re your men, not mine. I know how many men I have left and I know how many men I had killed because I went out and found out how many got killed. Now if you want to know, you go out and you count them." Well, he never got out of the hole. That’s why he got out of the Chosin Reservoir, I feel. He didn’t put his neck out.
On the night of November 26, they told me to go up on that hill and stay there being an outpost. That’s what I did. I didn’t try to come off the hill that night. The next morning at daybreak, we looked down the hill and there were about 400 Chinese digging in right below us, so I figured we’d better get off of there. I passed the word down to the guys that there were a lot of Chinese digging in right down below us on the reverse slope of the hill. I told them, "When I say open fire, take the machine gun and rake down that line. Kill as many of them, hit as many of them, wound them, whatever you can do to stop them from coming up. Once they know we’re here, they’re going to get us off the hill." At that point in time, the Chinese didn't know we were up there. But as soon as we opened fire, it only took them about ten minutes to get us off of that hill. We literally had to fight our way off because they were on us like bees. They looked right at us and we were shooting them to get through so we could get going down the hill. The odds were not even. They had 400. I had 13 men on that hill. There were some South Koreans with us, but I didn't even count them as soldiers. They had rifles and they could fire, but they were basically just ammo bearers. I had one or two who were pretty good fighters, but the rest just bugged out on me. In fact, after the first day, I didn’t see any more of my Koreans. They disappeared on me.
I didn’t have any ammo bearers. I lost my machine gunner coming off the hill. He got hit in the head. I sent him down to get to the aid station. I never saw his name on a missing in action or a death list, so I guess he made it out okay, but my assistant machine gunner got ricocheted in the stomach and I carried him off. He died in the aid station. His name was Humphrey. I later found his name on the casualty list. I think he was from California. He was the first fatality in my squad, and it was very upsetting for me because I had to carry him off the hill. I was only 19 years old, carrying a guy that was my age along with me. But I wasn’t scared. I can truly say all the time I was there I was not scared that I was going to be killed. I never thought that I would be killed or taken a prisoner. It never crossed my mind that I would even be wounded. Out of the 13 guys that were on the hill, two got hit and one got killed. I think that I'm the only one that’s still alive today. When I got home three years later, I did not try to contact my assistant machine gunner's family. To be honest, I forgot where he lived. I think it was California. I know that my machine gunner lived in Lansing, Michigan. I never really tried to contact any of them. Don't ask me why. I came home and I never discussed the Korean War with anybody.
Not all of the 400 Chinese made it up the hill because we mowed them down with the machine gun until my machine gunner got hit--and then I took over the machine gun. As I said, once we started off the hill, we had to fight our way going down. And, of course, the Chinese came down in back of us, shooting at us. We also got fire from twin 40s on the bottom that were firing up to hold the Chinese back while we got off. I don’t think it took us five minutes to get off that hill once we started down, because we were moving. We went back to the perimeter where we got supporting fire from the 3rd Battalion's I, L, K, and M companies.
By the time we got back to the perimeter, it was daylight and the fighting had stopped and we were safe. That was November 27, 1950. We just dug in for the rest of the day and they gave us rations. I regrouped the men that I had left and set up our perimeter for the next night's battle. We knew that we were surrounded. We knew that we were going to have a battle. It was just a question of how long and how many of them were going to come at us. I had a real good friend that got killed there. He was a rifleman who got shot right between the eyes. His name was Sergeant Fontaine from Providence, Rhode Island. He was with Morrell’s Marauders in Burma during the Second World War. He was a real good soldier. Sharp. He was with the 3rd platoon as one of my squad leaders. He was somebody I had met in Japan. I always had a lot of respect for him. He was only a private in Japan, but he was a sergeant first class when we got to Korea. He was a combat experienced soldier and we needed those kind alive. He was a good soldier if you could get him away from the booze. In Japan he would get paid, go to town, and drink until he didn’t have any more money. Then he would come back and soldier for about 26 days. He would get paid and go AWOL again until he went broke. Then he would come back and soldier again. As long as he didn’t have any money, he was a good soldier. As soon as he got money, he bought booze and drank.
I considered Sergeant Fontaine a very good friend. I had a lot of respect for him. In Japan, nobody bothered him. I thought he was a good soldier. I always prided myself on personally knowing somebody that was a good soldier. I got to know him even more as we went into Korea. We used to sit and shoot the bull at night in our foxholes. He definitely helped me learn how to be a combat soldier. He taught me that a soldier has to fight and do what he has to do. He must do it instantly--kill and don’t think anything of it. And that’s what he did. I didn't have any trouble killing from the very beginning. When they came after me, I shot back, and it didn't bother me. I never had any remorse about what I did over there. There was never a time when I saw the enemy as anything other than the enemy. I didn't think of them as somebody's son. I knew they were going to try to kill me and if I didn't try to kill them first, I would be dead. That's the way I looked at it.
There were three of us in the foxhole that night--an assistant machine gunner--a young kid, Sergeant Fontaine, and me. Fontaine had an M-1. I was in the foxhole right next to him when he got killed. There were 21 Chinese lined up in front of his foxhole the next morning. He had killed that many before they finally got him. I knew that they were coming in on him so I turned my machine gun as far as I could. I couldn’t get it any further, though. I tried to keep them off of him, but I couldn’t stop them. They just came so fast and so hard. They didn't come into the foxhole. The one that evidently got him was laying right on the front of the foxhole with his rifle right in his face. I don't know if that's the one that killed him or not, but like I said, he was shot right between the eyes. I cried like a baby. His death had a great deal more effect on me than the first one I saw that I had to carry down. Fontaine wasn't married and he had no girlfriends that I know of. I don't even know if he had parents living at the time. He was a career soldier. I mean, he already had like 12 years in the Army in 1950. He went in about 1940 or something like that. Sergeant Fontaine got killed on November 28. There was no Graves Registration with us. We left him right in the hole and that’s where he stayed until we moved out because we didn’t take any of our dead with us. He might still be in that hole up there, I don’t know.
The temperature was down in the 20s or maybe in the 30s at night by that time. It was cold. We had one snow while we were there that made the ground white. The wind was the worst. We didn’t even know about wind chill factor then. We just knew it was cold. It might have been 40 or 50 below zero, but I know the temperature was probably down around 20-30 degrees below zero because of the wind. I was dressed warm enough. I had sufficient clothes to keep warm. Of course, I had my sleeping bag which I always put my feet in at night. When I sat in the foxhole I kept it pulled up around my waist. I had mittens, a parka, and a fur cap. I think 3rd Battalion was probably one of the better battalions as far as cold weather gear in Korea because of Japan. The 31st Infantry Regiment was probably outfitted better than any of them for that cold weather--even better than the Marines. The Marines had white parkas. We could reverse ours, too.
We fought November 28 through 30th, and always at night. If the wind was blowing right when they came in. we could smell them. They smelled like dope. We could smell the marijuana, the cocaine, and the heroin. We could also hear them coming. We could hear the snow crunching and we could see them in the background of the snow. We shot flares up and there they were. They also blew bugles and whistles and whistles and bugles. They let us know they were coming. They did that for psychological effect, but all that did was give us enough time to turn the machine gun on them. This happened every night. There wasn't one night while we were there that they didn't come at us en masse. Then on November 30, they attacked us again. On the first of December, General Smith said that an order to pull out had come from the Marine Division. I think on November 30 we were attached to the 1st Marine Division. On November 30th they pulled the 31st Infantry tank company back to Hagaru. The tanks couldn't get to us, but they were on the road between Hagaru and the inlet. General Smith ordered them pulled back to the perimeter at Hagaru. On the first of December, he ordered us to fight our way out. Now if he had only left those damned tanks there one more day. we might have had a better chance of getting out of there. But the Marines had to be protected. We were only Army. Personally, I still feel he sacrificed us to save the 1st Marine Division. We paid a big price trying to get out of there. I think that out of our whole battalion, 360 walked out. If the battalion had been in full force, there would have been over a thousand men.
