Lt. Moritz was sitting in the sun by himself, leaning back against the mudhut. He looked up blandly as I approached, but his expression changed quickly when I spoke.
"It's over," is all that I said.
"How d'you know?"
"A friend told me."
"A friend? Who...?"
"Don't know his name. Don't want to know it. And you don't want to know it, either."
"Okay, Chief." Moritz realized at once the reason for what I had just said. "What've you got?"
"It's definitely over. Yesterday was the ceasefire. I find no reason at all to doubt the source. But it has to be protected until we're well out of here; and even after that. It's over, sure enough. But the bastards don't intend to tell us for a couple of weeks or more. It has been suggested that we might perhaps figure some way to pressure them on it; make them admit that it's over."
"Any ideas on how to do that?" he asked.
"I think we ought to get out of sight to discuss it."
There was no one else in the mud hut. It took but a few minutes to come up with a plan which suited the lieutenant. Having had no real success when he asked Tsai about the plane which had flown over two nights before, Moritz would now approach him, or any other of the camp officials, with the claim that word had come from outside the compound that the war was ended but they didn't intend to tell us for a while. Since he could expect then to be questioned intensely in any case, he would beat them to the punch by requesting as senior officer in the compound a discussion of the matter with camp officials.
To ensure that he would not then himself be kept from returning to the compound, he would tell them that several others were aware of this. To demonstrate his "sincere" desire to prevent problems, he would say that he had "ordered" those others not to spread the word generally, because some of the prisoners were prone to get overly excited and upset.
As backup of that plan, by merely starting a rumor in the compound that such a thing had happened, the emotions of the "yo-yo" types could for once be quickly turned upon our captors. Also, Moritz would first "confide" this story to Sgt Arnold and myself. Arnold's working relationship with the Chinese supply officer was such that he would simply tell "Andy" he had heard such a story and wondered if it is true. More importantly, having it appear that I was learning of it from Moritz together with Arnold would effectively conceal the fact that it was really myself to whom the information had been given.
A simple, but plausible story was concocted as to how the informant contacted Moritz. It would at the same time provide reasonable explanation of why Moritz could not give very much description of the fellow.
The scheme worked better than was expected. Moritz was able to speak with Tsai privately about an hour later. He simply said to the little interpreter, "We have been told now that the war is ended. That the ceasefire was yesterday."
"Who has told you this?" was Tsai's disturbed reaction.
Moritz told him that someone walking by on the footpath outside the compound had called in to him and said it.
That had brought a flood of excited questions from Tsai. Who was it? Moritz didn't know; never saw him before. What did he look like? Moritz didn't get much of a look at him, because he just kept walking. Which way did he go? Moritz pointed toward the village. How was he dressed? Just ordinary, Moritz hadn't much time to notice and was so surprised by what the fellow said he hadn't paid much attention to other things.
Then finally Tsai asked a question which could not have been better suited to Moritz' scheme: "What else did this man say to you? Did he say anything else?"
To that, Moritz replied, "All he said was, 'The war is ended. Yesterday was ceasefire. But they do not tell you right away. Maybe for two-three weeks they don't tell you.' Is it true, Tsai?"
The usually calm little interpreter was quite disturbed by that. He paused for a bit before saying anything, then spoke hurriedly: "I don't know if it is true. I mean I don't know if it is true the war is ended. But if it is ended if we are told it is ended we would tell you right away. I must go tell the camp commander of this."
Tsai started to hurry off but stopped when Moritz called to him: "I would like to talk with the camp commander about this before I tell the others here about what I have heard."
"I will tell the commander of your wish," Tsai called back. "But first I must report to him what has happened."
Moritz did not get to talk with the camp commander. Neither was he ever asked any further questions about his "informant." Tsai returned to the compound very shortly to talk with him, aside. His report back to Moritz, quite obviously on instruction from the camp commander, confirmed without saying so that the information Honcho had given to me was entirely correct. The fighting had ended. Ceasefire was on July 13. And it was intended by the enemy not to tell us of this for some time.
