In late February, 1953, the three highest ranking of Marine and Navy officers were removed from the compound, separately but on the same day. Because they took all their belongings with them, we wondered if they were being permanently removed. But Sgt Arnold reported that evening a guard had picked up three rations from the kitchen, in addition to those previously taken for men held outside the compound. This indicated the three were still somewhere in the village area.
All three returned to the compound several days later, and the next three in order of rank were at the same time removed. The enemy was conducting intense interrogation about amphibious warfare. The fact that they were showing regard for rank in this instance starting at the top and working downward was indication of serious concern. (We would learn after repatriation that the Navy had maneuvered in a manner to cause the enemy to think another amphibious landing might be pending.)
This development was of special concern to myself. The week I had spent with Marine Col Victor Krulak in April, 1950, did not qualify me as expert on the subject. But if the enemy learned of it they would think that it did. It was unlikely they would know of it. For I had from beginning of captivity mostly followed the policy so well expressed by AF Lt Joe Green at Pak's Palace: "Anything you don't want the enemy to know about yourself, don't mention to anyone else."
In addition to reporting on the subject of the questioning, men returning from interrogation would provide descriptions of their interrogators. Usually that included a nickname for the fellow, based on some physical feature or personal trait, because interrogators often used several fictitious names. Lt Moritz described his interrogator as a small fellow, neat in appearance, disarmingly mild of manner, shrewd and subtle in his interrogative technique. The fellow had excellent self-control showing little outward sign of feelings or reaction; except for one unconscious habit which inspired Moritz to give him the name, "Dr. Flick." A chain smoker, during periods of idle talk or insignificant questioning, the fellow tapped his cigaret gently from above to remove the ashes. But when he shifted into questioning of importance to his purpose, he would flick it from underneath.
A couple of weeks passed before I was taken out for interrogation. Tsai escorted me to a small building not far from the compound. Seated on a wooden bunk to the right of the doorway was a small, neat looking man smoking a cigaret. Tsai introduced me to him (giving a name long forgotten) and departed. It seemed certain at once this was Lt Moritz' "Dr Flick."
The room was quite small; perhaps 8 by 10 feet. On a small, crude table against the wall opposite the door was a fairly thick file folder, an ashtray and a pack of cigarets. My "host" indicated that I should be seated on the floor on the side of the room opposite from himself. He studied me as I placed the bedroll in the corner next to the door and sat down upon it. We would be sharing that room day and night for however long he chose to keep me there.
When I looked directly at him, after being seated, Flick looked away from me and I lifted his cigaret. Noting it had burned short, he took the pack from the table, shook one out, extended it toward me and asked: "Would you care for a cigaret?"
"No, thank you," I replied; and busied myself getting more comfortable on the bedroll.
He lighted a new cigaret with the stub of the old one, then snuffed the old one in the ashtray. After a glance in his direction, I faced blankly in front of myself in a manner allowing still to observe his actions. He studied me for a while, after which began the usual, "getting acquainted" kind of questions: "Are you well? Do you get enough to eat? Do you feel you are being treated fairly?" and further of such. Minimal responses usually included a glance in his direction, noting all the while the frequent gentle tapping of his cigaret.
"You are a helicopter pilot ?" he said it as a question, and at the same time flicked the cigaret from underneath with his third finger.
"Yes." There was certainly nothing secret about that. I wondered why, if Moritz' appraisal of that flicking action was correct, it was of some particular significance to this interrogator now.
"We have learned that you are a very famous helicopter pilot ." There was another and somewhat harder flick of the cigaret. He was watching closely for my reaction.
Since it wasn't a question, no verbal response was made. Just a glance in his direction with something of a "so what?" look seemed adequate and much more appropriate. But my mind flashed to the mention just a few weeks earlier by a newly arrived prisoner, Marine Lt Ken Spence, that he had read about my rescue of Navy Lt John Abbott in a magazine article, before he was himself shot down and captured. Spence said the article was written by the well-known author James Michener, but recalled very little of detail that was in it about myself. I wondered because of Flick's apparent great interest, if the article may have included mention of some of my earlier operations.