I never got to Hagaru. I got captured on Hill 1221 on December 1, 1950, the same day we tried to pull out. It might have been the second, I don’t know. It was dark and late at night. I have no idea what time it was. I was in the rear guard. We started out inlet about one o’clock in the afternoon, which, as far as I was concerned, was too late for us to get out. We were walking and it took us until dark to get past the first bridge that the Chinese had blown. We had all of our wounded with us. We couldn’t get the trucks over it so we had to run down in a gully. We had a half track there that pulled them across and let them get back up on the road. We had to do that one at a time, so it took hours to get all of those trucks across that gully. Of course, the Chinese were firing at us all of that time and those of us in the rear guard were trying to hold them back. They were coming in from the back, the sides, and from all around us. We did a pretty good job of holding them off in the back, but after dark they just moved in. We couldn’t see them. We were trying to get back up on the road and onto the hill.
Hill 1221 was in back where the bridge was. To get back up on it, we had to go up and around on the road. When I got up there it might have been 11 or 12 o’clock at night. There were wounded all over the place. The Chinese already had the hill. There was a truckload of about 20 to 30 wounded Army guys sitting alongside of the road. When I got there the Chinese were coming in on the truck and I was by it. They told me to surrender or die. I was the only one with a rifle and I only had ten rounds of ammunition left. I didn’t want to surrender, but I thought, "They’ve got a lot of wounded here. If I open fire, they’re going to kill us all." So I surrendered. I took my rifle, broke it over the bumper of the truck, threw my ten rounds of ammunition in the snow, and put my hands up. They took me prisoner. They also took the rest of the guys off the truck who could walk and then they lined us up on the road. After that they got up on the truck and, with their machine guns, they killed the guys who couldn’t get off. I don’t think that’s ever left me. I have no idea who was on that truck. It might even have been some of my own squad who couldn’t walk. Later they burned the truck.
They took us then--and I’ll never forget this either. They lined us up in a single file. I don't know how old the kid was right in front of me. They then made us jog with our hands tied behind our back. We were running up the road when a little Chinaman ran up alongside of this kid and just pulled the trigger and blew his head off. I had to run over him. I have no idea who he was. At that point, everybody was a stranger. There was no one from my squad with me. I didn't know the others because as I said before, there were a lot of replacements. Although earlier in this memoir I said that I wasn't scared any time I was in Korea, I can't say that I wasn't scared at that point--or at least, I was concerned. I wasn't scared of dying, but I knew that if I didn't do what they wanted, those front line Chinese troops would kill me. I knew that I was with some pretty vicious people, otherwise they couldn't have gotten up on that truck and did what they did. Believe me, it hurt me to see them do that because I surrendered that truck. I have always blamed myself for that, even though I know that they probably still would have destroyed everything in truck if I had fired my last ten rounds. But at least I would have had that satisfaction in my own mind. It just hurts me to know that I surrendered that truck and they went up there and killed those guys. It’s something that will always stick with me seeing them shoot them. Even the young kid in front of me. That little Chinaman had no reason to shoot him, but he ran up alongside of him and "BANG," he shot him and blew his head right off. It’s hard. It’s hard to see that and it certainly made me grow up fast.
They put us in a ditch and made us kneel down. I thought they were going to kill us at that point. There might have been 20 or 30 of us in the ditch at that time, and the Chinese stood around us with Thompson submachine guns. They kept us there for about an hour. It was cold so it seemed like an hour anyway. It seemed like an eternity when we were down there with our hands tied behind our back. After a while a Chinaman came running up the road and handed this other one a note. Apparently it was an order. He read it and then they untied our hands, took us out in the road, and started marching us back through. I felt that once we get off the front line, we had a much better chance of surviving. I figured that those guys were like us. We Americans were not always humane when it came to treatment of prisoners of war. We killed prisoners, too. When we pulled out of that one area at Chosin where we had prisoners in the house, we opened the doors and threw white phosphorus in on the prisoners. I didn't personally do it, but I saw others in the 31st Infantry Regiment do it. They didn’t release them. They just threw the white phosphorus on them and burned the house. Don’t ask me why they did it, but they did. I was sure hoping that the Chinese didn’t do that to us when I was taken prisoner. One looks at life a little differently when he is the prisoner. Those guys in the hut there at the Chosin weren’t going to go anywhere. They were in bad shape. They were frozen. They had frozen feet. They had frozen fingers. They weren’t going to fight us again. My only thought was it was senseless. Why kill them? They weren't going to do anything to us. They couldn’t have fought even if they had wanted to. They had no fingers. They had no toes. They didn’t even have good shoes. They had sneakers. They had no good clothes. We had them almost naked in that cabin. They were out of the war.
The Chinese who captured us marched us back through where we had been fighting for five days. On the way, I spotted a sleeping bag. I figured, "I’m going to get that sleeping bag even if I get my head knocked off. It’s going to be cold and I’m going to have something to keep me warm." So I jumped out of that line and man, I took a beating until I got my hands on that sleeping bag. One guy beat me with a rifle butt any place he could hit me. They worked me over good, but I got back up, hung on to that sleeping bag, and got back in line. Once I got that sleeping bag, I didn’t let go of it. They let me go and I survived the beating. That sleeping bag saved my life that winter. Two of us slept in it. They didn't try to take it away from me. I wouldn't have given it to them. They took us to a rear area and kept us there in a mountain pass. They kept bringing prisoners in. I don’t know how many we had there, but there were a lot. They were Army, Marine, 3rd Division. They held us there for about three days, and then they started marching us out around the 4th or 5th of December. I guess they were still at Hagaru at that time, but they had Marine prisoners because quite a few of them were with me.
We headed for Kangee, North Korea. I’m not sure how to spell it, but I know it was near the Yalu River. I’d say we were about 40 miles from the Yalu River that first winter. I’ve heard it called Peaceful Valley and I’ve heard it called Camp No. 10. It only lasted from December to March, and then they broke the camp up and they moved a lot of the guys to Camp 1. It was cold. They held us in individual houses. There were 278 of us there, but I don't know how many houses we lived in. I never got out of the house except to go to the toilet.
There were about 20 of us in the house that I was in. It might have been 14x14. Something like that. It was not a big room. At that point I think we had only Army in our house because the Marines were kind of kept together. We went with our own buddies. If someone was a Marine, he buddied with a Marine. The huts had the traditional Korean heating systems with heat underneath the floor. We were warm if they felt like building a fire. Then we got hot. That's when the lice started crawling. We all had body lice by that time, and believe me, when they heated that floor up, they started moving. They were blood suckers that got a good half inch in length--maybe longer if they could suck enough blood. We could get them off if we pulled them off, but they were also in our clothes. They laid eggs in the seams of them and then they hatched. Those little bugs came out and sucked our blood and grew. Then they laid eggs and died. That's how they reproduced. We had straw mats and that's also where the lice were coming from. Koreans always had lice. They evidently had lived with it. It was part of their tradition to have lice. I had short hair when I got captured, but then it grew long. I was too young to have a beard. I didn’t hardly shave at all at age 19. I was still baby-faced. So I didn’t have that much trouble shaving while I was a prisoner. I didn’t have that much hair. I might have had a real whisker every now and then. I "shaved" by just pulling it out.
