|Back to "Memoirs" Index page|
Raymond L. "Doc" Frazier
Paris, Tennessee -
"A lot of guys lived and a lot of guys died in the POW camps, but there is no way to categorize why. Some guys were so puny and scrawny you wouldn’t think they could make it in a normal day, and yet they survived. Some guys that looked like football players--perfect physical specimens, were suddenly dead one day. There was no rhyme or reason for it. I lived because I'm tough. I wouldn't give up."
- Raymond "Doc" Frazier
My name is Raymond Frazier of Paris, Tennessee. I was born in Gibson County, Trenton, Tennessee, on November 12, 1931. My father's name was Dodd Frazier and my mother was Flossie Martin Frazier. Trenton was a small town with a population at that time of about 2,000. It has a population of 5,000 now. My dad was a sharecropper who grew tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn. He mostly grew vegetables, but he also grew cotton.
My mother died when I was six years old. From that day on my father was a bum--not literally, but he was practically useless. I didn't really know him until I was grown after my mother died, and I didn't particularly like him before that. I had a brother who was five and a sister who was nine, and we were just kind of from here to there on out.
I went to school in the country at Brazil Country School during the only two years that I went to school. I started school at age eight years old. At that time I weighed 135 pounds, so I kind of stood out among the other first graders. Intellectually I've got a second grade education, but let me state this--I'm the smartest second grader you'll ever run into.
After two years of school I quit. We had to make a living. My grandparents were old, I had an old bachelor uncle, and it was a matter of survival. We worked on a farm, but the land belonged to other people. We had nothing really. At the age of nine I was following a mule to plant the crops. I weighed 140 pounds. I was big. I was doing general farm work--planting different seeds, hoeing them, plowing them, and harvesting them. I did that on and off until I was 16 years old.
World War II
I was well aware of World War II. At that time, that was the news. Everything was World War II. The family did have a radio, so we gathered around at night and listen to Cal Tinney and all the news commentators of the day. We all said our prayers to Roosevelt at night just before going to bed. And, of course, it was the talk.
It was a time of high patriotism. Any man who was of military age that wasn’t in uniform was ostracized. I don’t care what his excuse was for not being in service, he was ostracized by the community. I was big from the age of 14. In fact, at the age of 12, I was as big as I am now. I stood 5’8” and weighed 185 pounds. Everyone thought I should be in the army, which would have been fine by me. I just didn’t know how to go about it. I was even stopped by a policeman in Milan, Tennessee one day and was asked to show my draft card. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I assumed he was talking about the ration books that we got in World War II. My granddaddy faithfully carried those in his bib overalls so they wouldn’t be lost. I told the police officer that he would have to check with Paw--he had it in his suit.
When I was 13, my grandmother died. I left the home at that time and hit the road. I was homeless at 13, but I still continued to do something. I followed the harvest over different states. I broke horses. I was a pretty good horseman.
New, Wonderful Career
Just before I turned 17, I was hitchhiking and an army recruiting sergeant picked me up and started me off on a new, wonderful career. I was underage, but nobody had to sign for me because I lied about my age. The recruiter lied, too. I was totally illiterate, so he filled out my forms for me. He signed my name in pencil and I traced my name. When he was typing on my DD Form 4, he said, “Age?” I said “16” and he said “18” and kept typing. When he got to education, I said “second grade” and he said “eighth grade” and kept typing. He showed me how to fill in the dots on the test form and he said, “All you’ve got to make is 10--and you’ll luck out that many.” They were taking in Category Fours at that time. Every fifth enlistee could be an idiot, and I was the idiot for the bunch. I made exactly 10 on the score and went in at number five.
I went in on November 09, 1948. I joined the army because of the recruiting sergeant. I had nothing else to do, and I was delighted to be in the army. I admired anyone I saw with a uniform on because I had seen the movies that were made of World War II and I had heard the stories of the men coming home from the army. I would have loved to have been a part of it, but I didn't dream I'd ever have the opportunity.
I went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for basic training. I learned military maneuvers and trained as a unit. I taught myself how to read and write while I was there. I started a new life altogether. A new world started slowly opening up for me, and it was good world. It was a fabulous world. For the first time in my life I had three pairs of shoes and five suits, and three meals a day. I got to sleep until 5 o’clock in the morning. I had always had to get up at 4 o'clock to feed the livestock, so I thought I was in paradise. From my first week in the army I said I would be there for 20 years. That was my intention. I had no doubts about it. So I stayed.
Advanced training was at Ft. Benning, Georgia. There I learned medical first aid, medical emergency treatment, and the care of the sick and wounded. I was taught just patch-up work and that was it. I learned how to stop the bleeding, how to protect the wound, and how to treat for shock. I was there a year.
In November of 1949 I was sent to Guam, where I worked in a dispensary and drove an ambulance. Guam was an American territory. I was first assigned to the 22nd General Hospital as an ambulance driver. That closed down in April of 1950, and I was transferred to the base dispensary, which was in an old annex of some sort. I stayed on Guam until February of 1951, when I was sent to Japan and then on to Korea.
I went to Korea from Japan by a ship that landed in Pusan, Korea, on February 7, 1951. My first impression of the country was that it was cold, miserable, dirty, and frightening. I was frightened because of all the people--the refugees stacking up, and the defeated, scared look of the people. It was a new world for me. The army took this ignorant, uneducated country boy off the farm to the tropical island of Guam, which was awesome. Then it took me off the tropical island and dropped me into sub-zero weather. There was barely standing space in Pusan. Literally millions of people were crowded there at the end of the peninsula because the Chinese had pushed the American forces all the way back down right into the little boot-hill of Korea.
We landed in the early morning around 8 o'clock and were put in pipeline status. We were tentatively headed for the 1st Cavalry Division. They loaded us aboard trains and started us north. A few of the old veterans there were returning from the hospitals in Japan and going back to the lines. Otherwise, it was a trainload of troops mostly in pipeline status. Of course, the old veterans had a lot of horror stories. They had us keyed up.
We got to Wonju and spent the night there. The next day they told us that we would be going to different units other than the 1st Cav. So many of them had been decimated along there. I was eventually assigned to the communications section of Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, but at that time I was just a "floater". They put us on trucks from Wonju and started us north.
On the 13th day of February we ran into the middle of the Hoengsong roadblock. There was fighting going on all around us, but in my mind I thought that was normal--that’s the way war was. I thought a war started and you fought until you either died or won. I didn’t realize that you fought and you pulled back and you rested.
The Chinese had set up a roadblock on each side of the road. We were surrounded on three sides and they cut the army to pieces as troops came through the road. They let a few vehicles pass and then they mortared them and blocked the roads. They had us in a pincher-like situation. They were shooting down at us from hilltops on one side and from the rear and they just had us in there.
At the time, I was with another bunch of replacements in the 38th Regiment of the 2nd Division, but we eventually got separated. I fell off the truck, which then got knocked out. Some people were killed and some were wounded. Most of the officers were dead. Somehow I got out of the roadblock. I had my rifle and I started moving. One thing I had learned as a kid as a woodsman was directions by the sun. I started moving south. I was alone and petrified.
I passed what I thought was a dead body. Just a short distance after I passed it, I heard somebody say, “Hey, Troop.” It was the body. It was Sgt. Lorenzo Delano of D Company, 2nd Division. He had been playing dead. He said, “Who are you?” When I told him, he asked me what unit I was with. I told him that I wasn't with any. "I just got here," I said.
Delaney and I started moving south to get out of there. He was just a 20-year old kid with sergeant stripes on, but I learned a lot from him. He was a Sergeant First Class--a five-striper. I was amazed at that later on. He had been in Korea for six months already. He had come in as a Private and had worked his way up through the ranks. I guess he got me out. He taught me how to survive--to move and to listen for sounds. He explained to me that when one round fell I should count a couple of minutes and that way I could figure out where the other one was going to fall. We didn't just walk our way out, we fought our way out for about four miles. During that time, we picked up other troops. Some were wounded and some were not.
We finally broke through and we got out of the roadblock that night about 9 o’clock. We ran into K Company of the 87th Airborne and spent the night with them. The next day they brought a truck up and got what was left of Company D of the 1st Battalion. The ones that got out were six of the original members. The whole division lost several hundred men. I don’t remember how many exactly, but two battalions were decimated. Dog Company only had six men left.
When we got to the rendezvous area they were regrouping. They debriefed everybody and assigned people to a company. Delaney and I ran into Lieutenant Bruner, who was an officer in D Company. He was a fine leader. I got to know him well while we were there in the rendezvous area. I went over to where they were assigning everyone and talked to the personnel sergeant. He asked me, “Where are you assigned to? What do you do?” I told him that I was a medic. I started explaining the story about how I had wound up where I was and told him about meeting Sergeant Delaney and Lieutenant Bruner. He told me that Company D was going to need a medic because all of their medics had been killed. He asked me if I wanted to go to Company D. I said I would love to, so I got assigned to Company D as their medic.
Regroup, Retrain, Resume
Company D went back in reserve about 20 miles behind the line near Wonju. The company set up to regroup and retrain. They had lost all of their equipment. I think maybe two Jeeps got out and maybe one truck. The only weapons that got out were the ones the men were carrying when they got out. D Company was a heavy weapons company. They had mortars, machine guns, and the 75 recoilless. They assigned me as a medic to the machine gun platoon. Sergeant Delaney was there. We were buddies by then and they assigned me to his platoon. Sergeant Stewart was the platoon sergeant. He was a World War II veteran and a very good leader. We trained and regrouped.