Tsai's report to Moritz was also downright amusing: The camp commander "did not know" if the war had ended. There had been encouraging news on this recently. But communications with prison camp headquarters at Pyoktong, "which had never been very good," had "broken down completely" so there had been no news at all for several days. Arrangements were being made, however, to find out what has happened, even if the camp commander might himself have to make the long trip to Pyoktong to do this. And tomorrow, probably in the morning, there would be an assembly at which the commander would tell us whatever news was available. Meanwhile the camp commander wished to ask of Lt. Moritz, and if he might mention to other of the senior officers as well as the squad leaders, that if there is talk amongst the others that the war might already be ended they should be cautioned not to have their hopes too high in case it is not so. "We all hope that this terrible war will be ended as soon as possible," was the conclusion of Tsai's report to Moritz. "But even when it does end we must still have patience because it will take some time to arrange for returning everyone to their homelands."
Moritz sought me out at once to report the success of our scheme. We agreed, somewhat admiringly, that the camp commander had done a pretty fair job of quickly concocting a response to the pitch which Moritz had delivered to him through Tsai. We also agreed that in this instance, at least, our own concoction was considerably the better.
The last bit of the camp commander's message, however, made sense from our own standpoint, as well as theirs. A sudden announcement that the war had ended would propel some of our "yo-yo's" into mindless exuberance. And that would be detrimental, even though not necessarily dangerous, to the welfare of the group in general and the "yo-yo's" themselves in particular. For it would indeed take some time in any case for arrangements of our transfer back to our own forces. Add the customary delaying and stalling tactics of the communists, and some patience indeed was needed.
Therefore, Moritz did not spread the word at once that we now knew for certain the war was ended (even though in fact we did). He conveyed, instead, that he had received an "encouraging" message from the camp commander saying that it might be ended or very soon to end, and that an assembly was scheduled for tomorrow at which the commander Would give us "whatever news was available" on the matter.
It was a most unusual situation of feeling a need to give the pitiful fools the "good news" gradually, instead of all at once. Otherwise some of them would be likely to expend all of their resultant "happiness" at once. Some of it needed to be saved to sustain them through the several weeks of confinement still to be endured even before they started on the rather long ride back to freedom.
Neither Tsai, nor Chung, nor any other of english speaking camp officials appeared at the compound during the rest of that day. One could not really blame them for staying away. Anyone such who did so would have been set upon at once by a flock of the "yo-yo's" and bombarded with questions which they would have been forbidden to answer.
Assembly was called in the compound the following morning by Tsai. He announced that the camp commander would arrive shortly to tell us some "very important" news. The camp commander did arrive, short1y. He was accompanied by an obviously higher ranked official from Pyoktong, whom I recognized as the same fellow who had just one year ago watched the contest between the commissar Lee and myself at the headquarters here in the village on the night following my recapture.
For a bearer of good news, about something which he said he was anxious about as anyone, the camp commander did not appear very happy. Neither for that matter did his somewhat more officious looking companion. In fact, they both looked a bit glum; quite as though they might have preferred to wait a while yet before giving us the good news.
The camp commander spoke first, and quite briefly, with an effort in advance to curb the outburst which he probably expected would come from some of the prisoners. Through Tsai's translations he said that he was "happy" (though he certainly didn't look it) to be able now to bring us some "very good" news for which "all of us" had been waiting. But he wanted to remind us that we were "soldiers." And soldiers, he said, "who must often take bad news calmly, should realize it is sometimes important to take good news calmly, also."
It was an altogether excellent pitch, with which any good military man could not but agree. He paused, even so, and it appeared somewhat anxiously, when he spoke the few words and Tsai had translated, "The war is ended." But the outburst which he was probably expecting didn't happen. There was some fidgeting by a few of the "yo-yo's," but no outcries or other disruptive behavior. Was it because of that sensible reminder the commander had spoken in advance? Or was it because our Lt. Moritz had caused the men to expect this announcement by the way he'd spread the word the day before? It may well have been a combination of the two, abetted by the fact that several of our sensible fellows had positioned themselves alongside one and another of the emotional types where they might restrain them with a word or a nudge, or even more if necessary.