In Camp 10 we weren’t organized at all. We had no activities. All we did was survive. We were all sick. We just hoped that we could live the winter out. From September to March all we got to eat was soupy rice in the morning or sorghum or millet, depending on what they had to feed us. We got maybe two meals a day if we were lucky. We very seldom ever got what I considered white rice. At Camp 10 we never had any meat of any kind that I can remember. We also didn't have any fruit. It was winter time and there was nothing wild growing in the area that we could eat. This diet caused health problems for me and others. I had dysentery. In Christmas of 1950 I probably would have died if it hadn't been for Sergeant Hayden. He was a Marine. His brother was studying to be a doctor and he said that he used to read his brother’s medical books. How true it was, I don’t know, but that man saved my life. He gave me Epsom salts that he had bummed from the Chinese. He took warm water, mixed it up, and told us to drink it. Believe me, it cleaned us out. I never had dysentery after that. I started eating. I got my strength back. And from that day on, I was determined that I was going to eat whatever they put in front of me. I didn’t care what it tasted like. If they put it in front of me, I was going to eat it. And I did.
I don’t know whether I ever had worms. We used to eat the hot peppers that the Koreans had in their houses. They grew hot peppers and we stole them. We put them on our rice. They were so hot they made our eyes water. If we had anything in our stomach like worms, that probably killed it. It was hot stuff, but man, we chomped them down. We even broke them up and ate them raw. I weighed 160 pounds when I was captured. I might have gone down to 90-95 pounds in that first winter. I didn't get any exercise at that time and got progressively weaker until December 25, when I started drinking the Epsom salts. Up to that point I was so weak I couldn’t even hardly move. I couldn’t go to the bathroom. I just lay in my own feces. If I had to go, I went right where I was laying, and so did the others. I didn't wash my hands or my face for months. In March we got out in the river and finally got ourselves cleaned up.
Talking about girls and food was the only thing we did for "morale" in our particular building. When we talked about food, we talked about what we were going to eat when we got home. We talked about our girls. On Christmas Day, they let us know what day it was and they gave us two cigarettes each. Man, we were living. On Christmas Eve, they gave us a big Chinese brainwashing for three hours. They told us that we were in Korea for the wrong reason. They said that we were war mongers and that we were fighting for Dulles and Truman and all those other war mongers. What can I say? So we were fighting for our war mongers. So what. We were there because we were ordered to be there. That was the only reason why I was in Korea. I was there because I had been told that’s where I belonged. I didn’t care who I was fighting, whether he was a war monger or not. That didn’t make any difference to me. I was there for the same reason they were there. They didn’t like us and we didn’t like them.
I never became friends with any of my captors, although some of our guards treated us good and we could bum a cigarette from them every once in a while. I was able to do that. We all did it. We had one guard who could speak a little English and he was with us pretty long. He was a Chinaman. He was fairly old. He had been in Chiang Kai-shek's army but then he came over to the Communists. The Chinese had a lot of troops in Korea who had fought for Chiang Kai-shek. They were all seasoned troops with a lot of battle experience. The older ones were kept back with the prisoners. We had one Chinese interpreter named Pam. He was a Harvard graduate. A smart cookie. He was a political commissar. He had more power than a regimental commander in the army. When he spoke, they moved. What he wanted he got. He had a lot of weight. We called him "Lieutenant Pam." He was around us for quite a while.
I guess you could say that some of us were belligerent. We said things that weren't quite up to their par. They said something and we contradicted what they said with smart remarks, but they never caught the,. We had to watch ourselves with Lieutenant Pam a little bit though, because he wasn't a dummy. He picked up on some of our slang words. We were never punished at Camp 10. They just tried to brainwash us and to interrogate us. If we didn't give them the answers they thought were the right ones, they got a little tough with us, but normally I didn’t have any really bad treatment there. I mean, we might have been hit with a rifle butt or something, but nothing other than that. I don’t consider that bad treatment. I just consider that as part of the routine of being a prisoner--getting hit and being moved around.
We did have people die at Camp 10, though. I have no idea who they were. To be honest, I don't even know the name of the kid who slept in the same sleeping bag with me the first winter that I was a prisoner. Now that's awful. There were a couple others who had sleeping bags, too, but I shared mine. I had the kind that zippered open. We spread it over four of us and we slept halfway up in it. We each had our jackets. We took our shoes off at night and threw the sleeping bag over them so we could get our feet warm and get our shoes warmed out and things like that. Not only do I not know the names of those other guys who were in the sleeping bag with me, I have no idea if they survived or not. I don't know whether anybody in our room died.
I was on maybe 15 to 20 burial details, but I didn’t know who I was burying. We put them in the ground as far as we could and then stacked rocks on top of them. They weren't in a bag. They were just put in the ground. If they had a pair of shoes on and they were better shoes than what we had on, we took the shoes if they fit us. Survival was the main thing. To keep warm. If the person who died had a field jacket and we needed it for someone, we took it. The dead guy didn’t need it anymore. A lot of times we buried guys with no clothes. If the ground was frozen solid and we couldn't dig a hole, we just put them on top of the ground. We didn’t know what their name was a lot of times, but we said something over them at the grave. We gave them a little blessing. We never knew if we were going to be the next one to be dragged up the hill to be buried.
I had a little Bible, so religion was part of my survival. The only things I brought into Korea with me--and the only things that I took out of Korea--were my dog tags and my New Testament. They didn't take either one from me. I read my New Testament all the time. I probably know the New Testament as well as any book I have ever had. There were a few passages in there that helped me survive. I haven’t read it for a while and I should get back to reading it a little more. I go to church every Sunday. I took my kids to Sunday School every Sunday. My parents weren’t that religious so I wasn’t baptized until I was 23 years old and married. The fact that I went all through Korea and I was never baptized has always kind of bothered me. I didn’t know that I wasn't baptized until I went to get married and my mom said that I had never been baptized. We were Episcopalians. The woman I married was Lutheran, so I joined her church when we got married. But it always bothered me because my mom didn’t have me baptized. She had the other two boys baptized. One of my brothers served during the Korean War, but he never got overseas. My other brother served in Germany in 1960 with a good friend of mine from Korea. All of my brothers were in the Army. It just bothered me that I could have gotten killed over there and never made it to Heaven because I wasn’t even baptized.
Trek to Camp 1
They closed Camp 10 down in March of 1951 and moved most of the POWs to Camp 1, but I didn’t go to Camp 1. They took about 60 or 70 prisoners and marched us south. Why I don’t really know. There were 18 Marines and one Army guy in this group who were released back on the front lines in May of 1951. There were other Marines and other Army with me, but the rest of us didn't get released. (Well, Marines don't say they were "released." They say they "escaped.") They took them away from us, put them on trucks, and headed for the front lines, so we figured they were going to be released for propaganda purposes. They wanted everyone to see, "Look how nice we are. We let some of them go." And they did. The Marines were not from any one regiment. They were from a mix of regiments. I was real good friends with one of them--Fred Holcom. He was a truck driver for the Marines. He wasn’t in the infantry, but he got captured on the road with his truck. When he came home, he visited my parents. When he got pulled away from us, I gave him my name and address and told him where my parents lived. I told him to tell them that I was okay and that I was going to get home. He got released in May and in August or September he went to see my parents. He lived in Delhi, New York and came down from New York State to see my parents and to tell them that the last time he saw me, I was alive. We're still good friends. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He's retired and has a little place there where he raises cattle. Some of the others who were released include Sergeant Hadden and Sergeant Harris. Harris had been a POW in Japan for three and a half years and was captured for six months in Korea. I think he retired from the Marine Corps as a Lieutenant Colonel or a full Colonel. He wasn’t the ranking Marine sergeant among the POWs, but he kind of lead them. They had a lieutenant with them named Lieutenant Cole. I don’t think he knew that much. I think he took his orders from Sergeant Harris, as far as what to do.
