Major Harris, from the very beginning of the effort to establish internal organization of the polyglot assemblage in the big compound, had stressed particularly the need for careful planning and coordination of any escape attempts. It could be of vital importance for everyone to get somebody out to carry information to our own forces about circumstances in this camp. There was in fact doubt as to whether or not our own forces were at that time even aware that American prisoners were being held in this village.
It would be helpful toward that purpose if several teams could be broken out at the same time, headed in different directions, at least at the outset. It was important in any event, that breakout be coordinated, since the enemy's security would certainly be intensified as soon as even one had gone. It was essential, too, that planning of separate ventures be coordinated to some extent, to avoid one venture interfering with another and also to preclude ill-prepared ventures, perhaps by persons lacking the skills, training and/or experience necessary to a reasonable chance of success.
By April 1, Flynn and I had worked out details of our plans, and were regarded by Harris and his committee as the number one team for such venture. Only one other serious escape proposal had been presented to the major; that by Navy Lieutenants Moritz and DeMasters. Since Flynn and myself both had particularly good background experience for the kind of foraging required to live off the land during the trek, Maj. Harris had wondered if it might be better strategy for each of us to take one of the others as a pardner. There was certainly some merit to that idea. But in the judgment of Moritz and DeMasters, as well as ourselves, it was outweighed by the fact that Flynn and I both felt quite capable of going on alone, if a situation developed that one of us was unable to continue, or if we became separated in the process of evading pursuit. Meanwhile, until time for departure, we would convey to the others all we possibly could of the necessary know-how. This included demonstrations of the palatability of grasshoppers, grubworms, rice-paddy crabs and other such uncommon delicacies when properly prepared under primitive circumstances.
Adequate of basic equipment was at hand for the four of us. The hatchets and knives forged shortly after establishment of the big compound were augmented now by compasses, matches crudely waterproofed with candle drippings, flints as additional fire starters and a slowly increasing supply of pig bladders for use either as canteens or water wings. From the memories of several Navy and Marine aviators, recalling longitude and latitude of specific targets or checkpoints, a map had been constructed which proved quite accurate as to both distance and direction to the coastal area which was deemed best suited for egress from North Korea.
With some 240 miles to travel, at an estimate of only 4 miles actual progress per day, as much as 6O days might be required to make it to that area. Therefore departure during the month of July offered the best combination of weather, foliage for concealment and availability of food. In the interim until then, we would be committing to memory as much as we possibly could about other prisoners in the camps and circumstances of our confinement and the enemy's purposes.
In the aftermath of my escape venture the previous summer, the enemy had instituted nighttime count of bodies within the quarters, and set up a few picket outposts on the ridges overlooking the village. Sentries at each of the gates during the day served mostly as gate tenders for occasional oxcarts or mule carts passing through on the roadway. At night a couple of sentries were inside the compound to control trips to the benjo and make hourly bedchecks in the quarters.
No matter, that; the circumstances still provided us several possible ways out of the compound, in the daytime as well as at night. Also, there were frequent work details outside of the compound which provided opportunity for breakaway. If necessary, we could count on help in the form of diversionary or distracting actions by some few of our fellow prisoners. In the main, however, it was important to keep our intentions and plans as secret as possible from most of the others. The known stool pigeon, Watash, was perhaps less of a danger in that respect than the loose-talking idlers.
There was, in fact, a general laxity in the enemy's security system as of the first of April. But April 6th brought a drastic change in that situation, thanks to the juvenility, of the "Little Lieutenant." April 5 was Easter Sunday. Because they regarded it as one of our "holidays," in keeping with the new policy begun at Christmas time, the enemy provided some rice wine to liven our "celebration;" one bottle for every four men. Fortified by only one-fourth of a bottle of such "liquid courage," the little lieutenant and two of his young enlisted "buddies" made a "daring" escape shortly after dark by simply walking out the west gate while the sentry was answering a minor call of nature in nearby shadows. It was in no sense an effort of serious intent. The trio walked about a half mile down the road towards Pyoktong, then found a place to huddle for warmth until morning, there awaiting guard company troops to escort them back to the camp.
At ten o'clock that morning, the rest of us were called to assembly in the compound, to observe the "escapees" being brought back by soldiers of the "People's Army," and to be lectured on the futility of trying to escape. The little lieutenant lifted a hand to wiggle his fingers at us as they walked by, with a silly smile on his face as though he thought he had done something cute. The three of them were returned to the compound within half an hour, and went at once to the kitchen asking for something to eat because they had missed breakfast. Sgt. Arnold not only refused to give them anything right then, but also expressed the wish that he could deny them anything for some time to come because of the damage they had done by their escapade. And he did so in manner clearly disrespectful of the little lieutenant's rank, as well as his person. The officer did have sense enough not to argue with the sergeant, nor even to complain about the several quite profound, derogatory things the latter had called him.
Major Harris called the little lieutenant aside at once, to discuss the matter. Shortly thereafter the major described to Flynn and myself his own amazement at the lieutenant's attitude. It was just "for the fun of it," the fellow had said, as his reason for disregarding the major's well known order that any escape attempts should be cleared through himself and the escape committee, and to "show how easy it is to get out of the place." As to why he had been brought immediately back to the compound, instead of being subjected to the enemy to some measure of punishment for his actions, he said he had told them he only did it because the rice wine made him a bit drunk. When the major had asked if he didn't realize his actions were beneficial to the enemy and detrimental to any serious escape attempt, the lieutenant had shrugged and said he didn't see how it would make any difference.
One immediate difference was an increase in the number of sentries outside the compound both night and day. A day or so later began the posting of three roving "snoopers" within the compound. One of these was in the vicinity of the kitchen, another at the front of the big barracks and the third near the mud hut and exercise area. They carried rifles (probably without ammunition) and simply idled about observing our activities at close hand and listening to the conversations.
The snoopers' effectiveness as listeners was enhanced by the gross stupidity of all too many among the prisoners. As Flynn emerged from the big barrack the very first morning after posting of daytime sentries in the compound, he spoke a casual "good morning" to one such who was seated on the steps. The fellow responded by saying, "I guess this is gonna cause some problems for you and the Chief," at the same time indicating with his thumb the sentry who was standing immediately alongside.