In the last part of March or sometime in April, MacArthur launched a counter-offensive that we called Operation Killer. We pushed the Chinese all the way back up past the 38th parallel and started to get our feet wet. I went from Private First Class to Sergeant First Class in 90 days. I was catching on and learning fast. We went back in reserve again, retrained, and had a pretty good time. We lost only one man in the counter-offensive, so we didn’t have to build up very much. We came back and trained another two weeks and then we went on the defensive in the central part of Korea.
From February to May we did a lot of moving. We set up shower points and every week or so we got a pretty good shower and change of clothes. We were not as clean as we are now, but it was clean enough at that time, especially when it was sub-zero. During the winter months we didn't have to bathe that often. We got plenty of food--both hot and cold. When we were in reserve, we got three hot meals a day and when we were up on the lines or on patrols and things like that we had C-rations. We had little heat pellets that we could use to heat our C-rations on, or we could eat them cold. I usually ate them cold with something like instant coffee. We had plenty to eat at that time. And we got mail. I got some from girlfriends and a letter from my sister and brother occasionally. I also got packages. They usually had chocolates or Lifesavers in them. They baked cakes and sent them to us. By the time the cakes got to us they were crushed and crumbs, but we were always grateful to get them. I also got socks and gloves. I didn't ask for them--people just sent them to me.
Fighting the Enemy
The Chinese fought differently than Americans. They fought in swarms. They came straight at us shooting and they came in three waves. They figured that we would wipe out the first wave. They knew they were going lose in that wave. The second wave was behind the first ones in battle. If the first wave tried to turn back, the second wave would drop them. That first wave was wiped out, doing a little damage before they were. The second wave came in and did a lot more damage before they were killed. The third wave was behind them, and by then the third wave was going on over. We were going to kill seven or eight of them to one, but they didn't care. They had the people to lose.
We could hear them coming in most cases. In a full-scale battle, we heard their bugles and whistles. When they started hollering banzai, we knew we had had it. Knowing ahead of time worked two ways. We were always a little tense, but we really didn't get scared (I mean petrified) until it was over. After it got started, our training kicked in and we operated out of reflexes more than anything else. Then after it was over and we had time to analyze it, we got scared. That’s when we went out someplace by ourselves and threw up--but we didn’t do it in front of the guys.
I had hand-to-hand combat. That meant using bayonets and rifle butts. It's a technique used with a rifle. Give a thrust--a butt stroke. We were taught that if we were disarmed and lost our weapon, we should use karate moves--flip kicks, hip rolls, punches, scratching, pulling hair, biting--whatever. I shot one Chinaman at three inches between the eyes. That’s about as close as you get. I didn't think of them as anything other than the enemy--I didn't then and I don't now.
I had an M-2 carbine with a bayonet. An M-2 was fully automatic. An M-1 was semi-automatic. At that time the M-2 carbine was the fastest firing weapon the American military had. I carried two 30-round clips end to end, taped together with two banana clips. The BAR is a Browning Automatic Rifle. It shot a larger shell and had a 20-round clip. It was a good weapon, but it was very cumbersome compared to the carbine. The carbine was light and moveable. We could switch it into either direction fast, whereas the BAR was a long, heavy weapon with a bi-pod. To fire it, the BAR-man had to lay down to fire it. It could be fired standing up, but it was so heavy most gunners laid down and used the tri-pod.
On May 15, 1951, the Chinese attacked in full force and our company was caught up in what became known as the May Massacre. We fought from the 15th to the 18th of May. The odds were ten or fifteen Chinese to one American. It's hard telling how many Chinese our 1st gunner on the machine gun killed. He was one big gut--nothing but guts. He alone must have killed at least 200-300. They were just stacked up like cord wood. They came at us in a swarm, literally walked over dead bodies, and kept coming. There was no way of stopping them.
We were overran by the enemy on May 18th and our company was wiped out again. A few of us tried to get out. We ran into remnants from four or five other companies of the 1st Battalion--two or three men here, two or three there. We came up with a pretty sizeable group of 48 men. Lt. Roger Kirchofer was in the bunch. He said, “Maybe we can fight our way across the valley to a bigger route than we’ve got.” He called into Headquarters and they told us that at 4 p.m. there would be an air strike on the valley. They said, “We’ll throw the smoke down and you cross the valley. On the hill there will be a ranger company to meet you.” Well, the air strike came in at 4 o’clock, but it didn’t hit the valley. It hit the rangers. They dropped the smoke and we fought our way across the valley. When we got to the top of the hill, there was only about ten of the ranger company left. They were wiped out by our own Air Force. Later on we found out that they had put out the wrong type of air panel. That was dangerous.
We took two prisoners while fighting our way across the valley. We got on the hill where the rangers had been hit by the air strike. Lo and behold, our artillery started calling in on the same spot. One of the prisoners ducked into a bunker, which anybody with any sense doesn’t do. Somebody hollered, “Chink!” and they shot him. It wasn’t intentional. I mean, they intentionally shot him, but they didn’t know we had already taken him prisoner. That left one Chinaman. Several guys were wounded by then.
Loss of Freedom
We managed to evade the Chinese all that night. On the 19th day of May 1951, we ran out of ammunition. We had several wounded at that time. We were in a little enclosure of rocks and all around us were thousands of Chinese. They knew we were there, but they didn't know exactly where. It started getting light and they came at us from all four sides. There were thousands of them and they hollered, "Hello. Okay. Hello. Okay." We were just sitting there when they came up over the enclosure with their rifles and burp guns pointing down at us. Of course, we raised our hands. I remember the exact minute I got captured. I looked at my watch and it was 5:15 a.m. That’s the last I saw of my watch. It kept going.
They moved us out of the hole and took us down by a river near a spring. The Chinese prisoner we had was talking 90 miles an hour, but the ones that had captured us seemed to ignore him like he wasn’t saying anything. Well, I knew what he was saying. He was telling them that the one that got killed yesterday was killed by some of us. But as I said, they just ignored him. All at once a guy walked up. Apparently he was an officer. Our captor said something to the Chinaman that we had taken prisoner, and then the officer just took his pistol out and shot him. I haven’t understood that to this day.
I counted our group as 48. They had us all in a little circle and, like I said, there were thousands around us. We were an object of curiosity to a lot of them. They were looking and jabbing and looking down their long noses at us. Finally the Chinese officer told us all to get in line and stand at attention. As we stood at attention, I turned around to this fellow Ralph Bishop from California. He was a friend of mine. I said, “Have you ever seen 48 men shot at one time?” He said, “I think I’m about to.” I said, “Well, I don’t mind dying so bad.” He said, “Me either, Doc. I just hate staying dead so damn long.” The Chinese officer just stood there and looked at us, and then he gave us a lecture more or less. He told us that we would be taken to a POW camp eventually and that we would have to obey the rules. If we did, we wouldn’t be shot.
I had a medical bag at the time of my capture. I had all types of bandages, aspirin, diarrhea mix, different kinds of ointments, mathialade, and morphine. I had surgical equipment—scalpels and forceps and stuff of this nature. I was carrying a miniature dispensary on my back. The Chinese took my medical bag away from me. They were glad to get it, I guess.
Long March North
That day they started marching us north. We marched over the bodies of literally thousands of dead Chinese for about eight miles. Our artillery planes and small arms planes had killed them. We stepped over some Americans, too, but very few. They were behind us playing dead. About 3 o’clock that afternoon we came up to a little village where they had another 40 or 50 Americans held prisoner. They fell in with us and we walked on another hour or so to another village where there were another 40 or 50 prisoners. That went on until about midnight. By then we had collected a large number. They let us sleep that night about 1 or 2 o’clock. We just laid down on the ground and that was it. But we didn’t go to sleep. We were too keyed up and frightened to sleep, even though we were exhausted.
Most of us hadn’t eaten anything in about 30 hours, so the next morning they brought us some food. I'll never forget it. It was a bowl of sorghum seed. I was one of the few that knew what it was. The others kept looking at it and they said, “Is that red rice?” I said, “No, gentlemen. That is sorghum seed. I know what it is.” They said, “What do you do with it?” I said, “You feed hogs with it. You feed livestock with it.” They said, “Is it good for you?” and I said, “Well, we used to fatten up some nice hogs on it. That’s all I can tell you.” They said, “You going to eat it?” I said, “I’m going to. I don’t know about you but I’m going to eat it.” And I did. For the next two years I ate it. That was our first meal as prisoners of war. I ate it because I was hungry. I was starving. I was going to do whatever I had to do to survive. I would eat sorghum seed or anything else I could get. That was the first food I had had in over at least 30 hours, and I was going to survive another 30 if I could. I even ate rats while on the march. I put them on sticks, built a little fire, and cooked them. I ate a lot of them after I got to Changsong. They weren't bad.
By then they had 750 of us. They marched us day in and day out. If the sun was out, they put us up someplace—in buildings or under trees, because the planes could be out. But if it was cloudy and the planes couldn’t come out, then we had to keep walking the entire 24 hours. Guys were dropping like flies and dying. They changed guards every 24 hours. It dawned on us after about two weeks of this that what they were doing was just marching us back and forth, making people think they had taken a lot of prisoners. We started leaving signs in villages--drawing cartoons or making a little mark in a building so we would recognize it when we came back. Sure enough, two or three days later we would be back in the same place. They were literally marching us to death just to make everyone think they were taking a lot of prisoners. In fact, 47 days later, out of 750 we had only 185 survivors.
