Arrival of our truck at Pak's Palace generated a unique reunion. Two small groups of 14 each which in one respect had much in common all prisoners of war. But in other respects there were significant differences; as a group and as individuals.
The fundamental difference between the two groups had been determined by the enemy, as they sent non-cooperative and otherwise troublesome prisoners to the Slave Camp and retained at the interrogation center those who were "cooperative" or whom they thought might in some measure become so. While that distinction certainly did not generate unfriendliness between the two groups, it had some dampening effect on the reunion. It was not in any case a circumstance which would engender ribaldry. And not all in the two groups had been previously acquainted.
There was, however, a very noticeable difference of atmosphere or morale within the two groups. The closeness of our associations at the Slave Camp had made all of us returned from there comfortable in one another's presence in either conversation or quietude, no matter the variances otherwise of personal interests and backgrounds.. In marked contrast, there seemed to be virtually no closeness between any of the long term residents of Pak's Palace. Some of them seemed reluctant to greet any of us returnees, sitting silently or walking about by themselves with expressionless faces, even avoiding eye contact with one another as well as with us.
Part of the reason for that may have been because some of them had in fact in some measure cooperated with the enemy, and were suffering guilt feelings about it. Probably in most cases their "cooperation" would have consisted in accepting the enemy's invitation to make a recording "to let your family know you are alive and being treated well," and so on. (Their declining of that invitation was a factor in the sending of Rambo and Gilliland to the Slave Camp.)
Capt. Kubicek, navigator-bombardier, had made such a recording, but felt no guilt or shame for having done so. He regarded it to be consistent with Air Force instructions as to how to conduct oneself if captured, and further justified because he had included mention of other members of the bomber crew he was with. He did not know if his recording was actually broadcast. Lt. Stahl, fighter pilot, had made a recording condemning our purported use of "germ warfare," apparently before AF lieutenants Enoch and Quinn had succumbed to pressures and signed the first false confessions of having done so. Stahl's recording was repeatedly broadcast. Several of young enlisted men in the group had made recordings, some known to have been broadcast, others uncertain. But just having made them might prey upon one's conscience.
Kubicek had no guilt feelings; and being gregarious of nature was most warm, almost effusive, in his greetings of those of us from the Slave Camp whom he knew. Stahl was understandably reticent. If he greeted anyone at all it didn't include myself. The young enlisted men of both groups appeared to have no difficulty in conversing with each other.
Almost amusing was the physical transformation of AF Capt. Barney Dobbs. Gone was the excessive weight which had made him appear to be "rolling" into the south end room at Pak's three months previously. His metabolic process had obviously put it to use making up for deficiency of diet. But his body size had diminished so rapidly that its covering had not yet reduced accordingly. His skin seemed to be draped on him in folds.
Gone also, or at least it so appeared in our exchange of greetings and brief conversation, were the misunderstanding and/or uncertainty which had been with him when he first arrived at Pak's. Not that we discussed those things; but his manner so indicated. I sensed from it that he was probably some troubled by the then on-going emphasis in enemy propaganda about "germ warfare." I wondered if the interrogators at Pak's were aware that Quinn had been Barney's roommate and might therefore have been pressing Dobbs on that matter as well. It was probable that the enemy did know because he had mentioned it to other of the prisoners.
As for my substitute crewman, Naylor-Foote, he remained apart, even seeming aloof, until a couple of the young enlisted men fetched two buckets of rice and two stacks of bowls into the small prisoner yard. They set the rice buckets down beside a crude table and the bowls atop of it, after which they took position beside the table as though it were a practiced procedure. Naylor-Foote then seated himself on a short bench, spread one stack of the bowls out on the table, lifted one of the buckets onto the bench beside him, and began ladling rice from it into the bowls with a spoon.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Pak's Palace residents had joined the two already standing beside the table. So it was an established procedure! Or was it a ceremony? Some disturbing was the fact that the way the group stood there, silently waiting and with expressionless faces, reminded me of "zombies." How long might it take for their "guru" to ration out the bucket of rice with a spoon? Nor was it a large spoon, or even a bowl-shaped one. It was a small flat disk with a handle on it such as Orientals sometimes used for eating instead of chopsticks. After but a few ladling, Naylor-Foote, looked in our direction and said that he would "apportion" first for his group after which he would "apportion" for us.
Joe Green moved more quickly than the several others of us who were similarly inclined. He said as he picked up the other bucket of rice and the other stack of bowls: "T'hell with that nonsense. We're gonna eat."
Naylor-Foote glared at Joe's back for a moment, and then noticed me watching himself. He then silently resumed the meticulous rationing of rice for his troops.
After we had all served ourselves and were seated on the ground eating, Joe asked if anyone in our group might know "that clown." I meanwhile was sharing silent amusement with Arnold and Ettinger, who were in fact the only other than myself who actually knew anything much about Naylor-Foote. Shortly one of them said, "The chief knows him quite well."
I was seated near to Joe. In response to his questioning look I said, "Yes, I know him very well. That's army first lieutenant Albert W. C. Naylor-Foote. His last name is hyphenated, and so is he." Joe's look was still a question so I added, "He's a psycho and therefore hazardous not only to himself but to everyone else. But I'll not burden you with further details at the moment." Joe's nod conveyed full understanding. He it was who had said to me when we first met here at Pak's Palace, "Anything you don't want the enemy to know about you, don't mention it to anyone in here."
About an hour later John Shaw, accompanied by two of the young men of the other group, approached me and asked if I knew Naylor-Foote. I acknowledged the fact and asked why he had wanted to know. "Well," John said, " he heard me tellin' the fellows here about what we've been doin' at the Slave Camp ridin' around in the trucks, cuttin' logs and stuff. Then he asked me a few questions and comes up with what I think is a crazy idea an escape plan that I think would get us all killed."
It was evident in the expressions on their faces that the three young men were seriously worried. But again, in our circumstances it would not do to simply tell them Naylor-Foote was something of a mental case; or otherwise tell them anything about him which would lead to further questioning of myself when the enemy learned of it. So I asked if he had spelled out details of his escape plan. And indeed he had quite complete details; like a script for a grade B movie. Shaw described it as follows:
"Naylor-Foote had figured out that there would be four guards accompanying us; one positioned in each corner of the truck box. Possibly there would be a fifth armed person in the cab with the driver, but that would be no big problem. When we loaded aboard in the morning, Joe Green, Sgt. Arnold, Gilliland and Thorin (i.e., myself) would each position ourselves close to one of the guards. After departure from Pak's, somewhere on the road that was sufficiently isolated, Naylor-Foote would give the signal and we would simultaneously attack the guards, subdue them (with others helping if necessary) take their weapons and order the driver to stop the truck; which he would have no choice but to do even if another armed person was in the cab with him.