Flynn was so surprised by the remark, he just looked at the fellow and said, "Hunh?" Whereupon the foolish one added still more: "Well, with all the extra guards and stuff they're puttin' on now, ain't it gonna be tougher for you and the Chief to break out?"
Exactly what Flynn then said to the fellow, he could not afterwards remember; something like "you must be nuts," as he looked upon him with disgust, turned and walked away.
But that was still not the end of it. Apparently disturbed by Flynn's words or behavior, the fellow hurried after him calling, "Hey, Pat! What's the matter?"
Once out of the sentry's sight, Flynn stopped, turned to the foolish one and said, "You stupid sunuvabitch! What the hell's the idea saying things like that with the guard standing right there listening?"
"Well he doesn't understand english...," the fellow said with obviously sincere belief, "I tried talking with him when I first went out there, and he acted as though he didn't even hear me."
There was no point, Flynn had then decided, in trying to explain something to a person that devoid of common sense. So he had again just walked away from the fellow and sought my company for a session of commiseration. Mere ignorance, we decided during that particular session, could sometimes be corrected; but stupidity in such circumstance was impossible to deal with.
And by no means was there only one such fool in our midst to contend with. A dozen or more talkative idlers were equally unmindful of the presence of the "snooper" sentries, as they chattered almost endlessly about all manner in of subjects, regardless if they actually knew anything about them. Most of the talk which the snoopers might hear from them was probably of no particular significance. But they did also talk considerably about escape plans, even though none of them had serious intent of themselves trying to escape. In fact, because they had no such intentions of their own, they talked instead about those of us who did; especially Flynn and myself because of the general recognition of our propensities for such a venture.
The little lieutenant seemed actually oblivious to those damaging consequences of his Easter escapade. Rather he showed disappointment that no one outside of his little clique would listen to him talking about it. His poor ego suffered still more when several other of the officers very bluntly told him off for that and other of his performance. The fact that the other officers looked upon him with disdain now appeared as a major factor in his seeking of companionship from the young enlisted men. He very probably had that problem even prior to his capture.
The poor fellow's next attempt to gain favorable attention was by declaring himself "chaplain" for the group. One of his young enlisted buddies had a pocket bible. With that in hand, the little lieutenant scurried about inviting everyone to attend religious services which he would conduct. When he did so to a small gathering which included Capt. Flynn, the Marine officer mentioned in declining that he was of Catholic faith.
"Oh, that doesn't matter," the little lieutenant quickly said. "My worship services will be non-denominational!"
"And considering the character of your other services around here," Flynn responded, "I expect also non-religious. If I find myself in need of spiritual guidance, I'm sure I could find something better to get it from than a damn' Easter bunny!"
Flynn's satisfaction at having finally had opportunity to make some such caustic remark to the fellow who had so damaged our circumstance, was enhanced for the moment by the guffaws of the several who had heard the exchange. The "Easter bunny" label would quickly spread throughout the compound, to the little lieutenant's continuing embarrassment. And that was well deserved. However, Flynn subsequently realized that this could result in the petty little fellow causing further damage. He would now try to make a bigger thing out of his little clique of young enlisted "buddies," as the only way to assuage his well justified feelings of inferiority. And he would likely try to incite his followers into dissident behavior as a way of seeking vengeance against those of us whose mere existence caused him to feel inferior. Also, because Major Harris had taken him to task for the foolish Easter escapade, the petty fellow would get some perverted satisfaction if he could cause the major further disturbance.
In a meeting with the major shortly thereafter, Flynn in effect apologized to Harris for having done something which might make more difficult the effort to maintain internal discipline. The major discounted the importance of the incident, since the little lieutenant and his followers were already a problem in that regard. In turn, then, Harris essentially apologized to the both of us for failing somehow to prevent the damaging Easter escapade. Since self-criticism seemed to be openers of our impromptu conference, I reminded the major of the incident at the little school house, when the little lieutenant had interrupted my explanation of the end of my previous escape venture.
"...So it's really all my fault," I concluded. "I should have backhanded the little punk right then, when I certainly had plenty of reason to do so."
The damaging consequence of the Easter escapade could not be undone. The object of our conference was to prevent further damage by the same troublemakers, if we could. Harris decided he should now call the little lieutenant aside to point out the impropriety of his conduct with the little "clique" of young enlisted men; possibly including the threat of court-martial after repatriation if he did not mend his ways. Meanwhile he wondered if perhaps Sgt. Arnold and myself might be able to have some influence on those young enlisted men by talking with them on an individual basis.
"They all know," he said, "that you and Arnold have more time in service and more experience than anyone else in this camp. And they respect you the both of you even if at the same time some of them hate your guts....
"I'll talk to the little lieutenant again," the major concluded, "and try to set him straight. I'll count on you and Arnold to do whatever you can with the enlisted men. If you two can't do it, I don't think anyone else could either."
Thus our brief conference was ended, except that as I started to leave the major added: "And Chief there's too damn much at stake here for us to do any molly-coddlin'. I know that you would never do such a thing unless you felt it absolutely necessary. But if you do in any case find it necessary to take one of those boys behind the barracks for some old fashioned persuasion, I give you my word I'll back you all the way if there are any repercussions after repatriation. Captain Flynn is our witness. Anything you or Arnold find necessary to do to help effect discipline in this outfit, you will have done on my orders."
That was the kind of leadership and the kind of action which was needed to put an end to the little lieutenant's disruptive influence against internal discipline in the compound. But Major Harris was kept from chastizing the "Easter bunny" by a "pigeon" the stool pigeon who called himself, "Watash."
When we were moved into the big compound, the enemy had modified their "hungachi" policy slightly, recognizing rank amongst us, but only to the extent that this might serve their own purposes. In recognizing Major Harris as the most senior officer, they emphasized this was only for relaying of their own orders to the group, and presenting requests or complaints from the prisoners to the camp administration. It Was of course forbidden that he should try to exercise any kind of authority or command on his own. Consideration was also given to rank or demonstrated leadership in the selection of "squad leaders," except in the case of Watash.
The little corporal had obviously been the enemy's boy from the very beginning of his assignment as squad leader. Certainly he had no other qualifications for such a position. He had been brought to the little schoolhouse by the commissar Lee shortly after my escape venture, specifically to be put in the squad leader post which I had thus vacated.
