With the advent of summer, interest in the subject of "escape" intensified greatly. I had said somewhat jokingly to "Dr. Flick" during interrogation several weeks earlier that all prisoners "think" about escape. By the beginning of June it seemed as though nearly all in the big compound were talking about it; except, that is, for the few of us who had serious intentions of doing so, and the other few who sincerely wanted to help us.
There were two basic types among the loose talkers. The "pretenders" talked to any who would listen about their own plans for escape; which they never really intended to attempt. And there were "speculators" about the possibility of somebody else actually trying to escape, including the unlikelihood that any of the pretenders would do so. Both types talked a great deal about the probability that Flynn and I would. And when they talked, about that, or anything else, the presence of one of the snooper sentries was usually disregarded.
There was no way of knowing if our efforts to use the stool pigeon, Watash, as "misinformer" to the enemy in that regard was at all successful. All we had been able to do toward that purpose was make sure the self-serving little bastard was in position to hear us as we discussed how "foolish" it would be for us to even consider an escape attempt under present circumstances, and how "silly" it was of other people in the compound to think we had any such intentions. That was, in fact, all we really could do, up to that point. To say anything on that subject to him directly would have overplayed the tactic.
We had, however, apparently convinced Watash that we were not out to "get him" in retaliation for what he had done to Maj. Harris (in case he may have been a bit worried about that possibility) in the immediate aftermath of the major's removal. Having a few times been invited by one or the other of us into a volley ball or basketball game, he would now sometimes ask to join. Also, instead of the definite avoidance which had been the case immediately following the major's removal, he seemed now to welcome the opportunity just to exchange greetings with some few of the more respected seniors in the group.
This led in early June to an incident in which Watash himself brought up the subject of escape. He happened by as I was shaving off the scraggly beard which had adorned my chin through the winter. Its disappearance would draw some attention upon myself, especially from the ever-observant Tsai. It needed removal well in advance of intended departure.
To effect that tonsorial alteration, I was using a hand forged razor of old-fashioned type which the enemy had provided along with a pair of scissors as "barber" equipment. Myself being the only one in the compound who had actually used such a razor before, there had been several others to whom I had provided tolerable services with it. Watash asked if I would do so for him.
The irony of the situation was amusing as I carefully maneuvered the blade on a neck which, at least in some opinions, fully deserved to be slashed. That manner of "accident" would have been rather hard to explain, however, even if I had thought it was otherwise the thing to do. So instead, as any barber is expected to do, I just chatted with my "customer" about a variety of insignificant things. Then quite surprisingly, Watash said:
"Chief you ever think about trying to escape again this summer, like you did last year?"
Was he asking merely out of curiosity, or because the enemy had told him to do so? It was in either case an excellent opportunity. "Oh you bet I've thought about it," I replied, "a great deal. And I'd sorta like to try it again except that things are quite a bit different now than last year. How about you, Watash? You ever think of trying to escape?"
He hesitated a bit before answering, as though surprised that I had asked. Then he answered in a natural manner, "Oh, yeah sure. I've thought about it some. I'd sure like to get outta here. But I don't know nothin' about how to do somethin' like that how to get back to our lines find food and stuff like that. But I guess you do. Well, yeah you know how to do lottsa things...."
"Yeah, that's true I do a lot of things." It seemed a good idea to string the conversation along in a casual way before putting in the idea I wanted him to end up with. So a few such things were mentioned; knowing about nature from having grown up in farm and ranch country; knowing about navigation finding the way to our forces because of being a pilot. "But it's a mighty long way out to freedom from here," I then said. "And getting food would be a problem. We found a few berries and some string beans in a field last year. But we were only gone a couple of days, and it'd take weeks to go as far as a fellow'd have to go. But I thought of something, Watash you've learned to talk some Korean, right?"
"Well, yeah - just a little bit." he looked puzzled, no doubt wondering why I'd mentioned that.
"Okay, then you and I can team up and escape. I can keep us headed in the right direction to make it to our lines. When we come to a town you can put on those Korean sandals (he was wearing the woven grass sandals for which he had traded some of the meat which should have gone into our soup pot) and go in to the store and get some groceries."
Now realizing I was kidding with him, he chuckled and said, "Where'll I get the money."
"Don't figure you'll need any. Most likely be women tendin' the store with their men-folk either dead or in the army. So with all your charm and speaking their language, you oughta be able to talk 'em into giving you the groceries. Maybe even get a couple of 'em to come along and do the cookin' for us."
Further amused by that, Watash turned rather quickly to look at me, causing the razor to nick slightly one side of his nose. He quickly shrugged off my apology, saying it didn't hurt at all. While holding a bit of cotton on the nick to stop its very slight bleeding, I said to him, "Seriously, Watash, on this escape business now, it just wouldn't make sense. Last fall, when I got out of the 'pokey' for takin' off that summer, I was right in the mood for going' again, if the situation had been right. But it wasn't. And I wasn't in any good condition then, anyhow. And last winter I thought about it a lot, figuring very definitely to try again this summer. But now summer's here, and things are a lot different. For one thing, they put on all of those extra guards, when the little lieutenant went traipsin' out just for the heck of it. But the main thing is it looks like the war's gonna end soon, now. And it'd sure be silly to be out in the woods here trying to sneak out of North Korea if the war had already ended and everybody else was gettin' a free ride home."
"You really think it might end soon, Chief? With all this trouble they tell about not bein' able to agree at the peace talks?"
"Yeah " I lied, "it really looks to me like it's going to end pretty soon. No matter what they say. These damn' commies'll keep up their propaganda until the very last minute. That's just the way they are. Can't trust their word on anything."
Having said what I'd wanted to plant into the little traitor's mind, the conversation then was shifted to his favorite subject, himself. I inquired of things in his background which he had already mentioned during his monologue at "children's hour." When the shaving was completed, apology was again offered for the cut on his nose, with comment that it probably wouldn't leave any scar.
"Hey it won't bother me none if it leaves a scar, Chief. That wouldn't bother me at all." He picked up a small mirror to look at the cut in manner which indicated that he hoped it would leave a scar.
Would the little stool pigeon now hurry to tell the enemy what I'd had to say on the subject of escape? Not likely, unless they had specifically instructed him to try to find cut my thoughts on the subject. But if the subject did come up in his subsequent consort with the enemy he would have something definite to tell them which should not be detrimental to my intentions, and might even counteract some of the impressions they were probably getting from the careless talking fools in our midst.
And those remained, in our judgement, the greatest internal handicap to Flynn and myself in our plans. Other than the fact that we worked together in the butchering, we had tried to avoid any show of closeness with each other while in the view of enemy personnel, and even at times to make a show of some animosity towards one another. But some of our "friends" seemed to want everyone, including the snooper sentries, to know they had figured out our real intentions.
In early June, also, some of the pretenders began to seek us out to discuss their escape plans, and ask our advice. A young airman called to me as I passed by the big barrack, "Hey, Chief! I'd like to talk with you about some ideas on how to break outta here ......"
Because the snooper sentry was standing close by, I walked on as though I hadn't heard. When the fellow caught up with me, to repeat his request, I asked why he called out something like that where the sentry could hear him. He acknowledged that he hadn't thought about the sentry being there, but didn't think the fellow could understand english anyway. As for qualifications to make such venture, he had none by virtue either of background or training. Told there was no way he could expect to accomplish something like that by getting a few verbal instructions, he wanted to know if he could go along with Flynn and myself. Asked what made him think Flynn and I intended to go, it was "because everybody thinks so." My comment that "everybody talking about it" hurt the chances of anybody actually making successful escape seemed a bit beyond his understanding.
And the admonition to the young man that he accept the fact of his own lack of qualifications for such venture, and say or do nothing more since that could interfere with realistic plans of others, was simply ignored. Two days later he stood watching the snooper sentry who was idling in the vicinity of the kitchen. Two objects protruded slightly from atop the kitchen wall above the sentry's head. The sentry spotted them and with his bayonet reached up to pull them off the wall.
"Oh damn!" the airman then said, drawing attention of the several others nearby. "That guard just discovered my escape equipment."