All of the Koreans would then be "done away with" and their remains disposed of somewhere not readily seen; except the driver since he would have knowledge of the roads which would be useful and would likely cooperate because of promise of reward if he would do so and threat of death if he didn't. Since Shaw was an army truck driver, he would then take over the driving. We would go first to where we had been cutting logs, load as many as might be required, then drive to the coast and build a raft on which we would put out into the Yellow Sea and paddle out to an offshore island or until taken aboard one of our ships that was on patrol there."***
[ *** Author's note: Whoever might doubt that anyone would in that circumstance propose such a preposterous schem of escape, is invited to contact the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, wherefrom for nominal costs of copying and mailing they could obtain the now declassified (from "SECRET") transcript of Naylor-Foote's "debriefing" statement recorded in Tokyo in September 1953. It consists of 150+ pages of equally preposterous scenarios in his own words. It includes a totally false story of an attempt to rescue Ettinger with a helicopter four days prior to the actual mission, a detailed description of himself "conducting" the actual attempt which he represents as having failed because Ettinger let himself be used by the enemy to "lure" us into a trap, two elaborate escape plans involving others, two stories claiming to have made short-lived escape attempts by himself, and a grossly exaggerated account of enemy troop action in recapturing himself during a foolishly planned escape attempt with a British partner in which said partner was killed. ***]
When he had completed that description, I said to Shaw: "And he came up with that great plan after talking with you for just a few minutes?"
"Well, yeah," John replied, "and I thought that was kinda funny. But he sounded real serious about it."
"Has he discussed it with any of the other officers?"
"Not yet, I guess, but he said he was going to; and even if they didn't all go along with it he would order it, 'cause he's the senior officer here."
"He's what?" Perhaps I should not have been that much surprised that the fellow would make such a claim.
"He's a lieutenant colonel," one of the other young men said; and after a pause, "Isn't he?"
"He certainly is not," I replied. "He's a first lieutenant and I'd say not even qualified for that."
"But he told us he's a lieutenant colonel," the young man said. "Held a secret meeting one night. Swore us all to secrecy said he was really a lieutenant colonel but pretending to be just a first lieutenant to fool the enemy. And said if any of us ratted on him we'd be in real trouble when we get back."
So that's how he put himself in charge of the group at Pak's, I thought to myself. It was mindful of Ulatoski's representation of himself as a captain when he came aboard Rochester. But again, that was not something to try to explain to the three young soldiers. They were really disturbed , and with good reason. To them I said, "Well he's not a lieutenant colonel. And John did you think that Joe and Sergeant Arnold and I would go along with something like that?"
"Well, no," he replied, "I guess I didn't really think so. But he said he was the senior officer and that he was going to order it. So we were worried ."
"Well you can stop worrying," I told him. "...'cause he's not the senior officer. And even if he was there's none of the other officers here would go along with something like that; nor Arnold or myself. You said yourself you thought it's a crazy idea. And you're right! Naylor-Foote's a mental case a liar and a faker all the way. So you can just relax. Go pack your bags 'cause we're going on a trip tomorrow. But you won't be drivin'. You'll have to ride in the back with the rest of us."
Shaw's smile displayed his sense of relief as he said, "Okay, chief. And thanks" But his natural curiosity turned him back as he started to move away and he asked, "How come you know so much about the guy?"
"That I don't talk about now, John, not 'til we get outta here." His look said he understood.
The incident gave me something to think about that night, other than lamenting the disruption of my own realistic escape planning. So First Lieutenant Naylor-Foote had put himself in charge of the prisoner group at Pak's by the simple process of promoting himself to the rank of lieutenant colonel. It was not really surprising that he would try to do such a thing. But it was disturbing to realize that the other officers in the group would accept it; especially captains Dobbs and Kubicek. ***
[ *** In his previously mentioned, recorded debriefing in September, 1953, Naylor-Foote describes as follows: "...the circumstance finally forced me to take action, since the action did not seem to be forthcoming from those officers who were senior to me. I therefore, called a meeting of all the prisoners, presented these issues to them and demanded that a decision be made by the group. The result was that a list of regulations be complied with by all prisoners was drawn up...." Said regulations were then described, followed by the statement, "This improved our circumstances considerably"
There was of course no mention that he misrepresented his rank at that secret meeting he called. His explanation of that: "I do not want to imply that....I did not take over the complete control over the group, I tried to achieve control through such individuals as Capt Dobbs, Lt. Duquette, and others who had influence and, by gradually supplanting the men who were obviously, rapidly becoming collaborators." *** ]
Naylor-Foote did that evening suggest to some of the Slave Camp officers a "mass escape" involving takeover of the truck next day. If he included all details which Shaw had described is not known. He certainly would not have tried to "pull" rank on them with his self-promotion to light colonel. And he got revenge for their rebuff by mention in his Sept., 1953, debrief that they lacked courage. I was similarly categorized by him in report of an Army interrogator in Tokyo: "While at Pyongyang, Naylor-Foote tried to get Thorin to escape with him, Thorin ridiculed Naylor-Foote to his face."
But more important for my thoughts that final night at Pak's Palace was what might be encountered in the course of the ride to Pyoktong. Might there be some realistic opportunity along the way to get out of the truck unnoticed and thereafter work my way westward to the coast? Possibly, but not very likely, it seemed. Shortly after departure we would be out of the territory with which I had become in some measure acquainted, And if we traveled due northward, as I expected we would, we would as quickly become more distant from the west coast. Since nothing could be planned, one must just wait to see what happened. And a good night's sleep would make one more alert to observe.
The sun was well up when we departed Pak's Palace in the morning. It was soon evident that we were traveling in a northwesterly direction rather than mostly northward. And after an otherwise uneventful ride by late afternoon we were entering a city. The aroma of salt water on a mild westerly breeze suggested it must be Sinanju.
The truck stopped just short of a quite long building situated on the north side of the street.; immediately beside a wooded area which was in fact a park. A semicircular area of perhaps 60 yard radius adjacent to the street was comparatively sparsely wooded. There was an established walkway just inside its perimeter, and beyond that sufficient of trees that no buildings were visible. We were informed that we would be spending the night in the building just ahead of the truck, and until such time as we would be going there for eating and sleeping we could walk around in the park for exercise; but not beyond the established walkway. Two of the guards remained by the truck to keep watch of us as we did so.
Most of the men chose to meander about in the open area, I chose to walk around the pathway. Four others did so also, in pairs. On my first time around I noted some activity at the backside of the far end of the long building; dimly through the trees a couple of people and perhaps a wagon or large cart. On my second time around a young man appeared close beside a large tree just outside the pathway and said quite softly, "Hello are you a Christian?"
"Yes I am." I slowed my pace as I answered.
"Do you know any hymns?" he asked. And after I said that I did he said, "We have a secret place where we meet to sing hymns. Would you like to join us?"
"Yes, I would. I will keep walking and come back to here." I stopped when I was near the truck, knelt down on one knee and pretended to adjust some of the rags I had stuffed in my cumbersome flying boot. One of the guards noticed, and glanced at me briefly, but then returned his attention to the two young Korean women with whom he and the other guard had been talking. I waited until the two people who had been walking behind me passed by, then resumed walking a short distance behind them.
As we neared the large tree, the young Korean was not in sight until the two ahead of me had passed by. The other two walkers, one of whom was Shaw, were perhaps 40 yards behind me. When the young man appeared close beside the tree, I stopped and knelt down as though again adjusting something in my boot. I said, "How do I get to your secret place?"