Those who didn't make it died of starvation, dysentery, beatings, or were outright killed. Some of them just quit and died. The dysentery was caused by the food and lack of it, as well as the water. We drank out of ditches, rice paddies, or wherever we could get liquid. They kept us marching and they gave us sorghum seed sometimes once, sometimes twice a day. When we passed water we took our cup, our hat or whatever and dipped it in and got a drink. That's when we got dysentery, diarrhea, and everything else. All of us had bad stomachs and still do. We had ulcers. We had stomach worms that you cannot believe. Some of them were 30 inches long. We could feel them inside of us and we had excruciating pain because they were so big. The biggest one I ever saw was passed by Richard Douglas.
On the 5th day of June 1951, we were still on that 47-day march. Richard Douglas, Charles Vanderkoii, and I had escaped. Most everyone tried to escape at one time or another. No one was successful, but just about every man tried it at one time or another. We had set it up to get out that night. We had to count off every hour or so. They would holler our name and we had to answer. I told them, “One guy will answer for me, one for Douglas, and one for Van Den Burgh." I said, “When we go around this bend, you fall out to the left, Douglas. Van Den Burgh and I will fall out to the right.” I told Douglas, “You wait until I come and get you because there will be a rear echelon guard coming up. Wait until I come to you.” He laid there a good ten minutes before the rear echelon came up. Douglas told us later that he was scared to death. He thought that we hadn’t done what we were supposed to have done, but he kept laying there. We got over there and found him. We maneuvered and dodged and ducked the Chinese for the next three days until we got caught again.
They took us back to the others and beat us. That was something that we got used to, it happened so often. We got hit with sticks, a foot, or whatever. We got hit with the gun butt a lot, and sometimes with a bayonet horn. I've got a scar that I'll carry to my grave on my left hip, caused by a bayonet that went into it probably three inches. I didn't move fast enough, I guess. After the march, when they really wanted to punish one of us they took us out, spread-eagled us, tied our arms up, and beat us.
Now, back to Douglas and the worm. After we got back with the others, the Chinese fed us. That's when Douglas passed the worm. It was 30 inches and as big around as my thumb, and it came out of his nose. He had been having tremendous pain. He got a bowl of sorghum and was sniffing it when that big worm came out of his nose. We just sat there and watched. It was like something from a horror movie, really.
A lot of the prisoners died on the march. Some ended up crawling, and we carried some. We did everything we could to help them, but some just quit and would not go any further. They would say, "Shoot me, you SOB. I'm not going any further." And that was it. They were shot or bayoneted or whatever. There were lots of walking wounded. Some of them made it and some didn't. Carl Bishop marched with six bullets through him and made it. The bullet holes were very serious. The bullets hadn't hit any bones--it was all flesh. Some of them went all the way through him. But he kept going. Some were that way. They kept on going. Of course, we all had to help one another, but some didn't want any help. They had taken all they were going to take and that was it. They were not going any further. They would fall or lay down and wouldn't move.
As I said, we mostly marched at night, although we marched in the daytime, too. We marched from the time that the planes couldn’t get out until daylight. Once our American planes came out they would be out there strafing and bombing. Those on the ground looked just like anybody else to the pilots. If it was a cloudy day and the planes couldn't get out, we were marched 24 hours. We just kept going. We were glad to see sunshine because at least we could rest that day some. But that night we were on the march again. Even if it was raining or whatever, we still had to stay on that march. I didn't think that any of us could possibly survive the march, but many of us did. I still can't believe that we did.
I thought of a lot of things to keep me going. I was tough. I’m still tough. I’m an old man, but I’m still tough as nails. One thing that kept me going was hate. I hated. I thought, "I’m not going to let them get me. I'm going back to the United States." I had too much to live for to die. Up to that point I hadn’t had anything. I knew that life was coming my way eventually and I wanted to be there to greet it. I was not going to quit. They could kill me, but I would not quit. And that’s what I kept in my mind--I will never quit. I also told myself, "I will never cry." That was something I did not do while I was there the whole time I was in the POW camps. The day I was freed I cried, but while I was there I said, "I can't do it. If I do, I'll break down completely." That was one thing I would not permit to happen, and I can't recall ever seeing any of the guys cry either. I guess they all had the same feeling.
We finished the first trek of the march at a mining camp near Suan, North Korea. We stayed there from about the 3rd of July until mid-September of 1951. We called it the mining camp because there was a mine of some kind there. They had mining cars that moved the ore overhead of the barracks. We never had any idea what type of ore they were bringing out. Some people called it the Bean Camp. It all depended on who was there what they called it. Everybody gave everything a name.
The Mining Camp consisted of three old long Japanese buildings that were built there when the Japanese still were in control of that part of Korea. In the middle of the barracks they had a Japanese-type latrine, just with an open slit. When it rained, it overflowed and it all come into our sleeping area.
At the Mining Camp we could eat what we could find. I found poke greens, boiled them, and ate them. I mean, it was horrible, but it was soup. I came upon a man that had a tin can. He was boiling something in it. I knew exactly what he had. I thought, “He doesn’t know what he’s got.” I said, “What are you cooking?” He replied, “I’m cooking collards.” I said, “You’re wrong. You’re not cooking collards.” He had cocklebur leaves. He was boiling cockleburs. They would have killed him instantly if he had eaten them. I told him what they were and he said, “I was about to eat them.” He said, “Somebody told me that was collards.”
We could roast anything that we could get a hold of over an open fire. Boil it or broil it. If we could catch a chicken we could roast it over an open fire. The Chinese brought their chickens in alive to eat and they would kill them off as they needed them. Sometimes if we could get close enough to their cage, we could make sure one escaped. Once it escaped, we got a hold of it, took it and picked it, then cooked and ate it. I roasted a lot of rats because there were plenty of them there. Roasted rat. I had some that were as big as rabbits. They tasted delicious then. I wouldn't want one today, but back then they were divine because they were meat. Anything was better than sorghum.
Thousands of Lice
In addition to diarrhea, dysentery and stomach worms, there were scabies. We had different kinds of skin rashes all the time. And we had body lice by the thousands. They were big and white, and about half the size of a grain of rice--though they could get that big. We could see them and we could feel them. Somebody would hold one up and say, "Who will trade two little ones for a big one?" I used to do that a lot to get a laugh--and usually got a trade. We finally pretty well got rid of those when we got to Camp 3. It was a permanent camp where we could wash our clothes and bathe every now and then.
From early July to mid-September, we only had a chance to bathe one time at the mining camp. We bathed with our clothes on all in the same big, round vat-like thing. It was like the bottom half of a silo or something, but it was full of water. I think the water was piped in from a stream above. It was ice cold, but we enjoyed it. They could run about 30 people in there at a time. We got in there with our clothes on to give us a chance to wash both our bodies and our rotten clothes. Altogether about 200 people washed in that same tub of water. We couldn't really get clean, but we felt like we were for a few minutes. We felt better when we got out of it than we did when we got into it. There was lice and stuff floating in the water, but it didn't matter. Everybody had lice. It wasn't a matter of "getting" them. We had them.
I got extremely sick at the Mining Camp. I had relapsing fever, which was louse-borne. Several people got it and most of them died, but I didn't. Relapsing fever is an extremely high fever. Willie Ruff and two or three other guys sponged me down with cold water and force fed me. When I had lucid periods I told them, "Rub me down." They had seen me do it to other people--sponge them down with cold water to reduce the fever. So they did that on me. It brought my fever down and then they grabbed me and forced the food down me. After about two weeks of it I survived and started snapping out of it. I didn't want to give up, but there were times when I felt like I might lose the battle there.
In the Mining Camp there were probably ten medics. Norman Long was one of them. Everybody did what they could, which wasn't much. I made old home remedies that I had learned back in the woods in Tennessee, and I used a lot of country psychology. That helped as much as anything. At one of our reunions, one guy told his wife, "I was laying down giving up." But I said to him, "Get up, you yellow-bellied S.O.B. and live." That's what I told them. I wasn't kind. I put my foot in their butts.
We force fed some of them. It worked on maybe one or two, but most of them went on and died when they got to that stage. I survived partly because of force feeding, and so did a black guy named Allen. We called him Baby Boy. We force fed him and he's alive today and comes to the reunions. But usually when they got to the point that we had to force feed them, they had already given up. They passed on to death. There wasn't anything we could do.
James Louis Emerson
We had 212 graves at the Mining Camp, including one for a boy who was executed there. His name was James Louis Emerson from Little Rock, Arkansas. I had talked to him a few days, but I didn't know anything about him other than he was 19 years old and unmarried. He had escaped, killed a guard, and hid out three of four days before they caught him and brought him back. They executed him. They actually put him back in the barracks with the rest of the men for three or four days while they were setting machine guns up outside the building. Some of the men came up and said, "I wonder what's going to happen?" He said, "I know what's going to happen. They're going to execute me, that's what's going to happen." I guess he had a sixth sense, I don't know. The Chinaman (Lee) came in with a document and said, "War criminal James Emerson, step out." The Chinaman spoke fluent English because he had been educated in the United States. He stood there and read the execution order. He said, "You'll be put to death by a firing squad immediately."