The airman's escape equipment consisted of one package of tobacco and one can of boiled beef, which he had apparently saved from the rations issued on the day the kitchen was moved to the big compound. The guard's discovery of it would justify the airman's cancellation of his much talked about escape plans, and yet leave him with a credible tale of his grand intentions to tell after repatriation.
The guard's discovery of the airman's "escape equipment" also brought on an immediate "shakedown" of all of us, Plus an intensive search of the compound. This resulted in the loss of a hatchet which I had forged and given to Lt. Moritz, and a chunk of goat meat jerky which I had just finished drying and not yet had time to properly stash away.
Loss of the dried goat meat was not particularly important. The problem was that I would be called upon to explain it. For it was found in the pocket of my winter coat by the snoopers going through personal belongings in the mud hut while we were all assembled in the exercise area. The fact that the hatchet was found in Lt. Moritz' gear right beside mine caused some additional concern.
When the coat had been brought out of the mud hut, I recognized that it was mine, and knew at once why it was being removed. Tsai carried it out, hung it on the fence near the west gate, and stood beside it along with another of the search party, evidently to await its owner coming to claim it after dismissal from assembly. Needing time to think up an explanation, I headed for the kitchen immediately after dismissal, as if unaware that it was my coat which had been brought out.
Nearly an hour was spent trying to select one of several not satisfactory explanations, including a few suggested by Flynn and Arnold whose assistance I had sought. All were such feeble excuses that none are now remembered: not even the one finally selected because it didn't have to be used. Tsai, in his opening question to me about it, inspired a far better explanation.
More than just wonderment, I sought to put a tinge of anger in my tone as I approached Tsai, pointed at the garment and said to him, "Hey! That's my coat you have there! Why do you take my coat?"
"Yes," the little interpreter responded, mildly. "We know it is your coat. We have taken it because of this which we found in the pocket. What is it? It looks like maybe some dried skin from one of the animals you have butchered...."
"Well, that's exactly what it is, I said, as though I thought it was just an ordinary thing which should cause them no concern. The fact that they had judged it to be a piece of dried skin, rather than dried meat, not only relieved my anxiety about having to explain it. It also provided the idea for such explanation as would still be required.
"But why do YOU keep it?" Tsai wanted to know. "What do you intend to use it for?"
"To fix the softball," I replied without hesitation. "The softball we play with is getting worn out and too soft from being hit so much."
"And you could fix it, with this ?" He held up the dried goat flank, and looked at me a bit incredulously.
"Sure I could," I said. "That's the way we used to have to repair our baseball when I was a kid, 'cause we didn't have enough money to buy a new one."
Tsai looked at his companion and they exchange just a few words in chinese. It was too brief to be translation of what I had said, indicating that the other fellow (whom I had not seen before) must also have understood my words. Then with an almost sheepish smile and slight shaking of his head, Tsai handed over the coat and said, "All right, here is your coat. I think you may realize why this (he held up the dried meat) would cause us to wonder about it."
"Oh, sure, Tsai. I can see that. But how about you give it back now so I can fix the softball?'"
"No," he said, "I will keep this as a souvenir. We will get a new softball for you."
There seemed in that case to be no point in pressing further for return of the dried meat. But it did occur that an apology of sorts was in order. So turning back, after starting to depart, I said, "Gosh, Tsai, I'm sorry to have caused you to have to wait out here for so long. I saw you out here with the coat, but had no idea it was mine because I didn't see any reason...."
"Oh, that is no matter," said the congenial little interpreter whom we had originally labeled "clothing merchant" for his promises of new suits and shoes. "It is really quite interesting to me, that you can do so many things."
(One wonders yet today if that little piece of dried goat flank was actually kept by Tsai as a souvenir or delivered to Pyoktong and perhaps later to Peking for analysis if someone might figure out what it really was. Or does it now dwell in a museum or collection of artifacts; an unsolved mystery of early American mentality?)
Flynn was asked for a little advice by the three Air Force officers in his platoon who had earlier announced themselves to be well qualified by virtue of having been "survival officers" in their squadron. (That is title for officers in charge of survival equipment.) They sought his advice as to what they might need in addition to what they already had hidden away. Beneath a loosened board in the big barrack floor they had stashed several packages of tobacco (saved by "cutting" down quite a bit on their daily smoking), and yet another tobacco package now nearly full of sugar saved a few spoonsful at a time from the personal rations of that. Noting no mention by them of knives or hatchets, Flynn suggested that might be something useful to have. They asked then if he knew where they might obtain some. He suggested they might check with that "Navy Chief" in the mud hut, whom he had "heard" made some knives for the kitchen.
The three approached me soon after with one of them saying, "Flynn says you know how to make knives, and things."
Realizing that Flynn was playing games with them and with me, it seemed as well to play along. "Well, I have done such things."
"How about making some for us?"
"What do you want 'em for?"
"Well, we're thinking of making an escape," said the spokesman after a quick glance around, "and figured we ought to have some knives and hatchets, if we could get them."
"How soon you plannin' to leave?"
"Well, most any time now, I guess, " was the reply after a slight delay. "It's warm weather now, and good cover in the woods. How long will it take you to make us some?"
"Oh, Just a day or so, " I told them, "after I get the material. What have you got for me to make them out of?"
They looked totally surprised at the question. "Oh, we don't have anything," one of them eventually said. "We figured you'd know where to get the material since you made the knives for the kitchen."
There was no point in explaining where those or any other of the materials I used had come from. Also there was no point in wasting more time with them. So the conversation was ended by saying, "I'll tell you what I'd recommend then, gentlemen. Stop thinking about escaping this summer, and start thinking about it for next year. That'll give you some time for acquiring some equipment and doing some real planning, which anyone should do before trying to make an escape from here."
With that, I left the three pretenders, and went looking for Flynn to cuss him out, jokingly, for sending the fools to see me. We could never figure for certain, Flynn and I, if those three even had sense enough to realize how we really felt about them.
Mike S., an Air Force fighter pilot, came into the butcher shop section of the shed adjacent to the kitchen to see me one day as I was starting to cut up the critter which Flynn and I had butchered an hour or so earlier. Mike forgot for a time what he had come to see me about, because he happened in just as I was inflating the pig's bladder. There being no way to conceal it from him, I continued blowing it up to what seemed its maximum size and tied the neck over a wooden plug to keep it so stretched while it dried.
"What the hell is that?" Mike wanted to know.
"A pig bladder " he exclaimed. "You mean from this pig you just butchered? Well, what did ya blow it up like that for? What're you gonna do with it?"
"To make a spare bladder for the volley ball," I lied. "I think the one that's in there is leaking just a little, and this we could use to replace it if it goes flat."
It was not easy to keep from laughing at the puzzled look on Mike's face. "Really?" he said. "You've gotta be kiddin'."
Give the guy credit at least for having sense enough to be skeptical. But on this there was substantive basis for going on. "No, I'm not kidding on this, Mike. That's what used to be used for bladders in athletic equipment. That's why a football is called a 'pigskin'."
Now came a surprised look on the fellow's face. "Well, I'll be damned," he said, appreciatively. "I didn't know that. I'd always wondered why it was sometimes called a 'pigskin.' But hey, Chief, I just thought of something else it could be used for I think. Will it stay that big after it dries a while?"
"Yep. That's the reason for blowing it up, is to stretch it so it'll stay that big."
"Well, then, after it's stretched it could be used as a canteen, for carrying water. Ever think of using it for something like that?"
"Never crossed my mind, Mike," I lied, and knew from his expression that this time he didn't have sense enough to realize that I wasn't being truthful.
"Well, it sure could!" he said enthusiastically, as much to himself as to me. "And I'd sure like to have one. Would you let me have this one, Chief? Or next hog you butcher save the bladder for me?"
"Now, Mike," I said somewhat reluctantly, "I'm gonna have to cut you in on a little secret here. If I'd seen you coming, you'd have never known about it. I've done this with the bladder out of every pig I've butchered, for the very reason you just mentioned that they can be used as canteens. The rest of them have all been stored in a safe place. If you should ever really have need for one, it'll be available. But I don't want any of them lying around where the enemy might find it in a shakedown because it would tie right back to me. And don't tell anyone else what you just saw here, either. If word gets out about it amongst that bunch of 'magpies' the enemy will soon hear of it. And that could be just as bad for me as if they found one of the bladders."*
(* In aftermath of their discovery of the dried meat in my pocket, the enemy would not likely accept any excuse I might come up with for the pig bladders. Fortunately no others of the prisoners were aware of what had been found in my coat pocket except those three most trusted, Moritz, Flynn, and Arnold.)