"Why did you not tell us of this?" My quizzical "host" was now flicking more rapidly and watching me intently. I pondered several moments before responding:
"If I had done so, would I have received more rice or better accommodations?"
It was Flick's turn now to ponder for a while. It seemed a minute or more that we sat quietly, eyes locked, passively, with no sign of irritation or anger in his nor likely in mine. There was no change in his facial expression. (Moritz had credited him with excellent control in that respect.) But there was slight tensing of his body and he was unconsciously flicking the cigaret repeatedly, far in excess of the need for removal of ashes. There was much satisfaction realizing my response had disrupted whatever follow-up he had in mind.
When he finally dropped his gaze, the slight rigidity left his body. He lifted his cigaret; found it had burned to a stub. He shook another from the pack, extended it again towards me and asked: "Would you care for a cigaret now?"
"No, thank you," with only a glance in his direction.
He again lighted the new one from the stub of the other and sat quietly thoughtful for several minutes. He glanced at me briefly, now and again, seeming almost to flourish the cigaret as he did so. Then he looked at his wristwatch, rose to his feet and picked up the file folder as he said: "I must leave you for a while. I will instruct the sentry, if you may need to go to the benjo. Also, if you may wish to sit outside in the sun, he will permit it."
The warmth of the sun was augmented by the satisfaction of having disrupted the interrogator's initial plan of "attack." But there was no doubt that he would be back with a new one. The file folder he carried was now much thicker than when I had last seen it. There was reason for concern as to just how "famous" it represented me to be. Almost certainly the enemy would have seen the magazine article Lt Spence had described. The author of that article, Michener, had been aboard the Phil Sea in 1950. So there may have been mention of some of my earlier operations. Not that these, in themselves, were of great significance to the enemy. But they would reveal the fact that I had been in Korea long before the time which I had acknowledged to them. Also, the more of personal stuff he knew about a man, the more leverage an interrogator would have for putting on the pressure.
When Flick returned he did indeed have a new plan of attack. "No more nice guy" was clearly his intended approach. But it soon became evident he wasn't very good at the "tough guy" technique. Probably it was contrary to his basic nature. He did at the outset again offer a cigaret, which was politely declined as before. Then he launched into a stern lecture about the need for me to cooperate if I expected again to receive the "good and lenient treatment" which had been afforded until now. After that he gruffly said he expected answers to the questions he was going to ask. He was "certain" that I knew the answers because, in addition to having been in the Navy long enough to become a chief petty officer, as a helicopter pilot I would surely have flown to any places in Korea, and observed many fleet operations, and would know characteristics of many ships.
Then began a series of rapid fire questions to which I responded almost as quickly that I didn't know, or couldn't know, or didn't remember. Shortly, Flick remonstrated that I was answering too quickly, and in doing so softened his "tough guy" pretense:
"You too quickly say that you don't know about something, or that you don't remember. you must take some time to think, to try to remember. Otherwise you do not cooperate do not even try to cooperate. You must show me that you try to cooperate."
It seemed almost a plea for me to pretend trying to remember; as though he didn't really care if I answered any questions, but only that I pretend that I would if I could. Since delaying of response should have been my counter-technique to begin with, it made sense to comply with his request. So we proceeded in that manner for the rest of the day.
At evening mealtime, Flick sent the guard to fetch my rations; a bowl of soup and rice, and three of the hardtack biscuits which were now standard fare from the ovens I had built. When it arrived, Flick politely excused himself, probably to get his own meal elsewhere. As soon as he was gone I examined the biscuits. As expected, there was a small slit in one of them. The note inside, from Arnold, said: "Hi, Chief. Sorry your bowl isn't bigger. If you could use more bread, tell the guard. If he doesn't savvy english, he can surely count fingers."