They ran a wire through his wrist and around his back, stood him up, and shot him by firing squad. They didn't blindfold him--he refused the blindfold. They offered to let him run, but he said no. He refused to run. His feet had been frozen and he wasn't really able to stand, but he was standing when they killed him. We were ordered to watch it. He was a pillar of strength in the moment of everyone else's weakness. He stood there knowing what was going to happen and he didn't flinch. It didn't scare him at all. His last words were, "God Bless America." He was a G.I. to the last minute. He was someone that we all looked up to because he set an example for the others to be determined. It helped us a lot. When they fired, Emerson fell. Then this Chinaman Lee walked over to him with what looked like a P-38 pistol and fired a round to his forehead. The guys' reactions were anger, horror, you name it. Every emotion--these men probably had it. Some kept silent, but most were openly upset. They were hollering and cussing the Chinese, kicking logs, hitting walls--it's a hard emotion to explain.
After they executed Emerson we buried him. There was a hill overlooking the compound where we buried our dead. We dug a hole about 2 1/2 foot deep for his body, put him in it, and one guy said a few words over him. I did not try to get in touch with his family when I got back--I could not walk up to a mother and tell her. But I turned what I knew about his execution over to the Army when I was released. I don't know if they gave his family the details of his death, but the Army knew them. I saw plenty of guys get shot or bayoneted, but Emerson's was the only formal, legal execution I ever saw over there. It was legal because he had killed a Chinese soldier, but it was still something hard to watch.
We had burial detail at the Mining Camp every day. Every morning an interpreter went from barrack to barrack and stuck his head in the door. He had a white mask over his face. He would say, “How many men died last night?” He was asking because he wanted to know how much sorghum he had to issue. If the figure that had died was ten, that was ten he didn’t have to feed that day. We got smart there for a while. If there were seven or eight that had died, we would say three and draw a few extra grains of sorghum. Then they got smart. If we said three, they wouldn’t let us bury but three. The rest of the dead laid there for a week. So we told the truth. It worked both ways, but it worked for us for a little while. We buried 212 men there at the Mining Camp in about six weeks. I don't know whether or not those bodies have ever been returned.
Isolation was a form of punishment at the Mining Camp. They had little rooms in huts down in the village and they put us in them by ourselves. There was also a turnip cellar there that we called "the hole". A few guys had to go in there. I got hit with a rifle butt a few times and things like that, but I never got put in isolation at the Mining Camp because of my relapsing fever.
Move to Changsong
On the eighth day of October 1951 we arrived at a permanent POW camp at Changsong, North Korea. Some people called it Camp 1 and some called it Camp 3. Changsong was a village near a river. We could wash our clothes in that river or take baths in it in the summertime. Bathing in the river wasn't a daily thing, but we took a bath in it two or three times a week. There were about 1,500 men at Changsong. A lot of them were already there when we arrived.
The first thing the Chinese did was let us get our first good bath, and then they issued clothes to us. They were blue Chinese clothes--a set of blue pants and shirt, a pair of padded shoes, a cap, and an overcoat. That started getting rid of our lice then.
On the night of October 8, I went into a hut and went to sleep. I was clean and I was free of lice. I laid that coat down on the floor, laid down on it, and went to sleep. Sometime during the night the camp was bombed. The percussion blew our door off and a piece of shrapnel cut the sleeve of my overcoat and landed in the wall. Sometime before then I had gotten cool and had gotten under the overcoat and used it for a blanket. The bombing killed a 1st Lieutenant in the building next to us. I didn't know him because we had just arrived there that day. I didn’t even wake up. That's how tired I was and how good those clean clothes and that bath felt. I literally slept through a bomb that fell probably within 60 feet of our building. There were about 16 people in our room at that particular time, and none of them woke up until the next day. That's when they found that the paper door was on the floor and on top of some of them.
Our hut was about a 10x10--not big enough to hold 16 men. We were stacked in there like cord wood. In the wintertime we slept in piles. If we were on the bottom of the pile we were better off because we didn't freeze. Sometimes the man on the top literally froze. It got as cold as 60 degrees below zero.
As a medic, I handled frostbite as best as I could. I tried to thaw the men's feet out gradually, and I tried to keep them clean. If some of them got gangrene, they would die or lose their toes. I couldn't really handle those. They did have a little clinic of sorts there and every day they had sick call. They had a Chinese female doctor who gave out a little treatment, but it was very primitive. Some male doctors came in one day, but the primary caregiver was a lady. She was probably a decent doctor.
Besides the lady doctor, there were Chinese women all over the place. They were army officials. The guys didn't care that there were women around--that was the last thing on their mind. The first thing on their minds was food--always food.
Food on Their Minds
I thought of a lot of different things I wanted to eat, but most prevalent on my mind was milk. Milk and bread. Those were two things I really wanted. I used to have a fantasy. I dreamed I would go to the little country store when I got back and get me a piece of balogna, piece of cheese, some crackers, a can of sardines, and a Pepsi-cola. I thought about that a lot. When I was kid and I was working, I went to that store and that's what I got for lunch. When I was a POW, that's what I wanted--and when I got home, I went and got it. The food at Changsong consisted mainly of sorghum and boiled turnips.
On Sunday we got rice if we were good. We hadn't had meat for so long we didn't even remember what meat smelled like. We had been at Changsong for a few days when I woke up one cold morning early and smelled the aroma of meat cooking just hanging in the air. Boy, I could almost taste the aroma. I followed it. I found a little lean-to and when I looked back in there, there sat a guy. He had a little can over a fire and had a little tad of some sort of meat cooking in it. As I was looking at it, he sensed that I was there. He turned around and said, “You get away from here. You go. You go.” I said, “What you got there?” He told me, “Get away from here.” When I said, “Un-un. You’re going to share that with me”, he said, “No I’m not.” I said, “You’ll share it with me or I’ll kill you and take it all. You make up your mind.” And I would have for what he had in that can. We ate the meat and I asked him where he got it, It was fat, hard pork, and beans—soybeans. I knew that he had gotten the soybeans out of one of those fields in the camp, but he wouldn’t tell me where he got the pork. He thought he had a permanent supply. Later in the day I was walking around the pigpen. The Chinese brought their pork in on foot and they killed them as they needed them. I looked in the pigpen and there stood four pigs without their tails. He had reached into that pen, cut four pigtails off, and cooked them.
The only meat we got while we were there from December until April was a pig that we stole and butchered under the eyes of an armed guard. We dressed it, cooked it, ate it, and disposed of the waste without getting caught. Every day an old sow came inside the little compound. She had eight pigs. There was an Englishman, Derrick Kenny, who had a bad hernia and couldn’t go on work detail. There were always two or three guys that were sick and weren’t able to make the work detail. This particular day it was Derrick Kenny, Roger "Doc" McCabe, Joe Hammond, Robert Matthews, and John Hardigan. They stayed behind. Derrick Kennedy took a blanket and went outside. It was cold by this time out there and the guard was in one corner in a little pit. The sow was in another area with her pigs. Kennedy hung the blanket up between him and the guard, turned around, picked a pig up under his arm, and came back into the building. Just as he did that, they changed the guard. That meant the new guard had to do the head count of who was inside. Kennedy had the pig by the snout and under his arm. He handed it to Joe Hammond, who happened to be laying on the floor under a blanket. He said, “Hold the pig.” Hammond got the pig in a scissor hold and held him under the blanket . The guard came to the door and asked, “What’s wrong with him?” They answered in Chinese, "Very sick". After the guard made his check and left, Hammond turned the pig loose. It was dead. Joe had already choked it to death. They now had a dead pig in the room. When we came in from work detail, Doc McCabe said, “You remember those eight pigs outside?” I said, “Yeh.” He said, “There are only seven out there now. We’ve gone one over here. We’ve got to figure out a way to clean it and cook it.” We went to the kitchen and dressed the pig out. It would take three days to cook and eat the pig.
As mentioned earlier, our building had a little kitchen. There was a pot in there with deep water in it to clean our dishes and heat the room. When the weather was cold we were allowed to build a fire, so the Chinese didn’t think a thing about that. We went in the kitchen and we dressed that hog up. We burned the hair off of it and threw it in that big pot. We then threw that batch of water out as dishwater. That was the first night. The next night we cooked the hog and ate it. Then the next night, every time someone went to the outdoor latrine they took a bone with them, dropped it in the latrine, and sat there like they were supposed to do it. That was the only meat we got there in all that period of time. On work details, if we passed anything growing in a garden or field, regardless what it was, we got it. It could be tomatoes, fruit, turnips, anything. We stole what we could.
We had gotten to Chongsong in October of 1951. It snowed early there, but there was a Chinaman who had a winter turnip patch that he guarded with his life. If anyone got near his turnip patch he would start throwing, rocks at them, and he kicked and hollered. He did not let anyone near that turnip patch. I got up one morning and looked out. Snow was about two feet deep, but he was outside checking his turnips. He pulled up one of the tops and there was no root on it. He pulled up one more of those turnips, but there was no root on it. He pulled. There was no root. Someone had gone out there at night, pulled up all of his turnips, cut the roots off, and stuck the tops back in the snow.
Our captors were like anybody else. We got treated halfway decent by some of them. Others were just inhumanely mean and they enjoyed unnecessarily inflicting pain and misery on us. It just depended on who had us at the time. It revolved from one group to another. Some were very sadistic. Some very humane. Some of them even acted like they liked us.