The camp commander seemed for a moment surprised by the lack of any appreciable disturbance in the assembly. He picked up quickly, though, and introduced his companion as an "official from headquarters at Pyoktong," who would now "have something to say" to us.
The Pyoktong official was quite brief in his presentation, also. And he made it directly, eliminating need for translation. It was in the main just an expansion of the theme that there was still need for our patience while arrangements were being made to transport us to Panmunjom for the prisoner "exchange." Which seemed a reasonable request until after a few weeks of being patient one might begin to wonder why it should take so long to make arrangements to haul some 2500 men down to the truce line and turn us over to our own military command. The answer to that lay in the fact that we would not be taken there to be "released." We would be taken there to be "exchanged." The reason for the delay was that arrangements had to be made for receiving, transporting, processing and rehabilitating the tens of thousands of their own troops for whom we 2500 were to be "exchanged."
More simply put, there was no logistical reason why we could not have been loaded on trucks to begin the trip southward in a matter of two or three days. And this could have included, for those of us held at Camp 2 Annex, that Sgt. Arnold and his kitchen crew could meanwhile have cooked up more and better rations for the entire trip than were in actuality provided.
The gabardined, higher official from Pyoktong also called upon the senior officers to assume the responsibilities of their rank and exercise their authority to "maintain good order and discipline" in the group during the long wait for arrangements to be made. Which might also have seemed a reasonable request, except that it was direct contradiction of the "hungachi" policy which the prison camp administrators had enforced to that point. "Everybody same-same" was the literal translation. And it was emphasized that "there is no rank amongst prisoners of war." It had been even more emphatically demonstrated by putting Major Harris in solitary confinement, where he did then yet repose, because he had tried to exercise the authority of his rank for the precise and, in that instance, sole purpose of maintaining order and discipline within the prisoner group. More recently, and after the prison camp administrators were aware that basic agreement for armistice had been reached, they had removed from the compound in the person of Capt Flynn an officer of well demonstrated ability to maintain order and discipline. Flynn's whereabouts at the time was to us unknown.
Such were the thoughts which came to one's mind while listening to that smooth-tongued official from Pyoktong ask for our cooperation and patience, at our considerable inconvenience, while they delayed, for their own benefit and convenience, what could and should have been a quite simple procedure hauling a relatively small number of men to the truce line for prompt repatriation. (Similar thoughts sometimes now come to mind when one hears some of his countrymen extolling the "reasonableness" or other purported virtues of one after another communist dictator appealing for cooperation and patience from others on the international scene, while he continues pursuit of his own purposes.) It must be conceded, however, that our communist captors in Korea could not have so unreasonably delayed our repatriation had not some of our own countrymen foolishly agreed to procedures which allowed it.
Dismissal of the assembly brought two distinctly different reactions. Most noticeable were the highly emotional types including, of course, the "yo-yo's;" jumping with joy, back-slapping, running about and yelling, "It's over! It's Over!"
Most noticeable, they were, but fortunately and encouragingly not the most numerous. Quietly, the majority of the men moved away, relieved by the certain knowledge of the ceasefire, yet realizing, perhaps in varying degrees, that it really wasn't completely over. We were still in enemy hands; and would remain so for yet quite some time.
Some of the fighting elsewhere was ended, but the war itself was a not. Nowhere Could that have been more self-evident right then than in the "big" compound at Camp 2 Annex. Sensible men would see it in several ways: The glum grimness of enemy officials, especially the big shot from Pyoktong, as they reluctantly told us of the ceasefire and then only because we had compelled it; the fact the other men scattered about the village, in small groups and solitary confinement, had not been brought to the compound to hear the announcement with us; the continued presence of snooper sentries within the compound in succeeding days, whereas only "gatekeepers" remained of security forces in the immediate vicinity and picket posts on the ridge overlooking were no longer manned. Those and other clear signs were all around us. Americans by and large may have thought the war was over, but a few of us in the prison camps knew full well that it wasn't. And the enemy, of course, had known it all along.