When Flick returned he offered an after dinner cigaret in a manner which suggested he expected it to be declined. Then he sat down, lit one for himself and said: "It has been a busy day for both of us. We will talk more tomorrow. I have some reading to do...(He held up a few papers.)...I would offer you some if you can read chinese ." After a glance and negative headshake from me, he said with a trace of a smile: "I am really really sorry that I do not have something for you to read."
"No matter," I responded, "I have plenty of things to think about;" and realized at once I should not have said anything, especially the last part.
"Ah yes, of course," Flick grabbed the opportunity. "I can see that you are a thoughtful one. And what sort of things do you think about at such times as this?"
Having opened the gate, it was urgent if I could to close it quickly. And I must not in this case delay in giving an answer. In what I hoped would appear an off-handed manner I looked at him and said: "Oh women and whiskey. Isn't that what all sailors mostly think about?"
"You like whiskey?" he asked quickly; possibly wondering if some of that would loosen my tongue.
"Not nearly so much as I like women," was the best evasion I could think of. An impish smile was forced along with it, though I felt not at all like smiling just then.
But it worked. The hardness of Flick's eyes softened for a moment and he actually smiled in return. "You make joke with me," he said. "You have sense of humor. That is good. That is always a good thing; especially in difficult circumstance. But now I must get on with my reading while you think of women and whiskey..." The smile faded as he continued, "...after which we should both get a good night's sleep. For I think tomorrow may be more busy for us than today."
That busy tomorrow did not begin until after breakfast. One of the first differences noted from the day before was no offer of a cigaret. Otherwise it began much the same, with idling sort of questions: "How do you spend your time in the compound? Do you like having others to talk with? Things to do for exercise? What kinds of food ?" Mostly questions to which Flick already knew the answers. And all accompanied by gentle tapping of the ever-present cigaret, until he asked: "Are you sometimes given some special things such as candy, or perhaps on special days, like your holidays, some rice wine?"
"Oh, yes." I wondered why, since he already knew the answer, there had been a flick of the cigaret with that question. His next question provided the answer to mine.
"Do you receive a ration of tobacco when you are in the compound?" Two sharp flicks accompanied that one.
Now I knew the reason for this line of questions. He was puzzled by my refusal to accept cigarets from him. Had he perhaps noticed me watching his handling of the cigaret? I had avoided, or so I thought, looking at it directly; for I certainly didn't want him to realize it was telling me something about himself. It now appeared that if he had noticed he had misinterpreted it as meaning that I was badly wanting a cigaret, but demonstrating resistance by refusing to accept one from him. It could be useful to let him keep thinking so.
After a few more questions, Flick excused himself with the usual politeness. He was gone only 15 or 20 minutes. The rest of the day was spent in rather intense questioning about myself and Navy equipment. He took me to task again for too quickly saying I didn't know or couldn't remember. The cigaret was mostly flicked throughout the day. Not until after the evening meal was it gently tapped. There was also then another cigaret offer, declined as usual.
The third morning also began with idling questions. For perhaps two hours there was not a single flick of his cigaret, and there was again an offer of one for myself. A knock on the door interrupted this congenial discourse. The guard spoke a message in Chinese. Flick departed at once, leaving his briefcase on the table. He returned in less than five minutes, carrying a box of Whitman's Sampler candy. He unwrapped, opened and extended the box towards me, saying: "would you like some candy?"
My delay in accepting was not due solely to surprise at the offer. No matter that the cellophane wrapper had appeared unbroken until he opened it,it was quite feasible that some or all of the contents had been "doctored." There was trace of a smile on Flick's face as I hesitated. After studying the array of delicacies for a while, I chose one which had its own wrapper.
Flick seated himself, lit his cigaret (with a match, this time) and watched closely as I examined the tidbit; first as to condition of the wrapper and then the coating of the piece itself. After a while he asked: "Why do you not eat your candy?"
Looking straight at him then, I replied: "I was taught by my parents that the guest should wait for the host to begin the feast."