"Next time you get to here, I will be there," he said, pointing to the back of the building. "You must quickly...."
"Hey, chief!" came a loud call from Shaw behind me. "What's that guy talkin' about? Any news of the peace talks?"
In a flash the young man, running low to the ground, disappeared into the woods. The guards, distracted from their "distracters" by John's call were of course now looking in our direction. I resumed walking then until he called again, "Hey, chief! Wait up!"
As the two of them neared where I was waiting, John asked again, "What was that guy talking with you about?"
I began walking along with them, rather that having them stop, and said: "Oh, he just wanted to know if I had any news of how the peace talks are going'."
"Oh, really? Why'd he run off so quick then? Just like that, he's gone!"
"Because of your damn' fool yellin' attracting the guards' attention. You oughta know by now that the friendly people in this part of the country wouldn't want the guards to see them talking with us."
Shaw said something like, "Oh yeah - I didn't think of that."
It wasn't easy to hold back the things I wanted to say to Shaw right then. I had to remind myself that he was only twenty years old, lacking in experience and also in any measure of the training and orientation which should have been provided before he was shoved into the combat conditions. His performance at the Slave Camp, and his self-education in many respects since his capture, were really exceptional in view of those deficiencies in preparation. But he had just despoiled what would unquestionably qualify as a "chance of a lifetime."
Obviously, that young Korean in the woods and his associates had a well-laid plan for extracting someone of us from captivity. They had to have known in advance that this group of prisoners would be arriving, and where we would be kept. They probably knew the identities, at least of the pilots in the group. And there would have been further plans laid out for delivery of whomever they might extract at this point to friendly forces; either for the substantial reward which was offered to anyone who helped a pilot to escape, or because of tie-in with a clandestine operation, or a combination of the two.
Whatever their exact motives, the several of Koreans involved, certainly including the two young women who were distracting the guards, had put themselves at risk. If those guards or any other of our custodians realized what had happened they would all be in immediate jeopardy. And therein was the main reason I dare not cuss Shaw out for what he had unwittingly done: "Whatever you don't want the enemy to know, don't tell anyone!"
Sleep did not come easy for me that night; mainly because of lamenting the missed opportunity for escape; and imagining the probable subsequent actions if the young Korean had been able to complete his instructions to me. Also, there was some wondering if they might make some manner of second effort during the night or early morning before we departed for Pyoktong or even after we started. Wishful thinking, of course. And there was the pressure of having to hold it all within myself.
Nor could I put it entirely out of mind after we departed from Sinanju next morning. There were wistful thoughts of some manner of extraction from captivity during the early part of our travel. After that there was occasional dozing due to shortage of sleep, making me less observant than I should have been of the territory through which we were traveling. I was awakened from the last of those dozing's by our arrival at the destination a bit short of late afternoon..
Our new "hosts" had arranged a gala reception at the prison camp headquarters at Pyoktong" A long table (made of several shorter ones of the folding variety) draped with cloth, place settings of plates, cups and American (or English) style eating equipment, chairs (also folding variety) upon which we would sit, and music a good recording of American music by an American band or orchestra.
Most gala they had provided for our enjoyment prior to the banquet, basins, water and even soap enabling for the first time since capture for the most of us the actual washing of hands and faces instead of just rinsing with rice paddy water or rain or melted snow. There were even towels for drying, instead of having to wipe on our ragged and somewhat soiled clothing. And by the time we began seating ourselves at the table bowls of rice, scrambled eggs, and steamed mantos had been placed thereon from which we could serve ourselves however much we wanted. Beverage? Freshly brewed tea.
And no hurry! Enjoy! Such was the welcome from smiling representatives of the "Chinese Peoples Volunteers." Someone of the former Slave Camp group quietly asked "but where are the dancing girls" which our buddies from the Chinese gun crew had promised. He was reminded that they had said we would have to dance with one another, by someone who preferred, "thank you," to sit out at least this first opportunity.
In keeping with our hosts' urging of "no hurry," we ate slowly enough that the recording of music had repeated itself several times before we finished. It was not until its third or fourth playing that I noted the significance of the particular songs: Old Man River and Down by the Riverside "ain't gonna study war no more." The recording would be replayed much of the time during our two days of processing at Pyoktong.
There was considerable of scurrying in the vicinity while we were eating; the scurriers checking frequently, it appeared, the papers which had accompanied us from Pak's Palace. After we had finished eating we filled out registration forms (not always completely) and lined up for identification. Following that came questioning and superficial examinations by medics (at least persons wearing red crossed arm bands), to determine which if any of us should be sent to the hospital. That provided opportunity for Naylor-Foote to play doctor again. He did himself quite accurately describe part of his actions at the time in his now declassified recording made in Tokyo in 1953:
"Now at this point the Chinese inquired which of those individuals required hospitalization. Here having handled most of them, being familiar with most of them, those people who did not for personal reasons desiring to stay out of hospitals to get more of the food and so forth which was being handed out, a few demurred to not desire to go to hospitals, though I do not recall their names, I intervened and pushed insisting that they get treatment, knowing their condition principally dysentery...."
Naylor-Foote did indeed at that time "intervene and push" as he mentioned in his September, 1953, debrief; in the same manner as he had previously tried to impress our Korean captors and custodians with his own (self-esteemed) importance. The implications in the quotation from his debrief that he was somehow qualified to give medical advice is but exemplary of his customary pretenses and exaggerations.
There seemed to be some confusion, or uncertainty, in the sorting out of us new arrivals and getting us situated in various places for the night. Ettinger and I were called out of the line-up together and the caller escorted us to a small building in which he said we would be staying, at least for that night. But just as we reached the door another Chinese came running with a paper in his hand. After a brief exchange of words between the two of them, I was told to wait and they took Ettinger back to the line-up.
As I waited others were being escorted out of the line-up, some in pairs, others alone. Ettinger was led on away, out of sight. Capt Dobbs similarly disappeared from view. I would see neither of them again until more than a year later; after the armistice when all were being gathered for transport to the prisoner exchange at Panmunjom. On which occasion Dobbs recounted to me his reception at Pyoktong as follows:
He was ushered into a comparatively well-furnished tent. Seated comfortably behind a nice desk was a Caucasian whom he recognized as Wilfred Burchette, an Australian journalist quite well-known for his contributions to communist propaganda. Atop the desk was a bottle of whiskey and a pack of American cigarettes. Burchette greeted him with a hearty, "Hello, Barney! Have a seat! How about a drink?" as he picked up a glass and the bottle preparing to pour.
"Not with the likes of you!" was Capt. Dobbs' response; together, as he recalled it, with several not politely printable expletives.
" There's no reason to be like that," Burchette then said. "I just asked them to bring you here so we could chat a bit about your old roommate, Johnny Quinn. [ It was by then known Burchette was involved in pressuring of Quinn for his false confession; probably having helped in the drafting of it.]
To that, Capt. Dobbs responded, "If you mean to talk about that germ warfare nonsense, forget it!'
