Lieutenant Green followed his initial words of caution with some explanation. Several of the men in the room were compulsive talkers, jabbering almost constantly about one thing and another without regard that the enemy might be listening. That fact was well demonstrated at the time by the slightly louder talk in the room which covered our whispered conversation. Idle talk, it might be called, just for the sake of conversation. But from just such chatter, an astute listener could glean much personal information about the talkers or whoever else they might talk about.
Some of them he suspected talked quite as freely to the interrogators about themselves and also about others in the group. Also, in the corner across from us was a South Korean soldier who seemed to understand english quite well. How dependable he might be was very questionable, especially because of the kinds of pressure his North Korean captors could put upon him.
Green also provided during that whispered conversation some helpful information about the physical circumstances in the place and what to expect from the interrogators. The prisoners called the place "Pak's Palace," because the officer in charge of it was a North Korean colonel named Pak. (Some others who spent time there called it the "Brickyard" because of the chimney stack which had in fact been part of a brickyard operation.) The interrogators seemed more interested in personal information than they were in military information. Which was all the more reason to not let the talkative ones of the group know anything about oneself.
The prisoners had made up names for the several interrogators. (Interrogators often use different names for themselves in dealing with different prisoners.) The one who had brought me to the room was called "Four Eyes" because he wore glasses. Green felt that none of the interrogators knew much about military matters because they seemed to have no particular objectives in the interrogations. One could expect dire threats, of course, for "not cooperating." But in the while Green had been there the only punishment observed was the circumstances of very little food or water, no washing or bathing facilities, myriads of body lice, and the close and crowded confinement.
There was some benefit from the close confinement, however. There were enough bodies in the otherwise unheated room to make it warm enough to sleep. Which I did very well that night. Having had but a few hours sleep during each of the first two nights and none at all during the preceding one, it was much needed. Probably the brief conversation with my unseen companion in the corner made it the more restful. Lt Green sounded like a sensible and dependable fellow.
The bodies stirred awake at daybreak. The dozen of them near completely covered the floor of the small, windowless room. Only a small amount of the daylight filtered in through somewhat translucent brown paper covering the upper half of the door. Green introduced by names the other occupants of the room, including the South Korean, Kim. The body which was next to me on the side opposite from Lt Green was Air Force Captain Kubicek. Just beyond him were two Air Force lieutenants, C. J. Smith and Chuck Stahl. They had already identified themselves as some of the talkative ones Green warned against. It was mostly their conversation which covered our whisperings in the corner. Kubicek began at once to ask personal questions of me. Avoidance of his queries was simplified by the fact that Four Eyes opened the door and summoned me out.
The second room of the south wing of Pak's Palace was perhaps slightly larger than the end room. It also had no windows; its paper-covered door the only source of daytime light. Barren except for a small table and chair when I entered, this was to be my private accommodations for the next several days and nights. The table and chair would be removed at night, at whatever time Four Eyes discontinued the interrogations. For illumination after nightfall, he would bring in an "oil lamp" consisting of a small bowl of soybean oil with a lighted wick draped over its rim.
On the table when I first entered was a pencil and several sheets of blank paper, plus a "registration form" which Four Eyes instructed, "you must fill out completely." He departed then, saying he would return later. The first four spaces to be filled out on the form were simple enough, and quite proper. Name, rank, service number and date of birth were proscribed in the Geneva Accords as the information a prisoner of war should give to his captors.
However, it seemed possibly beneficial in this instance to lie about my age. The official instructions to "pretend to go along" if the captors started talking "politics" had included mention that all of the Americans released on that basis were under thirty years of age. Their communist "teachers" had told them that men of thirty and more were mostly too set in their ways to bother with. Using 1923 instead of the actual 1919 as year of birth, would cause the enemy to think I was 28 years old instead of 32. There would be interesting consequences of that ploy, quite soon and again much later.
The next spaces on the registration form called for name and address of next of kin and several more bits of information about family and self. None of them should or would be given to the enemy. So the spaces were simply left blank, the pencil laid atop the paper, and the question pondered while awaiting his return as to how best to deal with Four Eyes' insistence (which was certain to happen) that the registration form must be filled out completely.
Simple and, if necessary, defiant refusal was one choice. Or might it be better to lead the enemy to think I had no close relatives? Their purpose in seeking such information was twofold. Knowledge of a man's personal affairs is useful to interrogators to bring pressure upon him. This particular enemy would also use it to harass a man's family. That latter consideration made imperative that the information be kept from the enemy. Which meant it must also be kept from most other prisoners. Not necessarily that any of them would deliberately inform the enemy. Lt Green's admonition pertained in this. Careless talkers were as likely as deliberate informers to provide such information to our captors.
Refusing to give the information would not cause the enemy to stop seeking it. And defiance on any issue here at the outset would likely make it impossible to successfully "pretend to go along" if they started talking about politics. So for several reasons it appeared best to give the impression I had no close relatives.
Which turned out to be easier to accomplish than one might expect, and without directly lying about it. Four Eyes reacted gruffly when he picked up the registration form. "You have not completed this! Why not?"
"Because I can't."
"You say you can't. Why can't you?
"Because I don't know anything to put in it."
"You don't know who your next of kin is?"
"What does next of kin mean?"
Four Eyes was surprised by the question. He studied me for a while, perhaps wondering if I was actually that ignorant. Then he said, "That means your closest relative. Who is your closest relative?"