"Well, okay Chief, I won't tell anyone," he said. "But what if something happens and you're not here? How could I get one then?"
"In that case, check with Arnold. He' 11 know who's in charge of them if I'm not here. And I'll let him and such others who need to know that you are aware we have them. Okay?"
"Yeah," he said, "I can see why it Is important for you that not many people know about it. And I just might be having use for one, because I've been giving a lot of thought lately to trying to make it out of here. I've got an idea I think just might work out. In fact, you having had some experience in your escape last year, I wouldn't mind getting your opinion about what I have in mind."
So while my hands were busy at the menial task of carving up a hog carcass that afternoon, my mind did dwell in the fantasy world of a modern fighter pilot's ideas on escape. It perhaps needs be noted, however, that Mike S. was not just an ordinary fighter pilot. He was pilot of an F86, the first of "swept wing" fighters in our Air Force's arsenal. And being pilot of a "swept wing" was in those days regarded as a special distinction, at least by some such, including Mike. The fact that he'd been shot down by a Russian pilot in an also swept wing MiG, did not diminish in the least Mike's sense of great achievement just for having piloted an F86.
Besides which, in the process of the escape which he now had in mind, Mike would get more than just "even" for having been shot down by a MiG. There was an airfield no more than 20 or 30 miles from our camp, on the other side of the Yalu, from which the Soviet fighters came up to meet ours, and then scurried back to if they found themselves in trouble. Mike figured it wouldn't take but a day or two to reach that airfield, once he had gotten out of this camp. Wouldn't really need any food for such a short trip; only a little drinking water. Apparently just one pig bladder full would do it. After he got there, Mike would simply steal a MiG and fly it south to freedom.
Enthusiasm for his great idea seemed to intensify as he talked about it. He also had an additional one. Since he wouldn't be wearing the parachute and bulky "G-Suit" which jet fighter pilots usually wore, there would probably be room for both of us in the cockpit. And with my lap for him to sit on, he would be better able to see for takeoff and landing.
Having thus invited me to go along with him, Mike asked what I thought of the idea. There was no point in asking the obvious question whether he was serious because it was equally obvious that he was. Thinking it might be impolite to do otherwise, I paused in the hog-carving to reply: "Mike, if I thought there was any practicality in that idea, I'd just go over there and do it just myself. That's ridiculous! And I think you've really got sense enough to know it."
"Well, it was just an idea," he said with a shrug, as I resumed the carving of the carcass. "What I really came over to ask you about was if you think they'll ever give us some more of that sausage like we had a couple or three weeks ago? That was really great."
"That wasn't something special they gave us," I told him. "We made it."
"You made it? You mean to say you guys made up that sausage right here?"
"Of course. Who else? And where else?"
"Well, where did you get the casing to stuff it in?"
"Oh, we get some sausage casing with every hog we butcher," I told him; realizing now that he was unaware of what those casings were and would probably be shocked when he found out.
"Then why not make some more?" he wanted to know.
"Because it's too damn' much work," I told him. "Too much extra work for the kitchen crew."
"What kind of extra work?" he then asked. "I'd sure be willing to come over and help. And I'll bet other guys would, too. 'Cause everybody liked it. What kind of extra work?"
"We cook the meet in chunks, first," I explained, "because it's pork and we don't want to take any chances on trichinosis. That's no problem, but then it has to be chopped up fine with cleavers because we have no grinder. That's a lot of extra work. Stuffing it is lots of extra work, too, because we don't have a regular stuffer. We had to use a wine bottle with the bottom broken out and a stick to pack the stuff in. And of course, preparing the casings is quite a job, too. They have to be stripped out real good, and flushed several times and then soaked in brine at least overnight ......"
A puzzled expression began to appear on Mike' face at that last, so I paused, awaiting further reaction. "Why do you have to do all that,?" he asked. "If they give you the casings each time you butcher a hog, why do they have to be...."
"Mike," I said mildly in interruption, "the casings we get with each hog come inside the hog. It's the intestines; stripped and flushed clean and then soaked in brine. That's the way...."
His interruption of my explanation was not at all mild. He shouted angrily: "You mean to tell me you fellows pulled something like that? Fed us hog guts and never told .... By god I'm gonna see about this! I'm gonna ......"
"You'd best hold it right there, Mike," I said. "Before you go barging off and make yourself look like a bigger fool than you really are. You need to learn something of what we're talking about. That's the way all sausages were made for years, before someone invented the plastic stuff for hot dogs and such. And that's the way some of the best, and most expensive of sausages are still made ......"
The anger faded from the young man's face, and he listened appreciatively as I continued, "I've heard you and some others talking about fine sausages you enjoy, polish - italian - greek fancy, gourmet sausages. Fact is I think some of you were talking about that - comparing the sausage we made with that sort of stuff, and favorably ......"
Mike nodded his head, now smiling at himself, and acknowledged he'd been party of that conversation.
"Well, what the hell do you think those fine sausages are cased in?" I concluded, "Hog guts, that's what! Most of 'em. That's part of what makes 'em so damn' good and so expensive. And good for you, too. There's nutrition in that kind of sausage casing; not a bit of it in those cheap plastic tubes."
"Okay, Chief," Mike said most pleasantly as he started to leave. "You win as usual. I come over intending just to ask one simple question, and end up getting a lesson in sausage making."
"You can always learn something here at the kitchen," I told him. "Maybe most of it not worth knowin', but something new. SO drop by anytime. And if you want more sausage, bring a crew. Most of the stuff we put out here we know is pretty ordinary. But when it comes to sausage, we are strictly gourmet."
The smile on the young fighter pilot's face as he flipped his hand at me in farewell, was the sort of thing which helped a great deal to keep up good spirits in our otherwise depressing circumstance. Mike was a decent enough fellow, and not at all unintelligent. Just typically ignorant of a lot of basic things and, worse still, all too typically unaware of that fact. He it was also who had been terribly upset when he learned we used the hogs' blood in the soup; yet at the same time admitting he thought it was great until he learned it was blood that gave it such good flavor. And just now, I had decided not even to point out during our conversation the inconsistency of his attitudes with respect to a hog's guts and its bladder. When intestines were used as sausage casing they were first thoroughly cleansed and then thoroughly cooked. The bladder which he was so eager to have for a canteen had nothing done to it before its inflation than just pouring out the urine.
The butcher shop, or more broadly the butchering process, in fact provided quite accurate insight of the general character and some particular characteristics of persons who came by to observe it. A test of internal ruggedness, it might be called, or perhaps more simply just plain "guts;" in some cases potential for development of same, as well as present level thereof.
Navy Ensign Dale Faler came to the shop on the following, hog-killing day, just to bring me a cup of the soybean milk which Sgt Arnold and crew had cooked up as part of a mid-day snack. Most other of the inmates were already enjoying their ration in the sunshine out in the compound. Faler had been enjoying his in the company of Capt. Flynn and Navy Lt. John DeMasters, "When it occurred to me," he explained as he extended the cup, "that our poor old Navy Chief was slaving away while the rest of us are having a picnic. So here, I found your cup and brought your ration...."
"Gee, thanks," I said. "Just set it on the table 'til I finish this bit of surgery." I was involved at the moment in extracting an eye from the hog's head, having learned that this was one part of the critter which seemed to add nothing of value to the soup.
"Hey, that's eye surgery!" the ensign exclaimed. "I didn't know you were an optician."
"I also do brain surgery, if I could ever find one around here to work on."
"Well don't look at me," he responded. "If I'd had one of those I wouldn't be here."
At that point, the eyeball popped out of its socket and landed on the floor "looking" up at us, causing the ensign to exclaim, "Now isn't that a pretty blue eye!"
"Sure is." I picked the thing up intending to toss it in the scrap pail, but then had different idea. After rinsing it off, I extended it towards the young officer and asked, "Do you think you could slip this into John's cup of bean milk without him noticing when you do it?"