To which Burchette said, "Oh and so now I suppose you're going to deny that you participated in it."
How much longer that conversation may have lasted is not known to this writer. But for the next 14+ months Capt Barney Dobbs was subjected to intense, on and off pressure for a false confession to germ warfare. On and off pressure! "Peredishka!" is the term Nikolai Lenin applied to the technique a breathing spell. When the intended victim proves impenetrable to the pressure, take it off for a while. Perhaps the target will have softened enough during the lenient period to give way when pressure is reapplied.
Such was the procedure applied to most of those who successfully resisted the enemy's effort to extract false confessions after a few had for one reason or another given way.. Periods of solitude, subjected to various of deprivations, threats and entreatments. That failing to break them down, they might for a while be put in the company of others, usually a small group, where they could "enjoy" such luxuries as washing hands and face and sharing some thoughts with the others. Then back into solitary to see if renewed hopes or desires might somehow have weakened their resistance.
Capt. Dobbs' initiation into that special circumstance was perhaps a bit more dramatic than most. Otherwise, his endurance of it might be regarded as merely exemplary of the several others who our ChiCom "hosts" selected out for such special treatment at that time. They would all serve as reminders to those of us who spent the ensuing months in less difficult circumstance that however bad we might feel our situation to be, it could be worse. And it would be especially helpful in dealing with the self-pitying and complaining types amongst us.
After all others had been taken from that lineup at Pyoktong, my original escort returned accompanied by Lt. Ferranto and we were ushered into our quarters. There were two rooms in the building, a small anteroom leading to one which was large enough that two sleeping platforms were suspended along one side of it. Ferranto acquired the one which had a light bulb overhanging. The escort informed us the location of the latrine outside, told us someone else would be coming shortly to talk with us, and to meanwhile be comfortable and relax.
Which we did; quite easily. Having had a good meal for the first time in months, and the freshened feeling from having actually washed hands and face even though under no illusions that we now had it made, so to speak, our chances for long-range survival were definitely improved. We still needed baths, to at least wash the ragged clothing we were wearing, and to get rid of the body lice. But that seemed certain to be offered if for no other reason than that our hosts would want to protect themselves from contamination.
Two people arrived in the now darkened anteroom, which I could see from the sleeping platform on which I was reclined. They neared the entrance to our space for a moment, then backed away a couple of steps. Even in the dimness, it was apparent from certain bumps in their drab uniforms that they were of feminine gender. There was some low talking, perhaps just whispering, as one extracted something from a pocket, handed part of whatever it was to the other, then transferred the remainder thereof to the opposite pocket of her own trousers. Both were smiling and expressed gentle "hello's" as they then entered our lighted space. The one who had done the shuffling of something from her pocket told us their names (no longer remembered) plus a few practiced words of welcome.
It is perhaps needful of mention for whoever might try to envision the scene that the one who did most of the talking appeared some older than the other. But not enough so to be categorized as "old." Rather it can be said that she was neatly configured and if not actually youthful certainly well preserved. There were indications also that her otherwise drab uniform jacket had been tailored a bit in keeping with the configuration. Estimate of the other's age was about 20, possibly even less. No tailoring of the jacket was evident, but there was no particular shape to tailor it to. Her manner of speaking was indicative not only of her age, but also newness with the English language.
The older one seemed to have very good knowledge of our language. After the initial amenities she briefly informed us that they would both be back in the morning after we had our breakfast to talk with us further. She did include mention that she would be coming to discuss things with Ferranto whereas her young associate would be my companion. Then just before bidding us good night she extracted four pieces of hard candy from the right hand pocket of her trousers and gave two to each of us.
After they had departed, Ferranto and I found ourselves in total disagreement as to why we were paired off in that manner for tomorrow's engagements. He contended it was because the one in charge obviously had first choice and chose accordingly. I insisted that her maternal instincts compelled that she shield the younger one from a dirty old man, plus concern that if she went with me she might be tempted to divorce herself from the Communist Party.
We were on the other hand in total agreement and quite seriously that it could be a treacherous situation in view of the enemy's proclivity for trying to use American prisoners for any and all manner of propaganda.
After serious discussion of that I mentioned to Ferranto, who had not been in position to see it, that before entering the room his "girl friend" had stolen and shared with the other some of the candy which I felt sure was all intended to be given to us. We decided that if either of them tried to cause us any trouble, we could report that to their Party superiors as a violation of Communist doctrine. We also decided to each use just one piece of candy that night and save the other as substitute for our morning coffee. After which we both enjoyed probably the best sleep we'd had since our captures.
My "date" was the first to arrive next morning, and said that we would go to the "park" to talk and "become acquainted." She took hold of my hand as I came out and continued to hold onto it even after we had seated on opposites sides of a small table beneath one of the nearby trees. Though aware that hand-holding in China was basically just expression of friendliness, it was in this case uncomfortable. But I hesitated to pull away because she might construe that as an unfriendly sign, or even by design so pretend.
It was evident at once that she was not at all skilled as either interrogator or propagandist; most likely something of a trainee for one or both. Though she spoke English words quite clearly, there was delay in response to my words indicating a translation process before understanding what I had said. Her questions for the first half hour and more were obviously memorized and practiced. And they were superficial; about personal feelings, likes and dislikes regarding a variety of things, music, artworks, sports activities and so on. Finally she broached the subject which I had expected it was all leading to. She asked if I was aware that some of our planes were dropping bombs that contained germs to make people sick.
It seemed appropriate at that point to be a bit circuitous myself. I said I had heard some stories about it. She then asked, "And what do you think of it?"
I said, "I think it's a bunch of baloney."
"Baloney?" She was obviously puzzled. She said it again, "Baloney? What does that mean? "
Though puzzled, she seemed otherwise not much disturbed. She still held onto my hand. But I realized it was a word she would not have learned in her study of the English language, an opportunity to disrupt the prescribed plan of discourse which she was following. I said, "It just means baloney. I don't know any way to explain it to you."
She studied for a while, then asked, "How is it spelled?" and let go of my hand as she removed a writing pad and pencil from the bag she had carried.
She printed the letters as I spelled the word, then arose from her bench and said, "Excuse me, please. I must go ask about this. You may remain here, where it is cool and pleasant in the shade. And I will be back very soon." After a pause she added, "But you must remain here. You should not try to leave here."
I had already noted that there were two guards posted, inconspicuously but definitely with good view of the "park" area. But why hadn't I thought sooner to use some word she would not know the meaning of so she'd have to let go of my hand and find a dictionary or ask someone? When she returned I kept my hand off the table and well out of her reach. The paper on which she had printed "baloney" now contained also some notations in Chinese script. After seating herself she asked, "When you said you think it is a bunch of baloney did you mean that you don't believe the stories you've heard about some of your planes dropping germ bombs?"
"That's right," I said, "I don't believe it. Do you?"
The fact that I asked a question may have surprised her as much as the question itself. She thought about that for a while and then said, "Of course I believe it. I have seen proof. I have seen pictures of the germ bombs. We have pictures of them here."
"Pictures are easy to make," I responded. "I would need more proof than just pictures."