Highly emotional types, in most any circumstance, often seem unable to comprehend behavior different from their own. The idea of quiet enjoyment or satisfaction is entirely beyond their grasp. Sometimes they are unwilling even to tolerate that others do not join in their mindless exuberance.
Such was the demeanor of the "yo-yo's" immediately after the enemy's announcement that "the war is ended." The back-slapping revelry was not confined amongst themselves. They accosted most everyone they passed with inane demands that everyone join in their childish antics "Hey! Come on! It's over! It's over! What's the matter with you? Ain't you glad it's over?"
The kitchen crew had gone at once back to work after the assembly was dismissed. They could most enjoy news of the ceasefire by sharing it in the congenial companionship which had developed from their working together the past several months. Price and Gilliland, readying the steaming looms over the outdoor cooking pot, were in quiet conversation when four of the revelers came hustling around the end of the kitchen. "Hey 'Mo-rice'!" one of them called, and slapped Price on the shoulder as he continued loudly, "It's over, boy! It's over! We'll be on our way home in just a few ." The fellow's voice faded as he saw the disgusted look on Price's face. Another of the revelers had been about to do the same to Gilliland. But he was stopped short by Gil's reaction to the other.
Neither Gil nor Price were very talkative, and ordinarily not at all inclined to be argumentative or sarcastic. But in this case one of them said to the ribald group, "Why don't you guys shut up and grow up?"
One of the group was John Shaw, as usual somewhat the leader of it. All four stood in surprised silence for a few moments. Then Shaw spoke, saying, "Aw for Chris' sake, what's wrong with you guys? We just come over bein' friendly and cheerful 'cause the war's over, and you guys act as though...."
"Are you sure the war's over, John?" I called from the door of the new bakery shed. When Shaw looked at me, I repeated, "Are you real sure the war's over?"
"Well of course it's over," he said. "They wouldn't've told us so if it wasn't. They wouldn't...."
"They wouldn't ever lie to us hunh, John?"
"Well of course they'd lie to us about some things. But not about something like that. That wouldn't make no sense to lie to us about something like that. D'you mean to tell me you don't believe it? You don't believe there's been a ceasefire like they said; even though there's been no planes or...."
"Oh, I don't doubt about there being a ceasefire. I knew that for certain yesterday. But that doesn't mean the war's over. That's only...."
"Well it's the same thing," Shaw interrupted. "'Ceasefire' means there's no more fightin'. And that's the same as the war bein' over."
"No it isn't. It isn't the same at all. But I'm not going to waste time arguing with you about that," I told him, because it would indeed have been a waste of time. "I'll tell you what you oughtta do, since you think it's all over. You and your buddies should just go over to the gate where that Chinese soldier is, and open that gate and go for a stroll down through the village and tell all the...."
"Well of course we can't do nothin' like that," the young man interrupted. "We can't expect to go out and ......"
"Then it's not really over yet, is it John. We're still prisoners. The enemy still...."
"Well, sure we're gonna hafta be here for a while yet but it ain't like it was. All we gotta do now is wait. Be patient like they said while arrangements are made to take us down south for exchange. There won't be no more interrogations and stuff."
"Oh, won't there ? That's where you're wrong, John. If you think the war's over just because of what 'they said,' then I guess in a sense it is over for you. But not for everyone..."
"Whaddaya mean, 'not for everyone'? Sure it's over for everyone. They aren't gonna keep ." Shaw was now somewhat befuddled. He wanted to break off from the argument; get away from it. Yet at the same time his curiosity was aroused. He was also beginning to doubt his own argument, or at least realize there was something important in mine. He went on to say, "Who're you saying it ain't over for? Yourself ?"
There was no point in trying to explain to the young man that it wasn't really over for any of us. He wasn't yet wise enough to grasp that. So instead, I said, "No in the same sense that you think it's all over for you, it's probably so for me. Just have to wait until they get around to taking us south for release. But what about Major Harris and Flynn; and Joe Green, Harry Ettinger just to mention a few. You, think it's over for them, John? Where are they? And what's doing with them? And why weren't they here for the ......"