There was no political ideology involved in the corporal's actions. He lacked both the interest and the intellectual development for that. Watash served the enemy only to serve himself. In his otherwise unwarranted position as a squad leader he served them far better than his petty mind could realize, and probably never knew that he came within just one vote of serving himself a death warrant.
Under the system which the enemy had themselves set up, orders or instructions from the camp administration would be given only to Major Harris. The major was then to pass the word to the squad leaders who in turn would pass it on to all members of their squad. Although it could be done on an individual basis, it was usually easier for the major to call a meeting of the squad leaders and tell them all at once. Any questions, requests or complaints arising from those meetings were, in turn, to be conveyed to the enemy only by Major Harris.
It was soon evident that the enemy was being quickly informed of things said in those meetings which were not intended for them to know. The major, and several other of the squad leaders found themselves being questioned by camp officials about such things. By the simple procedure of planting a few thoughts with the little corporal for that purpose, it was proved beyond doubt that Watash was the informer. It was reasonable to assume he was also informing the enemy of goings on elsewhere in the compound about which various prisoners were being questioned. Also, it was noted that while he had very little to say in the first few of the meetings, Watash soon began to bring up subjects for discussion during the meetings and in conversations elsewhere which Could only have been under guidance of the enemy, rather than out of his own limited intelligence.
Besides other of the squad leaders, there were several residents of the mud hut who had been confronted during interrogations with information about themselves which they felt the enemy must have obtained from an informer in our midst. There was really no doubt of the little corporal's guilt. The question was what could and should be done about it. Major Harris had talked with him several times previously, as had Lt Moritz, Sgt Arnold and myself, but only in a general way about the need for all standing together against the enemy, and consideration for one's fellow prisoners. It would have been unwise under the circumstances to openly accuse him of what we knew he was doing, since he would certainly have told the enemy of that, as well.
It was quite evident that appeal to the fellow's sense of responsibility towards others was futile, simply because he had none such. The entirety of his performance since arrival at the camp demonstrated that. Prior to being brought to the little schoolhouse by the commissar to fill the position as squad leader which I had "abdicated," Watash had been in charge of the prisoner crew in the kitchen. While there, it was known by the enemy as well as by his prisoner co-workers that he was taking for himself all that he wanted of the small quantities of meat and eggs which were then being allotted for the prisoners, instead of seeing that it was shared equally by all. Worse, still, he had traded some of those provisions to Koreans in the village for such nonsensical things as woven grass sandals and crude adornments. His totally selfish and self-centered outlook was indicated also by the fact that he had given himself the pseudonym of "Watash," which is the Korean word for "me" or "I".
The absence of any other manner of loyalty in the little corporal's makeup he had unwittingly revealed one night in the mud hut, when he volunteered to be the story teller during the "children's hour." Having sent the other kiddies to slumberland with but a few minutes talk on his favorite subject himself he favored those of us who were still awake with his feelings about the issue which was then being argued in the negotiations at Panmunjom, "voluntary vs forced repatriation." The enemy having realized that they might have to give up on their demand that all of their troops held prisoner by our side must be repatriated even if they preferred not to return to Communist China, had begun to consider the face-saving alternative of finding a few American prisoners who would refuse repatriation. In that regard, then, the stool pigeon Watash had said: "I'd consider staying with the Chinese or here in Korea if they'd give me a house and a woman and a few coolies to boss around."
Any psychiatrist or social worker so inclined would have had no difficulty excusing the little traitor's attitude and behavior on basis of the account of his personal history which he presented to us during another session as the story teller during the "children's hour." Born a bastard, in the 1iteral sense of the word, he described a childhood in orphanage, foster homes, and reform schools under the discipline, tutelage and other influences of a wide-ranging assortment of priests, pseudoparents, wardens and social workers. Eventual acquaintance with the mother who hadn't wanted him in the first place only proved (at least according to his account) that she still didn't.
Even allowing for considerable of self-serving exaggerations in his telling of it, one could not but recognize that the little stool pigeon's personal background was a primary factor in his traitorous behavior. He was a pitiful, and in some ways pitiable creature. So also is a rabid dog. But a mad dog doesn't really know what it is doing. Watash was fully aware of the wrongness of his actions. And he also had a choice in fact an opportunity to rise above the pathetic circumstance he had described as his beginnings and become a man among men. But he had chosen otherwise. Apparently to him the Korean word, "Watash" which he had taken as his own name meant not only "me first," but "me only."
And so, because the corporal posed a great danger to the group in general, and several individuals in particular, Major Harris set up a tribunal to decide what should be done about him. It was impossible, under the circumstance, to follow proceedings of courts-martial or inquiry to decide the fellow's guilt or innocence. But that had already been decided anyway in the minds of those enough involved to know the facts of the matter. The tribunal would decide if arrangements should be made for Watash to have a fatal "accident."
The tribunal was comprised of eight men the senior commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the four branches of U.S. military service. The major notified them, individually, two days before the meeting to allow time for private consideration and, if desired, discussion with others of the selected tribunal. All were sworn to secrecy until after repatriation that the tribunal had even been formed or such a meeting held; that being a necessary precaution to prevent the enemy, from learning of it. The voting would be individually secret. There could be discussion at the meeting prior to vote, to such extent as time and circumstance might permit. But the members were reminded that comments therein could be indicative to others as to how an individual intended to vote.
A tribunal member's decision was, not a matter merely of "thumb up" or "thumb down" for Watash. There were many things to consider: The enemy's reaction at loss of their informant, probably suspecting deliberate elimination no matter how "accidental" it might be made to appear; problems of maintaining secrecy, from other prisoners as well as from the enemy; how the elimination might be achieved (although this was not really for the tribunal to consider or decide); plus many others, including a tribunal member's dealing with his own conscience.
The tribunal met in the lean-to quarters. Sgt. Arnold posted Gilliland and Price outside, to quietly keep any other of the prisoners away and to warn if any of the enemy approached. Playing cards and a chess board were laid out within the assembly, in case of any uninvited visitors.
The major presented his concept of the alternatives. If the tribunal's decision was for elimination of the traitor, then he would seek help from whomsoever he might choose to carry out the task, without informing anyone else of their identities. If the decision was otherwise, he would once more call Watash aside for private discussion, probably this time confronting the corporal directly with some known facts of his consort with the enemy and warning him explicitly of courts-martial after repatriation unless he changed his ways. The personal risk for the major in that course of action was self-evident.