Again the puzzled, studious hesitation. Probably it had been expected that I would respond on that subject by just arguing that it wasn't true, and her planning (or instructions from her superiors) would not have included consideration of the manner of response which she had now encountered. I sensed also in view of her age and position that she probably did believe it to be true. Upper echelons of the Party and the ChiCom military would be aware of the falsity of the germ war theme, but the rank and file would not. By no means did I think that I might in this circumstance convince the young woman that it wasn't true, or even sew a fruitful seed of doubt. It was simply a means of dealing with the issue without disrupting the "friendly" atmosphere of our discussion.
And it worked! After longer than usual of thoughtful silence she said, "I can see that we do not agree on that. So it is better that we talk of other things...." After which we did talk of other things for a while, along the lines of our initial innocuous conversation. And shortly, with a glance at her watch, she said, "Oh, I see it is nearly time for lunch. I will take you back now to your quarters. But I think we may talk some more this afternoon. It is good to talk with you even if we do not always agree."
She did return and took me to the same table in the "park" that afternoon; even led me by the hand again but I managed to extract it shortly after we were seated. There was no further mention of germ warfare, but renewal of innocuous conversation. Very shortly a male Chinese arrived, introduced himself, and quickly asked some questions about Naylor-Foote. After but a few questions he hurried away, but returned in about 10 or 15 minutes with more. That continued throughout the afternoon; a few questions of myself, return to his interrogations of Naylor-Foote, then back with more questions of me. Obviously, the young woman had brought me back to the "park" to have me available for that purpose. She did a good job of filling the interim's with innocuous conversation.
Full details of that interrogation of myself about Naylor-Foote cannot now be accurately recalled. But the significant essence of it was reported in Tokyo in September, 1953; recorded and classified "SECRET," in conjunction with the charges I had then placed against Naylor-Foote and Ulatoski for their misrepresentations to myself and my commanders which caused failure of the mission to rescue Ettinger. As it was then recorded:
"The following questions, and my answers, occurred the last time I was questioned in this regard. As stated, they are not necessarily verbatim, nor in sequence as asked:
1. Was he (Naylor-Foote) in the British Army?
A. I don't know.
2. Is he a doctor?
A. He seems to know something of medicine and I understand he has studied in that field.
3. Do you like him?
A. Don't know him well enough to either like or dislike him.
4. Where is his home?
A. I don't know.
5. How long has he been in the army?
A. I don't know.
6. Is he from Rio de Janerio?
A. I don't know.
7. What did he do during WW II?
A. I wouldn't know.
8. Do you think he is a good man?
A. I don't understand your question.
9. Was it his fault that you were captured?
A. (I believe this was an attempt to create ill feelings between us)
My answer: Who can tell whose fault, and what does it matter?
10. You are His pilot. You should know more about him.
A. I am not his pilot, it just happened that I was the one assigned to fly this mission.
11. He says you are his pilot.
A. I think you misunderstand his meaning, there is no connection between the two of us except for this mission, we are in different branches of the service.
12. Is it true he twice escaped from the Japanese in WW II?
A. I wouldn't know, don't know his past history.
13. How old is he?
A. I believe I have heard him say he is 29.
14. Do you think that is true?
A. Have no reason to doubt it, haven't even considered it.
The Chinese at this point made the statement:
"Yes, he says he is 29, but I do not think he could do all he says he has done in only 29 years."
Ferranto was already back at our quarters when I returned that afternoon. Other than a bit more joshing of one another about our "dates," we did not discuss our separate experiences of that day. I did tell him some of my "hand-holding" experience. He said his "date" did not seem similarly inclined; which I then claimed was proof that I was correct in my claim as to why she had paired herself with him instead of me.
For the previously established reason of not burdening anyone with facts about oneself which should be kept from the enemy, I made no mention to Ferranto of the questioning with regard to Naylor-Foote. As I reviewed that privately in my mind that night, there was satisfaction in realization that I had learned a great deal more about Naylor-Foote from that questioning than had the Chinese interrogator.
For one thing, it had further confirmed my suspicion that in talking with the enemy about our mission he would be representing himself as the man in charge, and myself as just an enlisted "subordinate" subject to his orders. I had anticipated that during my day-long meditations when first arrived in Pyongyang, and made use of it during interrogations at Pak's Palace. Also confirmed, by the Chinese interrogator's closing statement as well as his questions, was Naylor-Foote's eagerness to impress everyone including the enemy with his fantasized stories about himself. It was reminder, as I had told Joe Green the night before our departure from Pak's Palace, that because of his mental aberration Naylor-Foote was hazardous, not only to himself but all others in his vicinity.
"Shakedown!" was the first order of business on the following morning. Tables were set up whereon we were to put all items we were carrying with us for the enemy's decision if we would be allowed to keep them. Since the tables and examiners could handle only four men at a time, it was possible to observe in advance what manner of things they were allowing to be kept. Of the few items which I had there were only two which I felt they would surely confiscate; the sandstone-sharpened piece of shrapnel which Ferranto had given to me at the Slave Camp and the hacksaw blade which I had filched from a tool box while Shaw was helping to overhaul the truck. The shrapnel blade slipped easily into one of the seams of a now dilapidated flying boot. The hacksaw blade I snapped in two and similarly concealed one half of it.
So all I placed on the table was a blob of sewing thread wrapped on a stick with a needle stuck in it, my toothbrush, now with broken handle, my frogman suit now rolled up and tied for use as a pillow, a walking stick on the end of which I had carved a mermaid, one half of a broken hacksaw blade and a very small, silver plated pen knife which I had found while at the Slave Camp. My examiner looked approving as he touched the needle and thread, questioningly as he lifted the rolled up frogman suit, which he put back down when I explained that I used it for a pillow. He seemed admiring of the mermaid carving on the walking stick. But he picked up the piece of hacksaw blade and the pen knife and put them aside with items he had confiscated from others.
It seemed justified and perhaps useful to raise objection at that. I pointed to the mermaid and said that with those I could do more of carving, as a good way to spend time until the war was ended. He said tools for that would be provided after I was in an established camp. I hoped he would recognize the look I gave him as both disbelieving and disgusted. I then picked up the other items and walked away, grateful that he hadn't unrolled the frogman suit. For he would probably have confiscated the two candles and the rubber gloves which were within it.
During the shakedown, it was learned that we would afterward depart the headquarters area for some other place. Meanwhile we mostly sat idle or walked around in the fairly large area in which it was allowed. If the recorded music may still have been playing, the repetition of "Old Man River" and "Ain't Gonna Study War no More" had become so obnoxious that I was somehow able to ignore it. There was however, another somewhat entertaining and at the same time disturbing activity in the area: Almost all of the Chinese except those directly involved in dealing with us carried with them some manner of container, often a small glass jar, in which they were collecting flies dead ones, of course.
I had asked about that of my young lady escort as we returned from that last session in the "park." She had blithely explained that it was an ongoing contest with rewards and prizes for those who killed and collected the greater numbers of flies. Then she sadly added that it was because flies carried germs, perhaps including those that were dropped in the germ bombs. I had resisted the impulse to ask who counted the flies to determine who won the contest. Disturbing was the realization that most of the competitors in that fly-killing contest would also be believing the germ bomb pitch.