At Camp 3 the Chinese had 23 wooden cages that were used for punishment. They were not tall enough to stand up in, and only held one person per cage. Willie Ruff, Sal Conte, Carl Livesay, and I were all confined in one. Willie spent eight months in that box. I spent seven months and four days in it. Carl Livesay spent six months in it. We had to wear handcuffs while we were in there. We got out three times a day to go to the bathroom and that was it. We weren't allowed to talk or make any sounds or do anything. Periodically we were taken out and beaten. That was cruel and unusual punishment. They wanted us to "confess". They didn't care what we confessed to, they just wanted us to make up something fast and confess. Then if anyone did, they would take him out, strip him, spread-eagle him from the ceiling, take a boat paddle-type thing, and really work him over.
They had to whip Willie "Madman" Ruff through the top of his cage because if they let him out he would cripple two or three of them. He was crazy. That's why we called him "Madman". He crippled up a dozen Chinese at least, and got beat up so many times it was pitiful. They finally got to where they just left him in the cage. They changed the top of his cage to slatted bars so they could punch him through the top. They took sticks and beat him through the top, but they would not let him out and try it because he would cripple them so much. If he got mad at them he would trick them by leaning his face down to the bars and then reach out and hit one of them. Sal Conte built an exact replica of the box and brought it to our POW reunion in 1999.
I was put in the cage because I helped organize a resistance group to fight back against our Chinese captors. We fought their indoctrination program. Probably somebody snitched on us, but the Chinese didn't have any trouble picking a guy like me. It didn't take them long to find out who was upset and who was sabotaging their training plans. Willie Ruff was in command of the resistance group and I was second in command. Bill Carter was third in command. One way or another we fought the Chinese from Day One. There were prisoners who were collaborating with the enemy by brown-nosing them so they might get a little better food. Daily the Chinese gave us lectures on the glories of communism and the faults of capitalism. Some of the guys actually sat in there agreeing with what they were saying and then tried to preach it back to us. We said, “We’ve got to do something here.” So we organized and talked to them. If that didn’t work, we beat the living daylights out of them. We told them, “The next time, you’re dead. Straighten up there.”
We constantly defied the Chinese. If they came in and said one thing, I counteracted them. For instance, one day a Chinaman came in and he talked to this black guy, Clarence Harris, about why he should be a communist instead of a capitalist. Harris told him, “I don’t want to be a communist.” The Chinaman said, “You’ll go back to America and you’ll be a slave.” Harris said, “Yeh, but at least I’ll have a quarter in my pocket and I can do what I want to.” To this the Chinaman said, “What are you going to do when you get back to the States? Push a broom?” I said to him, “What are you going to do when you get back to China? Pull a rickshaw?” I did things like that. We were court-martialed after that. Ruff was the first man to go in. Then Dale Carter. Then me. They also caged Ed Osborne. There were Englishmen in some of the cages, too. I stayed in the cage from the first day of May in 1952 until the fourth day of December 1952. Ruff stayed there from the first day of April to the fourth day of December.
They took mail privilege away from those of us who were being punished. They wouldn't let us receive mail or send anything out. But I wouldn’t write anyway because they wanted us to use a certain type envelope for propaganda purposes. They gave me one opportunity, but I just wouldn't do it.
I only had one parent at the time and he didn't know if I was okay, although he knew I was missing in action and was captive. Then along around March of 1952, Frank Noel, a correspondent who had been captured, came to the camp. He was allowed to keep his camera and to take pictures. The Chinese thought the pictures could be used for propaganda. A guy from California named Rivers and I were playing guitars and I was singing Rocky Road Blues. Noel took a picture of it , but I didn’t think anything about it. He sent it to the Department of the Army and they sent my dad a copy of it. Then they sent it to the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee. That way everyone knew that I was alive. My dad saw the picture of me. He told them, “He’s a lot smaller than he was, but that’s him.”
During the entire time that I was a POW, I got only two or three letters from home. I only got one letter from Dad, and two or three from my sister. She said that she wrote to me every day for two years, but I only got maybe three letters from her.
I was the company medic. I looked around at all the death and dying and thought, "I wish there was something I could do." And something I did do. I did what I could with what I had. I treated their stomach worms with red pepper and hot water, which killed the worms and allowed the guys to pass them. I also treated the diarrhea with an old trick I had learned from my grandmother. I remembered that as a kid we had what they called flux, which was nothing but diarrhea. My grandmother would take a kernel of corn and burn it to a charcoal. She stirred it in water and anyone who had diarrhea would drink it. It worked. I thought if that worked, so would sorghum. I burned the sorghum, put it in a cup of water, and had the guys drink it. Sure enough, it stopped the diarrhea. In the camp, I amputated toes that had been frostbitten. I lanced so many boils and cysts and stuff like that, I couldn’t keep up with them all. I bandaged. I set broken bones. If we could get some salt, I used hot salt water and rags to cleanse injuries or sores. I think they all had confidence in me as a medic. I hope they did. They always seemed to, and I’m still their doc, so I guess they did. I did what I could with what I had, which was very little.
Like I said, to the guys who come to the ex-POW reunions, I'm still "the doc". At our reunions now, the guys are always coming up to me and telling their wives, “This is the guy that operated on me.” They say "operated", but really I just removed a boil or cyst or something. I honed down a dog tag and used that to lance it for them. In one case, Lloyd Pate, who is now the president of our association, had gangrene on the bottom of his toes. I put his feet under my arms and thawed them out. Then six people (Roger "Doc" McCabe, Joe Hammond, Bill Carter, Robert Matthews, Will Ruff, and Frank Upjohn) held him down and I removed the bottom of those toes with my dog tag. He survived, but he would not have survived had I not removed it, that’s for sure.
I personally didn't get frostbite. I had two pair of socks army issue, and I guarded them with my life. I took one pair and put it under my armpits so they would dry as we walked. Then if we stopped and my feet were damp, I took the wet pair off, put it under my arm pit, and put the warm pair on. I did that three or four times a day. That’s how I prevented frostbite.
The oddest thing I think I operated on was probably a large growth out of a guy's side. I didn't know what it was, I just knew it had to come out. He wanted it out. He kept telling me, "You've got to get it out. It's going to kill me." I told him, "Well, get somebody to hold you down and we'll get rid of it." It turned out to be a cyst. I didn't have any ether or anything to knock the guys out that I was operating on. They just had to endure the pain. Some smoked marijuana. It was not a pain killer, but it maybe made them not care that they were in pain. If someone smoked enough of it, one thing it would do was knock him out and he would go to sleep.
On October 4, 1952, they gave us court-martial sentences and took us to Camp 2, also called Labor Camp or Reactionary Camp. There were 140 men in that. They put us in an annex there adjacent to the Reactionary Camp. They had a little stockade that housed 23 Americans and 6 Brits. Lloyd Pate was there. He had finally got taken out of the hole and was one of the 29 put in the annex of the Reactionary Camp. So was Gale Carter.
The annex or "hole" was a building. They called it the hole because it was down below the compound. It had two rooms about 10x10, with a partition between the two rooms. There was a little kitchen area that had an underground fireplace with a pot on it. The 29 men were split up between the two rooms. We were just stacked up. We could walk around in the building there, but we weren’t allowed outside unless we were working. There was a brush fence around the building, but we finally stuck it in the fire and burned it to keep us warm.
We got our food delivered to us from the Reactionary Camp. They brought it halfway from the camp and set it down. Then one of us would go get it. They didn’t want us to have any communication, but we did. We hollowed out the end of the chogie pole—a stick we used to carry two buckets. We had a little hollowed out place with a plug in there and we called it the chogie mail.
We guys in the hole were not allowed to have tobacco, but the men in the Reactionary Camp got issued a little packet of smoking tobacco. They all chipped in, put a little tobacco in a rag or something, and stuck it in our food. I didn’t smoke, so it didn’t bother me, but it was something the others did. They sent both tobacco and marijuana. Of course, anyone could get marijuana. They didn’t have to send that. They found that on work details everywhere. I didn’t know what it was. I saw some of the Spanish guys smoking it and I thought it was a substitute for tobacco. I saw them drying it, and at first I thought they were going to make tea. They called it tea, but then it finally dawned on me that it wasn't exactly what I thought it was.
We entertained each other. The first thing we did every morning was one room would wrestle the other one. Then at night we entertained each other. We put on a Grand Ole Opry. I did a lot of imitations of different hillbilly singers--Ernie Ford, Little Jimmy Dickens, Ernest Tubb. Ozzie (Ed Osborne) was a short, stocky guy who looked like Lou Costello. He turned his cap backwards and did what he called the Carolina Stomp. He could tickle the daylights out of us doing that. Every time we saw it we laughed. Carl Livesay was a beautiful singer. We put on a show for each other. We had a lot of funny moments. Sal Conte used to do a little skit. He would get up and start playing imaginary pool as a pool hustler. He had a whole little skit he went through with us in the company. We cracked up watching that. He had a little moustache and everything--a typical Italian. While he was hustling pool, he had an imaginary table and he talked steadily like Minnesota Fats.