In the short while before he responded, there was indication that Flick realized my suspicions. "Oh yes, of course," he said, as he plucked an unwrapped piece from the box and at once took a bite of it. "You are a most excellent guest," he added, "reminding me of my own manners."
During another brief absence later that day, Flick left the open box on the table. He glanced at it upon return. Seeing that none had been taken, he offered another piece, saying: "You will forgive me if I don't join you this time. I don't care much for candy. I prefer this...(he lifted his cigaret)...as you may have noticed."
There was another candy for desert after the evening meal, and again after breakfast the following morning. The questioning that fourth day was entirely serious, often requiring rather long periods of contemplation on my part before replying that I didn't know or couldn't remember. Then at mid-afternoon, after rewarding me with another candy for my good pretense of cooperation, Flick asked: "Why do you not accept cigarets from me?"
"Oh, that's an easy one," I replied, with a smile which was not in the least forced. "I don't smoke."
The effect on the interrogator was tremendous. If he may have been in some measure disappointed in himself for having misinterpreted my refusals, he seemed much more amused. He said nothing for some time but sat shaking his head in self-amusement. Finally looking at me, still smiling at himself, he said: "That is a good one on me; that I did not even think of the possibility you do not smoke. But always when I offer you only say 'no thank you' and not say that you do not smoke. Why did you not tell me in the beginning that you do not smoke?"
"Because if I had done so you would not have brought the candy."
First a surprised look, then again he dropped his head, smiling in amusement at himself. There was no resisting the opportunity to say further: "...And now that you know, I suppose you will take away the candy."
He looked at me again, still smiling and said, "No we will keep the candy. You deserve it." The smile faded to a not unfriendly seriousness as he added. "...You have taught me a lesson a very important lesson. We will keep the candy."
There was no more interrogation that day. He was gone the remainder of the afternoon, perhaps sharing the joke on himself with his colleagues; otherwise almost certainly thinking of how to get back to his task of trying to get some useful information from me.
There was a candy with my breakfast, but no idling conversation on the fifth day. The session began actually with a rather sharp flick of the cigaret, followed by an opening statement with a clearly implied question mark at the end of it: "Since you are a helicopter pilot, you have flown to many different places in Korea...?"
"Only a few? I think more than just a few ."
"I'm in the Navy. I was on a ship. You know that."
"But you admit you have flown to some places in Korea. What were those places? Tell me their names."
"I can't remember names especially Korean or Chinese names because the language is strange to me. Maybe general areas I have been to on a map but not names." (I was actually hoping he might bring a map of Korea for the benefit that could be to plans of my own.)
"Were you at Inchon?"
"Inchon ?" I feigned ignorance. "Oh, you mean where amphibious landing was made early in the war?"
"Yes. Were you at Inchon during those landings?"
"Of course not. That was a long time ago before I You have records there...(I pointed to his briefcase)...You know the ship I was flying from when I crashed only 3 or 4 months after I came to Korea on that ship."
Here was an anxious moment. If the article Spence had read included mention of some of my operations during my first cruise, then Flick would know from that same article that I had been in Korea long before I had admitted. In which case he would make a big issue of it. He did not do so, however, apparently accepting my previous representation as to when I first arrived in Korea. So our dialogue continued much the same for a couple of hours; sometimes with quick exchanges, more often with delays of pretended contemplation before denying knowledge or remembrance. Suddenly came an unexpected question:
"Why do you not smoke?"
There was really need to give some thought to that one. The way it was asked indicated that Flick was more than merely curious. Had he somehow perceived that I was keeping an eye on his cigaret, even though I rarely if ever looked directly at it? If he was for some reason puzzled about my non-smoking, it seemed best to keep him so. Taking advantage, then, of the fact that he would assume from such behavior that I was being evasive in my answer, I glanced at him, then as quickly away and said: "Oh, I just never cared to."