The call to assemble for departure brought relief from such gloomy meditation. We would be walking to our next destination. In addition to a half-dozen soldiers, three unarmed men were in our escort. Each of them wore a small back-pack; from its shape containing but a few items, possibly including some documents. One of them introduced himself by name of Tsai (Tchi). Quite small of stature, he spoke English quite well in use and pronunciation of words, with a moderate amount of grammatical discrepancies. He informed us pleasantly that it was only a short distance to where we were going and that he would be remaining with us there to explain things and as interpreter when needed.
With two soldiers in the fore, Tsai then led us out of the headquarters grounds onto a narrow roadway (or perhaps wide pathway) east northeastward. We went out a-walking, not marching. "Old Man River" and "Ain't Gonna Study War No More" would probably not serve very well as marching songs in any case, and in this case it was somewhat a relief to walk away from that repetitious recording.
Although the Yalu river was not actually in view, it was shortly evident that we were paralleling its course upstream. There was no other traffic, either vehicular or pedestrian. Evidence of recent vehicular traffic indicated only mule or oxcarts. The roadway was in any case not sufficient for heavy motorized vehicles. Of special interest to me was ruggedness of the surrounding terrain. Very few of houses were to be seen, a few apparently abandoned mineshafts, and much of trees and undergrowth on the mountainess type of ridges between which we traveled.
It was not a very long walk; perhaps two and a half or three hours in its entirety. And there were several stops for rest along the way. But it was shortly evident that I needed some different footwear. The winter flying boots were cumbersome, heavy; and noisy! They were not at all suited for such time as it might become possible to go for a walk in those otherwise inviting woods.
Air Force Lt "Chuck" Stahl, walking ahead of me, was wearing high-topped, leather boots. I had noted and asked him about them during the brief time we were together at Pak's Palace, prior to my transfer to the Slave Camp. They were not the footgear he had been wearing when he was shot down. They had been given to him by one of the Russian pilots with whom he had spent some time after one of them had shot him down. The foot size of them was too small for my feet, but there was sufficient of leather in the tops to make a pair of moccasins. When we reached wherever we were going I would ask him to let me cut off the tops for that purpose.
We reached our destination about three hours after departure from the Pyoktong headquarters. Shortly before that, Ferranto, Naylor-Foote and two of the young soldiers of the Pak's Palace group were detached from the rest of us and taken further along the roadway we had been following, escorted by the four of the soldiers and the other two unarmed men. Tsai then led the rest of on a pathway to southward, along with the other two soldiers. After a short, moderately uphill trek we came to an open, almost barren sort of plateau area whereon just one small building was in view. Upon arrival there could be seen that it was very recently built; a lean-to of poles and straw matting about 24 feet long and 12 feet wide. Open on its front which faced eastward, there was sufficient space for all of us to bed down near its back wall. Fresh straw covered the dirt floor.
Most delightful to see immediately beyond our shelter was a quite sizable stream flowing (one might say "tumbling") downslope westward through well-washed rocks. Leading down to it from the shelter was a mostly natural stairway of rocks. Tsai cheerfully informed us that we would be staying here "temporary for a few days," after which we would be moving into a "better place which was being prepared for us." Meanwhile we could relax, "take bath in stream," and with various other assurances he bid us "Welcome!" to the hospitality of the "Chinese Peoples Volunteers!"
Two soldiers arrived meanwhile bearing two quite large cartons on a long pole ("chogi pole") between them on their shoulders. One of the cartons contained enameled bowls and cups and metal spoons for each of us. The other contained soap and towels. As he issued those, Tsai somewhat apologized that new clothing was not yet available; but said perhaps "for now" we could wash some of what we were wearing in the stream when we bathed but keep some dry. And "tomorrow" would be arranged to "make hot water for washing clothes," until our new clothing would arrive.
Arnold and I were the first into the stream. It was at once evident that some rock piling was needed to hold the water back for good bathing. Soon after the others had joined us enough stones were moved to effect a shallow pool. Our bodies bathed, scrubbed clean for the first time in months; there was a feeling of reluctance for having to encase them again in filthy, louse-infested rags. But there was also no alternative.
Tsai and the two soldiers had remained beside the shelter while we bathed. When we returned and were casually assembling there he sent the soldiers away, back down the pathway we had traveled to reach this place. He then resumed explaining our situation. That included mention of a shallow trench nearby which was to be used as latrine. Mostly it consisted of what we would be doing while at this temporary location wash our clothes "until new clothing soon be here." We could now "take good care" of ourselves because we were "guests of the Chinese Peoples Volunteers." In a sense, then and quite sensibly we were in quarantine; held apart in this place until we could be rid of the body lice we had accumulated while held by the Koreans.
While Tsai was talking this time, two more people came up the pathway, carrying buckets. The buckets contained rice and soup for our evening meal. They were carried by the two young men of the Pak's Palace group who had been separated from us earlier. They had apparently been selected for such assignment prior to our departure from the camp headquarters. Tsai closed off his dissertation then, saying that we should "enjoy" our meal and that he would return in the morning. He lifted an arm in gesture as he departed and said: "Take good care your healthy!"
"I'll bet he really gives a damn' about that," someone of the group mumbled.
As Sgt. Arnold and I enjoyed that meal together we discussed our new situation; in part jokingly, otherwise seriously. Arnold began it saying he didn't think he wanted to go some other place. "How can you beat this? A resort in the mountains, running water, room service for meals ." But what about the music, and the dancing our little friends of the AA gun crew had mentioned? We'd both had enough of the music at camp headquarters, since they seemed to have only that one recording, and Arnold said he somehow didn't think he'd enjoy dancing with me anyway. Which opened the way for some "bragging" about holding hands with a Chinese girl in the park at Pyoktong.
Seriously, we could not but agree that our physical situation was much improved. Although we could probably have "enjoyed" a bit more of rice in this meal, it was a bigger ration than we'd ever had at Pak's Palace or the Slave Camp. And there had been a few beans in the soup instead of seaweed; plus a taste as though there'd been some meat in the pot while it was cooking.
The situation was indeed relaxing, perhaps as much or more from the bath as from the food. Toward the end of our conversation we both noted that the lice seemed to be more active on our clean bodies than we had noticed before our baths. Arnold closed our discussion with a remark that perhaps that problem could be dealt with tomorrow "if that little Chinese clothing merchant comes through with his promise of hot water to wash our old clothes until he provides us with new ones."
My private thoughts for the remainder of that evening were concerned mostly with the character of the territory in which we were now encamped. The barren area close around was quite small. Visible peaks and ridges surrounding appeared quite heavily wooded. I recalled how handily Air Force Capt. Waid had evaded the search party in that mountain area west of Wonsan. The terrain surrounding here looked very much the same.
I thought of the stream close beside us. I had tasted its water, clean and drinkable from tumbling over the rocks in fair weather. I wondered from how high up the mountain it had come. There must have been many small springs feeding into it along its way to create such a volume. I decided this would be quite good territory in which to evade pursuers if one could somehow manage to slip away into it. Which was a very nice thought on which to go to sleep.