"That's what I thought it meant," I said. "I guess I have an uncle somewhere. At least I did have one if he's still alive. Don't know his address even if he is. Haven't heard from him for several years. Last I knew he was somewhere in the midwest maybe Kansas or Oklahoma. Want me to put that in there?"
I looked at him squarely, awaiting his answer. He paused but a moment then said in that case just leave it blank. There was no indication that he doubted the story. Then in afterthought he said: "But where do you live, then? You could put your own home address there."
"I'm in the Navy." I tried to say it as though he should have realized the circumstance I would describe. "So my home is where they send me. My address is whatever ship or station I'm on. I guess right now it would be this place."
"Oh, of course," he said. "Well, then, now I have here some questions for you to answer..." He handed a sheet of paper with some writing on it as he instructed how the questions should be answered. I must write my answers on the blank papers which were at hand. They should be in great detail. If more paper was needed it would be provided. There was no need to hurry, it was more important to think about each question thoroughly so the answers would be complete. Yet it would be best for me to apply myself to the task "diligently" because when the questions had all been answered I would be allowed to be with others for company and warmer for sleeping. He would leave me to work on them alone, but would come back from time to time to see my "progress."
First glance at the "questions" made clear why Lt Green had said the interrogators seemed to have no particular objectives in their questioning. In fact the four separate lines on the paper Four Eyes had presented were not really questions. Each one began with the words "Write all you know about...," concluding with one and another general subject such as "guns," or "planes," or "ships."
What the specific subjects were in that first instance is no longer remembered. There would be more such preposterous demands during the several days and nights spent in that room. It seemed so pointless, as though the interrogator was just giving me something to do. It was mindful of a grade school teacher ordering a student to just write something about anything.
Yet he must have had some purpose. Did he perhaps hope thus to learn if there might be one of the subjects on which he should question me thoroughly? Or was it just to see what I would do in response; if I would write some lengthy details just because he had told me to do so? It would be several months before I would come to fully understand his purpose, in consequence of similar demands by another of the enemy. Right then was decided it would be foolish in any case to spend time trying to think of stuff to write simply because he had told me to. So beneath each line on the paper I scribbled: "I don't know anything about it important enough to write."
Four Eyes was infuriated at that (or otherwise did a good job of pretending so). He spoke at length of dire consequences if I did not "cooperate." To begin with, until I decided to "cooperate" I would be kept in that room and would not have the company of others to talk with and keep warm. Only those who "cooperated" could expect "lenient treatment" which he and his colleagues wanted to provide. He emphasized that he was not asking me to divulge any military secrets, but just to do as he had asked, write whatever I knew and could think of about the things he had asked.
When he had finished that tirade of threat followed by soft-spoken inducement, Four Eyes asked if I was ready now to reconsider my attitude and cooperate. I replied that it was impossible to cooperate as he asked because I couldn't write about things which I new nothing about; unless he wanted me to just make things up. He then said he would bring me a different list of things to write about. As he turned to leave I said:
"Could you also bring me something to eat and some water to drink? I've had neither since yesterday morning in Pyongyang."
He pretended surprise and said dramatically, "Nobody has brought your breakfast this morning? I shall certainly see about that'" He departed quickly, and returned within a few minutes with a small bowl only partially filled with tepid water (which would have been boiled to make it safe for drinking). His explanation that someone else was supposed to bring my breakfast and that there was presently nothing in the kitchen ready to eat was considerably short of convincing.
Four Eyes departed again, shortly returning with the new list of things for me to write about. It received the same scribbled response. Instead of ranting this time he quietly told of a "Colonel Black" who he said had died in this very room, he thought partly of loneliness, because he "refused to cooperate and therefore did not qualify for the lenient treatment." (From other prisoners was later learned that a US Army colonel named Black had in fact died at Pak's Palace. But the story passed along by some who were there at the time was that he had refused to eat such food as was actually provided by the captors, saying it was "beneath his dignity."]
Since I "claimed" to know nothing about the subjects he presented, Four Eyes asked me to name some things I knew well enough to write about. But he had no interest in such things as branding cattle, shucking corn and cooking sorghum. So he presented yet another list of his own. This time I scribbled a few lines about one of the subjects, but in a manner not entirely legible even to myself. When he complained about the poor writing it was explained that my teachers in school did the same. Then he singled out one item of what I had written and said I must give more detail about that and print it because my writing was so hard to read.
Whatever his longer-range objective might be, it was now evident that part of Four Eyes' immediate purpose was to get me to do whatever he told me to do. Since it was otherwise pointless, it must have been intended as preparation for something else. He called it "cooperation." In fact it was demand for abject submission.
So it was continued for the several days and nights I was kept alone in that room. Puzzling was the fact that there was never in that while any question or even mention of how I came to be captured, or having to do with naval or military matters. He presented each day a number of items about which he demanded that I write something. I continued denial of enough knowledge to be worth writing. "You must change your attitude!" he repeatedly insisted. "If you will only learn to cooperate and do the things I ask, then you will be entitled to lenient treatment. Then you can be with the others, for company to talk with and to be warm."
The lack of company to talk with was not so bothersome as Four Eyes apparently assumed. Companionship of a sensible fellow such as Lt Green would be all right. But it had been noted during the brief time spent with them that the chatter of the talkative ones he had warned me about could become boring as well as being hazardous. And if perchance they should put me in close quarters with Naylor-Foote, it would be very difficult to keep from saying or doing something which would cause the enemy to realize there was something between the two of us which they might be able to exploit.