Silence followed the major's invitation for suggestions from the tribunal of any other alternative which might be available. So on those alternatives the vote was taken. A covered bowl was passed around into which each member placed either a short or long straw, keeping the other to himself. When the major uncovered the bowl, it contained four of each.
There being no way that he could "secretly" break that tie vote, the major was left with no alternative. He would talk once more with the traitorous corporal. He reminded the tribunal they were sworn to secrecy until after repatriation regarding the subject of this meeting. A glance at me as he then dismissed us indicated the major wanted me to stay for private discussion.
So I did stay, but so also did Lt. Moritz and Capt. Flynn, of their own volition. We three had discussed the situation extensively with one another prior to the tribunal's meeting. We all regarded it most unlikely that further talk with the traitorous corporal would cause him to change his ways. In addition to his totally self-serving character, he was so completely compromised with the enemy by then he was probably unable to stop serving them. Far more likely, we were convinced, if anyone now confronted him, Watash would at once inform the enemy.
Apparently sensing that the three of us remaining was not by coincidence, the major said, "All-right I know you three have something in mind. Let's hear it."
"We don't think you should talk to Watash," Lt. Moritz told him.
"Why not?" the major wanted to know.
"Because if you do you'll be removed from the compound," Moritz replied. "And you're needed here."
"I don't see that I have any other choice. Something has to be done. The tribunal decided or perhaps I should say it didn't make a clear decision and no one suggested any other alternatives to..."
"We have some alternatives to suggest," Capt. Flynn interrupted.
Harris paused for a moment, scanning the three of us, then asked, "Why didn't you mention them during the meeting?"
"Because," Flynn replied, "there were a couple of people there who I'm not sure could keep a secret if their own lives depended on it, and I'm damn' sure couldn't be relied on to do so if it's only somebody else's life at stake."
The major studied us again for several moments, then said, "All right, what do you suggest?"
"Let one of us talk to him," Moritz responded. "That way if he goes...."
"No!" was the quick reaction. "I can't do that. It's my responsibility, as senior officer..."
"It's your seniority that's most needed here," Flynn interjected. "That half stripe of yours makes a big difference. There's two-stripers galore, and with you gone they'll start playin' the numbers game; not because they want really to do anything with their rank. They only want ... Hell, some of 'em ain't worth a damn. But you know all that. You're needed here in the compound. Let one of us talk to the little bastard, or else...."
"I can't do that, Pat," the major was struggling in dilemma. "Especially I can't let .... You say I'm needed here? I'll tell you something more important than me remaining in the compound, is for you and the Chief to be here together to break out of it when the time's right, and get the word out to our people as to where we are and what's going on...."
"Then let me do it," Lt. Moritz cut back in again. lt wouldn't be near as big a deal if Watash complained about me, as if he goes to them about you. I'm just another prisoner, but you're the honcho, they'd make a big deal out of it. Come to think of it, Watash is my squad leader. Really, Bucky, I don't think they'd make nearly as much of it if its me as they will if it's you.."
On that the major had to ponder for a while, torn by a conflict of professional judgement and personal conscience. "I just can't do it that way. I just couldn't live with myself if I let someone else take this risk." There was a pause, and then, "You may be right..." (He was thinking of the fact that battle situations sometimes required that a leader send one of his subordinates into great hazard, rather than going himself, to preserve his own leadership for the continuing battle.) "...in a combat situation . But this isn't that kind of battle. I have to do this, myself."
"There is still another alternative," Flynn said to him quietly.
The major's questioning look caused the captain to continue, "He still could have a fatal accident."
Again the major studied the faces of all three of us for a while, then began, "But the vote was a tie. We can't...."
"That vote doesn't mean a thing," Flynn interrupted. "That wasn't a proper way to make the decision in the first place. And not all of those votes necessarily reflected the voter's judgement of what needs to be done about Watash. There were too many other things to consider."
Now shown in the major's face was beginning realization of what Flynn was driving at. It seemed a good time to help it along with a few rhetorical questions: "If it hadn't been a tie ? If the vote had been for an accident ? Who did you have in mind to ask for help arranging it ? And how do you think they might feel about doing so considering the undependability of some members of your tribunal?"
"I get the point." Major Harris knew my questions required no other response than that. "You're right," he said, looking at Flynn. "That wasn't the right way to go about it. I guess I was trying to get somebody else to make a decision which is really my responsibility. I'll have to give it some more thought."&
quot;We'll back you," Flynn assured him. "All the way whatever ......"
"I know that. I should have kept this deal closer to begin with. I've got to think on it some more now, and I'll let you know. But we'd best break it up right now, before someone comes nosing around."
As the other two went out ahead of me the major said quietly, "Chief, I want to talk with you some more in a little while."
"I'll be at the kitchen," I told him.
From the very beginning of our acquaintance at the little schoolhouse, Major Harris and I had found it easy to work together, and to discuss any, matters having to do with our situation. He seemed fully to accept the responsibilities of his senior rank, with no sign of arrogance or self-important attitude which sometimes afflicts a man suddenly and by chance finding himself in senior position. The fact that he regarded the considerable experience of Sgt. Arnold and myself as useful toward the fulfillment of those responsibilities caused us, in turn, to regard him as worthy of whatever assistance we could give him. The prison circumstance put us on a first name basis in personal regards, without in the least diminishing our mutual respect for the difference in our official status.
It was in any case not at all unusual that the major wanted a private talk with myself about the matter of how to deal with the "stool pigeon." And the kitchen area was the best location to ensure our privacy. His first words upon joining me there were in self-condemnation for having "goofed up royally" in setting up the tribunal to try to deal with the matter. Next he asked if I had in my own mind a definite opinion as to what should be done and, if so, was I willing to let him know it in strict confidence. He intended also, he said, to ask the same of Moritz and Flynn.
A definite opinion I could readily give him; not only for myself but for the other two as well because we three had discussed the matter at length and reached near identical conclusions. But perhaps more important to the major than merely knowing our conclusions would be to know some of the main things, pro and con, which we had considered in reaching them. Those, he said, he most especially wanted to hear.
As to whether the young corporal's offenses were grievous enough to warrant his death sentence, our unanimous conclusion was "Yes!"; as much or even more for his future endangerment of the lives and well-being of other prisoners, as for his past damages to them.