"Heck yes," he replied enthusiastically. "I'm sure I can. I'll get Pat to help me." He hurried off then to rejoin the other two who were sitting on a crude bench in clear view from where I was working. After a brief whisper to Flynn, Faler seated himself on the other side of DeMasters. While the lieutenant was then distracted by something Flynn was saying to him, the eyeball was gently slipped into his cup.
As the three of them chatted, they also sipped. DeMasters held the warm cup in both hands between sips, usually looking down in its direction. After several sips it could be seen that he said something, quite calmly, which set the other two into "knee-slapping" laughter. This continued for some time, perhaps extended by something more which DeMasters said as he looked in my direction.
Knowing that I would be wondering what DeMasters had said when he first saw the eyeball, Ensign Faler came back to give me a report. The lieutenan's calmness at sight of the thing, and as he made his remark about it, was evident as I had watched. What he had said which set his companions into near-riotous laughter was: "I'll never love blue eyes again."
DeMasters came to the shop as I was tidying it up. We bantered a bit over my denial of responsibility for the trick which had been pulled on him. Then he said seriously, "What I really came here for now, Chief, was to thank and congratulate you...."
My puzzled look in response caused him to continue.
"I want to thank you," he said, "for what you done for me; and congratulate you for what you've done to me...."
The last part of that puzzled me still more, which was probably also shown in my expression.
"What you've done for me in these past few weeks is give me a lot of the knowledge I knew I would need to make it all the way to freedom if I should decide to break out of here. What you've done to me at the same time is change my basic outlook in certain ways, so that in addition to now knowing how to do some of the unpleasant things I might have to do, I also now have confidence that I could do them....
"I didn't have that before, Chief. And I wasn't at all certain I had it yet, until I saw that pig's eye lookin' up at me out of my cup. If somebody'd pulled something like that on me a month ago, I'd have been damn' sick, or damn' mad, or probably both. But instead, when I saw the damn thing lookin' up at me, it just struck me funny as hell. But what I said then, that set Pat and Dale to laughin', wasn't something I thought of trying to be funny. That just came out of nowhere. What I was really thinking at the time was, 'Hey! I've made it! I've passed the test and am really ready to go!' And I've been wondering since is that why you did it, Chief? as a test of whether I really have what it takes to make it?"
"No, John," I replied, "I just did it for the devil of it. I didn't think of doing something like that as a test, because it never occurred to me that you might need one. I never doubted that you had what it takes in that regard. If I'd had doubts about that, I would've considered it a waste of time to try to teach you anything about the other stuff."
"Really?" he said, "That surprises me, that you didn't have some doubts about me that way; because I sure had a lot of 'em about myself. I guess maybe the reason I expected you would have is because of hearing you talking with Flynn or Arnold about how so many of the guys here are really pretty helpless. Talk as if they know a lot, and maybe some of them do know quite a bit. But when it comes to actually doing something, they lack either the know-how or the guts. And I guess the reason I figured you must include me in that category is because that's the way you and Flynn caused me-to feel about myself."
"Flynn and I ? We cause you to..."
"Yeah, you and Flynn both of you bastards. Your damn' self-confidence. The way you do things, all sorts of things that others of us know we can't do, and wouldn't even try.
"And you usually do those things as though there's nothing much to it. That can make a man feel damned inferior as helpless as I've heard you say that so many of us are. Which is why I thought...."
"Well," I sought to explain, "one of the reasons I never did consider you in that category is because I knew about your little escapade down at Pak's Palace, early last year." (He had broken away from the Korean interrogation center in the early days of his captivity, and spent a week cramped in a hole in the ground as punishment after recapture.)
"Oh, that," he said. "But that wasn't a real kind of escape try. That was really a stupid thing. An act of desperation."
"That it was desperation I agree, John. But I don't agree that it was stupid."
"What else could you call it? No equipment. No food. No place to hide, really. And not enough clothes to keep ... I'd probably have froze to death if they hadn't found me. What else could you call that but stupid?"
"I'd call it a deliberate choice of the least undesirable of the two very undesireable alternatives which you felt were all you had right then ......"
His look of surprise and wonderment caused me to continue: "You'd been without sleep for more nights than you can remember; not daring to go to sleep for fear of freezing to death right there, or of losing fingers or toes or more to frostbite. Their threats weren't particularly worrisome, but with very little of food or water you envisioned yourself being weakened enough that you might then die of some sickness. And you knew for damn sure those bastards at Pak's wouldn't mind at all if you did, and might even derive a little pleasure from it. So you decided it would be better to die trying, no matter the odds, than let yourself be worn down to die of freezing, or disease, or just hopelessness."
The lieutenant's look was now one of amazement. It was quite some time before he spoke, saying, "How the hell do you know about all that? I never told you about I've never told anyone all of those things that I ......"
"How I know about all that, John, is just by remembering what I experienced and felt at Pak's in February last year, which brought me very damn close to doing the same sort of desperate thing that you did. 'Desperate' yes, and maybe some ignorant; but not stupid."
"Well I'll be damned," was all he managed to say to that.
It seemed appropriate, because DeMasters had mentioned feelings of "inferiority," to continue our discussion on the subject just a bit further.
"There's another reason," I then told him, "why I did never categorize you among those whom you've heard Flynn and I mention as being 'helpless' and perhaps something worse. It has to do with your mention that our ability, to do so many things, caused you to feel 'inferior.' I've no doubt that we cause some others here to feel inferior, too; as they damn well should because in fact they really are. And I'll admit the old indian and I often go a little bit out of our way to remind them of it ....
"The difference is in the reaction of individuals when we cause them to feel a bit, as you called it, 'inferior.' Your reaction was to come to us seeking to learn some of the things we happened to know, which you didn't know or maybe even care about up until now because you had no need, until now, for such skills or such knowledge. That uncomfortable feeling of 'inferiority' is wiped out by proving to yourself that you can, if you need to, also do those things....
"Those whom we call helpless and in fact regard as inferior, try to get rid of that well justified feeling of inferiority by telling themselves the things we do which they can't do are really beneath their 'dignity.' When we butcher a hog, for example, they gather to watch the ki11ing, not in order to learn something, but just for entertainment. Then, after shuddering a bit at sight of the blood, they return to their various pasttimes reassuring themselves and one another, that such menial and gruesome tasks as that are for lower class types than they."
"You're probably right," DeMasters said, "about some of the spectators at the hog-killin's. But not all of 'em. Some of them, like me I watch, and wonder . Wonder how it is that you guys can do something like that. So easy. Sorta casually, it seems. And wonder if I could do something like that. I've never killed any animal except a mouse or rat, something like that. So when I watch I wonder if I could. Well now I think that I could if I really had to..."
"I know that you could."
He glanced at me and then continued, "But there's still a problem I have. When I watch you guys kill a hog, I can't help feeling sorry for the beast even though I know what is for and why...."
"You think we don't?"
"That's something I've wondered about just how you feel when you do that and what you feel. You do it so casual, in a way. But at the same time you're kidding with each other or clowning, cussing each other out; all sorts of different things, and I wonder why...."
"Have you ever considered that some of the things we do are done to cover up how we feel?"
The look on the lieutenant's face said that he hadn't, but did so now. So I went on to explain, "We feel several things, John, the kinds of things and in the kinds of ways that a man usually doesn't want to mention to anyone else. But I'll tell you of them now because I'm sure you can understand them, which most other of our spectators couldn't. And because you have earned the right to know them in advance, since you will feel them, too. You mentioned feeling sorry. It's not quite sorrow but regret; regret that the deed is necessary. What we feel that you deserve most to know of in advance is the pain...."
"The pain ?" He was clearly much surprised at that.
"The animal's pain. We share it, John. Not everybody does. But we do. And you will, too because you're that kind of man. We feel it especially if we goof up and cause the animal to suffer longer than it should have to."
The lieutenant sat silent for a while, absorbing what he'd just heard. Then he asked, "And Flynn feels the same about all this as you?"
"Of course. Not that he's ever said so to me. We've never talked about it. But we don't have to. We just naturally know that sort of thing about one another. Besides, he's an indian. Maybe only part indian in some respects, but all indian in that. It was his idea that we ask them to tell one of the guards to shoot the hogs in the head, before we butchered them, or let us have a rifle and one shell to do it. They wouldn't go along with it, of course."