They marched us from March to October 1951. We marched all over North Korea. We were in the mining camp. We were in the bean camp. We were in almost every camp where they had prisoners. They marched us from camp to camp. We marched and then they stopped us for a couple of days and we had to go on supply detail hauling supplies. For example, we might walk 15 miles and then have to haul 50 pound bags of rice back. They used us for horses or whatever to haul rice. They threw the bags over our shoulders and neck and we had to carry them. Some of the guys who weren't in the best of shape didn’t have to do it, but I always seemed to get picked to have to haul rice. Fred and I walked a lot of miles together. I think it kept me in good physical shape. I didn’t mind the walking like a lot of the guys. I was young. I was only 19 years old. I was in pretty good shape. I got my muscles back. I ate. As we hauled the rice, we also stole some of it and ate it. We figured that if we had to haul it, we were going to eat some of it. They didn’t get it all. I think it helped us survive. It helped me survive, I know.
They didn’t keep us in any of the camps too long because they just moved us right through. They didn’t put us in houses and keep us for a week or two weeks or anything like that. We might have stayed one night and then they moved us. I figure that we walked over 2,000 miles. We walked a long way. Jack Chapman was with me. He marched. He knows better where we were than I do. I didn’t keep track of stuff like that. I just walked.
They only marched us at nighttime. They never marched us in the daytime. We were on roads and we were on mountain trails. Wherever they decided to march us, that’s where we walked. I walked a lot of mountains in Korea, up over paths that they used to transport their troops over the mountains. During the day, we slept either in the open or under the trees because it was spring and summer. The nights were fairly warm. They got a little cooler up in the mountains, but we could keep warm. I didn’t have my sleeping bag anymore. I lost that somewhere along the line. Somebody stole it or picked it up. I wasn’t going to carry that all the time anyway because it was too much of a burden to carry all that stuff with me.
We still only ate twice a day. We got more rice, at least. I felt that was more nourishing than the sorghum and the millet. Of course, as I said, we were hauling some, so we ate. We cooked that ourselves. We got a little fire going underneath some water and we boiled it up ourselves. We could at least feel comfortable when we were eating. When we had a full belly we could walk better, let’s put it that way. When we were hungry we didn’t want to do too much.
When we started out on the march there were about 60 or 70 of us, and then we lost those 18 Marines and the one Army guy. They split up the rest of us, moving us into different areas. I think Jack Chapman and I were together the whole way through that trip. So were Gary and Glass. They were both Marines. Gary lives in Colorado Springs, CO. Glass died two years ago. He was 78 years old. He was 32 years old when he got taken prisoner. He was all Marine. He was a heck of a nice guy. I always liked him. He loved to dance with my wife. Drink whisky and dance. That’s what he did. He got wounded on Iwo Jima during World War II and he spent 14 months in the hospital. Then he went into Korea. He was an MP when he got captured. He said he should have been in the infantry and then he could have gotten out. He was an MP directing traffic when they were overran and he was captured.
In October of 1951 they marched us into Camp 1. I’ll be honest, I was never so happy to be in a camp at that point. I was tired of walking. It was no fun walking all day and not knowing where we were going to sleep the next day. My shoes didn't hold up that many miles. They wore out and I had to throw my shoe packs away. They were heavy and they were hard on my feet. I had no socks anymore and I was in those boots barefooted until they gave us sneakers. They were better to move over mountain trails, although the sneakers didn't hold up too well either. They only gave us one pair at a time. When they saw that we didn’t have any soles left on them they gave us more, but we really had to beg to get them. They weren’t too bad at giving them to us at that point because if they intended to keep marching us, we had to have shoes. I walked a couple of nights barefooted until I got more sneakers. Sometimes we stole theirs. If they left them out, they didn't have them anymore. But their feet were small so their shoes didn't fit very well on our feet. They didn't have the big feet like we did. Their feet were more like my wife's feet.
Camp 1 was a whole village that had a big parade field in the middle of the town. I was there from October of 1951 to August of 1952. They moved the Korean population out and moved maybe 600-700 prisoners in. We occupied the whole town. When I got there I found one buddy who I had been good friends with in Japan. His name was Otto Rob. There were compounds on each side of the road and barbed wire around them. I was a sergeant so I was marched into the sergeant's compound. There was a little skinny guy with a big beard sitting behind the barbed wire fence. He saw me and said, “Bee Bop. Hey Bee Bop. What are you doing?” There was only one guy in the Army who ever called me Bee Bop.” He always called me Bee Bop because when I got drunk I danced on the table at the F Club. When I first got to Japan, he and I became good friends. He was a buck sergeant when I first met him in 1949. Later the Army took away the buck sergeant and he became a corporal. He came up to me in Japan and said, "Do you want to go to the movies?" I said, "Sure. If you have the money, I’ll go to the movies." It cost 12 cents to go to the movies at that time. Well, he didn’t have 12 cents and neither did I. He felt bad because he had asked me to go to the movies and neither of us had any money. So he went around and he bummed pennies. Wherever he could bum a penny, he bummed it. He got 24 cents, so he and I went to the movies. From then on we became real good friends. If one of us was seen, so was the other. He wrote to my parents and I wrote to his parents. We wrote letters home about how we were doing and things like that. In April of 1950, his time in the Far East was up and he rotated back to the States. He went back home and went on leave. He sent me pictures of his leave and his sisters and all that. All of his sisters had screwy names. The one I remember the most was Juanita because when I came out of Korea, I went over to see him and we went to her house to eat. She had mashed potatoes. I like mashed potatoes. She put a big plate of mashed potatoes on the table and Rob sat there and watched me as I took half of the mashed potatoes and put them on my plate. His sister stood there and looked at the mashed potatoes. Nobody else had mashed potatoes because they were all on my plate. Of course, that’s the way I ate. When my mom made mashed potatoes, she made a big bowl because there were three boys. We filled our plate up with potatoes. Anyway, it was funny.
As I said, when I got to Camp 1, Rob was there and he was a sergeant. We both got put into the same compound, even though we weren’t in the same platoon. They kept us by platoons and squads. I think I was in the 1st platoon and he was in the 3rd platoon. We weren’t in the same building either, but we were in the same compound in barbed wire, so we could see each other every day. At the same time I was captured, he was wounded. He got hit with a .51 caliber machine gun bullet in his leg and it came out of his hip. A captain carried him out at Koto-ri. He was with the 2nd Infantry Division--I think it was the 38th Infantry. They flew him back to Japan and he spent December and January in Japan in the hospital. Then on February 1, 1951, they shipped him back to Korea. On the 7th of February, he got captured. I'm not quite sure where he was in Korea when he got captured and I don't even know the circumstances of how he got captured. He told me at the time, but I have forgotten. Anyway, he got captured and had been sitting in Camp 1 since February or sometime around that. He might have gotten there around April or so. He had lost weight and he was skinny. We were all not up to par. I might have weighed 130 pounds at that time, which was about 30-35 pounds under my fighting weight. But I was fairly strong at that point. I could still move around. My legs were in good shape. My legs have always been in good shape. I’ve never had any problems with my knees. My feet got frostbitten in Korea so I have problems with my feet now, but I can still walk. I just wear the proper shoes and keep moving. I don’t let that bother me.
Being in Camp 1 was definitely better than being in Camp 10. In Camp 1 we had our own cooks and we were a little more organized, although not as much as we were when we got to Camp 4 later on. At Camp 1 we got organized. The Chinese didn't do that--we did it ourselves. To get rid of the rice, we boiled our clothes. We got rid of straw mats in our houses where the lice lived. We had our own barbers. The Chinese didn't cut our hair. We got a pair of scissors and we cut our own hair. We had water so we could bathe. We also had discipline, at least the sergeants did in our own ranks.