Before we went in that hole--that compound there, the guys did a little of everything. They imitated helicopters landing and all that kind of stuff. They would do imaginary things. Back in the Mining Camp, there were two guys that used to get up every day and have three imaginary meals. They loved to go through the meals step by step. I learned table etiquette by looking at imaginary utensils. They had some gourmet meals that you couldn't believe--food that I had never heard of before. They started off with breakfast and then they would have lunch and dinner. Eddie would call the other guy and say, "Well, Rogers, it's time for lunch." They discussed the menu and then they consumed it.
We were not allowed outside of the building unless they took us out to go on work detail. We spent a lot of time discussing our lives back home. We knew everything there was to know about each other. There were no secrets among that bunch of guys. We knew each other so well we could be them. Will Ruff and I were talking at a reunion in Georgia one time. He said, “I can’t believe you remember all that stuff.” I remembered that he never referred to his father other than, “That grumping old daddy.” He held him very much in contempt. His mother raised him. I knew all the little details about him. At that same reunion, he said something about trouble with one side of his chest. Before he finished, I said, “Yeh, you had rickets when you were a kid.” He said, “You remember that!” I told him, “Sure I remember.” Like I said, we knew everything that there was to know about one another.
Punishment within Punishment
We were already being punished because we were in the annex, but we could also be punished within that punishment. They could take us out of the group and put us back in the box if they wanted, or they could put us in what we called the hole. It was a turnip cellar. They would leave us in there for a week, month, whatever. We were in total solitary and pretty well in the darkness. Sometimes they would take us out, beat the daylights out of us, and then stick us back in--whichever they decided to do. They did that to me a time or two.
The Chinese communists were big believers in self-criticizing. That was criticizing yourself publicly for anything you did wrong. I refused to do it. I told them I was a sergeant in the United States Army and I didn’t make mistakes. That didn’t help me. Part of my charges when I was court-martialed was for refusing to criticize myself. It would have been easier if I had done it, but I just wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t confess. Even if I had done something, I wouldn’t have confessed to it. The Chinese didn’t care if we had actually done anything or not as long as we confessed to it. Ed Osborne would criticize himself and make us laugh. The Chinese couldn't figure out why we were laughing, because he was saying such horrible things about himself. We were laughing at Ozzie's big bug eyes, his North Carolina accent, and the words that he used that were actually cutting the Chinese to pieces without them knowing it.
No More Lectures
We didn't have to sit through any more lectures at Camp 2 (the Reactionary Camp), because they were finished with us. They knew they were not going to indoctrinate us. There was 29 of us there--23 Americans and 6 English, and they had done all they could do to us short of killing us, and we hadn’t broke. At that point they left us alone. Well, I mean, they worked us, but basically they left us alone. We didn’t listen to any lecture. We didn’t listen to anything we didn’t want to because they knew that we were not going to buy their brainwashing. When we finally left there, they were as glad to get rid of us as we were to go home.
I did the enemy more damage from the inside of that camp than I could ever have done to them on the battlefield. I disrupted a brainwashing program that they had the best minds in Russia and China come in to apply to the Americans. I disrupted it and that nullified it all. I destroyed their property. I disrupted their communication system. I burned several Chinese buildings and got away with it. I disabled their vehicles. I used to take nails and put them in poles, then hide them in the dust on the narrow road that came through town. When their trucks came across the poles, thy got a flat. They had to stop and change that wheel, which stopped the whole convoy. I kept morale going for a hundred men by acting stupid and trying to be funny. I got men fighting them who would have really just sat there if they hadn’t had a leader.
On April 15, 1953, they moved me out of the Reactionary Camp to a little compound near the town of Oboul. It was stockade-like. It didn't have a name or number--we just called it "the hole" like we did all the places like that. It was off of a place that we called, “The Lost Camp.” We called it the Lost Camp because we knew the Chinese held pilots someplace in Korea, but nobody had ever seen them. Lost Camp was a POW camp for pilots only. It held Marine and Navy airplane pilots, and there were also some English pilots from the Royal Air Force.
Lost Camp had been there for three years and it was fairly decent. There were several wooden buildings and they had built tables for the eating facilities. Our quarters were an old converted school building with wooden floors--which was better than dirt floors. There were other typical Korean huts around, and even a Chinese headquarters there in a mud hut. The camp housed all officers, and they were well disciplined. They kept the place neat and clean. It was the best camp I had been in all that time. An Air Force commander named Lt. Colonel Brown was the ranking officer there. There were about 30 officers all total. Some of them had been there two years and some of them only two months. Some of them had been there almost three years.
We stayed there until the war was over, and then they moved us up with the guys in the Lost Camp and we were repatriated with them. We spent a week with them the last week we were in that area. Maybe someone in the labor section might have died during the time we were there, but none did where we were staying. They exchanged the sick and wounded in April of 1953.
The war was over on the 27th of July, 1953. Every day there had been planes overhead, and then we didn't see any activity--no planes or anything. We said, "Something is going to happen." Then on the 2nd day of August 1953, we saw a big gray looking bus and we thought maybe the war was over. On the 3rd of August the Chinese came into the little compound. They had movie cameras and all of that stuff. Three or four of us we were playing pinochle and the rest of the guys were just lounging around doing whatever. An interpreter called us to all fall in at attention, and then he read off that the war had ended the 27th of July at 10 p.m. He said that, although we were war criminals, we would be returned to our loved ones through the graciousness of the Chinese People's Volunteers.
The movie cameras were going, but we didn't flinch. We stood there rigidly at attention and didn't blink an eye. They waited. They wanted us to react, but we didn't. We just stood there. We stood there for 30 minutes and still nobody blinked an eye. Finally they gave up and left. When they did, we went wild and celebrated. What they wanted to do was use us as propaganda. We had already figured that was going to happen. We thought that if they ever told us the war was finally over and we didn't do anything but stand there, they probably wouldn't get us in a propaganda film. I'm sure we made them mad, but they didn't say anything then.
We stayed there until the 18th of August. Then they put us on trucks, took us back into Manchuria, and then down into North Korea again. Then they put us on a train and took us south the rest of the way. It took about three days to make the trip from north to south to Kason. There was a tent city set up there, and several hundreds POWs were there waiting to be repatriated. We spent two days there before they finally came and got us. There were 29 of us. They took us to downtown Kason and basically the same thing happened over again. They had a movie camera set up, and this time they had like probably a General who stated that they were going to forgive us of our war crimes although we had done this and that and the other. They said they were peace-loving people and through the goodness of their hearts they were going to let us return to our loved ones. Again we stood at attention. We didn’t blink. They ran their movie cameras, but they finally gave up.
This time they didn’t take us back to the tent city. They take us up into the mountain to a holding area. They had it fixed up pretty decent. They had tents over there and they had straw for us to sleep on. After the war ended, the food improved a thousand percent in quantity and quality. We got all the good eats, especially there at that Lost Compound. We got three meals a day--meat such as canned beef and pork at all three meals, canned milk, fried bread. We got hot tea to drink and sugar with the meal. Every day they brought food in there that we couldn’t believe. They were trying to force feed us to fatten us up. We called it "Operation Fatten Up".
Back when five of us were in the hole at the Reactionary Camp, we had gotten together and got strips of material over a period of time. We made that into a little American flag, and every night we pledged allegiance to that flag. It meant a lot to us. But on the day that we were all ready to be released and they called us out, they found the flag. They wanted to take it away from us, but we were not going to let them have that flag. We told them right there, “We will take care of this flag ourselves, but you are not going to get it unless you kill all of us.” We stood at attention while Sergeant Ruff and Gale Carter burned the flag. We destroyed it in the proper manner. Then we got on the trucks and went to Kaesong to be released. This stands out in my mind.
We had never received a Red Cross package during our captivity. The Chinese didn't permit that. The only Red Cross thing that we got there was the day before we left the Lost Camp. Some Red Cross representatives were permitted to come—not into the camp itself, but into the Chinese headquarters. They brought a soft little Red Cross bag for each of us that had toothbrush, razor, soap, and comb. It had toiletries, in other words. It also had a folding towel. That’s the only thing we were able to get from the Red Cross. In fact, when we crossed the demarcation line, that towel is all that Will Ruff, Sal Conte, and I were wearing. Everything else we threw away. I met General Maxwell Taylor and President Syngman Rhee and his wife dressed in nothing but that OD towel.
Cameras were there shining on us when we came across Freedom Bridge, but we didn't care at that point. I saw the chapel at Ascom City within a few minutes after crossing that line. That's the first time I cried. I realized it was all over. The pressure was gone. It was like they had lifted a tremendous boulder off of my shoulders. They were tears of joy. Most of the others felt the same way.
The first thing that they did when we were repatriated was fed us. Nobody could eat. We were just too keyed up. They gave me a dish of ice cream, which is something that I would have killed for a week before. I couldn't even swallow it. Then they ran us through the showers and gave us clean clothes. They gave us a basic physical. Then they put us on a helicopter and flew us into Inchon, where they put us in some barracks. They fed us well and paid us $300 of our back pay so we could shop there in the PX.
We were shipped home on the General Howze. I volunteered for duty on the ship. There wasn't much for us to do, but I wanted to do something. I was a Sergeant First Class, but I wanted some responsibility and something to occupy me, so I volunteered to take care of the latrine every morning. I was the highest paid latrine orderly in the army.