While that was reason enough to try to arrange for Watash to have a fatal "accident," it was the one and only reason. And there were several very compelling reasons why it should not be done. The little corporal's traitorous behavior was to some extent recognized by everyone in the compound. But his death could not be used as deterrent to collaboration by others who might be so inclined without that it be known by all that it was not really an accident. Which would mean, in turn, that the enemy would be aware of that as well; which was something which must definitely be avoided.
The enemy would be suspicious in any case, if their informant was killed, no matter how accidental it was made to appear. If they knew for certain that his accident had been arranged, they would see to it that someone of us would be punished, and possibly all of us to at least some extent. And they might do so even if they didn't know for certain and had no real evidence that his death was not an accident.
Those were the main, negative reasons why Moritz, Flynn and myself had concluded that execution of the known traitor in our midst was not a good idea. Quite compelling in themselves, they were made even more so by the inclusion in the major's "tribunal" of two people whom we believed could not really "keep their damn' mouths shut."
There was also a "positive" reason for not "plucking" our stool pigeon. Because the enemy seemed now to regard him as a reliable informant, it might be possible for us to make use of him as a "misinformant." That could be helpful to Flynn and I in our plans for escape. We did not think that Watash was likely as damaging or dangerous to us in that regard as a good many others who were not at all regarded as willful informants or traitors. The "Easter bunny" had been damaging enough for the changes he had caused in the enemy's security in and around the compound. There was lingering wonderment, too, if the little lieutenant may have been a bit talkative with the enemy then and since about other possible "escapees," in exchange for his immediate return to the compound, rather than a period of punishment such as I had been awarded following my escape the previous summer.
Since then, the talkative idlers had probably done further damage with their mindless chatter about escape in the presence of the "snooper" sentries. We knew for certain that much of that loose talk had been speculation on the part of those idlers about the probable escape intentions of Captain Flynn and Chief Thorin.
"And so," I told Major Harris in conclusion on that point, "Flynn and I have been thinking it might be possible to use Watash to counteract whatever ideas the enemy has been getting about us from those sources. He's not particularly bright, as you realize. So if he was to hear or overhear Flynn and me talking about how foolish it would be to try escaping now, he just might carry that information to the enemy."
"Okay, Chief," the major then said, "I think I understand completely now what you three were driving at a while ago. You've given me all that I need. I won't have to talk with the others....
"There's no doubt that the enemy do prize their pigeon. So if we were to do him in no matter how well some or all of us Would be made to suffer. The consequences of doing him in could be even worse than letting him continue as he's been doing. So the 'fatal accident' idea is out, as far as I'm concerned. I will talk with him one more time, just on the chance that he might yet be induced to change his ways."
"I still don't think you should do that, Bucky," He seemed puzzled by that as I said it, and looked at me studyingly for a time.
"Why not?" He seemed almost troubled as he asked, "Do You think it would be better to let him continue to be their informer for the possibility that you and Pat could then use him as a 'misinformer' about your intentions?"
"That's not it at all," I replied. "It's because after you talk with him he will still be their informer and he will still be here for us to try to use but you won't."
It may have been but a few moments, or it may have been several minutes we sat just looking at each other, until he spoke again.
"You really think so?"
"I really think so."
Now for several minutes we sat silent as the major reviewed the matter in his mind. "Most likely you're right," he finally said, referring to my prediction of what would happen. "But that doesn't matter I've got to do it. I've got to talk to him one more time for the sake of the entire group; try to stop him from continuing and doing further damage to everyone. But it's also for his sake as well. He's only a kid. What 20 years old? I don't think he's turned 21 yet has he? Eighteen when he's captured? A dirty, rotten, selfish kid with no sense of responsibility. But maybe the reason he doesn't have any of that is because amongst all those people he talks about being with as a kid he never met one with enough of that themselves to give him any. If I can just get through to him, maybe he could still find it here."
He raised his eyes to again look at me directly; pleadingly, it seemed, almost with tears. "You do understand this, don't you Chief? Why I have to do it this way ?"
"Yeah." There was no basis for disagreement with his decision in that regard. There was, however, one more thing which I needed from him. So I asked, "And if he rats on you, Bucky, and they pull you out of here should he then have that fatal accident?"
"Not on my account!" His response on that point was instant. "Not for vengeance or retribution. That can wait until were all out of here. Only if you come to believe it needs to be done for the best interests of the rest of them here; or to keep him from doing the same to some others, including yourself. And don't make the same mistake I did of asking a lot of others what they think about it. Just you and maybe Moritz and Flynn. You three are every bit as well qualified as I am to make that kind of decision. Maybe even better. But no others not even of the good men. Just the three of you, at most; no more."
Which was very much the manner of answer I had expected, and wanted, from Major Harris. Then accepting the finality of his decision to talk again with Watash, there was a suggestion which seemed needing to be made. "You will of course be telling him that he could be court-martialed after repatriation for things he has already done. I think you should try also to give him the impression without mentioning any names that if he rats on you, if he tells the enemy about your talk with him this time and you get pulled out; then he just might not make it to repatriation because there's already been some talk in the group that maybe he should be done away with."
"Do you think that might get through to him? Cause him to change, or at least not tell them about my talking to him?"
"No. At least most likely not. But if anything would do it, it would only be something like that the fear that some of us might do him in if he rats on you. But it would definitely have an effect on how he acts afterwards if he does rat on you. He'll be looking over his shoulder, jumpy and some scared. That may make it a bit easier to get some of the other dumb do-do's in this camp to realize how serious the situation really is."
"But if I do that," the major came back, "Even though I don't mention any names, he's going to figure out, or at 1east think about who it might be. And most likely the first ones to come to his mind will be you and Flynn. If he rats on me, then he wouldn't hesitate even if he just made something up to go to the enemy with something about one of you."
"If he was to manage to do it to one of us," I assured him, "I can guarantee he would never do it to another."
The fact that Major Harris reached to grasp my hand in parting, indicated that he fully expected not to talk with me again for a while. He talked with the stool pigeon, Watash, that afternoon for perhaps an hour. Shortly afterward, Watash spoke briefly to one of the interpreters who happened into the compound probably for some other reason. The following morning, shortly after breakfast, Tsai took Major Harris out the east gate, towards the headquarters building, though in the ordinary manner as was frequently done.