Our captors didn't hurt or harm us. They kind of left us alone. In the latter part of 1951, they moved the officers over to Camp 2. They then put the sergeants in the officer's compound, which had a basketball court. So we played basketball. I was strong enough to play, but I was never tall enough. I wasn't a very good basketball player. The quick guys could take the ball away from me.
The food at Camp 1 was an improvement over Camp 10, too. I didn't need the Epson salts anymore. Once I got rid of the dysentery, I didn't have it again. I just ate. Anyone who likes turnips would have liked Camp 1. We had turnips for 159 straight days. They were good the first time they fed them to us, but I couldn't eat a turnip again now. I hate them. While I was a prisoner, I ate them. But I couldn't look at one the next spring. We had to clean out the turnip dugout. That was a hole in the ground that had a door. We put the turnips inside of it for the winter like a cold storage. Then they started to rot. What do you do with a turnip when it starts rotting? It just rots other turnips. By spring we had to go down there and pick out the good turnips from the rotten ones. I'll tell you, it wasn't an easy task. I couldn't even stand the smell of a turnip by the time I left Camp 1. Once in a while they brought in the guts of a pig or some meat from pigs that our guys could hook onto. They boiled it up and fed it to us over our rice like a side dish.
We had some deaths at Camp 1, but they weren't from malnutrition. I think it was more from infections and things like that. I don't think anyone in the sergeant's camp ever died when I was in it. Maybe they did, but I never went on burial detail in Camp 1. They had a hospital there. If they died in the hospital, we never saw them again. When I say "hospital", I'm not talking about a hospital like we think of as a hospital in the United States. It was just a house where they took prisoners in and laid them on the floor. If they had the medicine, they gave it to them. If they didn't, they died there. The doctor in the hospital was Chinese. We didn't have any medical doctors among those of us who were captured. Another ex-POW (Glass) told me a story about the hospital once. He said that he was in there. He had something wrong with him, although he is not sure what it was. He had some kind of fever or something. They took a chicken liver, cut him open, stuck it under his skin, and sewed it shut. Then the thing started to decay. He figured he'd better get it out of there, so he opened it up and got rid of it before he left the hospital. I couldn't believe that, but he said that was their cure for whatever he had.
In August of 1952, they moved us to Camp 4 and that's where we stayed until after the end of the war. It was in a valley about a quarter of a mile away from the Yalu River. It was a whole village. There were Koreans in the town, but they had us behind barbed wire with guards. We were in a compound-like area where there was an old school with four or five big rooms. There were about 45 of us to a room.
When we hit that camp, we were organized. I mean really organized. We started fresh and made sure that we got rid of all the lice. We built bunk beds. There was no straw and no mats, which meant that we also had no lice. Again, we boiled our clothes and we kept everything clean and swept out. We did not have one man die in Camp 4 from August of 1952 to August of 1953. I think that was quite an accomplishment.
We had very good discipline because we used our rank to keep the military discipline. We had a ranking sergeant. I have no idea who he was, but he was an old master sergeant. We also had our own platoon sergeants. It was kind of informal. We didn't let the Chinese know that we had our own chain of commands. It wasn't up to them to know that. If they knew, they would have gone after the top guy. We had squad leaders that the Chinese picked. They lined us up 12 guys to a line and that was a squad. If we were the first in line, we were the squad leader. I happened to be the first in line, so I got picked as the squad leader. The Chinese very seldom bothered us as far as discipline in the camp. If they thought someone was breaking the rules they called him out, but we pretty well took care of our own discipline. In that respect, we ran our own camp.
We were kept in big schoolhouses. There were some more compounds around us, too. They were British, Turkish, and Negroes. They had us all in separate compounds. A small river running into the Yalu came through the town on the other side. We were on a half of a hill. The other side of it was a little lower and they had a compound over there. I know they had some colored over there. They kept us separate, although we played basketball and things with them. They were better than us. Let's face it--we were the white guys and they were colored guys. They could beat us. We also played football there. We had pretty good recreation there. We had a pretty nice soccer field that we built.
For food we had rice. But we had different cooks. Our cooks were Charley Habach and Haney. They were very good cooks. They could make something out of anything. If we gave it to them, they could cook it up and make us eat it. One of the things they cooked was crust rice. They cooked the rice by a hot fire. The rice got burnt on the outside. We scraped out the good stuff on the inside and then we had a crust in a big pot. They broke this crust out and we ate it. It was hard, but it was good for our teeth. It was something like fried grits that had been cooked in a pan and burnt on the outside. Normally burnt isn't good, but this charcoal-like stuff was good for our stomach, good for our digestive system, and helped our teeth. I chipped one front tooth while I was a prisoner. I have a filling in that now. I never lost it. I never lost any teeth when I was a prisoner, either, but when I came home I had a lot of problems with my gums and stuff.
Some of the guys grew tomatoes while we were in Camp 4. We also stole a lot of food from the Korean guards. If we could get our fingers on it, we used to steal their hot peppers, their turnips, whatever. We stole anything fresh that we could get our hands on, and we ate it. I don’t think I ever had any fruit that I can remember. I don’t even know whether they had any apple trees over there. I don't remember ever eating an apple or an orange or anything over there. I never had any milk, I know that. We didn’t have any milk. They gave us soybean milk. We had some of that during the last year I was prisoner.
We probably had more meat at Camp 4 than we got in any of the other camps. We had horse meat, mule meat, dog meat, and pig. Eating these meats didn't bother me. It was food. The mule meat was a little stringy, but it was good. As long as it was meat, we ate it. I knew I was eating dog. We probably ate rat or anything. We didn’t know what in the hell they put in there when they gave something to us. If I had asked Charlie Harbach what in the hell he was making, maybe he could have told me, but I didn’t ask.
We had cigarettes in every C ration before we were captured. They were there, so we smoked them. We didn't worry about getting cancer in those days. We just smoked cigarettes. Then when we became prisoners, it was even more important to have a cigarette. It was like food. If we could get a cigarette, it was like a meal. I’m serious. I used them sometimes instead of eating. It’s just a heck of a thing to say that I could take a cigarette instead of eating and be satisfied, but I did it in prison camp. When we got hungry, we smoked a cigarette. We used to smoke that Korean tobacco. We wanted strong tobacco. Korean cigarettes made a Lucky Strike taste like a menthol cigarette. That stuff could take our breath away. We could hardly get our breath that stuff was so strong. That nicotine was powerful. If we smoked one of them a day, we had plenty of nicotine. What a packet of American cigarettes had, one cigarette of Korean tobacco had. We used to make them long. We got a piece of paper and wrapped one up, smoking it like a cigarette for a half an hour. They were wicked. When we got into a Korean house, he wouldn’t have any tobacco when we left. We stole every bit of tobacco that he had. We knew where he kept it, too. He had a big crock. When we found it, we stole the cigarettes.
For the first time since I was captured, we were allowed to receive letters. They also let us write letters home. They gave us rice paper and pencil. We wrote our letter on it and then we had to fold it a certain way so we could make the envelope out of the letter. They read everything before they sent the letters out. Sometimes they got through and sometimes they didn't, depending on what we put in it. I wrote home that I was in good health and that I hoped to see my family again soon. I asked how my brother was and if he was growing up. I had two brothers at home at the time. I got a couple of letters from home, but I never got a package. I got cigarette papers in one letter. My momma put in a couple of packets of the little Prince Valet cigarette paper. When we got to Camp 4, they started giving us a sugar ration and a tobacco ration once a month. We got one packet of tobacco and I rolled my own cigarettes. Some guys got cigarettes in their letters from home. They were flat, but they smoked them.