Having some company for warmth was quite a different matter. The frogman suit and summer flight suit were barely adequate during daytime, when sunshine into the courtyard took some of the chill out of the unheated room. But at night it was much too cold to even risk trying to sleep. The bean oil lamp which Four Eyes brought in the evenings actually gave a little warmth as well as a little light. But that was of course removed at the end of the session. Removal of the chair and table at the same time left no place to sit or sleep but on the earthen floor.
To "cooperate" in the way Four Eyes was demanding was unthinkable. For the moment, that was more for personal reasons than obligations of duty. He had to that point asked for no significant military information. But in the one instance when I had written just a little bit he had quickly pressed for more. No matter that it might be about unimportant subjects, it made no sense to start writing even drivel about trivia just because my captors said I must do so to prove my willingness to "cooperate." Besides which it was logical that if they succeeded in getting a man to write or talk at length about things which were not important, they would then demand that he do so about things which were.
Such thoughts engendered additional doubts as to the wisdom and practicality of those new instructions to hold fast from divulging significant military information but "pretend to go along" if one's captors started talking politics. How could one expect to refuse to cooperate (as the enemy termed it) in one regard and yet successfully pretend to do so in another? And for how long and to what extent could one just "pretend" to go along with something before he would in practical effect be actually doing so?
Those philosophical problems wrestled with during the first two days and nights of intermittent questioning and solitude were soon overshadowed by more immediate and pressing physical concerns. Whoever (if anyone other than Four-Eyes himself) was supposed to bring me some food and water consistently forgot to do so. Only when it was asked for, the interrogator would himself bring one or two partial bowls of plain boiled water each day, and another containing bits of seaweed and turnip which he said was a very nourishing soup.
The lack of food was not as yet really bothersome. The general shortage ever since the day of capture had brought about the metabolic changes which could sustain the body for some time without food. But the lack of sleep by then had taken much toll, and I realized it could not be endured much longer. It was possible to get some rest and even just a little sleep during the day while Four Eyes was out of the room, with the chair to sit in and the table to rest upon. But the sub-freezing temperature in the room at night forbid that I should lie down on the floor even just to rest. For it was likely if I did so I would fall asleep despite the cold and either awaken severely frost-bitten or not awaken at all. So the nights were spent walking to keep warm, mostly in a tight circle (the room being about 9 or 10 feet square:). By leaning stiff-legged in a corner it was possible to take brief rests from the walking.
Eventually a way was found to get some rest even while Four Eyes was in the room. During his sometimes rather lengthy lectures about the need for me to "change my attitude .. . show willingness to cooperate ... earn the right to lenient treatment" and so on, it was possible with elbows on the table to rest chin in hands facing him as though listening and virtually doze with my eyes open. Of course if my eyes fell shut (as several times happened) I would be wakened at once by a loud shout followed by an abusive tirade which in turn was often followed by gentler and even sympathetic coaxing to just show willingness to cooperate so he could tell Col Pak that I was deserving of lenient treatment.
The tirade on the first occasion of that was begun with the sharp order that I must "sit at attention!" Automatically, I complied for a moment. Then realizing it would be worse than merely foolish to do so, I put folded elbows back on the table, looked at him squarely and simply shook my head to convey that I would not do so. He glared back for a while, then shifted his eyes and began his sympathetic coaxing bit. Though it did not
occur to me at the time, it is possible that he realized then that there was generating within me the kind of personal animosity which could be dangerous to the both of us.
Exactly how many days and nights were spent in that room was not known for certain even at the time. The passage of time became blurred as well as the events. Probably it was only 4 or 5 days. Then the removal to elsewhere was compelled by a happening, rather than a part of Four Eyes' planning. The way it came about, and the consequent slight change of circumstance, may have hastened the actions by myself which were needed to put an end to that initial phase of interrogation.
Instead of the more usual coaxing to change my attitude and earn lenient treatment, Four Eyes' parting words that night were threatening:
"You had better think very seriously tonight about your circumstance. If you do not change your attitude and do the things I ask, then I will no longer be responsible for what might happen to you. I remind you that others have died in this room. And you may do so also if you do not learn to cooperate."*
[ * Perhaps not precisely remembered, nor even at the time it happened clearly registered in actual verbiage. But the same basic pitch was thereafter repeatedly used by that and other of enemy interrogators upon any of the prisoners who persistently refused to submit to their demands. ]
That was no doubt intended to induce feelings of despair and hopelessness leading to submission to his demands rather than have to endure further of the miserable circumstance. It definitely had such effect on feelings. The situation had in fact become desperate, and seemed hopeless so far as reasonable solution was concerned. It was indeed possible that a man could die in that circumstance if kept there long enough; of one or another or a combination of the cold, lack of food and sleep, and sickness which could result. There was no thought from his actions that Four Eyes would straight out kill a prisoner. But from the way he had spoken several times of others having died here at Pak's Palace, there was reason to believe that he and probably some of his colleagues were not much concerned except that they might even enjoy if another one did.
My reactions to those feelings of desperation, however, were quite different from what Four Eyes obviously sought. To me, what he had said was a threat to kill me; no matter that it would be done indirectly. And no matter his inclusion that he would "no longer be responsible for what might happen." I now regarded him as solely responsible for everything that had happened since I'd been here and therefore also for whatever more might. The unspoken thought in reaction to his statement that I might die in that room was: "So might you, then and before I do tomorrow, unless you give me something to eat in the morning and allow me to get some sleep!"