"Well, they maybe told them wherever they are. They couldn't bring everyone here on such short notice. You gotta..."
"Maybe they told them and maybe they didn't. And what do you mean by 'short notice'? The ceasefire was two days ago. And these bastards knew about it before that; several days before, maybe several weeks. D'you call that short notice?"
Shaw's silence, and the way he looked down, embarrassed 1ike, told me he now understood at least part of what I was getting at. "Ceasefire was two days ago," I repeated. "But they didn't tell us 'til today. And they didn't want to tell us now, John and didn't intend to, for maybe two or three weeks. The only reason they did tell us today was because Lt. Moritz forced them."
Now the look on his face changed to one of surprise, and of great interest. His companions, who had mostly shown that they wanted just to get away from the discussion, now also showed some interest.
"Lt. Moritz made them tell us?" The tone was disbelieving. "How could he do that? What did he...."
"Lt. Moritz found out about the ceasefire yesterday for certain that there was ceasefire the day before. He also found out that they didn't intend to tell us, for maybe two-three weeks. So he confronted them with the fact that he knew this, for certain. Then they didn't have any choice but to tell us now, instead of delaying like they intended to."
Shaw's mind was now filled with more questions than he could coherently ask: "How come Moritz could find out about all this? Where did he get ? Who told him about ? What ?" Finally he ended his own confusion by asking, "How come you know about all this?"
"Because Moritz told me about it yesterday. Me and Arnold and a few others. Told us what he'd found out, and what he was going to do about it. And he did it. And it worked."
Next, instead of something further on what Moritz had done, came an all too typical, petty and self-centered question: "Well how come he just told you and a few other guys about it? Why didn't he tell everybody? He should've told ......"
"Because he knew that if he did if he told everybody then you and a whole bunch of others would start runnin' around and yellin' like a bunch of fools just like you've been doin' today, and spoil the whole setup. He wanted to make the enemy admit it. Make them tell us, like they should have in the first place; so's to embarrass them because of him having found out and having made them announce it when they didn't want to."
Shaw was now so intrigued by the subject matter that he forgot to be upset over my referring to him and his companions as "fools." He began more calmly to ask how Moritz had found out about the ceasefire, from whom, and so on.
"Why don't you just go ask Lt Moritz about all that?" I suggested by way of a question. "Get it straight from him, instead of second hand from me ......"
Now the young man was a bit embarrassed, or uncertain. "Well, Chief," he said, "I don't think Lt. Moritz likes us guys very much, on account of what happened back well, you know about the story-tellin' at night and stuff. So I don't know..."
"Lt. Moritz isn't the kind of officer that acts on a basis of likes or dislikes, John. That's only the way of officers like that pipsqueak little lieutenant you guys were buddyin' up with back then. Moritz is the kind of officer and the kind of man that doesn't let personal feelings get in the way of doing his duty. Now because of what's happened it'd be a good thing all the Way around if you did go talk with him; because of what's just happened and also because of what still could happen while we're waiting for the ride home. The war is over in that sense, that we will be going home. But the enemy is still our enemy, John. I think you really know that as well as I do."
Shaw looked at me for a moment, but said nothing more. He didn't have to. I knew from the look that he was now thinking, seriously, on the things we had just discussed or, perhaps for the most part, argued about. And that was all I had expected might be achieved right then; and all I really wanted. Past with him had shown that whenever he got started thinking seriously, the boyish emotionalism which still sometimes governed his actions could quickly fade away.
He would now go talk with Moritz; that appeared quite certain. It would be more beneficial if he did so alone, rather than with other of his not-so-bright buddies. But either way, Lt Moritz would know how to handle it. Considering the way he had manipulated the enemy in this matter, he should have no difficulty explaining it now to a friend.
Duke Williams arrived at the new "bakery shop" to see if the ovens were sufficiently cured that he could fire them up again. They were so. As the two of us emerged from the bakeshop, the camp commander emerged from the back door of the kitchen. He was followed by the gabardined official from Pyoktong, "Andy" and Sgt Arnold. It was an "inspection," quite obviously, of the now completely refurbished cooking facilities; the camp commander showing them to the higher-up from camp headquarters.