Flick studied me for some time, as I kept my eyes averted, fiddled with my bedroll and otherwise tried to give further impression of being evasive on the subject. Then was resumed until mid-day the serious contest which had been going on before.
When Flick returned after the mid-day break, the serious contest resumed without even one candy for my previous pretenses of trying to remember. Then suddenly again, with an almost vicious flick of the cigaret, came the question:
"Why do you not smoke?"
This time it was not really a surprise, but I sought to pretend that it was. Looking at him directly I said, as though I might be somewhat hurt by his asking again: "Why I told you this morning I just never cared to."
Very sternly, then, he glared back at me, pointed a finger, and said: "Ah, yes! So you did! But that is not your real reason! You must tell me your real reason!"
Quickly I looked away; partly to give the impression that I was a bit embarrassed, or trying to think of an answer. Even more, it was to avoid that the sharp-eyed fellow might perceive that I was really elated by this development. He had taken the bait of my pretended evasiveness, and would shortly feel the sting of the hook. Let him run with it a way, like a fish until it swallows the hook deeply. Let him glare for a while, thinking he had caught me up in deviousness. So I delayed, perhaps for as much as a full minute. Then looking directly at him, as quietly as I could, even trying to pretend it was done regretfully, I simply said:
"Because it's a mark of weakness."
Flick's face shown livid. The stern look changed to one of shock and amazement. The glare which had been pretended anger now appeared quite real; possibly some at himself as well as at me. He continued looking at me in that manner for quite some time. When finally he dropped his eyes, I turned mine away from him also. He was hurt badly. To say more just then, or show signs of self-satisfaction, would invite retaliation. Maintaining a pretense of regret over having had to say it, to any extent that could be managed, would compel him to admit at least to himself it was really his own doing. For in fact he brought it on himself and was intelligent enough to know it.
He sat in quiet thought without moving until his cigaret burned itself short. He snuffed it out in the ashtray more firmly than usual then momentarily, with a quick, wordless glance at me, picked up his briefcase and departed.
A victory it was, but not of the kind that calls for joyful celebration. It provided some advantage in contending against this particular interrogator. And it had been gained in a way which gave him neither cause nor justification to seek personal vengeance; which "Party" discipline generally forbid, anyway. (Commissar Lee's violation of that rule following my escape had apparently caused him much trouble.)
Far more worrisome than the likelihood of retaliation against me for this incident was the possibility of further interrogation or pressure because they had learned, as Flick had expressed it, that I was "a very famous helicopter pilot." Might I be famous enough (in their view of things) to warrant being pressed for a false confession to "germ warfare," or some other imaginary "war crime?"
It was nearly dark when Flick returned. He asked if my evening meal had been brought to me, it had. He looked at the candy box, as though he might want to open it to see if I'd taken any. He didn't. As he stretched out on his bunk he said,.
"We should get a good night's sleep. For we have some very important things to discuss tomorrow."
The next morning's session began with something of a lecture: "You are a very intelligent man. Very much experienced . Very observant . But you have pretended to not know things which you do know, and to not remember things which I'm sure you do remember..."
"We have treated you well leniently since you have been with us. You have admitted that. You have admitted that you have reasonable accommodations in the compound adequate food. Not the same kinds of food as you are accustomed, perhaps not as much as you would like, but as much as we provide our own troops. Including sometimes extra things candies, some wine for your holiday celebrations. You receive an individual ration of sugar...."
" And of tobacco ," I interjected, with only a glance at him.
There was only a slight pause, and flash of irritation in his eyes, before he continued his well-planned spiel: "You have a library in the compound things to read. There is space for exercise, including games to play. You have bathing facilities. You have there others to talk with. Is that not all correct?"
"'Generally,' you say. You know it is entirely true. You have received this good treatment lenient treatment from us. All we ask in return is reasonable cooperation. I do not ask you to betray your country, or your fellow prisoners. I only ask that you answer honestly a few questions that you show a little cooperation. You have enjoyed till now the good and lenient treatment I have described. You may soon return with the others to enjoy it some more but only if first you show cooperation."