One of the things they had us do there was to work in the river. It was deep. Up the river somewhere they were lumbering the trees. Then they floated the logs down the river. We had to know how to swim because they made us swim out into it and bring out the cut logs. They threw them onto a truck and took them away to be used to build bridges. I don't think we ever had any accidents in the river. We didn't work that hard. I didn't mind being in the river because I could get clean. And what could they do to us? We were in the water. They couldn't make us work. We just swam around, pushed a log here, pushed a log there. And every once in a while we got one out and put it on the truck. We worked at our own pace. The guards were standing there hollering at us, but we ignored them. We knew they weren't going to shoot at us.
Every day, four hours a day, they tried to orientate us to the communist way of life. They took us in groups. Of course, we horsed around and they got mad at us and sometimes held us for an extra half hour to make us listen. We were like a bunch of kids. We had guys that sat there and slept. They took whatever they could to make eyes on their eyelids and they sat there and slept, but it looked like they had their eyes open. They sat in the back. The Chinese thought they were wide awake listening, but they were sound asleep. The Chinese tried to tell us that China was a whole lot better than the United States. I didn't believe it. We had so much more in the USA than what they had ever seen in North Korea. And they were trying to tell me that this country is rotten? They had to be stupid. This is the best country in the world.
Sometimes funny things happened in camp. I’ll never forget Clarence Young. He was a Japanese American who was from Hawaii. I’m not sure just what he did in the Army. I think he was in intelligence or something. Anyway, he could speak Korean and Japanese. I think he was an interpreter or something. He could understand the Koreans. At night in the summertime, we turned out all the lights and went to bed around maybe 9:00. We had to get up at 6:00 in the morning. If we got nine hours of sleep at night, we didn’t need any more. In the winter time it was cold, so we might even go to bed at 6 o’clock. We didn’t have anything better to do. They came in every hour shining a flashlight to bed-check us, counting us to see how many were in bed. One night Clarence decided he was going to give the guard a thrill. He had two boxes. He sat one big box in the front and he had a little box in the back. He then threw the rope over the rafter and pretended that he had hung himself. The Chinaman came in. Of course, he didn’t look where the rope was going or who was hanging on there. He just saw someone hanging with a rope around his neck. The Chinaman saw the box in the front, but he didn’t see the one in the back. He didn’t walk around and check it out. He just looked, hollered, and ran out. Well, after he ran out, we put everything away. When they came back, they made us get up and they kept us up. It was funny at first, but by 4 o’clock in the morning it wasn’t so funny. They still had us standing at attention counting us. They couldn’t find out who was missing. Nobody was missing. They wanted to know who had been hanging, but they couldn’t find out because nobody would tell them. They kept us up all night. All night.
Clarence comes to the ex-POW reunion almost every year. He lives in Hawaii. He had 22 years in the Army and I think 20 some years in the civil service. He is now living a good life. He has a 68-foot boat in Hawaii and he goes out fishing. He says he has it made. A heck of a nice guy. He looks like the instructor in the Karate Kid movie. He could pass for him. He has the slanty eyes, a moustache, and everything. In fact, one year he had a name tag with that guy's name on it. Some young kids asked him for his autograph, honest to God. He was really giving them a line.
One day they filed us out on the soccer field. There were probably 600 of us. I guess they thought we were really going to be elated when they told us the war was over. They got up there and they were all grins. We already had an idea the war was going to be over. We knew that they were going to sign an armistice, but we didn’t know when. It was just a matter of time. That day they filed us all together. They had never put us all together at one time before, so we knew something big was coming off. When they told us the war was over, I guess they expected us to jump up and whoop and holler. No one said a word. We didn’t say one word. I’ll never forget that. There was complete silence. They said that they had signed the armistice with the Americans. We all got up and marched back to our compound. It really hurt them that we didn’t holler and hoop and hurray that the war was over. When we got back to our compound we celebrated, but we didn’t let them know that we were happy. We didn’t want them to know that we were glad to get out. It bothered them. They came around and said, "Why weren’t you happy that the war is over?" We realized that we were finally going home, but we never jumped up and hollered and hooped and clapped our hands and said, “Yah! The war’s over.” We didn’t do that. Don’t ask me why no one did it. But in our own presence, we slapped each other on the back and said, "We’re going home, we’re going home." There were tears. We were happy. But we never let the Chinese know. It still impresses me today how we pulled that off. I don't know how we did it. We didn't tell each other in advance to do that. It just happened spontaneously.
After they told us the war was over and two weeks before we got released, they let the Red Cross send us a bag of stuff. I’ve still got the bag at home that I got my stuff in. It was 46 years ago today that they told us that the war was over. [KWE reminder: This interview took place in 1999.] In August of 1953, they started moving us out of Camp 4.
Released to Go Home
I don't know what day I left the camp. They took us out on trucks, put us on a train, and took us down by rail to Panmunjom. When we got there, they kept us in a camp. They took a couple of guys out of the squad and released them one day. Then they took somebody from another squad and released them the next day. I was in that camp at Panmunjom for over a week before I got released. We had to release over 200,000 Chinese prisoners and they only had 4,200 or so of us. They released guys from the beginning of August to September 6 or 7. It took them over a month to turn us loose.
I was released on September 3, 1953. When I finally crossed over to freedom, they told me I was a sergeant first class and gave me my stripe. They said I could have anything I wanted to eat after they deloused me by spraying me with DDT. I took a shower after they put DDT all over me. My hair was fairly long, but I didn't get a haircut there. I got one at Inchon. There was only one thing I wanted when they said I could have anything I wanted to eat, and that was ice cream. It was made out of powdered milk, but it was ice cream. I ate ice cream until it was coming out of my ears. In fact, we were lucky they didn’t kill us by feeding us so much. Guys were eating steaks. They were eating anything. If they wanted steak, they got steak. They could have as much steak as they wanted. They then put us on a helicopter and flew us to Inchon. That helicopter was a mess by the time we got there. I was lucky. I had only eaten ice cream. I didn’t eat a lot of hard food. The guys who ate steak were sick. Some of them were even hospitalized. I just threw up milk. Vomit was all over that plane. Boy, I’ll tell you, that pilot was so mad. We had that helicopter a mess. I’ll bet it took him a week to get that thing clean.
We stayed at Inchon for about four or five days. They paid me, so I went to the PX and bought a watch. I bought my mom a 100-piece Noritake china set and sent it home. They had it packed so well that not one piece broke. I still have it today. And I ate at Inchon. I definitely had something more than ice cream then, but I was careful what I ate. I never was a big eater. To this day I don’t eat a lot. I never overload my stomach. I take one helping. I like to eat a little often, but I don’t eat a lot at a time. I feel uncomfortable when I eat too much.
I had gone over to Japan on the USS Brewster four and a half years before. When I came home from Korea to the United States and San Francisco, I was back on the USS Brewster again. Another POW, Elliot Santoro, was on the ship, and there were others as well. They had guys coming from Korea, but they kept us separated. They wouldn’t let us mingle. They interrogated us all the way home. We didn't have any duty except to hang around and wait for them to call us. They asked us all kinds of questions. "Did we know anybody who had collaborated?" "Did we know anybody who signed a peace thing?" I didn't know anybody who collaborated. I know that one guy who was in the room with me at Kange in 1950 decided to stay in China. I don’t even know the man’s name, but I know he was a college graduate. I don’t know what his reason was. I would never have stayed in Korea, Japan, or any of those oriental countries over the United States. I wouldn't even have offered to stay there.
We landed at Ft. Drum, which I think was at San Francisco Bay. A lot of people were there waiting for their kids to get off that boat. My parents were home waiting for me in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There was an Army band at the dock playing God Bless America when we pulled in. I didn't get emotional about landing back in the United States because I didn't have anybody to meet. All the Red Cross did for me was to send a letter home to my mom stating that I had landed in San Francisco, that I looked to be in good health, and that I hoped to be home shortly.