Such procedure was appropriate, of course, since the refurbishing had been in preparation for subsequent use rather than for our benefit (as "Andy" had for so long been telling Arnold). At the same time, it was a bit amusing. The camp commander talking and gesturing as they proceeded was mindful of a "borne supervisor" type in most any enterprise showing and telling the boss all the good things he had done, after somebody else had actually done them. It reminded also of what Honcho had said as he patted the just-finished ovens on the previous morning: "This, we have created you and I .... Yet soon, when you are gone, the communists will be using it and acting as though they did it."
The camp commander had shown special interest in the ovens during his inspection of the kitchen back in June, which preceded orders for the slave laborers to rebuild them. Now after cursory viewing of the outside cooking pot, he gestured toward the bake shop and led the procession toward it in manner which suggested it might be his most prized exhibit. And so I fretted for not having yet figured a way to sabotage them.
Duke and I were standing near the doorway of the bake shop as the inspection party approached. After first glance at the both of us, the Pyoktong official settled his eyes on myself and continued so until he passed by to enter the "bakery." Had the camp commander perhaps mentioned to him that I was the designer of the ovens he was about to inspect? Somehow that didn't seem so very likely. Had the Pyoktong official recognized that I was the fellow who'd caused him some inconvenience last year by going "AWOL" (absent without leave) for a couple of days? That somehow seemed the more likely. But neither of those questions were really of much importance. Of far greater concern:
How in the hell could I sabotage those ovens?
Completion of the ovens ended the work of the slave labor group inside the compound. Which was a bit of a blow to the morale of the kitchen crew. We missed them not so much missing their physical presence since, except for my singular and unmentionable brief talk with Honcho, we couldn't converse with them anyway. What we missed was the pleasure of giving them things to smuggle out right under the enemy's eyes.
But we only missed that for a day. They were next put to the task of building a rather large pole and bamboo structure not far from and within sight of the compound. The women drew water for that project from the same well we used, just outside the east gate of the compound. The gatekeeper sentries now just waved us on through in our trips back and forth to the well. So whatever of "loot" we had gathered to give to friends was kept at the ready in a bucket. Whenever one of the women was seen headed for the well, one of us would meet her there and swap buckets.
It deserves mention perhaps, for the benefit of those especially curious about such matters, that no flaming romances developed from those encounters at the well. But the warm sentiments exchanged along with the buckets were of the kind much better and longer remembered.
And there were satisfactions for ourselves and almost certainly for them. For them, the satisfaction during pleasant interlude of defying in a small way the oppressive regime under which they had to live. For ourselves, the satisfaction of helping them to do it.
Yet there was also a touch of sadness in those encounters. That interlude may have for a moment eased the burdens of the oppression under which they must live. But it wouldn't eliminate that oppression. The war was "ended" for those of our countrymen who couldn't grasp what it was really about to begin with. But-not for everyone! It certainly was not so for those women we met at the well. The ceasefire agreement which would shortly free us from our captivity had condemned the slave laborers to remain, perhaps forever, in theirs. Nor was it only the elegant ladies of Honcho's family who met us at the well. Many women of the village also came there for water. Their behavior in our presence was further reminder that the deal just cut at Panmunjom, purportedly in the interests of "peace," had wiped out the hopes of many in North Korea for Freedom.
At first the women of the village mostly held back if they saw us at the well; waiting until we had gone to go draw their water. Sometimes they watched, perhaps with a tinge of envy, as we regularly drew the water to fill the buckets of the slave ladies. But of course the slave women had no reason to be shy in that respect. They were already fully in trouble with the North Korean communist regime political dissenters, perhaps labeled by the Party as "incorrigibles" and "enemies of the State." That was why they were at slave labor. And the village women had reason for concern that they might suffer the same fate, if some Party hack or flunky reported having seen them show anything akin to friendliness towards any of us "evil Americans."