He paused then, looking at me, obviously for dramatic effect. After my glance in response he said: "Now the first question you must answer . When did you first come to Korea?"
There was again reason for concern; wondering if he did actually know of my prior presence in Korea, perhaps from that magazine article, but had deliberately delayed making an issue of it. There was no choice, however, but to stick with my original pretense. There was sudden realization that I had a truthful evasion:
"Oh, that would have been in 1946. I flew in from Okinawa to..."
"No, I mean this time!" His irritation was already disruptive of his plan. "I mean since the war here in Korea. When did you first come since the war began here?"
"You already have that in your records there," I said, "better than I could now remember. You know I was aboard the cruiser Rochester. It was late November or early December of '51 when she arrived in Japan. Exactly when we came on to Korea I can't possibly remember. But I'll bet you have records there which show it."
From that point we were back into the previous pattern of questions about different kinds of ships, maneuvers and so on to which the responses after "thoughtful" delay were denial of knowledge or of remembering. He had become quite self-conscious of his smoking. Several times he checked himself from lighting a new one from the stub. Eventually he complained again that I was not really trying to remember. In doing so, he also reverted back to his more natural mildness of manner.
"I realize," he said, "that the things I ask about were a long time ago, and so it is not always easy to remember. Also, the shock of being captured, the worries because you are a prisoner of war about yourself and your family. Those things certainly could affect your memory. But if you will just try harder..."
"I think malnutrition also probably has an adverse effect on one's memory," I interjected.
"Malnutrition?" He was quite irritated. "You think you are suffering from malnutrition? You don't get enough to eat? You think the food we give you is not enough to prevent malnutrition?"
"Now, perhaps, but not always."
"What do you mean, 'not always'? Ever since you have been with us...," he began. Then remembering, he said, "Oh yes, of course you were with the Koreans before and probably did not get enough. But since you have been with us perhaps not always as much as you would like but enough to keep you in good health."
"Why do you keep saying 'not always'? Yes, I know at first there was not much of variety, only rice and beans or potatoes. But rice is a very wholesome food a complete food. Many people in the world live healthy lives with never much else but rice to eat. And since you have been with us you have always had enough rice to...."
"How can you say such a thing?" He was very irritated. "Do you think I do not know how this camp is administered? That I don't know what has been provided for you? When, since you have been with us do you claim you were not given sufficient of rice to keep..."
"Last year last fall when we were given no rice at all, but only golyon. And no beans or potatoes, or anything else along with it."
"You were given golyon instead of rice?"
"Yes. And I'm sure you are well aware that golyon is food for birds not for human beings. In addition to malnutrition, you probably also know it can plug up a man's digestive system very quickly. For several weeks two months or more that is all we were given to eat."
"I don't believe you!" he said vehemently. "I think you are lying to me!"
"Then why don't you ask the camp officials?" It was good opportunity to use a bit of my own vehemence. "But make sure they tell you the truth!"
Flick stared for a while, studying my eyes. There was some satisfaction watching the disbelief fade from his. "I will do that!" he said rather emphatically, adding as he picked up his briefcase, "I will be back shortly."
He paused as he reached the door, stepped back to the table, picked up the candy box and lifted its lid. After a glance, probably to see if I'd snitched any (which I hadn't) he extended the box, saying, "I'm afraid I've been a neglectful host. Would you like a candy?"
Flick returned within a very few minutes, now quite upset at me. "Why did you not mention the reason that you were given golyon instead of rice? It was because you made escape from camp! So it was only you not everybody who got golyon. And as punishment proper punishment for ...."
"I didn't say it was for everybody." It seemed worthwhile for the moment to keep him upset.
"But you said it as though it was everybody! You said 'we' were given golyon instead of rice. But it was only yourself and because you had caused much trouble by...."
"It wasn't only me. There were others."