After we landed I went through the Army processing. They gave me a plane ticket and took me out to the San Francisco airport. I got on a plane and I came home by myself. I was the only Army soldier on the plane. My parents knew I was coming. They met me in Philadelphia. It was an emotional homecoming. My one uncle who had been in the Second World War with Patton was there. He had seen a lot of combat, so he knew what I had been through. I think that the fact that he was there waiting for me helped me. I would never have found my way home by myself because I had no idea where we lived. If my family hadn't picked me up, I wouldn't even have known where to go to get home. I had been gone almost four years ten months. Since I had been gone, they had put in the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Grace Mines had also built a big mine there and changed all of the roads around where we lived in the country outside Redding. In addition, while I was gone my parents moved from one side of the mountain to the other side. I told them that if they hadn't come to pick me up, I'd still be looking to try to find where I lived.
I got discharged on October 28, 1953 at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. It was there that I met Lieutenant Riley, my platoon leader back in Korea. By then he was a captain. He knew me, but I don’t know how. As I was coming out of a building with my discharge papers, a staff car pulled up. He jumped out of the car and said, "Sergeant DeLong." I said, "Yes Sir." He told me who he was. I mean, I liked the guy, but I never liked him that well. He said, “Are you going to re-enlist?” I replied, “Sir, I just come back from Korea. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” He said that if I wanted to re-enlist, he would have a spot for me in his company in Germany. But I knew that I would be in trouble if I went to his company, because I knew he didn’t like me. I was very outspoken. One night I had gotten drunk in Korea down in Pusan and this 17-year old kid was leading me back and forth to the latrine. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was really out of it. The kid said to me, "You met the Lieutenant last night and you called him everything but a white guy. You really went over him." I know why I never made Sergeant First Class. It was because he wouldn’t promote. He promoted guys over me as far as time in the company, but he wouldn’t promote me. So when I met him at Camp Kilmer and he told me that he could get me into his company, I thought, “You aren't going to get me in your company even if I do re-enlist.” Originally my intentions were to re-enlist in the Army. I liked the Army. I liked the regiment. I liked the life style. I liked the people. So I was going to stay in. I think I would have made a pretty good career soldier.
I went to re-enlist, but I was kind of fussy about what I wanted. I wanted recruiting and I wanted it in Redding, Pennsylvania. They had a nice recruiting station there. So I went up there to talk to the Major. He said that I had to go to Philadelphia because that’s where they worked that out. I went down to Philadelphia and talked to a colonel there. He kind of laid it on the line. He told me that it would be hard to get me into Redding because I outranked the guys that were there at the time. They had a sergeant first class, but I had more time in grade so I outranked him. The colonel didn’t want to disturb the status quo. I told him that I knew I would outrank him, but that it wouldn't bother me one bit to be the sergeant in charge. I said, "Move him out or move me in or something, but that’s what I want." They offered me Philadelphia, but at that point I didn’t want in the big city. I was a country boy. But I should have really. If I wanted to stay in I should have gone to Philadelphia because it wasn’t that bad there. It was pretty good duty.
Then they sent me up to Indian Town Gap. They wanted me to become a Military Police. I never liked MPs. I was an infantryman. Infantry and MPs didn't get along too good. I got into a lot of problems with MPs in Japan. We went downtown, got drunk, and they hauled us back and tried to give us demerits or whatever. An Army MP by the name of O’Henry was in prison camp with me. When he came home he wanted to go back in the MPs. He talked me into going to Indian Gap with him. When I got there, I talked to a captain who told me about the job of an MP. It didn’t impress me. They had to work swing shift. MPs were on duty 24 hours a day. One week they were on eight hour days. Then they went on second shift. Then third shift. I said that if I wanted to work like that, I’ll go back into civilian life. I didn’t want a swing shift. I wanted days or nothing. I came home and I just got out. I’m not sorry I did. Over the years it paid off. I got a fairly good job. I went back to my old job at Frank ____ and Sons. I came out of there making 93 cents an hour. That was big money back in those days. It wasn’t very much, but it kept me in beer money. I also got a new car. When I came home they gave me a new car--a new 1953 Chevy Belair. The Morgantown American Legion got donations and gave me a new car, which I appreciated. I always thought that it was a nice gesture on their part.
I had some trouble adjusting from being a POW to being a civilian. At first the people wanted to know a lot about what I had been through. But when I started to tell them about my experiences, they lost interest. They asked me about them, but when I started telling them, I don't think they really believed it. So I stopped talking about it, to be honest. I didn't tell people because they didn't believe me anyway. I don't know why, but I started to drink. I did a lot of drinking. Evidently I was drinking to try to drown out the memories of being in Korea. I didn’t get in any trouble, but I lost my driver's license--and I wasn't drinking when I did it. The damned cop followed me for ten miles. He got me going down a hill at 64 miles down a long grade. There were two state cops. I should have fought it, but I didn’t. It was my first offense. I could have beaten it if I had gone to the Justice of the Peace and fought it. But I didn’t fight it. I just paid the fine. They took my license for three months. I had to move away from home because I was working at that point. I didn’t work for three months after I got home. After that I worked in the blast furnace for two years. I lived with my folks.
For a while I went with a girl from Redding, but it just didn’t work out. We didn’t hit it off too well. Then one day while I was playing softball, I messed up my ankle sliding into second base. I came home one day and I was hungry. Nobody was home. About that time my future sister-in-law’s parents came to my house. When I told them I was hungry and that there was nothing around there to eat, they told me that they were going down to the Sunday School picnic and they invited me to come on down. Since there was food, I went. They had a lot of food at the picnic. I didn’t have any problem getting anything to eat. They were playing ball but I couldn’t play ball because of my ankle. Instead, I lay on a blanket watching. Everybody brought their wallets and pocketbooks over and threw them on my blanket. That's when I saw my future wife playing ball. I watched her run down to first base and I said, "That’s the girl for me right there." Her name was Audrey Cooper. We were married in 1955.
I went to night school and got my high school diploma by taking the GED test. I passed that and then I decided I wanted a regular high school diploma. So I went back to my high school and asked what I needed to do to get a diploma. They looked at my marks from night school and said that all I needed was a course in history. I already knew a little of that. I asked the high school officers if I could take a history course. They gave me a book, but I never opened it to study it. Instead, I took the test at the end of the course and passed that with a score of 90. I always liked history. I went back to the high school principal and showed him the mark. He gave me my diploma with the 1970 graduating class. It had taken me 20 years, but I got it. I didn't go to the graduation ceremony--I was too old for that. I just took my diploma.
I first worked six years as an accounting clerk, then I became the production control manager for Brush Wellman in Redding. We made beryllium copper--used on the nose cones for the re-entry of the Challenger and all of those. They retired me in 1960 with 35 years of service. Now that I'm retired, I don't do anything. I just do what I want to do when I want to do it. I play golf. My wife quit cooking. I figured why should she cook for just two of us? We would only waste the food anyway. So we go out to eat a lot. Every once in a while she'll make some good mashed potatoes, which I still love. Twice a year we go to POW/Chosin reunions. And we go to the shore. Last year I had 45 days vacation. So it's a good life. Of course, I paid a high price to get it, but it's worth it at this point in my life. The only thing I've got to do is give up my cigarettes. I've been smoking those things for 54 years. I didn't really start smoking until I hit Korea.
Going to Korea and being a POW definitely changed me. I think it made me appreciate life a lot more. Before I was captured, I didn’t look at life the way I do now. Now I get up every morning and I thank God that I am still alive. I thank him for where I’m at. For making me an American. I think that people don't realize what this country has to offer. Going to Korea gave me a better appreciation for my country. We have so much material stuff here. We eat anything we want. In one serving at our tables we waste more food than families over in Korea ate in a day back in 1950-53. We are very wasteful people. But I’m not. My family isn’t wasteful. When I put food on my kids' plate, they ate it. And they still clean their plate to this day. They know what they’re living in because I’ve always drummed it into them that they have a good country. I told them not to take advantage of it.