The issue between us had now become personal. Four Eyes had made it so in my mind by that statement. The resultant feeling of personal hatred wiped out any previous inhibition against the idea of cold-bloodedly killing him. Nor was there any doubt that I could do so, quietly enough to attract no immediate attention. He was a slightly built fellow, even a bit anemic or sickly looking. Several times he had bent over the table to peer closely at what I had written, apparently oblivious of the fact that when he did so he was completely vulnerable.
Desperate such action certainly would be, with virtually no chance that I could afterwards escape and make it out of enemy territory. There was the possibility of doing some further damage to the enemy, however, and perhaps even of getting away from the interrogation center to at least try to make my way out despite the winter conditions. Four Eyes wore a holstered (Soviet made) pistol on his belt behind his right hip. It may have been just for show, something of a status symbol, since the other interrogators also wore pistols much the same. Its magazine clip may not have been loaded would not have been in that circumstance if the fellow had good sense. But if it was, then after doing in my tormentor, there were several possibilities:
A quick dash across the corner of the courtyard to Col Pak's room would either provide a hostage for cover or the satisfaction of doing in several of the enemy before some of the guards might get me. If done after dark (and Four Eyes continued to be in the room well after darkness) it might be possible to get out of the room and of the compound without the sentry realizing what was happening since his post was not close by the room.
Such were the kind of thoughts that flowed as I walked to keep warm that night. The walking had begun at once after Four Eyes departed; not because of so soon feeling chill, but because of the agitation. Possibly the adrenaline flow even warmed me a bit, and lessened the fatigue. They should not be regarded as heroic thoughts. Those were desperate thoughts, borne of miserable circumstance and hatred for the man who had created it. Though some aspects of that night are dimly remembered, one remains quite vivid the feeling progressed from perhaps "having" to kill the interrogator to very much wanting to do it.
It is less certain of exactitude in memory, yet strongly felt to have been, that the tempo of my walking increased that night together with the intensity of hatred for my tormentor. I walked counter-clockwise in a tight circle, rather than back and forth, in order to maintain a regular pace rather than stopping and turning. Sometime during the night the floor gave way beneath one foot tumbling me to hands and knees on the floor.
Typical of well-built houses in the area, the rock and dried clay floor had a hollow channel beneath through which heat from a firechamber at one end of the wing could be drawn to a chimney at the other end to warm the floor. (No fire was built in the chamber leading to the south wing, but only for the east wing which housed Pak and the interrogators.) Possibly the pattern of my pacing had become so consistent as to make the footfalls repeatedly at the same location. In any case a rock dislodged and fell with a clatter into the chamber beneath. The resultant hole had not been large enough for my foot to drop through, but it afterwards provided an additional draft of chill air into the room. The pattern was adjusted to miss the hole as the walking had to be continued through the rest of the night.
Four Eyes was setting the chair into the room for beginning of another day's session when he noticed the hole in the floor. "What is this?" he cried as if alarmed. "You try to escape!" Ignoring my quiet comment, "that's silly," he added, "I must tell Col Pak of this at once!"
He neglected to close the door when he left. I wondered as he scurried across to Pak's room if Four Eyes was actually so stupid as to think I had knocked the hole in the floor deliberately, or if he was only putting on an act. Since he still seemed excited when he emerged again from Pak's room, apparently the former of those was the case. Pak, on the other hand, as he followed the fellow did not seem very perturbed. He came into the room, looked down at the hole momentarily, spoke briefly and quite calmly to Four Eyes in Korean, then departed without so much as a glance directly at me.
Four Eyes looked as though he may have been disappointed in Pak's reaction, or in whatever the colonel had said to him in Korean. After Pak had gone he said to me, "Well because you have broken a hole in the floor, I must now arrange for another place where we can continue our discussions."
"That hole is there," I responded, "because I had to walk all night long to keep from freezing. It is not my fault the floor was so poorly constructed."
He looked at me for a moment as though trying to think of something to say, then himself went out the door. I stepped into the doorway before he could close it. "You must wait in this room while I make the arrangements," he said; and waited as though expecting me to step back. I stood fast and told him I needed something to eat and some water. Again a thoughtful pause after which he said, "All right, but you must wait in the room while I bring it."
"It's still too cold in the room," I said. "Here in the sun I can get some warmth."
For whatever reason, he decided not to press the issue. When he returned a few minutes later I had seated myself in the doorway and leaned against its jamb. Because the bowl he brought contained soup, he said he didn't bring water but I could have some later when we had moved to the new place. "And you may stay here in the sun while you eat the soup, " he said, "but then you must go back in the room and shut the door."
The less one has to eat the more slowly it should be eaten, was the explanation an elderly chinese coolie had given as to why he nibbled slowly on a small rice cake which was his lunch. There was more reason than that to sip very slowly on the small bowl of watery soup which Four Eyes had given me. There was a flurry of activity to watch on the other side of the small courtyard as he and several others seemed to be clearing out a room in a building there. Even after the soup was finished I remained sitting in the doorway, watching, resting and soaking up some of the morning sun. Four Eyes paid no attention, until the room-clearing had been finished. Then he sent the sentry to tell me I must get back into the room.
Through a pinhole in the oiled paper on the door, the building across the way was visible. Shortly the prisoners from the end room of the south wing (next to the room I was in) were herded across the courtyard into the room in the other building which had just been cleared out. Four Eyes and two other interrogators then disappeared into Pak's room.