We were interrogated by a G-2 for 15 days on the ship. He wanted to know everything that had gone on in the camps. He wanted a list of the people who had died there and asked us where their bodies were. The G-2 wanted to know about the conditions in the camps. Of course, they asked about the food, the treatment, the medical care, and the lack of it. And then they did absolutely nothing.
Back when we were POWs, every time we were interrogated by the Chinese we always managed to steal something. While being interrogated by the G-2 on the ship, I caught myself stealing G-2 cigarette lighters. I didn't even smoke, yet I tried to steal a cigarette. I gave it back because I realized that I wasn't supposed to do that now. I also caught myself trying to figure out ways to escape. Then I'd think, "This is stupid. I'm free. I don't have to do this." In other words, it was hard to come down from being a POW.
Soaking in Champagne
We landed at Oakland, California. There was no big welcome home. There was just a small army band out there playing and a few relatives and friends--maybe a hundred all total waiting for a family member. Nobody was waiting for me.
When we got off the ship we were taken to a service club where we were paid the remainder of our back pay. We got a 30-day leave and they gave us plane tickets home. I was a Sergeant First Class, was almost 22 years old, had a 30-day leave in my hand and $6,000 in my pocket--and I was just sitting there. They told us, “You can make a phone call home and send telegrams.” I called my dad and said a few words, but I didn’t have much to talk to him about because I really didn’t know the guy.
I had been there since about 10 o’clock and they had fed us all that time, but finally I asked the NCO Sergeant, “Why are we here? Are you folks finished processing us or what?” He said, “Yeh, you’re finished processing, but you’ve got to stay here until you catch your plane.” My plane didn’t leave until 9:30 that night. I sat around there another hour and then I thought, “Wait a minute, I don’t have to do this.” I told him, “Sergeant, I am gone. I’m 21 years old. I’m a Sergeant First Class. I’ve got a 30-day leave. Bye.” He called the Lieutenant and I told him basically the same thing. I thought, “I had to be cooped up two and a half years to take this crap. Now I don’t have to.”
I went outside, got a cab, and the driver said, “Where to, Sergeant?” I said, “I want to go to the nearest bar you can find.” It was probably 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon when I went inside of the bar. I believe there were a dozen people in there. I told the waitress, “Bring me a bucket of champagne.” When she come back, she had a bucket with a bottle of champagne. I said, “Un-uh. That’s not what I ordered. Fill the bucket with champagne.” She said, "That will cost you $70 if you’re serious.” I said, “I don’t care.” She filled the bucket with champagne and I gave her $70. I took my boots off and soaked my feet in it. Needless to say, that attracted attention. Before the day was over, I had people drinking from the bucket. It went into a wild party and I partied all night. I missed my plane. I found some girls--lots of 'em, and I partied all the next day, too.
I was wearing a khaki uniform and it was getting kind of grungy by then. The collar was turning up and I was looking raggedy. Finally I caught a plane the next night. One of the girls dropped me out just in time to get aboard. To this day I don’t know what her name was and I don’t even care. All night on the plane I still had food. I drank. I had a big time all the way across the country. There was a Captain on the plane who was in his pinks and greens. I could tell that he was disgusted, but he did not want to fool with me. He knew it and I knew it.
I had never seen television, so I didn’t know what it was. I had been overseas when it came out and I had been overseas for five years. When I started to get off the plane in Memphis, there were cameras set up and there was reporters. There was everything. I didn’t expect it. The Captain who was so disgusted with my appearance on the plane was coming down the plane's steps, and thought the cameras were for him, but, when I get off, collar rolled up, wrinkled, and everything, he found out they were for me! The first television I ever saw, I saw myself on the evening news.
I got a good welcome from Memphis. Although I grew up in Gibson County, Tennessee, and wasn’t from Memphis, my dad lived there. A big crowd was out there waiting for me to get off the plane. They wined and dined me for days on end. I couldn't pay for anything anyplace. Of course, the papers ran front page stories about me. Some guy who had been released in July and who had got there before me kind of told my story. I guess I was a pretty colorful character, because everybody knew me.
The newspaper headline was, "Sergeant returns from grave to his dad." Back when they first arrested us and were trying to make me confess at Camp 3, they put me in a 2 1/2 foot by 6 foot grave and told me that they were going to throw dirt in on me. I was in that grave for 14 days. It was too deep for me to easily jump out of it. They put me in there because they wanted me to confess that I was part of the organized resistance. They said they wouldn't let me out unless I did. They wouldn't feed me. I had always heard that a person can live nine days without food. I lived 14 days without food or water. I took rocks out of the dirt and stuck them on my tongue to make moisture in my mouth. On the 14th day it started raining and filling up the grave. When it got to where it was going to come over my head, they pulled me out. I was weak and they were finally going to feed me, but I refused to eat the first meal they brought me. When they brought the food for me to eat they said, “All you’ve got to do is sign this and you can have this food.” I said, “I’m not going to sign anything. I don’t even want the food. I’m used to doing without it.” I wanted to call their bluff. I would either die or they would get off my back, one way or the other.
I got home on the 17th day of September 1953. I met Venetta Hunt on the first day of October, and knew her for only 31 days before I married my beautiful wife on the last day of October 1953. I was on a six-year enlistment, so I was still in the Army, but I took a 90-day leave. Venetta didn't know anything about the Army. When I came out I was intellectually armed with a second grade education and she was a schoolteacher, so it was quite a cultural clash. It is now 1999. People still say it won't last!
When I was released from captivity, I weighed 126 pounds. Once I came home, I ate everything that was not nailed down. When my wife and I married, I had gained up to 170 pounds and had a 27 inch waistline. I continued to gain weight, and six months later I weighed 225 pounds and had a 38-inch waistline. Venetta was a good cook and I was a hearty eater. I ate everything.
Duty Stations Everywhere
I first went to Ft. Meade, Maryland for a few weeks, and from there to Camp Pickett, Virginia for maybe a month or so. Then I went to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina for four months. After that I went on recruiting duty down in Laurel, Mississippi for three years. My wife had two babies there.
I got out of the army then for four months and I was lost. I went back in the army after four months, and I was assigned to Army Security Agency. I was sent to Ethiopia and spent three years there from September of 1957 until April of 1960. I took my wife and children with me. I had a lung punctured there in 1958 when a spear went through me in a little uprising. It was dark and two natives had my laundry boy down. When I went to his aid, they let him alone and got me. One had a spear in his hand and the other had a knife. The handle had broken off his spear and he was using the blade to stab with. I woke up four days later in a hospital in Dhahran, Saudia Arabia.
After returning to the States from Ethiopia, I was assigned to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. After that I went to Turkey, but the wife and children didn't go there with me. I came back and went to Ft. Polk, Louisiana for a year, and then back to Fort Campbell.
Two Tours in Vietnam
On December 7, 1965, I was sent to Vietnam for a year as a medic and military intelligence. When I first got there I was with a clearing company, and then I took over the 523rd field hospital, Nhatrang, South Vietnam as 1st Sergeant. The Vietnam War was very much different than the war in Korea. In Korea we could see the enemy. He was there in front of us. He was fighting us. In Vietnam he was like a shadow. Everybody was the enemy. We didn't know where he was. He was not hard to beat at all, but we couldn't find him. They would hit and run. In Vietnam I trusted no one. The company barbers were always VC's, but I had no Vietnamese in my outfit. I would not allow barbers or houseboys or any of them to come in and do anything. I said, "Stay clear of them and you'll live." I wouldn't let one of them give me a shave, although I let one of them give me a haircut. I figured that they might slit my throat--it had happened to others.
I spent two tours in Vietnam and I only saw one man with marijuana. He had a marijuana cigarette. I have heard that there was marijuana in Vietnam, but I never saw it. I figure if it was around I would have smelled it, and I never smelled it other than when I got on a bus one time. There were a lot of Vietnamese on there and I could tell which one was smoking it. I never ran into but one GI that had drugs in Vietnam. Most of the guys who were POWs in Korea had smoked it, but I didn't because I didn't smoke. Really, they used it for medication more than anything else. If they smoked the stuff, they could eat the food. It was good for anxiety. It was like taking a tranquilizer. Bishop smoked it and ended up laughing after he got a Dear John letter. Most of the POWs didn't smoke it after they got home. In Korea, they smoked it for a reason.
Comparing Vietnam to Korea, I saw a better soldier in Vietnam. He was smarter, he could think faster, he was better educated, and he was better physically. He just wasn't as motivated as the soldiers I saw in Korea. But as far as being patriotic, most of the people in Vietnam were volunteers, whether they want to admit it or not. There were a lot of draftees, but a lot of the guys stayed in Vietnam five or six years. Some stayed for ten years.
I chose a second tour of duty in Vietnam on purpose. I just wanted to get in there and do something. I liked the adventure and excitement of combat. Believe it or not, I loved combat. I loved to outsmart the enemy. I loved to play cat and mouse with him and get him before he could get me. In Vietnam, that's what we did. We couldn't really get a good battle going. There were hit and run tactics. We always beat them. The only thing that beat us in Vietnam was the news media, that's all. They portrayed everything in the wrong light. I’ll give you an example. I got so mad in 1968. I was on advisory duty to a reserve unit in Johnson City, Tennessee. I had just come back from Vietnam. I was watching the television one night and there was a documentary on the North Vietnamese prisoners being held in South Vietnam. The way the news media portrayed it, they showed how one individual lived. He had a straw mat in his house--a nice little hut, and they made it sound so pitiful that he had to sleep on that straw mat. That son-of-a-bitch was born on a straw mat and had slept every night of his life on it. The news media portrayed things like we were over there abusing those people. The Viet Cong could come in and do anything they wanted to the South Vietnamese, but nobody would ever see it on the news.