I have a son and daughter. The girl is the oldest. I have never really sat down with them and told them about my POW experiences. They were grown when I decided that I was going to start talking about Korea. I would have liked to have told them when they were a little younger. I think they would have appreciated it more. I feel that my son should especially look at this memoir, because he is the one who has to defend his family. So does my son-in-law. He has a good, level head, and I think he understands what I went through.
Through the years I have thought on a regular basis about when I was a POW. I have thought of Korea every day since I was released. If I am just listening to the news I sometimes think of it. Something will remind me of Korea. I don’t think there’s ever been a day that I haven't thought about Korea. When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is think, "I’m alive and I’ve got my health." I’m not bitter against the Chinese and I don’t have any animosities against either them or the North Koreans. They were doing what they thought was right and we were doing what we thought was right. I definitely think we should have been there. If we hadn't been, South Korea would be communist today. It would be like North Korea. Those people would have had a hell of a life. I've talked to some of the guys who have revisited Korea. They say it's nice over there now. I’d like to go back before they stop letting us come back as a revisit. I might do it in the next year or so.
For the first thirty years after my release, I didn't try to get in touch with my buddies. My wife got me involved with the ex-POWs. She probably saw how it was eating away at me over the years. I didn’t realize it, but my personality wasn’t the greatest in the world. I got bitter and I flew off. I don't know what I was bitter about. I thought it was the rest of the world, not me. I know I have a problem with post traumatic stress. I'm very impatient. I can't wait. I've got to have something--now! I’ve got to be first. I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do that. I’ve got to be in there.
In 1985, the 31st Infantry Regiment was to hold a reunion at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. They invited all the POWs and the Chosin Reservoir veterans to attend. I don't know how they knew where to send my invitation, but I got a letter in the mail. I always throw that stuff away, so I didn’t even bother with it. But my wife got a hold of the letter and called someone to find out about it. She asked me if I wanted to go to it. At first I said, "Naw. I don’t want to go." She asked me if I was sure that I didn't want to go. And she kept hounding me for about two months before the reunion. At the last minute, she talked me into going. We drove the 1,800 miles to Ft. Sill, getting there around 1:00-2:00 in the afternoon. Everyone was all out in the field. A bus driver who was an Army corporal came up to me and asked me if we wanted to go out to the other guys. We got on a big bus and he took us out about ten miles. We got off the bus and walked down through there. My wife said, “See anybody you know?” But I didn’t know any of those people. They were all old men. I didn’t talk to anybody there because I didn’t know anybody. We got back on the bus and rode back the whole way with a busload of guys. They were all talking. They knew each other, but I didn’t know any of them.
When we got back to the hotel lobby, I stood off to the side. This one guy went up to the desk and said, "Is DeLong in yet?" My wife told me that there was a guy asking for me. I had heard him, but I had no idea who he was. He was big and heavy, had a big beard, and he had a big pot-belly. He turned around and he hollered back to them, "She said he checked in about 1 o’clock." Then he turned around and said to a bunch of other guys, “Hey, DeLong’s in.” My wife thought I should go over and tell him who I was, but I said, “Hell, I don’t know who he is.” She told me that I wasn't going to find out until I went over and talked to him, so I went over and told him that I was DeLong. He grabbed me and he hugged me and he practically kissed me on the cheek. He said, “I’m Morgan. Butch Morgan.” I said, “I’m sorry, Butch. I have no idea who you are.” He said he was in the fourth platoon and that there were four other guys there from my company. I didn’t know one of them. It made me feel bad that I didn't. Actually, I did know them--I just didn't remember them right at that moment.
When I went to bed that night, it bothered me that I didn’t know Morgan, because I knew I should know him. He was in the company all the time I was there and he was in the fourth platoon. The next morning my wife was up fixing her hair and I was laying in bed. After a while it popped into place. I said, "Morgan. I had a picture of him when he was 19 years old. He didn't have a big potbelly and a big beard, and he wasn't baldheaded." I remembered him when he had hair and he didn’t have a belly. I sat up and said, "I know who in the hell Morgan is." I even had pictures of him at home. I knew who he was then. It made me feel a lot better. I knew him. He stayed in the Army. He got out at the Reservoir. He didn’t get captured. He got out, but he was wounded. He was in the hospital for about a year. He was a Sergeant First Class until he hit a Lieutenant. After that they knocked him down in rank, court martialed him, and put him in Ft. Leavenworth for a year. He said that when he came out of there, he was smart. Before he retired he got back to Sergeant First Class. "I knew how to butter them up," he told me. "I got my rank back." He had about 14 years in when he hit that lieutenant. Morgan said that he was a smart young lieutenant, but he just couldn’t take it. "I hit him," he said, "but it cost me all my stripes and a year of my life." You couldn’t ask for a nicer guy. He would do anything for his friends.
Now I go to every reunion. I go to two a year. I'm on the board for the Chosin Few Army chapter, so I go to their reunions. I don’t go to the national reunion because there is too much politics up there. They don’t know how to run their organization. We have a good Army chapter with 500 members. We don’t have any politics. We go there because we were at the Reservoir, not because we were a Lieutenant Colonel or we were a colonel or we retired as a colonel. That’s the problem with the Marines. They have too many officers running the damn show. They’re all politicians. You have to be a politician to be an officer. To be sergeant you have to be able to take command of men and run them.
I have written this memoir to let others know that there were 54,000 guys who died in the Korean War. They all didn’t die on the battle front, but 54,000 of them died. About 103,000 of them got wounded. That’s one good reason why future generations shouldn’t forget the Korean War. There are a lot of veterans from the Korean War who never got the recognition that they should have. There are over a million of us still living.
I got a Purple Heart from the Korean War because I got wounded by a mortar round across my back. If it hadn't been for a big rock that we dug out of the foxhole that day, it probably would have blown my head off. But it hit the rock to one side and just caught me in the shoulder. That was at the Chosin in 1950. It took me 38 years to get my Purple Heart after that. I survived. I made it through the Chosin Reservoir. That probably is the biggest contribution that I can say I made in the war. I got out. I didn’t get out of the Reservoir without being captured, but I lived--and I survived. A lot of them didn’t do it. A lot of them gave up. We had a lot of guys that just stopped living. They just died because they wanted to die. They couldn’t handle it. It’s a shame.
They say that there were 7,000 or so prisoners taken in Korea, but I think there had to be closer to 10,000 that were taken prisoners. There were not 8,000 MIAs over there. There were about 3,000 of them who died as prisoners of war out of that 8,000. They’ll never know what happened to all of them because they're on some mountain trail. They shot a lot of guys on the trails. We lost a lot of men when they were marching us north from the Reservoir. If someone fell, he was killed. They shot him or bayoneted him. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They just shot him. They were left on some mountain trail. Some animal ate them. Ate their bones. That’s where they’re at today. They have no home. They don’t have a resting place. Their resting place is where they’re at. And it’s a shame. But that’s the way that life is.
I have only given the highlights of my Korean War/POW experiences in this memoir. I couldn’t possibly tell them all in these pages. I’ve been on this earth for 68 years now. There’s a lot to talk about. I never regretted being a prisoner of war. It taught me a lot. It taught me how to survive. Made me appreciate my life. I wouldn’t have today what I have if I hadn't been a prisoner of war. It changed my whole life. Gave me a whole new perspective on life. It really did. I would never have this outlook on life if I hadn't been a prisoner of war.
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