"Well I'll be damned," Lt. DeMasters said softly in closure of our discussion of the manly art of hog-killing, "I thought when I looked that hog eye in the eye without getting sick that I'd passed the final test in your school for living off the land. But I sure still had a whole lot more to learn."
"That was the beginning of your post-grad course," I told him. "You'll soon learn a whole lot more if you and Moritz 'go on a field trip.'"
"Thanks to you and Flynn, I now feel reasonably qualified to go."
The big question for us DeMasters, Moritz, Flynn and myself during that month of June, was whether or not to go. The signals on what was happening in the armistice negotiations at Panmunjom and, therefore, the possibility of the war ending soon were very mixed. And some of the indicators on which we had to base our judgement, were themselves ambiguous.
The continuing general improvement in our living conditions, was one example of that. It could be for the purpose of having us spend the last days of captivity in physical circumstances about which we would have little reason to complain. But it also could be for the purpose of better ensuring that we would "keep our healthy" (as Tsai always reminded). For we were their only stock in trade for the tens of thousands of captured and defected Chinese troops held by our side, whom the communist negotiators still insisted must be returned to their control, no matter if they preferred not to do so. It would also save them some embarrassment in the event that they had to give in to continuing demand by our side for inspection of the POW camps by the International Red Cross.
Anything the enemy might tell us about the prospects of settlement at Panmunjom could not, in itself, be relied upon in any case. They were still working the "yo-yo" tactic, encouraging news one day followed by bad news the next, for its psychological impact on the susceptible majority of prisoners. The only dependable source of information we had from outside was communist publications from Britain and the United States; mainly the Daily Worker, People's World, and Masses and Mainstream. These were now available in the "library" remarkably soon after their publication.
The general content and themes in those publications was of course not at all dependable. Much of it was not at all useful to our purposes, but simply an augmentation of the propaganda of our captors. The U.S. communists were still lamenting the execution of the traitors Rosenberg, and condemning U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy for his "outlandish" contention that there were pro-communist subversives in our State Department, and other U.S. Government agencies.
Reports about the armistice negotiations were of course slanted and distorted in general accordance with what our captors were telling us from time to time. The U.S. negotiators were always depicted at fault when negotiations broke down, And the communist proposals and demands including insistence that prisoners held by our side who didn't wish to return to North Korea or communist China should be compeled to do so were ever described as "sincere and reasonable" efforts to bring a prompt end to the fighting.
Useful to us were the basic facts about the negotiations which were contained in those otherwise distorted reports. We learned from these of certain developments at Panmunjom which our captors had chosen not to tell us about. We could discern the actual reason for breakdown of negotiations usually "walkout" by the enemy negotiators in contrast to do what we had been told about it. The actual dates on which certain things happened were of particular importance. From that sort of information, Army Lt. Dave Shay came up with clear proof that in working their "yo-yo" tactic, our captors did not give us the "good news" of progress in the peace talks, until the bad news was available because the communist negotiators had again walked out.
Discernible also by "untwisting" the distorted reports in those U.S. communist publications was the fact that return of all of their troops now held prisoner by our side including most especially those thousands of them who had made clear they didn't want to return was of prime importance to the Chinese enemy. They would stall on that issue for however many weeks, months or years might be required, unless compelled to give in on it by either the actuality or convincing threat of sufficient military pressure to defeat their forces in Korea or drive them out.*
In actuality, the enemy gave in on that issue in early June, 1950, precisely because President Eisenhower did convincingly so threaten.* Agreement for a cease fire was reached at Panmunjom on June 8, 1950. But we in the prison camp were of course not made aware of that. We were instead led by our captors to believe it was still a stalemate on that one remaining issue, and otherwise that there was little chance of settlement in the near future.
[* President Eisenhower, after he was out of office and only a short while before he died, publicly revealed that fact.
With negotiations stalled once more by a communist "walkout", he told Prime Minister Nehru of India, who was soon to meet with Soviet leaders, that unless the communist negotiators came back to the negotiations and "agreed to the terms which were then on the table he (President Eisenhower) would order whatever action was necessary to bring the war to an end militarily." When he finally revealed that fact at a press conference in Chicago, Eisenhower added, "and I did not preclude the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons!"]
( Note: check record for exact quote)1
Our appraisal of other things happening at that time, was of course affected by that erroneous view of the situation. So the arrival of a work crew (the slave labor group) to repair the mud-walled buildings and then begin rebuilding the kitchen fireboxes was seen as indication that the enemy expected to be keeping us there for quite a while longer quite possibly through another winter.
That appraisal was further reinforced by the enemy's most effective use of their "yo-yo" tactic shortly after the middle of the month. On the 18th or 19th of June we were assembled to receive the amazingly good news that negotiations had resumed and were now in virtually total agreement and so it might all be over in but a few more days. But then on the following day we were assembled again and told by a sad-faced camp commander, via the translations of a very sad-faced interpreter, Tsai, that the deal was off. Sygman Rhee had ordered the gates opened at all POW camps where captive North Korean soldiers were held, setting them free to remain in South Korea if they wished, or to return to North Korea.
This wrought near bedlam amongst those of the prisoners who had already shown themselves susceptible to the "yo-yo" tactic. While still in assembly they began vocally cursing the South Korean president. This time, unlike any previous instances of disorderliness while at assembly, the camp commander did not call for silence so he could continue with the announcement. He waited patiently until the clamor died down to a grumble, quite obviously pleased with the results to that point. Then he added the usual, party-line diatribe against the South Korean leader, plus what may have been some embellishments of his own, ending once again with the sad proclamation, "There is now no way of knowing how long the war may continue."
If the camp commander was pleased by the behavior of the doves and yo-yo's during the announcement, he must have been overjoyed at their performance afterward. Shouted cursing at Rhee began immediately upon dismissal. In their mindless rage, some of them approached various of us who didn't join in the denunciation of the South Korean president, essentially demanding that we now do so. This was especially so with any of us who might have stood up for Rhee on one or another of the many previous occasions when our captors had pointed to him as the great villain and "obstructor of peace." Several from the "kiddie corner," including Shaw, confronted me as I started for the kitchen.
"Well, Chief," one of them snottily demanded, "What do you think of your 'wonderful' Sygman Rhee, now? You still think he's a great guy ? Hunh?"
A pathetic group they were, of foolish youngsters who had just been demoralized for the "umpteenth" time by the enemy's simple, "yo-yo" tactic hopes raised to the the skies one day, and then shattered the next. After a brief look into the near to tears eyes of each of them, I said rather slowly to give it time to sink in: "If Sygman Rhee actually did what those rotten, lyin' sons-a-bitches told us he did then I am sure that he had a damn' good reason for doing it!"
With that, I left them. To argue, or talk with them further at that time would have defeated the purpose. Let them think on their own for a while about what I'd said, and possibly later on one of them might ask what I meant by it. So I proceeded on toward the kitchen, but was stopped again enroute. Lt. "CJ" was vituperating very profoundly to several gloomy listeners, and called out to ask my opinion. Usually he would not have done so, having long since learned that my opinions on most everything rarely agreed with his, and far more often proved to be a bit disturbing to him. But apparently he now felt that the case against Sygman Rhee was so conclusive that he dared to challenge anyone to disagree with his own long-standing contention (quite consistent with that of the enemy) that Rhee was the number one villain obstructing peace in Korea. So he called out:
"Hey, Chief! What do you think now?"
"Well about what just happened, of course!"
"Oh ? What is it that just happened, 'CJ,'?"
"You know very well what I'm talking about," he said, already disturbed by the manner of my responses. " About that damn' Sygman Rhee keeping it from being over.... He Just wants to keep the war going because...."
"You're -right, CJ, I do know what you're talking about. It's too damn' bad that you don't. But anything these bastards say you believe it, and pick it up to help spread it for 'em. Isn't it about time ... ?"
"CJ" interrupted me in turn, to say, "I don't believe everything they tell us! And I don't - but by god they sure wouldn't make up something like this. I don't doubt for a minute that Rhee did what they said, opened the gates and turned the Korean prisoners loose like they said he did. And that means he kept the war from being ended again. And I don't like it. I'm tired of it. I'm also tired of you guys that are always sticking up for him when he pulls these things."