As a former POW in Korea, I paid attention to the POWs of the Vietnam War. Their life wasn't a lot different than the life of Korean War POWs--it was just longer. It was basically the same, though. I've talked with Senator John McCain extensively. He was a prisoner in Vietnam for about six years. I've also talked to Jeremiah Denton, who wrote the book, When Hell Was in Session. We had a long talk about his stay there, and it was basically the same as ours was in Korea. Midnight interrogations and beatings and standing at attentions. Depravity of everything, Stripping all human dignity away from someone, giving a little back, and then taking it away again. It was basically the same thing in Korea, only theirs lasted longer.
I retired from the U.S. Army on the first day of June 1970. I now draw 60 percent disability from injuries received in the military. Forty percent of it is related to the spear incident in Ethiopia. I should get a little more. I've got arthritis and gout and all the other old folks things that pretty well come from that.
Ten percent of my disability is due to anxiety. They say I have post traumatic stress. I don't know if I have it, but I have had nightmares about Korea many times. I dream of the battles. I dream about the prison camp. I dream of having to go back there again and wake up in there. I dream of the execution at the Mining Camp. I dream of guys dying and burying them. For the first four or five years after coming home the dreams were almost nightly. Then as time went on it kind of faded. Sudden noises bother me. If someone touches me from the back they'll get hurt. The sudden noise of artillery in Korea bothered me. There were bombings also. We got bombed and strafed by our own planes a lot when we were prisoners. We got hit by artillery a lot, so I would say that there was a lot of experience there that could cause me to be jumpy at loud, sudden noises now. I’m jumpy from being touched, period. Sneak up on me and you'll get hurt. I used to train troops that if something fell out of the tree on them in that jungle, they'd better kill it. Don't try to find out what it is or who it is. Kill it. It's a reaction.
After I retired from the army I had a ranch. I became an auctioneer and had a sale barn. I had a horse and tack auction every Saturday for a while. I wasn't making much money with it and I got bored with it, so I went to work for Advance Industrial Security. I worked with them for about three years, working my way from a guard to top echelon management in four months. After that I started my own company, Police Security and Detective Agency, and got my private investigator’s license. I did that for several years, then sold my company and retired again. I stayed retired for a year and then I bought an automobile business. I tried that a little over a year, got tired of that, sold it, and retired again. We moved to Kentucky Lake and I fished a few days, then I bought a junk business. Some people call it antique--I call it junk. My wife retired from teaching. She taught 37 years and we thought we would give that junk business two years. We gave it ten. We sold it in 1998, retired, and are thoroughly enjoying it. They still say it won’t work, but we will be together 46 years Halloween 1999.
A Tennessee Boy in Korea
I have two children. They knew very little about my experiences in Korea until I wrote a book in 1982. Keller Cox and I wrote, Buck: A Tennessee Boy in Korea. It is a novel based on my life as a prisoner of war in Korea. Keller Cox authored it, and I had the story to tell. My children read the book and I've also been on some talk shows. I had two segments with The Cold War. So my children now know a little about my time in Korea. My wife didn't know about it until she started coming to the POW reunions and people began to tell her, "Old Doc did this or that." Some guy was always coming up to me to introduce me to his wife and tell her I was the one that cut this or that out of him. I don't remember them all. I operated on so many with that dog tag that I don't know who I cut and who I didn't.
Bill Norwood organized the first ex-POW reunion in 1976. There were 11 at that one. Someone got in touch with me and the next year I was co-chairman and vice president of the Korean War Ex-POW Association. I was Public Relations officer for years. I helped organize the reunions and we found people. We got bigger and bigger. I remembered the guys' names and the towns where they were from and called information to see if they were still there. Most of them were.
I got some shocks a few times--like Carl Livesay. I knew that he once lived in Henrietta, Oklahoma. He was mean as a rattlesnake. There was nothing too ornery for him to do. I ran into him again in 1955 at Presidio, California at a court-martial of one of the collaborators. He was still ornery. Well, when I tried to call him to come to a reunion, information in Henrietta, Oklahoma said they didn't have a Carl Livesay. I asked if they had any Livesay and they said they had a Martha. That was his mother. I called her and told her who I was. She said, "Oh, I've heard of you. You were Doc Frazier. Carl now lives in Florida." We talked a while and I asked her, "What's old Carl doing now?" She told me that he was a minister. I said, "He's a what?!" I couldn't believe it. He laughs about that at the reunions. He was running a bar and had some close calls--had his throat cut and I don't know what all. All at once he was supposed to have gotten the holy spirit, I told him, "Carl, I don't know what kind of con you're pulling on people, but don't con Old Doc. I know better." Of all things, he's a holy roller!
Nobody from the government ever came to my home to ask me about any of the activities that took place in the POW camps, but they did come to my office when I was on active duty. They asked me different things and asked me to make different statements about some of the people, including Bayes and a guy named Olson. I went to two courts-martial. They asked me about Bayes and Olson because they were charged with collaborating with the enemy. I was at their courts-martial. The Supreme Court came out with a ruling in 1955 that said if a man was discharged, they couldn’t call him back in and try him. Otherwise I would have gone to two or three more.
Sergeant Olson was first tried and found guilty. Bayes was the second to be tried and found guilty. They asked me, "When was the first time that you saw Bayes?" I told them, "The 5th day of June 1951 at 2 p.m." I told them that there were a bunch of about 600 prisoners by trees on a hillside. Some Americans--Olson, Bayes, and two or three other guys dressed in Chinese uniforms, came over to us. Bayes was introduced as Comrade Bayes. He told us, "I'm going to tell you why you came to Korea." He sounded just like a Chinese indoctrinator talking. He told us that we had been fighting on the wrong side. "You've got blood on your hands," he said. When a lawyer at Bayes' court-martial asked me how I remembered those dates, I said, "I endeavored to remember them because I figured if we ever got home Bayes would be court-martialed and I wanted to be a witness." The lawyer said, "In other words, you hate him." I told him, "I don't hate anybody; I don't care what you do with him. You can promote him and decorate him, I don't care. I'm just telling you what I saw and what I heard." He got five years, a dishonorable discharge, and had to forfeit all pay allowances. Olson had basically done the same thing. They were together and they both had given the lectures. Olson already had 20 years in the army, so he got two years confinement and hard labor, had to forfeit all pay allowances, and got a dishonorable discharge. He pulled four months and then they reinstated him and made him retire. It was wasted time.
I have heard that there was once a sign at Andersonville Prison that said that 90 percent of the POWs who served in Korea were collaborators. If I had seen that sign I would have thrown a tantrum. I was military intelligence and I can tell you exactly to the number that 80 percent of the POWs in Korea pulled their time and survived. There were 15 percent who in some way collaborated with the enemy. They might have signed a peace petition thinking it would speed things up since peace talks were going on. I don't consider that collaborating. There were 5 percent who fought back. The 5 percent who fought back were the reactionaries. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't make a statement against anybody. After they put that draft-dodging son-of-a-bitch in the White House, I would not make a statement against any man who dodged a bullet. That nullified any positive stuff that could have gone on as far as I'm concerned.
Some guys don't think that the next generation would do what we did if this country was in trouble, but I think they will. I think that when the chips are down, they’ll do it. They might not be eager. It won’t be like World War II when everybody was lying to get in and trying to go, but I think when push comes to shove in this country, they’ll be there. At least I hope they will for their sake.
I think that it's possible that there are still some Korean War prisoners of war who are still alive today. It's been almost 50 years and they may not be, but there were 382 still alive over there that we eye-witnessed were left behind. We saw them. We gave the government their names. I've pushed through every kind of organization for years to try to find them. They have found nothing, but those guys may be alive. They were basically around our age, so they might have survived and they might not. Most of them were highly skilled technicians in communications, weaponry, and stuff of that nature. The last one I saw alive was about the 29th day of August 1954. His name was Clue Walters. He was put on the sidecar of a motorcycle and headed north. There were guys at every camp that someone knew that was left behind. They didn't make it out of there, yet they were healthy and hardy when we left there. There were 382 al total, but now there are 8,400 unaccounted for and missing in action. They might someday find some of them that were on that march when we started out with 750 and only 185 of us walked into the camp. All of the other 600 were buried here and yonder. They'll find some of them maybe, but no way will they get all of them. I buried three guys in one grave. I knew one of them by his name, although I can't remember it now. He lived in Memphis. His father worked with my dad. I told them, "I know he's buried with two other guys in one grave." When I got home I told his dad that I had buried him. I also had to tell his mother. That was awful. A couple of years later I got a letter from the Department of the Army wanting to know about the grave. I wrote them back and then I got another letter--only this one called me a liar. They said they weren't sure the man was dead because they said somebody had seen him after a certain date. I wrote back and said, "I buried the man. I'm sure he was dead or I wouldn't have buried him." They finally declared him dead. Stupid.
For me, the hardest part about being a Korean War POW was the loss of freedom. In a crude way, I can describe freedom as being allowed to take a piss when I want to. When you can't do that, that's loss of freedom. When I was in that box for seven months and four days, I could only do that three times a day and that was it. That's loss of freedom.