The courtyard scene remained deserted for some time then, as I watched until Four Eyes emerged from Pak's room and came toward me. He escorted me to the just vacated end room. The table and chair were already there. Four Eyes indicated for me to be seated and began at once a preliminary lecture which indicated he was starting a new approach:
"Before when we talk, when I ask you to cooperate by answering a few questions, you always say you know nothing about the things I ask, or that you can't remember. Now I am going to ask you about some things which I know that you do know about and can remember....And I must warn you I already know the answers to many of the questions I will ask. I ask them only to see if you are willing to cooperate. I know the answers because our intelligence service knows a great deal about your Navy and also about you. So if you do not answer these questions, or do not answer them correctly, then I will know it is not because you do not know the answers but that you are just not willing to cooperate. For example, I know that you are from the Navy ship Rochester...."
He paused at that point, watching my reaction to what he seemed to think should be something of a surprise to me. So what if he knew that? Unlike World War 2 when secrecy of ship movements was important, in this silly war there was no secret about it at all. They were publicized instead; part of the publicity and public relations craze. Still there was reason to wonder just how he had learned that I had come from aboard the Rochester. Chun and the general may have known. Would they have passed the information on? Or was it possible the enemy's intelligence service had come up with information as Four Eyes claimed. They would no doubt monitor Armed Forces Radio, and I had been big news on that only a couple of weeks before. The more likely, I decided, they would have learned it from NaylorFoote. His talkativeness, eagerness to impress and tell his "cover" story, would almost certainly include mention of the Rochester.
But it really wasn't important. And since Four Eyes had only made a statement rather than asking a question there was no need to say anything in response. Next he said, "And the Rochester is a cruiser." That wasn't a question either, so I continued to quietly look at him. "And a few days before you flew into our country and were shot down, your ship the Rochester was in Tokyo..." He paused watching my reaction with a slight smile on his face as though expecting that I should be amazed that he knew those things.
What he had just said confirmed that Naylor-Foote was the source of the information. It would be characteristic of him to say we were shot down. And he knew the ship had just returned to the operating area from Japan, probably not knowing that Yokosuka rather than Tokyo was the port of call. ". . . Isn't that true?" Four Eyes asked after the pause.
"If that's what your intelligence service tells you I guess it must be."
"Ah, yes ." Another pause with knowing smile. "So you see we already know a great deal about you and your navy. So now I am going to ask you some questions about that. This way I can tell if you are willing to cooperate. Before you always say you would be willing to cooperate but just don't know about things I ask. This time you can't get away with that. You can't get away with any lies because I already know the answers to what I will ask you. And you can't say you don't know, because they will be about things you would have to know. So now first I ask you, what is the name of your captain on the Rochester?"
Most amazingly, I actually couldn't tell him. An unexplainable memory blankout struck. I could not at the moment recall the name of our new captain, Chillingsworth. Which was a fortuitous thing, really. Had I recalled, I would have said it, because there seemed to be no reason not to do so. Certainly it was no secret. And I had not yet realized there was an important reason neither to show nor pretend willingness to "cooperate" by answering even insignificant questions of that sort. The memory blank was actually a bit amusing to myself as I said:
"I'm sure you won't believe it, but I actually can't right now remember the captain's name."
"You are right! I do not believe you! Four Eyes snapped, perhaps with a touch of real anger rather than only pretense. "How can you expect me to believe you don't remember the name of the captain of your ship? That is something anyone would remember! This proves you are unwilling to cooperate and so...." He continued the tirade for some time, repeating his previous warnings that he would no longer be responsible for what happened to me, that I might die, and so on.
It dawned on me as he did so that here was opportunity to divert at least for a time from whatever of prepared questioning he had in mind. So when he ended the tirade I explained that the reason I couldn't remember the captain's name was because he had only been on the ship a few days. Half an hour or more was then taken up in further explanation wherein it was not necessary to make anything up or tell any lies, but only selected portions of the truth. Such as: The reason the ship had been in Japan was SO this new captain could take over from the previous one. I wasn't even on the ship when the new captain came aboard. Being an enlisted man, I wasn't invited up to officer's quarters to meet the new captain when I got back aboard. And so on .
Somewhat suspiciously Four Eyes then asked if I could remember the previous captain's name. I said of course I could, but didn't say what it was until he asked. Then my honest answer that the previous captain's name was Smith set him off on a tangent again; not in result of any planning or strategy on my part, but in consequence of his reaction.
"Smith!" he snorted. "You say his name was Smith. Are you sure it wasn't Jones?"
Of course I was sure it wasn't Jones. Picking up this second opportunity for some diversionary dialogue I said (for my own amusement, really:) that the only Captain Jones that I knew of had been promoted to admiral and had died some time before this war. He wanted next to know Captain Smith's first name. I decided that merely telling him I didn't know it wouldn't be enough. Much more time could be used up by explaining at length the proprieties and protocols of relations between enlisted men and officers in the Navy. Frequent reminders to him that I couldn't be expected to know about many things because I was an enlisted man were combined with efforts in manner of speech and attitude to give him the impression I wasn't a very bright one, either. In the latter regard I truly felt I would be getting some inadvertent help from Naylor-Foote. It appeared certain that he was close by. And he would no doubt talk quite as freely with the interrogators as he had with Chun and the general.
So the remainder of that day went a little easier than the preceding ones, in part because of some respite in the morning while arrangements were made to move me to the end room. The change in Four Eyes' line of questioning had made it easier, too. The previous written demands to "write all you know about" one thing and another was frustrating. Since writing even a little bit would only bring demand for more, there had been no alternative but to repeatedly deny knowledge about any of them. His direct questioning provided opportunity for some diversionary countermoves. There was even some feeling of satisfaction and a touch of amusement when time could be used up talking nosense.