"CJ", it was said with a patience not really felt, "has it ever occurred to you that the things Rhee has done which you bitch so much about including turning those Korean prisoners, loose, if he actually did it he has done because he feels it necessary to protect the best interests of his people in South Korea? In this case he may have been protecting our best interests, as well."
"That's ridiculous! All he's done is keep the war from ending and keeping us here. That's sure not in my best interests, or anyone else's."
The poor fellow was near to tears as the younger men had been. He would not have been receptive to logical argument or persuasion in any case, and certainly not in his present distraught condition. But it was an opportunity to bring some considerations to the attention of others who were listening. So I did so, along the following lines:
If Rhee actually had done as they said (and I was inclined to think that he had) he had to have a good reason for doing so. The most likely possibility which came to mind at the time was that he either knew or suspected that our negotiators were about to give in on the repatriation issue; to the communists' demand that all prisoners held by our side be returned to their control. In other words, forced repatriation of thousands both Chinese and Korean troops now held by our forces who had made clear that they did not wish to return to communist control. Many or perhaps most of them were "line crossers," that is defectors from the communist forces. The Chinese troops had been promised that they could afterwards go to Taiwan. The Koreans expected to be set free in South Korea. Rhee had some influence, but certainly no control over what our negotiators would or would not finally agree to. If (as I at the time very strongly suspected) our negotiators were about to give in to the enemy's demand for forced repatriation of all prisoners, Rhee could do nothing about the resultant betrayal of promise to the Chinese defectors. But by opening the gates of the POW camps which he controlled, he could fulfil his promise to the North Korean defectors. Any who wished to remain in South Korea could do so, yet any who preferred otherwise could return to the North.*
[* Actually, of course, the communists had given in on the repatriation issue, some 10 days earlier; having been compelled by Eisenhower's message to the Soviet leaders via Prime Minister Nehru, saying he would order whatever necessary of military action to end the war, if communist negotiators did not return to the negotiations and promptly agree to cease fire on the terms then "on the table." But then, characteristically, the communist negotiators sought to delay further. One reason for that was to give themselves time to "save face" by finding a few American prisoners who would "refuse repatriation." Also, they then sought (successfully) to complicate the exchange process in a manner which might cause some of their defected troops to change their minds. In order to "refuse" repatriation a prisoner had to await his turn to be interrogated by a purportedly neutral interviewer, as to whether or not he really wanted to "not return home." In that actual situation (as in the quite different situation which we who were prisoner of the communists could at the time logically suppose) Rhee could do nothing to benefit the Chinese defectors. But by opening the gates of the POW camps which he controlled he allowed the Korean soldiers imprisoned therein to make their own decisions and immediately.]
As that analysis of the situation (as it then appeared to me:) was presented, one of the listeners asked if I thought our negotiators would really give in to the communist demand for forced repatriation. To that, I replied that I thought it was quite possible they would do so.
"Keep in mind," I told them by way of explanation, "that our negotiators at Panmunjom get their orders from Washington and New York (meaning the U.S. and United Nations officials who set the policy), and there are plenty of damn' fools and friends of the enemy back there who would give in to just about anything the communists ask for. They wouldn't hesitate to sell out on the repatriation issue, go back on our word to the prisoners we hold down south."
"If that's what it takes to get this war over with, that's what they should do," CJ then said. "It's us they should be concerned about not a bunch of damn' gooks ......"
Which was exactly the kind of attitude one had long since come to expect in "CJ"; only a slightly clearer expression of it than he had previously made. Probably I made some comment to him in return. But more important was the feeling that I had contributed some useful thoughts to the others who were present, which might help them to cope with the disappointment we all felt from the "bad news" which had just been delivered to us by the enemy.
A couple of hours later there was, a very encouraging development for myself. John Shaw and one of his young buddies came to ask just what I'd meant in saying that Rhee must have had a good reason, if he turned North Korean troops loose from the POW camps in the South. After explaining very similarly to what had been said to "CJ" and the others, I reminded Shaw of something he knew from before his own capture that our side had promised North Korean and Chinese troops sanctuary if they would defect. "Would you have us go back on that promise?" I asked. "You've seen what it's like for the citizens under communism. You know what it's like to be at slave labor under this system. What do you think would happen to those guys who came over to our side to get away from it if they're now forced to come back here?...
"Just give it some thought, John," I concluded. "It'll help getting over the disappointment we all feel at the way things are going right now. I'd like as much as you for this thing to be over and done with but not in a way that would disgrace our country by going back on that kind of promise."
Shaw didn't say anything in response, he only looked at me. But I knew from the way he looked that he was thinking. Which was all that was wanted and, in the long run, would be needed. He was a rugged young man, psychologically as well as physically, whenever the manhood in him came to the fore. In certain ways I knew him far better than he had yet come to know himself.
No matter what the actual situation (which we would not know until after repatriation), our attitudes, decisions and actions in late June, 1950 were based on the way things looked to us at the time. In the aftermath of the enemy's announcement of Rhee's release of North Korean POW's, and especially because of the big fuss our captors made about it, it looked as though we could expect the war to drag on for several more months or even a year, or more.
Top officials of camp administration knew it was nearly ended, of course. But in addition to deliberately leading us to believe the opposite, it appears certain that knowledge of the agreement at Panmunjom was still kept from lesser functionaries: and guard troops. Thus, certain happenings in and around the compound would be interpreted by us as indicating quite the opposite of their real significance or purpose.
Arrival of the slave labor group in early June, to repair the mud walls and subsequently rebuild the cooking facilities, was a prime example of such misinterpretation. When Sgt Arnold asked him why the fireboxes were being rebuilt, Andy had replied that it was just to make things better for us. When Arnold said they were good enough as they were, Andy said the cement coating the Korean workmen applied made them more sanitary. Since that could have been put on the ones which we had built, and by ourselves if only the materials were given to us, there had to be a different reason.
Our misinterpretation of that reason was based on two known facts: 1) Our negotiators at Panmunjom had been demanding inspection of POW camp facilities by the International Red Cross, or some other agreed "neutral" group; and, 2) While communists never hesitate to tell straight out lies if they have to, they prefer whenever possible just to distort some element of truth. Having the slave laborers rebuild those things for us would enable the enemy to "honestly" tell such inspectors that these had been provided for us (with no need, of course, to mention they were built by slave labor). From that it did logically follow that our captors were expecting the peace talks (and therefore our captivity) to drag on for quite some time longer.
In actuality (as we later would realize), the repairs and improvements were being made because the camp would be used for processing of the enemy's troops returning from our side's POW camps after the armistice. One of the main reasons that possibility did not occur to us was the assumption that returning Chinese troops would be "rehabilitated" in China, rather than in North Korea. In such case, there appeared no reason for the Chinese administrators of our prison camp to be ordering the place fixed up except that they expected to be keeping us there for quite much longer.
The camp commander had inspected the kitchen facilities when the slave labor group first began repairing the mud walls, during the second week of June. Now in retrospect it is clear that he did so for the explicit purpose of making changes to better serve their needs when the camp would be used for processing and "rehabilitation" of their own returning soldiers after the POW exchange. But he represented to Sgt Arnold at the time that he was making the inspection to ensure that the facilities were adequate to our needs.
He was very commendatory of Arnold and his kitchen crew, and quite congenial as they discussed the "adequacy" of the facilities. He showed special interest in the ovens which were at the moment in use, baking pans of the unique, "ginger-custard" pie which Arnold had concocted. He accepted the sample which the sergeant offered, and ate it, approvingly. Then he "asked" if he might send the Chinese cooks to learn from Arnold how to make it, and perhaps sometimes use the ovens to prepare some for the guard troops.*
[ *Arnold asked "Andy" a couple of weeks later, when the Chinese cooks would be coming to learn how to make the custard. The supply officer replied that the camp commander had decided most Chinese would not care for that kind of food.]
As the camp commander departed from the inspection, he was; further commendatory of Arnold and his kitchen crew for their "great contribution" to the welfare and morale of the other POW's "during our long wait for peace." To my subsequent suggestion that the camp commander might recommend him for am "Order of Lenin" in exchange for the custard recipe, Arnold replied that he would much prefer being "ordered" back to Texas. In our serious discussion of the incident, we could not regard it as indication of prompt ending of the war. It was seen possibly as indication of the enemy's concern that they might have to agree to neutral inspection of POW camps. But in all other respects it appeared more as indication that the Communists would continue to drag out the negotiations, especially because we had come to realize it was in the Soviet's strategic interests to do so.