"What others? Oh, yes, the other two who were with you in escape. So they deserved punishment, too. You caused much trouble. you deserved punishment. You have no reason to complain to try now to get my sympathy."
"I was not complaining. And certainly not expecting any sympathy from you. Only explaining why I mentioned malnutrition. I'm sure you know what physical effects would be of two months with only golyon to eat. If not, I'm qualified to describe them, to you. I think you realize it would affect one's memory, too."
Flick was silent for a while, seemed taken aback. Then he realized what I was doing.
"You are playing games with me!" he said. "Even if golyon diet might affect memory some, not so much as you pretend; because other things you remember very well."
He had regained his composure. He returned to the offensive, saying: "I will tell you something now which I did not want to have to say to you. If you do not cooperate with us, and answer some of my questions, you will not be entitled to more of the lenient treatment you have been given. If you do not cooperate, even if the war ends you may not be permitted to go home!"
"Wouldn't that be contrary to your claim of fairness and 'lenient treatment' for prisoners of war? and to your communist 'word of honor'?" A strong tinge of sarcasm was intended in the tone.
"Ah yes, of course," he replied at once. "But who would know? I will now tell you something else we have learned about you something else I did not wish to have to tell you. Your country and your family believe you to be dead!"
Flick watched closely for my reaction. My mind flashed in recollection of Lt Spence's demeanor when he denied remembering much detail of what was said in the magazine article about myself or my crewman. That was the most logical source of information behind Flick's earlier remark that I was a "famous" helicopter pilot. Might it also have been said in the article that I was a "dead" one? It was something to think about, but not just then. It was important to respond quickly to Flick's last statement, to avoid giving the impression that I was disturbed by it. Fortunately, it was opportunity for myself to regain the offensive.
"If that is so ," I said with no attempt to conceal the natural feelings which should go along with it, "then some of your people here, who you say have been so good and lenient and fair to us prisoners of war, have in fact lied to us! A foul and unforgivable lie which wipes out all your claims of leniency and fairness!"
Flick came quickly to his feet. "What is this you are saying?" There was no pretense in his disturbance. "Who is it you say has lied to you? About what are you saying someone has lied to you?"
It was important now to speak calmly, matter-of-factly; to suppress completely the emotions which had been deliberately allowed to show during the previous statement. "The officials," I said, " here in this camp. Commissar Lee who used to be here, for one. And officials from Pyoktong. They came here last year with a camera took pictures of all of us had us fill out information sheets, they said for identification to be delivered to our side at Panmunjom to report that we were prisoners of war and to show that we were alive and in good health."
"I don't know of this!" He was probably lying about that, himself. He tried without complete success not to appear defensive, and even to regain the offensive. "I don't know that what you say is true! Can you prove that this is so? Where is your proof?"
"I think you may have some of the proof...(I pointed at his briefcase)...in that file about me which you carry. If there is a picture of me in it, it would be the one which was taken of me here. The background of the picture will show that it was taken here at this camp...(A flick of the interrogator's eyes, as well as a flick of his cigaret, indicated that the words had struck him hard,)... And if there is an information sheet a questionnaire type sheet with handwritten entries I can tell you if it is in my handwriting. I of course have no proof but my own word of honor of what was said about reporting us as prisoners of war. But you could ask any prisoner in the camp who was here at the time, and he would tell you the same."
Flick now could not maintain a steady look at me. Slight movement of his downcast eyes suggested he was searching for a way out of the situation for something to say. I was myself having some difficulty maintaining the calmness which was essential to avoid an appearance of personal antagonism towards him. It would now be best for myself if he would leave me alone for a while. There was a way in which I could cause him to do so. As he started to lift his cigaret, I looked directly at it, and let my mouth move in what should appear as beginning of a smile or smirk. The hand with the cigaret dropped back down to his side.
"I believe I should inquire about this," he said. He had found a face-saving way to look away from me as he picked up the briefcase and moved toward the door. I looked away from him, as well. He paused as he opened the door to say, "I shall return shortly."