Still those changes in the day's events did not diminish in the least the feeling of desperation regarding the overall situation. Neither did it diminish the feelings of anger and hatred at my persecutor. If anything, those had increased and thereby become more dangerous to both of us. There had been no more food since the soup in the morning, only one small bowl of water. Probably had I asked for food he would have brought a bit more. But his obvious purpose was to make me feel dependent upon his "generosity" or as he called it, "leniency," by having to ask. Since my body had already adjusted so there was no feeling of hunger, and could sustain itself without food for longer than it could endure in the cold without sleep, there was no point in giving him that satisfaction. The decision remained that unless the necessary changes in my circumstances were made, and soon, I must act before I might lose the strength to do so. Odds were that I would myself either be killed or die of exposure in such attempt. But Four Eyes and possibly some of his colleagues would no longer be alive to gloat about it.
When Four Eyes returned from his evening meal he brought a chair for himself. He lighted the bean oil lamp, sat opposite at the table, and renewed the previous manner of dialogue. He appeared to have no thought that there could be danger to himself in this situation. After a while I rose from my chair and began pacing back and forth beside the rear wall of the room. He had started a bit, when I first arose and asked sharply, "What are you doing?"
"I'm warming my feet," I replied, "as I've had to every night to keep them from freezing."
He remarked that it didn't seem that cold to him. I mentioned that he was dressed more warmly than I. He used that as opening to reiterate that if only I would show willingness to cooperate then colonel Pak would allow "lenient treatment" for me and I could be with others to keep warm. His facial expression meanwhile could be reasonably interpreted as of pleasure and satisfaction. Which may have kept from re-arising any of the normal inhibitions against what I was right then planning to do to him.
To kill Four Eyes quickly and quietly enough to attract no attention from anyone outside would have been a simple matter. After the initial surprised reaction, he relaxed and paid no particular attention even when I changed the walking pattern to pass behind him several times. But what then ? If he had shells in the pistol he wore, the sentry at entrance of the courtyard some 15 yards away could be eliminated. But that would at once bring a great deal more of firepower into action against me than would remain in the pistol. To have any chance at all of making my way to freedom, I needed either to be able to get out of the compound quietly or get to Pak's room and take him hostage.
After sitting again for a while as we talked, I told Four Eyes I needed to go to the "ben-Jo" (latrine). "Call to the sentry when you open the door," he said. "He will allow it."
With so little of food or water the past several days, the "benjo trip" wasn't really necessary. But it allowed appraisal of the circumstance. Pitch darkness was the effect when first outside the room, and only dim outlines after the eyes had adjusted. The sentry's post, though about 15 yards away was such that the door of the end room and most of the courtyard would be constantly in his view unless something outside the compound distracted him. Shortly after my return, Four Eyes decided to end that days session. I suspected he was himself beginning to feel the chill and wanted to get back to the east wing of the building where the floor would be warm from the cooking fire in the corner room.
The walking for warmth had to begin at once. Warmth would develop quickly inside the waterproof frogman suit. It would also dissipate quickly because of the suit's thinness and the retention of body moisture within it. Physical tiredness had increased enough that I decided to sit on the floor in between times, instead of standing in the corner as before. And all the while, whether walking or sitting, the mind struggled to figure some way to break clear of the place after killing Four Eyes, for at least some chance no matter the odds of making my way out of enemy territory. Such schemes as were thought of were realistic at least in the sense that they were not fantasies of some miraculous escape. But they were therefore consistently desperate schemes not very hopeful of complete success.
Then at sometime during that night, perhaps feeling warmer than usual from the walking, or more tired, or both, I decided to lie down for just a while intending definitely not to let myself go to sleep. But I did so. How long I slept is impossible to know, nor is it known what caused me to waken. But I did waken to the alarming sensation of a sort of warmness in my feet with the rest of me shivering cold. Just getting back to a-standing was something of a struggle. And when I had done so I could not walk but could only stumble around on the totally numbed feet. It was unlikely that circulation could be restored in that way.
Sitting again on the floor, the cumbersome and now worthless sheepskin-lined flying boots were pulled off so I could massage the feet. That, too, was difficult because of the frogman suit in which I was encased. Taking it off, if in fact that could have been managed, would have exposed directly to the chill the now moisture-laden thin undergarment worn inside it. Massaging, pounding, flexing exactly what was done or for how long is not remembered. When finally the pains of renewing circulation came, I got up to walk again. The boots were left off to allow more of flexing in the feet. How long I walked could only be measured as until pains of renewing circulation had ended and I felt warm enough otherwise to dare to rest for a while.
Even sitting in a corner was not now safe to do. With back against near middle of the wall, arms and head resting on drawn up knees, if I drifted again into sleep I should fall over and awaken. Thus I would sit until returning chills compelled that I walk some more; in pitch darkness, literally unable to see anything other than a very faint outline of the upper part of the door. And as I did so there descended on top of physical fatigue the often more burdensome mental fatigue in its deadliest form:
As is usually the case, it was not at once recognized or acknowledged as such Probably no one ever admits at the outset of that affliction that it is himself he is feeling sorry for. Ego insists that the pity is felt for something or somebody else. My mother was the substitute object in this case. She had lost one son in Europe during the last few months of World War 2. And now, while herself bedridden with perhaps only a few more months of her own to live, she was losing another. Was she aware that I was missing in action? In the letter to her written the night before I became captive I had not even mentioned that I would be going next day into enemy territory. All others of my family would know that much of it, of course. They might somehow be keeping the news from her because of her enfeebled condition.