The exchange of "sick and wounded" POW's several weeks earlier had been hailed in the U.S. communist publications (and probably by many others) as sign of great progress in the "peace talks." To those of us who saw those few selected out to be sent home, it more logically indicated that we were ourselves destined to stay much longer. If there was real progress toward settlement of the whole thing in the near future, there was no logical reason to exchange just a few ahead of time.
Such were some of the major considerations during June, 1953, which led the more analytical amongst the prisoner group to believe a prompt ending of the war was unlikely. No matter that the big issue of "voluntary versus forced" repatriation had been actually resolved. We were totally unaware of that. The enemy high command kept that knowledge from us, and apparently from their own functionaries and troops, for several reasons: 1) In order to continue pressures on some of the American prisoners for false confessions to "germ warfare" or other purported "war crimes;" 2) Because they still were forestalling the actual ceasefire while working out facesaving procedures for the prisoner exchange; particularly insisting on the individual interviews by "neutral" counselors or inquisitors of all POW's who Sought to decline repatriation; and 3) To give themselves time to find a few Americans that they held who would agree to "refuse" repatriation.*
[*Some 23 of these were found, all of whom had been serious collaborators during their captivity and, except for one or two who died in Communist China, all later returned to the United States rather than remain there.]
So it was that as the month of June neared its end, final preparations were being made by Flynn and myself for departure from the camp at the first good opportunity in July. The continued handicaps created by the "pretenders" and "speculators" was partially offset by the encouragement and offers of help from a few other of our fellow prisoners. These were men who themselves had the desire to attempt escape, and guts enough actually to do so. But they were also intelligent enough to realize their lack of the kind of training or experience which would be necessary to making their way out of North Korea after a successful breakout from the camp itself.
Quiet men, they were, and very considerate and cautious in their approach to Flynn or myself with offers of help. Marine Lt. Duke Williams, the self-appointed master of the baking ovens, wondered if it might be possible to produce some manner of "hard tack" for us to carry as provisions during the first few days of our venture. Sgt . Arnold wanted to "pack a few lunches" of compacted rice, beans and whatever, such as Japanese troops were known to have used.
We would carry very little of such rations with us. My venture the previous summer had proved the availability of food to scavenge from the woods and the fields during the summer months. It was more important that we be as lightly burdened as we reasonably could. Some sugar in two of the pig bladders, a small packet of salt for each of us, and the several pieces of dried goat meat we had managed to stash away would be all of such provisions we would take with us.
A couple of unexpected items of equipment were offered, however, which were very gratefully accepted. Both of them would play a part in subsequent events, even though our well-planned escape venture was precluded by the armistice. One of these was a large plastic bag for distilling seawater, which a Navy pilot had somehow managed to retain from his seatpack raft. It would hold several times the volume of one of the pig bladder canteens. Quite more surprising, and for several reasons now more memorable, was the contribution to myself of a pair of leather boots. They were given to me by a man whom I knew only by name, and with whom I had not previously conversed beyond simple exchange of greetings. And the manner in which they were given was every bit as beneficial as they would have been as footgear for a trek to freedom.
Air Force Captain, John Peyton, was owner of the boots. A quiet, self-contained man; not unsociable incongenial, but obviously wise enough not to join in the idle chatter of the careless talkers. The fact that we had not previously conversed other than in exchange of greetings was undoubtedly just because we had not occasion to do so. He was quartered in the big barrack with Flynn's platoon. Myself quartered in the mud hut, and much of the time busy at various tasks around the kitchen, was also disinclined, as was Peyton, to talk just for the sake of having conversation. Thus it was some surprising when he sought me ought near the kitchen one day, and asked a somewhat personal question:
"Chief," he said, "what size shoe do you wear?"
It took several moments, perhaps, to overcome the surprise that he initiated a conversation, and puzzlement that he had done so with such a question. After my response that I wore a size nine or nine and a half, "D" he said:
"Well, then, I've got a pair of real good leather boots good walking boots that I think would fit you. And if they do, I'd like for you to have them."
My surprise was still sufficient that I said nothing in return, but only looked at him. So he continued: "I figure: they'd be a helluva lot better for you to be wearing than these damn' canvas things they gave us, when you and Pat (Flynn) head out for a long hike next month."
It was evident now from the very slight smile on his face that he was enjoying the surprised look on mine. "Come on over and try them on," he said. "If they fit you, I'd sure like for you to have them. I wish I had the know how to take a long hike in them myself. But I don't, and you do; you and Pat. If there's anyone can make it all the way, it's you and Pat. And I'd sure like to contribute anything I can to help you do it, since I know damn' well I couldn't do it myself."
The boots, of top grade leather with a molded, seamless, inner liner, could not have fit better had they been handcrafted for me by a master cobbler. Peyton was every bit as pleased by that fact as myself. "They're your boots now, Chief," he said, "whenever you want to take them."
To have taken the boots then to put with my other belongings in the mud hut would have aroused the enemy's suspicions. Nor was it convenient to hide them somewhere within the compound with other of the concealed equipment. So they would remain on the rack at the big barrack either until actual breakout, or if they should be smuggled out and concealed outside the compound with other equipment for pickup afterwards. This situation provided a bit of extra pleasure in subsequent exchanges of greeting between Peyton and myself. Was he keeping an eye on "my" boots? Indeed he was, he would likely reply, "and I'll kill any sunuvabitch that tries to steal 'em."
The confidence expressed by the helpful men in the ability of Flynn and myself to make it, was a great boost to our own self-confidence that we could do so. More than just that, it was inspirational. We would be doing it not merely for ourselves, but also for them. In various ways they all made it clear that was the way they felt about it. But there was one fellow who expressed great confidence in our ability who was anything but helpful. Flynn said to me as we butchered a hog, after the usual crowd of spectators for the killing had all left:
"We've got a problem."
"This is another one a new one." We both continued our scraping of the hog carcass as I waited for him to continue.
"Sid 'C' says he's going with us."
"Sid wants to go along with us?"
"He didn't say he wanted to." Flynn replied. "He didn't ask if he could. He Just caught me aside last night, said he knew you and I are planning to take off, and that he knows we can make it and so he's gonna go along with us 'cause he wants to get out of here."
Sid "C" was an Army captain, of Engineer Corps. A surly sort of fellow, was my impression, who kept pretty much to himself. Two brief conversations with him had not caused me to rate him very high on the intelligence scale. In the first one he decided to advise me on how I should have built the ovens, after they were completed. Later he came by the kitchen to suggest we should boil bean oil under the looms instead of water, when steaming "bowdsuh," to give them more flavor. When asked, since he was an "engineer," if he happened to know the flash point of bean oil vapor he appeared to resent being questioned about such a "minor" detail.
Such were my recollections of the man as I scraped for a while before saying to Flynn: "Well, it's sure nice to know that such a bright fellow has that much confidence in us. What did you tell him?"
"I told him we'd given a lot of thought to the matter, and did a lot of planning. That we had decided to begin with, on basis of your experience last year, that a two man team was best and had planned accordingly. That I didn't go at all with the idea of taking someone else along, who hadn't even been in on the planning; and that I was sure you wouldn't go for that either especially since it was the third man who went along last year who caused your recapture."
"And what did Sid say to that?"
"He said he didn't give a damn about any of that. That he's going with us. That he didn't intend to try to say what we should do, or change any of our plans. He would just follow along and do whatever we decided without arguing or even trying to make decisions because he realized we'd done lots of planning and that we really would know how to go about it and that he doesn't."
The proposition was so ridiculous, it seemed to deserve no comment. Nor was it necessary to express my thoughts on the matter, since Flynn already knew what they would be. Probably I made some sound or motion in disgust, after which Flynn added, "But that's not quite all that he said...." There was a pause.
I glanced at my pardner awaiting the rest of it.
"He said if we don't agree to let him go with us, he'll do something to foul us up so we can't go, either."