Somehow I could not resist a mild, parting shot. Without looking at him I said, "I reckon I'll still be here."
There was nothing at all new in the threat of non-repatriation. That was almost routine with all interrogators: "If you do not learn to cooperate, even when the war ends you may not be permitted to go home." Neither did Flick's profound statement "Your country and your family believe you to be dead!" make any difference as to what I should or would do in contending with this interrogation, or any other demands which the enemy might yet impose.
But it was troubling in other respects; mainly for the effect such a report would have on my family. Since I had been in radio contact with the covering aircraft after the crash, the official categorization of my status should have been missing-in-action. That is, unless the enemy had themselves for some reason sent report that I was dead; which seemed unlikely. There seemed no doubt that Flick had substantive reason for saying it. Most likely it must be the magazine article which Spence had mentioned.
Nothing could be done, of course, to alleviate effects such a thing may have had on my family. From the very beginning of captivity, I had deliberately given the enemy the impression that I had no close relatives, in order to lessen the likelihood that "friends of this enemy" back in the States would be notified and start harassing my family. Now it appeared they had been disturbed instead by thoughtlessness or carelessness of some who would regard themselves as my friends, rather than "friends of the enemy."
So far as my own immediate future was concerned, the fact that the article evidently reported me as dead really made no difference. My worry in that regard was whether it made me "famous" enough in the enemy's view for them to target me for some manner of false confession. And since there was nothing I could do about that in advance of such actual happening, the best use to be made of Flick's absence was to relax from the pressures of immediate past in preparation for those likely to come in the near future.
An hour or more passed before Flick returned. That indicated he may have conferred with others as to what now to do. He did not sit down as usual, but stood with one hand resting lightly on the table waiting for me to look up at him. The briefcase was tucked under his other arm and, most unusual of all, there was no cigaret in either hand. Even after I looked up, he waited some time before speaking. There seemed to be neither anger nor enmity in his eyes; now was there likely any in mine.
"All that has happened between us to this time is now of no importance," he finally said. "You are a man with a sense of duty. So am I. My duty is to get certain kinds of information, much of which I believe you possess. If you will give me that information even just some of it by answering some of the questions I will ask, then I can assure that you will return to the compound and share again the company of your friends there, and such freedoms and other benefits as you can reasonably expect until this war might be ended. If you will not do this if you will not answer some of my questions truthfully, and give me some of the information I seek, then your future is out of my hands. It will be up to others to decide where you will go and what will happen to you."
He stood silent, then, awaiting a reply. I looked away for a while, as though contemplating what had already been decided. It was time to end it, no matter what the consequences. I looked up at him again and said:
"Whatever it may be that you, or those others you mention, have in mind, we might as well get on with it. Because if in fact I do possess any of the information which you seek, I have no intention of giving it to you."
Momentarily, he turned to the table, picked up the candy box, tucked it alongside the briefcase and went out the door without further word. As soon as the door had closed I moved to watch through a chink beside it as he walked to where the guard was standing. Flick's back was toward me as he spoke to the soldier, who nodded in response to the other's instructions. Then my recent "host" handed the briefcase and candy box to the soldier to hold, while himself dug for cigaret and match.
Turned in profile, hand cupped in the breeze, Flick lighted up and inhaled deeply. He glanced back at the building, probably unaware that I was watching, and shook his head slightly as he turned back toward the sentry. After retrieving briefcase and candy, he went eastward toward camp headquarters,, soon disappearing from my field of vision. The sentry continued watching eastward for a while, then slung his rifle onto his shoulder and headed towards me. I gathered up the bedroll to stand ready at the door when it opened. The soldier wordlessly motioned for me to come out.
Side by side we walked the short way westward to the compound. The soldier opened the crude gate, just enough for me to easily pass through.
"Sheh-sheh ni," I said to the soldier.
"Boo kachi," he softly replied.
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©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.