From those thoughts the mind traveled back to remember the double sadness for my mother when my brother was lost in Europe. She received report that he had been wounded on his birthdate in early January. Later that month she received notice that he had died of his wounds, only a few minutes after my father had died while she tended him in their home. Neither myself nor another brother on duties in the Pacific theatre could return home to share with her in that time of sorrow.
Next remembered was return of the lost brother's remains from Europe several years later. Vividly recalled was my mother's reliving of sorrow when he arrived. Then even more vividly the fact that her pride in him overshadowed the sorrow.
Instantaneous with that there was an illumination in the darkness a not fully describable light. Brilliant, it seemed, but not blinding. And it illumined nothing at all of the surroundings; neither the floor on which I sat nor the wall behind me were visible.
Only my own huddled form did I see, in the very center of the light; knees drawn up tight together, folded arms and head resting upon them. A pitiful looking thing for which I no longer felt the least bit of pity.
Though nothing else was seen, something more was definitely present. Strongly felt not physically but as a flow of energy and assurance was the presence of my father and the brother who had died in Europe.
As the character of that light was indescribable, how long it lasted was immeasurable. In one sense it seemed to be infinite and in another, infinitesimal. But no matter which, in the while it was there it provided something more than the mind alone could grasp.
Back once more in my own huddled body, it was amazingly both rested and warm. That it was surrounded again by pitch darkness didn't bother in the least. The mind now freed of doubts and indecision, and especially of the self-pity, had much to do before morning and could function as well in darkness as in daylight; perhaps even better.
Circumstance had not been changed by that event; it was still every bit as desperate as before. What had changed was my own ability to deal with it. To begin with, the realities of the circumstance were now much clearer and more accurately perceived. Had I slept but a short while longer the frosting of my feet would have advanced far enough that circulation could not have been restored. It would even have been possible to have slept long enough to not awaken at all. Clearly then, the limit had been reached of my ability to go without sleep. One more night alone in a cold room would render me either a helpless cripple or dead.
Submission to Four Eyes' demands for "cooperation" remained an unacceptable alternative. The fact that I could not yet see any purpose in his line of questioning did not mean that there was none. And no matter that from his performance so far the interrogator had not impressed me as a particularly intelligent fellow. The procedure he was following would have been designed by someone somewhere who was so, and who had some purpose in mind which would be in the enemy's interests rather than mine. It had already been learned that giving just a little bit of the kind of cooperation Four Eyes demanded only brought at once the demand for something more. Not knowing to what ends that procedure was designed to lead was reason enough to refuse to begin.
The warmth felt in immediate aftermath of viewing myself in the light was soon dissipated against the continued chill of the room. But the rested feeling remained, both physically and mentally, quite as though from a full, re-energizing sleep. So it was easy enough to walk for warmth through the rest of the darkness and to sensibly consider as I did so what courses of action might be possible for breaking out and away from the
interrogation center next night. There were not many of them. And it was important once any action was begun, to have alternative ways of continuing depending upon whatever of unexpected obstacles might be encountered along the way.
The dispatch of Four Eyes could be done with reasonable safety anytime after he came back to the room following his own evening meal. For no one other than Four Eyes himself had ever interrupted those evening sessions. Best to wait, however, until close to the time I would want myself to get out of the room, just in case someone else would have reason to come to the room that night.
There were two possible ways out of the room without alerting the sentry at the compound gate to what was happening. One would be to call to him for permission to go to the benjo. But that would give very little time before he would wonder why I did not return from there to the room. The other way would be to extinguish the light of the bean oil lamp, then after waiting a while quietly ease the door open and try to slip out without the sentry's notice. That counted to some extent on the sentry not being attentive enough to notice or soon realize that Four Eyes did not emerge from the room shortly after the light went out.
The likelihood seemed remote in either case of being able to sneak up on the sentry and quietly do away with him. It would be far better anyway if there might be some other way out of the compound. That I would have to look for after daylight, during trips to the benjo. If there was some way out of the compound other than through the gate, extinguishing the light and sneaking out was the way to go out of the room. If the sentry happened to notice and Four Eyes' pistol was loaded, that would be the sentry's misfortune as well as my own.
If I did make it out of the compound, what then? I knew nothing of the surrounding territory except that through which I had traveled to here from the gate of the Soviet encampment. It was mostly wooded mountainside, with possibly some hiding places. Could I make it through the night in the woods if I got there? Adrenaline flow might see me through the night as long as I kept moving. That I would do to distance myself from Pak's. If the next day was sunny, warmth might be found together with a hiding place on the southern slope of the mountain ridge.
Such were the thoughts as I walked for warmth through the remainder of that night. There were no illusions about the plans for escape. They were desperate plans with very little chance of complete success, though not quite entirely hopeless. To die
while trying, of either exposure in the woods or at the hands of the enemy, would be far better fate than had nearly happened earlier that night, no matter that no one else would know what happened.
When he first arrived that morning, Four Eyes set the two chairs into the room and went back to fetch the table. By the time he returned I was seated in one of the chairs in a back corner of the room. Watching as he unfolded its legs and placed the table before me, I suddenly realized that I no longer hated him. I felt sorry for him!