There may have been something akin to disbelief in my expression as I now looked directly at Flynn in reaction. He had anticipated that reaction and looking steadily at me simply nodded his head in reaffirmation of what he had just told me.
It seemed incredible that anyone would actually have such an attitude as that. After a time I asked, "Do you think he'd actually do something like that?"
"If he's fool enough to say it," Flynn replied, as he resumed scraping of the hog carcass, "I guess he's also fool enough to do it."
There may be more pleasureable things to do while pondering a serious problem than scraping hair off a dead hog. But it is the kind of occupation which leaves the mind quite free to think of other things. After a time I asked Flynn if he had any ideas on what to do about the situation.
"Yeah," he replied, "I sure as hell do. But it's against the law and also, I guess, against my religion. How about you?"
"I'm thinkin'," I replied, as we rolled the carcass into a new position and resumed scraping.
"And what do you think?" Flynn asked without looking up from the task.
"I think it's a damn shame," I replied, with eyes on the work, "that such a fine swine as this should have to make the supreme sacrifice to keep a rotten one alive." Then having relieved, somewhat, the pentup feeling, "But I also think I know what we need to do about that particular, low-life swine ...."
Flynn paused work to look at me as I continued. ".......Tell the rotten sunavabitch okay, we'll include him in providing he'll live up to his word that he'll follow orders without question or argument, and also not ask for explanations of our plans and intentions. We've no time for that. And that applies to the process of getting out of here, as well as after we're clear of the camp and on our way...."
Flynn realized at that point what I was driving at. When we had decided for certain just how and when we would break away from the compound, we would figure some way also to leave him behind, such as telling him to be ready at a certain time and place, an hour or more after we would be gone. After we had gone there would be nothing he could do about it. If it seemed necessary, we would let a couple of our trustworthy friends know of Sid's behavior, in case he was in some way troublesome afterwards. Moritz would be told, since he was now the senior officer in the group, and probably Arnold because he was the caliber of Army sergeant who could figure a way to deal with an Army officer of Sid's ilk.
That seemed at the moment a simple and effective way to rid ourselves of the handicap Sid's preposterous demand had posed. But it turned out later that his mere presence precluded one of the better of alternative procedures we devised for getting away from the camp after initial breakout.
In the last days of June we took a few of the trustworthy men into our confidence to help devise and plan some alternative procedures for the breakout. Some of our several schemes would require their assistance in distraction of the enemy during the breakout or deception of them afterwards.
It would have been unrealistic to try to devise a specific and fully detailed plan. We needed to be ready to take advantage of any opportunity which might arise; a work detail outside the compound, unusual traffic on the road through the compound, a jet fighter dogfight overhead, or perhaps a fire in the thatch roof of some building in the village. Although the idea of nighttime departure was not excluded, the heavy security after dark and the frequent bedchecks made daytime breakaway in several ways more appealing. For one thing, there were indications that the enemy did not expect that sort of venture. Secondly, it might give us more time to get clear of the immediate area before our absence was discovered.
And time between our departure and the enemy's discovery of our absence could be very important, either for putting some distance between ourselves and the camp, or for maneuvering which I might send the search parties in the wrong direction or, as the old saying goes, "a wild goose chase." Somewhat in that last regard, Army Lt. Dave Shay inadvertently inspired a most unique idea.
Shay spent considerable time in the "library" in the big barrack, studying whatever was available or recently acquired literature which might provide a clue to what was really going on in the armistice negotiations, or elsewhere in the conflict. A loose floorboard there caused him to jokingly remark that we should pull it up and go underneath the building to dig a tunnel out of the compound. When someone asked him why, he said, "Oh, no particular reason. But in every movie I ever saw about POW camps there was always someone digging a tunnel. So I figure we ought to dig one, even if we don't need it or intend to use it."
While others shared the humor of Shay's remarks, I sought out Flynn to discuss with him the idea it had generated: We could conceal ourselves somewhere within the compound for two or three days, our bedrolls and other gear with us. The enemy could be told by others, that someone they assumed to be interrogators or officials, had taken us away. Whatever the enemy's reaction sending out of search parties, bustling about the village, and possibly (though not certainly) questioning of whoever told them as to what the people looked like who took us away when search activity in the immediate vicinity had subsided, we should be able to slip out at night and, with no one in pursuit, more easily move outside the camp's perimeters.
In our enthusiasm for the scheme we both momentarily disregarded the fact that, no matter the dependability of those whom we would call upon to assist us, it would not likely be possible to do such a thing without it becoming known by everyone else in the compound. The careless talkers, the stoolie, Watash, or our latest nemesis, captain "Sid" one or more of those would sooner or later cause the enemy to be aware of it, quite probably before we had managed actually to leave. And if Flynn and I did make it out, there could still be grim consequences for whoever had helped us in the scheme.
So what then seemed to be the best procedure overall for getting away from the camp had to be discarded because of the undependability and worse of some of our own Countrymen. One facet of it, however, might still be possible to use. Once we had managed to get out of the compound, the enemy would be told that someone (assumed to be of their people) had taken us out, "separately." Our bedrolls and any other items left behind would be hidden temporarily until they could be disposed of piecemeal.
We would depart at the first good opportunity in July. Flynn was the officially designated "duty officer" (by the enemy for receiving any orders from them for relay to the group) for the first week of that month. This made less likely the chance that we could depart during that week, but we were fully prepared.
In early morning of 2 July, there was a slight disturbance at the rear of the compound behind the kitchen. The sentry patrolling outside had discovered a small hole cut in the fence. The officer of the guard and another were now inspecting it. As they did so, the fool "pretender" who had done it watched from the steps of the big barrack, bemoaning to others near at hand that its discovery had foiled hiss escape plan. He had cut through several of the slender saplings or tree branches which had been used to construct the fence, about two feet above the ground. The cut pieces had then been suspended back in place by tieing them on with thread, in a manner obvious from twenty or more yards away.
Flynn got the fellow aside, out of the snooper sentry's view, and asked him "why in the hell" he had done it. He was planning to take off in another day or so, the fellow explained, and thought it was a good idea to get that done in advance so he could get out more quickly when he decided to go. Probably Flynn said nothing further to the fellow, then; having long since learned that the castigation of such fools is usually as futile as trying to reason with them.
Flynn was taken to camp headquarters immediately after the morning meal, where he of course denied knowledge of who might have cut the fence. He returned with instructions to call all hands to assembly. We were then lectured on the seriousness of the offense which had been committed and the foolishness of any attempt to escape. An invitation for the culprit to identify himself brought no response, of course. So also did the request for anyone who knew who did it to speak up with the information, or come privately to let them know. After dismissal from assembly the "escape artist" made quite a point of thanking others for not "ratting" on him.
Early morning of the 4th of July, a trusted friend from the big barrack came to the mud hut to privately inform me that Capt. Flynn had been removed from the compound in the middle of the night, with bedroll and belongings. I went shortly thereafter to the big barrack to check the rack on which the residents kept their eating utensils. Flynn's bowl and cup were gone; a signal to me that he had been taken out of the vicinity, not just out of the compound. He would have deliberately "forgotten" them when told to bring all of his things. Had he been moved only to some other location in the vicinity, he would not have "remembered" them until breakfast time in the morning.
As I started to leave the, the snooper sentry had taken up his "listening" post by the entrance. Under the circumstance it may have been my imagination, but he seemed to have special interest in me. I beckoned the trusted friend to come with me, and paused beside the sentry. For the sentry's ears I then said to the friend: "I don't care what they say I think it's all gonna be over in another week or so, and all we hafta do is be patient a little while longer. I'm gain' over to the kitchen and see what Bill's cookin' up for breakfast!"
Which might have had the effect on the snooper which I sought to achieve. But at that moment the fool who had cut the hole in the fence three nights earlier spotted me and rushed over calling out: "Hey, Chief! Whatcha gonna do now that they took your buddy away? Are you still gonna try to.... ?"
There's no certainty at just what point I managed to interrupt the fool, or whether the snooper was sharp enough to get the gist of what he was saying. I could only say to him something like, "Why don't you just shut your stupid mouth," and hurry off toward the kitchen wondering (as I still do) if there is actually no limit to the stupidity of some of my countrymen.
Counting DownTo What?
Politicizing of Peter Love
Table of Contents
©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.