But at ten o'clock, we were called to assembly in the exercise area for an "important announcement." We listened then to the reading of a list of "criminal" charges against Major Harris, and were told that he had been removed from the group because of his "criminal" actions.
Under communist concept of justice, Major Harris was already regarded as guilty. His "crimes" were several, including such things as "Attempting to undermine the good order of the camp" and "exercise his rank" in violation of the "lenient and fair policy of the Chinese Peoples' Volunteers" that there is no rank among prisoners of war because "everybody is same-same."
During that assembly there were enough glances at Watash to indicate that most of the others were aware or at least suspected that he was responsible for the Major's removal. Watash moved away by himself as soon as the assembly was dismissed; which was not unusual as he spent much time idling about all alone. But for the next several days he was more reticent than usual, quite obviously avoiding close contacts with anyone as much as he could. He also became again a mostly silent participant at squad leader meetings.
About mid-afternoon of the day following removal of Major Harris, Capt Kubicek (Air Force) intercepted me on my way to the kitchen to tell me, quite happily, that he had just found out where Bucky was now being held in solitary. Rather than despoil his good feeling about the discovery, I didn't tell him we had already learned that through Sgt Arnold's communication system. He proceeded then to tell me how he had come to find out.
"I saw him," he said, "sitting outside a house near where Tsai took me for interrogation this afternoon." He described the location, which confirmed the information already obtained.
Then Kubicek said, "But let me tell you about the interrogation, too, Chief. it was the darndest thing. I wouldn't even call it an interrogation, really...." He then described the scene in the room where he was taken.
A chinese whom he had not before seen, seated at a table, greeted him with a smile and invited him to sit down. The man patted a pile of papers which was on the table and said, "This is the bunch of st you wrote for the Koreans when you were at Pyongyang (Pak's Palace). I want to talk with you about it."
A bunch of double-talk and technical jargon is exactly what it was (I had been at Pak's Palace with Kubicek when he wrote some of it.). And talk, according to Kubicek, is all that they then did. A few meaningless questions about insignificant things, but mostly his inquisitor laughingly commented on the stupidity of the Koreans for letting Kubicek get away with writing such worthless stuff. Rice cakes and tea were served to the trio as they chatted thus for about an hour, and a bit of rice wine when the pot of tea was gone.
When talk at the table was ended, the inquisitor accompanied Tsai and Kubicek outside, still chuckling and remarking on the gullibility of the Koreans. Then, it seemed as an afterthought, the fellow scurried back inside to bring some of the rice cakes, candy and cigarets for Kubicek to take with him. There was yet another surprise when Tsai told Kubicek to return to the compound by himself, without an escort.
A rather puzzling thing as to purpose, was that little interlude. But we both thought it otherwise insignificant. it would return to haunt the both of us a few months later.
With the departure of Maj Harris, Lt Moritz became the senior officer in the compound. He knew well such organization as the major had been able to establish. He was generally well regarded. Which is an important factor when seniority is determined by comparison of serial numbers or dates of rank, rather than a clear distinction by the greater number of stripes on the sleeve. There was a goodly number of "two-stripers" in the compound. Some of the more senior among them, including Kubicek, were quite short on leadership capability; due either to lack of experience or of basic talent.
In such demanding circumstance as a POW camp, natural leadership tends quickly to assert itself, and to be sought and supported by the more discerning among the group. In that regard Capt Flynn stood head and shoulders above most others, mentally as well as physically. His additional ability in the brainwork department to play well the role of "dumb indian" led to embarrassment of several within the group who regarded themselves as intellectuals. Just where Flynn might have stood in lineup by date of rank didn't matter. He had been stalwart in support of Major Harris and remained so with Lt. Moritz.
There was an Australian lieutenant who claimed to be senior to Moritz, and wanted the other officers to so recognize him. He wanted at the same time to continue his pretense with the enemy that he was only a "leftenant," which he had evidently pretended thinking this would lessen intensity of interrogation for himself.
Lt Moritz was some handicapped in the exercise of his authority by the presence directly across from him in the mud hut of the stool pigeon Watash. However, the buzz of other conversations in the room at night would prevent him from hearing discussions between myself and Moritz.
Much more obstructive and damaging was the little lieutenant's continued practice of encouraging his small gang of young enlisted men to dissident behavior. As a group, their dissidence was directed against any and all authority or seniority in the compound. "Us little guys gotta stick together to protect ourselves," was the way some of them had expressed it, as they tried to recruit Rambo and several others into what they sometimes called their "clique."
As for the little lieutenant, himself, he evidenced resentment toward the other officers in general, probably due to their attitude towards him. He was not so much rejected by them as he was ignored or disregarded. His "buddying-up" then with his little gang of enlisteds brought upon himself even more disdain. His resentment or envy of myself had apparently begun before we had even met. My notoriety, the talk about me at the 1itt1e schoolhouse during isolation following escape and recapture, would have generated such feeling in him. That it did so was evident in his loud castigation of myself, on the day of my return to the 1ittle schoolhouse. His purpose then was to impress some of the young enlisted men who were now part of his "clique," and set himself up as "champion" of the "little guys."
Now the little lieutenant's resentment of myself had intensified, at least approaching hatred. (This is not uncommon in persons of petty mind and empty ego when they find themselves ignored.) Young Rambo, much worried informed me one morning that the fellow was trying to set it up for his little "clique" to gang up on me. Rambo slept right next to the "kiddie corner" and could hear plainly the nighttime conversations between the little lieutenant and John Shaw. Asked how he was trying to set it up, Rambo replied:
"Well, he's trying to get Shaw to pick an argument or a fight with you...."
"John knows better than try anything like that."
"Yeah, that's what John told him," Rambo said, "that there ain't no way he could expect to whip you. But Little Lieutenant says not to worry about that, 'cause he wouldn't have to. Tells him that you're just a big bluff. Claims that he called your bluff himself down at the little schoolhouse and you wouldn't even fight him, small as he is."
"He would" I commented. "John say anything to that?"
"John said he didn't think so," Rambo replied. "said he'd seen you in action just a little bit, and also thought you knew some 'judo' or something. But then Little Lieutenant tells him not to worry about that either, because if you do pick up for fighting, John'll have plenty of help from the others."