Daybreak faintly showing in the open eastern side of our shelter was an equally pleasant wakening experience. With none others showing sign of awakening, I eased out carefully and made way down to our bathing pool. In the cool of morning, the water seemed less chilling than it had on first entry the previous afternoon. After scrubbing and rinsing off the considerable of lice which had transferred from my clothing to my body during the night I piled a few more of loose rocks onto the dam to deepen the pool a bit. Slapping the clothing on rocks before putting them back on may have dislodged a few of the pesky critters.
A large rock at the top of the natural stairway up from the stream was a comfortable place to dwell beneath the changing sky colors preceding sunrise. There was no particular of thinking, or planning, or wondering for that while. Rather there was the same, somewhat euphoric sensation which had been felt at beginning of the ride from Wonsan to Pyongyang. Whatever of difficulties may lie ahead and there would likely be many of them they could surely be endured.
View of the sun's rise was blocked by the mountain to eastward. Not until its early rays began striking the peaks to westward did anyone else emerge from the shelter. Back then to practical realities, casual exchange of greetings as they passed by on their way to the stream until Arnold paused and asked why I was up so early. "Waitin' for breakfast" brought a grunt in response and he, too, went on to the stream. Breakfast arrived as the last of them returned. And shortly thereafter came four soldiers carrying two "chogi poles" under each of which was slung a very large, cast iron pot, one pick and two shovels. Following them was Tsai, carrying two empty buckets.
Our water heating system had arrived. We had only to bring water from the stream in the buckets, pour it in the pots, and light fires under the pots to make hot water for washing our louse-infested clothing. Some preparation was necessary before doing so, however. Tsai explained as all or most of us gathered around:
With the picks and shovels we must dig some shallow pits to contain the fires. (He showed us where to dig them.) Three or four large rocks in the bottom of each pit would hold the pots high enough for part of the fire to be under them. We must gather wood to make the fires; some could be seen in the open area, other from the woods. We could put the wood in the pits around the pots, but he emphasized "must not light fire until have water in pots or break pot!" Having so described the task Tsai looked at our group and asked, "So which of you will take charge the work?"
There were five officers in the group, Marine Capt O'Shea and four Air Force lieutenants. After waiting for one of them to speak, Arnold and I noticed they were all looking at us. I said to Arnold, "It must be us." Tsai handed me some matches "To light fire" and said further that he "must now go to do other things." Arnold and I announced that we were going to have a fire-pit digging contest. We each grabbed a pick, called for four volunteer shovelers and told the rest to start gathering firewood. But with the very first swing of our picks we discovered a major delaying factor in our contest the ground was so hard and rocky that several minutes of picking was required before even one shoveler was needed, and then very briefly. The 3-man digging crews took turns, therefore, mostly with the picks. Yet by noontime the pits were still far short of deep enough for their purpose.
A bucket of "soupy rice" arrived for our lunch. One of the lieutenants ladled it out a scoopful for each at the first serving, then tried to apportion the remainder evenly in "seconds." We returned to the pit digging. With some of the morning wood gatherers joined in on the picking and shoveling, it was still late afternoon before the pots were set in place. Firewood was put in place around them, and water was carried up as we went and came back from our evening baths. I would light the fires next morning.
When the evening rice-bucket arrived, Lt. Duquette quietly asked if I would take over the task of ladling it out. One or another of the young enlisted men had apparently complained about his rationing at noontime. "They all respect you, chief," he said, "or otherwise I think will be less inclined to argue with you about it." Fair and proper; I accepted the assignment.
First in line as I began serving was a young fellow showing both physical and emotional signs of near starvation. As soon as he had received the first scoop of rice he squatted down close beside the bucket and began shoveling it in his mouth, swallowing without chewing. Meanwhile his eyes were fixed on the rice in the bucket as it was being ladled out to the others. By the time that was finished his bowl was empty and he extended it toward the bucket for seconds, still looking only at the rice.
Fortunately, the others had all moved away to eat. I dipped the scoop full once again and with deliberate slowness brought it up past his extended bowl to put into my own which was then set aside. That had caused him to look up from the bucket and at me. After calling him by name I said:
"...you have just wasted most of the rice I just gave you. Because you didn't take time to chew it even a little, it will mostly just pass on through. You know you need all the nourishment you can possibly get from whatever they give us. We all do. Now there's enough rice still in the bucket that I figure I can give everyone a half-scoop for seconds. and there'll still be a little bit left for thirds maybe only another spoonful, but a little bit. And I'm gonna do my best to give it out evenly, all the way. So when I give you your seconds, I want you to get up from where you're squatting and go somewhere else to eat it slowly extra slowly to make up for wasting so much of your first serving. And if you're the very last man to come back for thirds you'll still get as much as anyone else at least within a few grains the same. Okay?"
He said nothing, but looked down at his bowl perhaps shamefacedly as I put in the half-scoop of rice. He arose then, went several paces away and sat fully on the ground. He wasn't the last one back for "thirds," but neither was he the first. He waited, though his bowl had been for some time again empty, until a few others had returned for the scant spoonful that remained for each of them. His face was now relaxed as he extended the bowl and he said softly with just a quick glance, "Thanks, chief."
Daybreak aroused me again next morning. A handful of the bedding straw served as tinder to start the fires by the water pots. When I returned from bathing they were burning well enough to add some fuel. There was still time to enjoy the early morning in solitude; except for a brief interruption when Sgt. Arnold emerged from the shelter during that time, paused alongside my rock on his way to the stream and asked, "And what are you doin' out so early this morning, chief?"
"I'll be right back and help you."
And so he did. When he returned from the stream he wordlessly selected a rock of his own and we shared the solitude until others emerged from the shelter. A check of the pots then found vapors arising from the water. After our breakfast the water was boiling and the washing of clothing began. Someone noticed the scum that emerged and remarked that boiled lice might go well with boiled rice add some protein. Someone else expressed concern about the flavor "in view of where the lice had been feeding."
Spirit seemed definitely on the rise in the group, but with a couple of exceptions. One of those was Air Force Capt. Kubicek. He had joined in the bathing when we first arrived, and for the first few meals. But he had participated none at all in yesterday's activities, remained lying in the shelter except for latrine trips, and said he was "too sick to do anything when I had spoken to him. He had declined to get up for breakfast this morning, though he had been up for latrine. Was it "give-up-itis"? It would bear watching.
Tsai arrived about mid-morning, expressed approval of our laundry boiling and handed out small packages of DDT for "everybody use on clothes and where sleep to help get rid of lice." The packages were the same as those issued in World War 2. We speculated they may have arrived by way of the Soviet Union through the lend-lease program. Next he began making notes of sizes for the new clothing which we would "very soon be having." Since he had us listed alphabetically, Arnold was his very first customer. "Our friendly little clothing merchant is a good salesman," Arnold reported. "Spends more time talking about how good the clothes are than in asking and writing down the sizes." He departed at noontime, having checked only three or four people for sizes, but said he would be back after we would be finished with our lunch.