He was, after all, but a lackey in this scene. What he had done to me was at the bidding and in the service of the tyrants who headed the system under which he and most other of his countrymen were impressed. Not that this was excuse for his own atrocious actions. He didn't really have to serve his masters in that way. My sympathy for him (if such it might be called) was not because he was in some respects himself just a victim of circumstance. I felt sorry for him because I knew he was going to die that night. I wouldn't be killing him because of the things that he had done to me. He would die simply because he stood in the way of what I now had to do. His death would be for no worthy purpose. If I died in consequence I at least had a good reason for risking it and a chance, however small, of avoiding it.
The table set in place, Four Eyes sat in the chair opposite and began with the usual line of hoping I had given thought to changing my attitude and would cooperate so I could be given the "lenient treatment." He had a paper with several things written on it. But this time instead of things for me to "write all you know about..," it was evidently a list of things about which he intended to question me. He glanced at the paper and then asked a question to which I really paid no attention. When he stopped talking I said something along the following lines:
"If I actually ever knew anything about those things you intend to ask I probably couldn't remember anything now and wouldn't tell you if I did. I've had no sleep since you began this questioning because I've had to walk all night every night to keep warm. And nothing to eat except a couple of bowls of water with a few bits of seaweed in them which you call 'soup.' Do you really expect someone to answer your questions to cooperate as you call it in those conditions?"
He started to speak, perhaps intending to repeat the line about changing my attitude so I could be given the "lenient treatment." But he stopped short, looked at me for several moments, and then said: "Oh you have not had your breakfast this morning. I will get you some."
He was back quickly. This time it was actually soup that he brought, with daikon and some other vegetables in it and two small cubes of pork fat. A large bowl of it, hot enough to enjoy, plus a small bowl of rice and a spoon with which to eat. He set it on the table, it seemed almost proudly, and said: "You need not hurry with your meal. I have some other things to do for a while. Then I will come back and we can talk and perhaps come to understand each other better."
He paused just outside the door and said, "I will leave the door open for some sunshine to come in. Also, when you have finished your meal if I have not yet returned you may come sit in the doorway for some sunshine. I will speak to the guard and he will allow."
Why wait until the meal was finished? The sunny spot in the doorway was a much better place to enjoy the feast. After which it was an equally good place to ponder the significance of what had Just happened:
Four Eyes had obviously sensed and reacted to the change in my attitude, though that change was quite the opposite of what he wanted. Had he perhaps sensed in my demeanor that there was danger to himself? That seemed doubtful. But he would have realized that I had made some kind of decision during the night, and that more of the same treatment of me would not gain what he was seeking. A change of technique this then must be. He would try a different way to get whatever it was he was after in the way of "cooperation." He would be back later, he had said, so we could talk and get to understand each other better.
But would this change in his approach include an end to the isolation? The fact remained that it would be virtually impossible for me to endure another night without falling asleep. Which would result at very least in crippling frostbite. The rested feeling, both physical and mental, which followed last night's amazing experience was still with me at the moment. But somehow I seemed to know it was temporary; a bit of "Fatherly" assistance perhaps just to give me time to make the right decision. After that I'd be on my own to carry it out. If Four Eyes intended that I spend the next night alone in this room, he would spend at least part of it there alone himself and never feel the cold.
The gate sentry noticed when I stood up by the doorway to stretch, then looked away after I scooped some snow which was near at hand into the empty bowl to wipe it out. A few steps back and forth in front of the building did not disturb him. But it enabled a view of the compound wall in its corner. No part of what could be seen appeared easily surmounted. A trip to the benjo later would provide view of more of the wall behind the building.
Four Eyes did not return until mid-morning. We went inside to sit at the table for talk, leaving the door open. He began by telling me that he had discussed my situation, and the complaints I had made that morning, with Col Pak. Another prisoner would be brought later to be in the room with me that night so we could keep each other warm. Then followed an almost apologetic explanation of the food. All of his country was short of food because of the war. But it was policy that the prisoners would receive the same amount of rations that was being provided for their own soldiers at the front lines. The fact that I had not received my proper ration during the past several days was due to "misunderstanding" of who was supposed to see to it. He would personally "see to it" for however much longer he was assigned to "interview" me.
That was "proved" a short while later when Four Eyes departed at lunchtime. Anjimonie (the woman who did the cooking) herself soon delivered a small bowl of soup with some rice in it. Four Eyes returned shortly for the kind of talking he had in mind for getting to understand each other. Idle talk, it might ordinarily have seemed, but clearly an effort to get me to talk about myself in ways which would gain knowledge useful to him. He assured me that he understood my reluctance to talk freely with him of such things, because he would also probably be much the same if our situation was reversed. When I finally got wise enough to ask a question of him about himself, he was not reluctant at all. The remainder of the day was spent mostly listening to accounts of his and his country's great sufferings in this war. Some of them may even have been true.
My evening meal of nearly hot soup with a little rice in it was barely finished when Four Eyes appeared accompanied by the sleep-in companion he had promised. A very bedraggled fellow with heavy accumulation of grime in both beard and hair. We looked at each other, both a bit wonderingly, as Four Eyes introduced him to me:
"This is Sgt. Arnold. He will stay with you tonight so you can keep each other warm. I will be back to talk with you again in the morning."
With minimal of self introductions, Arnold and I set to figuring out how best to keep each other from freezing. It would be several weeks before I knew him well enough to tell him that by joining me in that room that night he had definitely saved one life and probably two.
High Road to Low Places
Table of Contents
©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.