I didn't think Shaw would go for that. He was all for being part of gang or "clique," as he liked to call it, for making demands such as the story-telling. And no doubt if it was "gang" against "gang" he would prefer to be in the bigger of the two gangs. But he had too much pride, I felt certain, to go along with four or five ganging up on just one He wanted to be regarded in those respects as a man who could stand on his own. Also he would probably realize, even if some others of them did not, that if they ganged up and did damage to myself or anyone else, there were several rugged men in the compound who might quietly see to it that, one by one, he and the rest of that little "clique" would receive appropriate punishment. Rambo generally agreed with that assessment of Shaw. Still he was worried that Little Lieutenant would be able to maneuver Shaw into starting something, without John realizing until too late what it could lead to. And Rambo was right on that. While we still were talking, Shaw approached, coming from the Mud hut. Skulking at the corner of the building was Little Lieutenant. Shaw said as he arrived in front of Rambo and myself:
"Chief, I'd like to talk to you about somethin'."
"Well," he said, "I still think that you oughta be takin' a turn at the shit details around here, cleanin' the latrine and stuff, just like all...."
"Is that your own thinkin', John," I interrupted. "Or are you still letting your little lieutenant buddy do the thinking for you and saying the things for him that he knows he doesn't dare say for himself?"
Unable to deliver the pitch he'd been prepared or coached to make, Shaw now struggled for something to say in response to my last. "Well," he stammered, "we all think...."
"You all think, hunh? Can't a one of you think for yourself, or by yourself...." Having now completely disrupted whatever pitch he had planned to make, it was time to ease off the pressure. "I'm disappointed in you John," I said, "letting yourself be used by that little punk lieutenant. You've been in the army long enough to know what kind of officer it is that buddies up to enlisted men the way he does with you guys...."
"That ain't so!" Shaw almost shouted. "He stands up for us for us little guys us enlisted men and nobody else does. He's the only one stands up for us!"
"Stands up for what, John? And against whom?" I asked. "You can't tell me one damn thing he's got for you; or one damn time he's stood up to anyone for any reason, for anything. Even when you cry babies were crying for your bedtime stories, did he stand up for you on that? Did he say anything to Moritz arguing for what you guys wanted? No he didn't. What he did, and all he did, was tell you what to say. Have you do the talking with him telling you what to say. That's all he ever does, just like now, you come here saying you want to talk with me, because he told you to and also told you what to say. John, you're a damn fool if you let him keep ......"
The one word triggered the juvenile emotions which were still all too prevalent in young Shaw's makeup. "Nobody calls me a fool!" he shouted. Then he proceeded to prove that he was one by grabbing my shirt front with his left hand, and drawing back the other hand intending to strike me.
Rambo threw his body in between us, just in time to block effects of my automatic reaction, which might otherwise have dislocated young Shaw's left shoulder. I released my grip on his arm, and Shaw backed away.
"All right, John," I said. "If that's what you want, I guess I'll just have to give it to you. But you should also know better than to start something like that out here where the enemy can see us. So let's you and I go into the dining hall over here in the big barrack, where we can settle this in private, just the two of us, and the enemy can't see us. JW here will watch the door for us, I'm sure."
Shaw didn't say anything. But the look on his face said that he was right then regretting his foolish move. As the three of us walked toward the big barrack it appeared certain he thought I intended now to give him a thrashing. It seemed a good idea to let him think that until we were actually by ourselves in the building. Then he would be given the opportunity to really discuss things, instead. And there was really no doubt that he would accept it.
However. the little lieutenant didn't want that to happen. As soon as the three of us had started for the big barrack, he scurried into the mud hut, apparently knowing that some of his little gang were there. Jimmy, the British lance corporal, arrived running as I ushered John into the room. I blocked Jimmy's way and asked what he wanted.
"You know you can whip him," he said.
"If I have to," I said. "And if you wish I can do the same for you. Just wait your turn."
"We ain't gonna let you be in there with him alone," he grunted as he pushed on into the room.
Two more "brave" lads were hurrying towards us by then, and the little lieutenant was out in the compound calling to yet another. I asked JW to go into the adjacent room and tell Flynn I'd like his assistance with a small problem. When the captain arrived, rubbing sleep from his eyes, so also did the fourth one of the helpers which Little Lieutenant had rounded up to send to Shaw's assistance. The Little Lieutenant, of course, was now nowhere to be seen.
"What's up, Chief?" the big indian asked, as though he didn't know.
"Oh," I said, "John and I came in here to have a private discussion. But then these little kiddies come along and seem to want to interfere. And since they look to me like sorta sneaky types I wondered if you'd maybe keep an eye on a couple of them so's we can find out just what it's going to take to convince 'em they should mind their own damn' business."
"Oh, sure, glad to do that," Flynn said, in the sort of bumbling manner he affected when he put on his "dumb indian" act. He looked then at the two nearest to himself. After a glance at the stick of firewood which the last arrival had brought with him, he looked straight into the fellow's face and smiled. The youngster quickly put the stick aside and moved away from it, evidently realizing that if he kept it he would be Flynn's first target if any fighting actually began.
There was now not a one of them that actually wanted to fight. The odds were no longer sufficiently in their favor. Under the unwritten rules of such an encounter, it was Shaw who was called upon to make the first move. The look on his face seemed a combination of embarrassment and fear. Embarrassed he probably was because, despite his sometimes juvenile behavior, he wanted to be regarded as a man who would stand on his own. He would at the same time realize that under those circumstances, if fighting started, both Flynn and myself would try to make certain that the first man either of us touched would be unable to participate further. And the two of his buddies that were left who might come after me, were keeping enough distance to make sure it was himself I would first deal with.
It had actually developed into a good circumstance for me to achieve what I wanted with Shaw. Since he had neither said anything nor made a move at me, it was appropriate for me to invite him to do one or the other. In doing so I could remind him of the increased danger to himself because the others were present. It was framed in my mind also to ask him if he was waiting for his "little lieutenant" to come tell him what to do.
"All right, John, it's up to you...," I began. But we were interrupted. The Australian officer who wanted us to recognize him as the senior lieutenant, yet protect his pretense to the enemy that he was the lesser rank of leftenant, at that moment emerged from the small cubicle in the room which served as our "library."
"What's going on here?" he demanded.
When I started to tell him, he quickly turned his face away from me, looked at Flynn and said, "Captain, you know this sort of thing shouldn't be allowed to happen!" Then without giving Flynn a chance to respond, he looked about the room, waved an arm and ordered, loudly: "All right, all of you clear out of here!" That was followed by something along the lines of "And I don't want to see anything like this happening again."