Kubicek was still lying in his place in the shelter when I passed by to ration the noon rice. When I had served the others I called to anyone in his vicinity, "Wake Kube up and tell him lunch is here so I can start dishing out seconds." Lt. Stahl, leaning against the center post of the shelter front looked into the shelter, then turned back toward me and said, "He's awake. Says he doesn't want any."
Quite loudly then, for Kubicek's ears rather than Stahl's, I called back, "Well, tell the lazy sunuvabitch to get up and start digging his grave then! It's too damn' rocky for the rest of us to have to do it.!"
Only a few had been served the half-scoop of seconds when the line paused for Kubicek to extend his bowl and say, "I guess maybe I could use some of that after all, chief, if you've got enough left." I put a full scoop into his bowl and said, "There'll still be some left when you've finished with that. You look as though you need it."
He returned in short order for his seconds.
Our "friendly little clothing merchant" returned shortly after lunch and resumed making his list of sizes for the new clothes we would be getting "soon.". Meanwhile we continued to boil, scrub, rinse and dry our old ones. It was a slow process. After about 15 minutes of boiling, the owners would remove their garments with sticks and take them down to the stream for scrubbing and rinsing. There being no place to hang them, they were then spread out on rocks to dry. And of course one could wash only part of his clothing at one time. Since we would be wearing the unboiled portion while the others were drying we would still have a full complement of lice for company at least through that night. With the exception of Kubicek, everyone had about half of their old clothing washed by late afternoon. So the fires were allowed to die down to coals. They would fire up again easily in the morning. Tsai departed when the evening meal arrived, with his usual cheerful wave and words of farewell, "Take good care your healthy!"
A couple of things needed thinking about before going to sleep that night. One of them was Kubicek. Was he really more physically ill than usual, as he had said was the case? Or was it a case of "give-up-itis" loss of desire to continue living in this circumstance? He had laid down again immediately after the noon meal; no effort to boil part of his clothing or go to the stream for another bath. However, he had gotten up for the evening meal. But then he had said nothing to me when I ladled his food, nor did he talk with anyone else so far as I knew.
Such withdrawal self isolation was indication of at least some element of give-up-itis. His quick reaction to my deliberately nasty remark at the noon meal was almost certainly because it came from me. Had it been said by one of his long time associates at Pak's, such as Stahl or Beers or Smith, he probably would have ignored it. For they had obviously ceased much of companionable, reinforcing communication with one another while at Pak's, And now it was they who occupied the spaces close beside him here. I decided Kubicek's problem was probably a combination of physical illness and give-up-itis. And I had already done about as much as I could do to help him overcome it, the rest was entirely up to him..
Somewhat more important to think about was Tsai's repetitious, friendly farewell, "Take good care your healthy!" whenever he departed. Was it just a hypocritical pretense on the little fellow's part, as someone had implied by the sardonic comment, "I'll bet he really cares?" If so, he was certainly good at it. Congeniality had flowed from him when he first introduced himself at Pyoktong, and maintained in all his dealings with us since. Yet he must still be regarded as one of the enemy, no matter how friendly he appeared. Arnold had called him a "good salesman." Perhaps that's really what he was. Like a "con" artist setting his victim up for the "take," his friendly act could be to soften us up for some devious purpose his communist masters had in mind. If that be the case, what might that devious purpose be? In what way did the Chinese Communist leadership expect to make use of us?
Suddenly the answer to that came clear. We were bartering items! in the negotiations at Panmunjom!
Prior to my own capture, prisoner exchange had become the primary issue in the armistice negotiations. As best I could recall, more than 25,000 Chinese were held as prisoners of war by our forces and the number rapidly increasing. Meanwhile there were only about 2500 American prisoners held by communist forces in North Korea. That numerical imbalance would be one factor in the prisoner exchange issue. Quite as our living and working conditions had improved a bit at the Slave Camp when Idle Hands realized he needed us to do the work, ChiCom negotiators needed us as bargaining chips at Panmunjom. And in both cases in order to be useful we had to be kept alive. So it didn't matter what Tsai's personal feelings about us might be. When he would tell us to take good care of our "healthy" it was in keeping with current Party policy.
That was a comfortable thought on which to go to sleep.
Stoking the fires under the water pots was the first order of business at daybreak. Then a bath, with extra scrubbing in any and all places where lice might be able to hide. And after that the now dry clothing from yesterday's boiling. A wonderful feeling. The louse-ridden garments just removed were dropped into a pot before placing myself on my rock for the remainder of dawning.
There was no interruption this time. Sunlight was gleaming on the westward ridges before the first morning bather emerged from the shelter. Somewhat surprising, it was Kubicek; soap in hand, towel draped over an arm, he asked as he approached, "How's the water, chief?"
"Refreshing," seemed appropriate and adequate answer.
He paused alongside for a moment and said, "I'm feeling a lot better this morning, chief. I think maybe I'm going to make it."
"That's good," I responded. And he proceeded on to the stream. Many others were coming out of the shelter by then. I returned to the water pots and found them now boiling, ready for another day of lice cooking.
Just one boiling wasn't enough, however. We were so contaminated with the pesky critters that some of them moved out onto the ground and straw bedding where we slept, and then moved back into the clothing which we had boiled and washed. Several bundles of new rice straw were brought after about a week. Under Tsai's supervision we swept out the original straw bedding, disposed of it in the fires, and sprinkled DDT on the ground lavishly before putting the new straw in place. In one of our frequent discussions of such matters, Arnold and I agreed that the little clothing salesman had some other talents as well.
It was also noted that Tsai's grammar was improving. His parting expression, "take good care your healthy" remained the same, and shortly some of us began using it in closing conversations with one another. But quite clearly Tsai was eager to improve both his understanding and his expression of our language. He would frequently ask, no doubt of others as well as of myself, for explanations of word meanings, especially of idiomatic and/or slang expressions which he might occasionally hear. When I said to him on one occasion that I would like to learn some of Chinese language he replied, "Maybe later;" in a manner indicative that official policy would forbid any deliberate effort by him to provide that. It would be most important when talking with the "friendly little clothing merchant" to keep clearly in mind which side he was really working for.
Nearly two weeks were required for the decontamination of us. We back-trailed to the main roadway from Pyoktong, turned eastward and in less than 30 minutes entered a small village. There was an admixture of wood-framed and mud and rock-walled buildings on either side of the roadway. There was an eastward flowing stream south of the buildings, and a steep ridge to the north whereon several abandoned mine shafts could be seen. It had evidently been a mining town during the period of Japanese occupation.
At near-center of the village there was a comparatively large frame building on the north side of the roadway. Behind that, on a man-made ledge tight against the slope of a ridge was a much smaller frame building. That ledge was about six feet higher than the ground on which the larger building stood. Tsai stopped at the base of wooden steps leading up to it, and cheerfully informed us that this would be our new home. He then led us on up the steps to the better place which he had said was being prepared for us when we had first arrived at the previous place for de-lousing.
The Little Schoolhouse
Table of Contents
©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.