Shaw's four little helpers seemed perhaps a bit eager to comply with that order. Shaw himself was looking at me, as though waiting for a signal. I beckoned to him, and he came to stand beside me as the others departed. We left the room and the building then, walking side by side. There was time in that short distance to say to him, "You know I'm available, John, any time you want to get together again about this. And however you want to do it. Just you and me if you want either to discuss it or fight about it. But if you think you need some of your buddies along, next time please bring your little lieutenant. Okay?"
Shaw glanced at me, but of course didn't say anything. he was looking down, rather glumly, as we parted. He was thinking, again. And probably about at least some of the things which I would have started him thinking about had the two of us been by ourselves in the dining hall. For a serious discussion, not a fight, is what the young man and I would have had if the others had all stayed out of it.
Had the "Aussie" leftenant-lieutenant not interrupted, John and I would still most likely have had such a private discussion. Given the choice between asking the others to leave, or making the first move against me, he would almost certainly have chosen the former. For he would have then realized he was being given the opportunity to discuss the matter "man to man," rather than faced with myself wanting to give him a physical beating.
So the Aussie officer's interruption had in fact precluded some much needed disciplinary action to deal with a dissident few in our midst. His portentious statement to Flynn that "this sort of thing shouldn't be allowed to happen," indicated on the one hand that he had no understanding of what was actually going on at the moment or what was most likely to happen subsequently. It indicated also, by his manner, that he wasn't at all really interested in finding out such things. When circumstance was suitable, it was intended to confront him on the matter. He regarded himself a bit above talking with an enlisted man, of course. But it was easy enough to put him in a spot where he'd have no way out of at least listening to this one for a time.
That turned out to be unnecessary. The fellow invited my comments quite unintentionally by taking upon himself to "order" Capt Flynn to take me to task for my conduct. Flynn sought me out to tell me of it, less than an hour after the incident.
"Chief...," Flynn said in serious tone which I sensed might be slightly put on, "I've just been 'royally' chewed out for getting involved in that business with you a while ago."
" You let him get away with it?"
"Well, not really," Flynn, replied. "But didn't really argue with him either, 'cause I sorta wanted to find out what he had to say...."
What the fellow had to say, as Flynn described it, wasn't much worth listening to. He neither knew nor cared what the little gathering was about. The fact that a gang of five was about to attack just one didn't matter because it was all enlisted men and they should be left to settle their own differences. He didn't care to consider that those "differences" might have some bearing on the well being of everyone in the compound. According to him "an officer just shouldn't get involved with enlisted men" in any case. Asked how an officer could fulfill his duties without getting involved with the men under him, he said that was something different. Here in the prison camp, officers and enlisted men should be completely separated anyway. And since our captors hadn't arranged that, it was up to the officers themselves to effect that separation by avoiding "fraternization" even though circumstances required "cohabitation."
"Then after convincing me that I shouldn't have anything at all to do with any of you lowly enlisted men," Flynn concluded, "he ordered me to set you straight on your behavior."
"He 'ordered' you to do it? Didn't just say you ought to, or something like that?"
"Nope. He made it real clear. 'And that is an order,' is what he said. He also reminded me that he is the senior officer here now, even though it is necessary for the enemy's benefit to continue the pretext that he's a leftenant instead of lieutenant."
"Are you sure he ordered you to 'set me straight'?" I asked. "Are you sure he didn't order you to 'chastize' me?"
"Nope. 'Set you straight' is what he ordered. Which is a good thing 'cause if he'd said 'chastize' I wouldn't know what the hell I'm supposed to do to you."
"Yeah and I wouldn't have known what the hell it was you were doin' to me, either. So have you carried out your orders captain sir ? Are you through with settin' me straight?"
"Gosh, I don't know," he said. "What do you think? Do you feel like you've been set straight?"
"Yeah, I guess so. At least I feel completely straight on one thing .... 11
"The proper attitude for the senior enlisted man in this place to take toward the gutless bastard that claims now to be the senior commissioned officer ...."
Flynn smiled in anticipation of what he expected would follow.
"Are you supposed to report back to the 'senior officer'," I asked, "my reaction to you 'setting me straight'?"
"Guess not. Anyhow he didn't say anything about it didn't order me to."
"But it would be appropriate for you to...."
"Oh, hell yeah," Flynn responded. "It'd be more than just 'appropriate.' It'd be my honor-bound duty to report back to the 'senior officer' anything you said or did especially if it might be interpreted as 'insubordinate' behavior."
"And you would report this as accurately as you possibly could, of course."
"Yep. No other way. Strictly military, don't y'know."
"Well, then, Captain Flynn sir .... my reaction is that any officer who lacks the guts in the face of the enemy to meet the responsibilities of the rank he claims, cannot expect from me the respect due even for the lesser rank which he pretends in order to avoid those responsibilities."
Flynn's smile of satisfaction was assurance the message would be accurately delivered. The self-proclaimed senior lieutenant made no further comment to Capt Flynn when it was delivered, and certainly was not expected to speak to myself directly on any matter.
Young Rambo was eager the following morning to give report on conversations overheard from the "kiddie corner." When the Little Lieutenant first asked for details of what had happened in the dining hall, no one seemed particularly eager to discuss it. Shaw, he said, had been especially reticent, and said very little throughout the evening. Mostly the Little Lieutenant talked, complaining of Capt Flynn's interference because "a good officer Would never involve himself like that" in something that was only a disagreement between enlisted men.
The cohesiveness of the little "clique" began noticeably to diminish after that. Quite probably the fact that their little lieutenant leader wasn't there to stand Up with them in that instance raised some doubts as to just how much he was really standing up for them in other respects. As the bonds of "togetherness" loosened with those dissidents closer at hand, the Little Lieutenant began to buddy up more with one in the opposite corner of the Mud hut the stool pigeon, Watash. The two of them were about the same size, physically, and both regarded themselves as fairly good boxers. The enemy had by this time included a pair of boxing gloves in the otherwise quite limited Supply of athletic equipment. So they entertained themselves in occasional sparring matches, until after the first few of these no one else bothered to watch. Both were what is referred to in that profession as "counterpunchers" and neither showed any great measure of prowess.
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©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.