Still, after a day or so, some few of them decided to risk it. The first to do so was the woman in whose house Shaw and I had been kept isolated after our short-lived escape. She had stood back, watching as Gilliland and I filled the buckets of the slave ladies. We drew still another and beckoned to her. After glancing about, she came forward quickly, and as quickly left without a word when her bucket was fi11ed. The next day, however, as Gil and I were drawing water, she came without hesitation for her bucket to be filled. After which she waited close at hand until we had filled the buckets also of four others, who had come with her to the well.
After that it became something of a game. We found ourselves sometimes having to take turns drawing water, as a line up would form shortly after our arrival at the well. Some few remained a bit shy about it, but the most became almost brazen. It may have been fortunate that we could not understand what they were saying to one another as they waited in line. An occasional giggle or glancing back as two or three of them departed together, indicated it had become a sort of special thing for them, as well as for us.
Within a few days after the enemy's reluctant announcement of the ceasefire, the population of the compound had just about doubled. As many or perhaps a few more men than had occupied the compound since its construction had been held in small groups and solitary in and about the village. Joy of reunions overshadowed any inconveniences of the resultant crowding for sleeping space. That gathering was nearly completed within a few days. But there were four conspicuous absentees Major Harris, Captain Flynn, Felix Ferranto and Naylor-Foote.
Flynn, we realized, had been taken somewhere away from the village at the time of his removal on the 4th of July. Ferranto had been kept somewhat apart though usual1y with one or two others, ever since we were turned over to Chinese custody in May of 1952. The pitiful Naylor-Foote had similarly been kept apart; considerable of that time in solitary but much of it with Ferranto and, of course, for a time with the ill-fated Adams-Acton. There were reasons to suspect that Naylor-Foote really preferred such isolation. He could not but have realized while at Pak's Palace and during the ride to Pyoktong that in the company of more than very few his pretenses, especially the fantastic tales he would tell of heroic exploits by himself would be challenged and exposed in short order. And now in the immediate aftermath of the escape attempt, his continued isolation was quite justified.
Major Harris, we knew for certain, was in solitary. He had been so since the enemy had removed him for violating their "hungachi" policy by "attempting to assert his rank" and thereby "undermining good order and discipline." Sgt Arnold had been able to determine via his bread loaf communication system where the major was being kept. But he had received no direct communication from him for quite some time. We were certain he would have been pressured for a confession to his "crime" against the "hungachi" policy, and quite probably was still under such pressure.
Yes, to some among the prisoners the war was over, simply because they'd been told of the ceasefire and expected shortly to be going home. But it wasn't over for everyone, even to that extent. Those four absent men, plus others whom we didn't know about, hadn't been told of the ceasefire and therefore had no expectation of soon going home. Flynn, when he would finally be told of the ceasefire, would at the same time be allowed to see others loading onto trucks to start the long ride to freedom. Then he would be told that he might go also but only if he would sign a confession to "germ warfare" which the enemy had prepared for his signature.
The war was over for the fools in our midst, and for many of our countrymen back home who were ignorant of its true nature. Certainly it was not regarded as ended by our communist enemy. They had gained or, more accurately, regained all that they could for the moment in Korea by military force. Now, in accordance with the doctrine laid down by Lenin and more vividly enunciated by "Chairman" Mao, they were simply continuing their efforts in the several other fields of warfare.
The war was ended for most everyone except those who happened to understand what was really going on!
Joe Green and Harry Ettinger, for example, had been isolated from the moment we were turned over to Chinese custody more than a year previously. That immediate isolation was probably due in part to their uncooperative attitude towards North Korean interrogators at Pak's Palace. The fact that they had shown no "proper" changes of attitude while at the Slave Camp afterward, would compel that they must be regarded as "incorrigibles." Such men and there were many such men among those who joined us in the compound after the ceasefire were isolated by the enemy to preclude as much as possible their development of organized resistance if they were kept in larger groups. And while so isolated they were pressured, intensely and in a great variety of ways, for false confessions or other concessions which might be useful in the enemy's psycho-political warfare.
Barney Dobbs, Capt USAF, upon first arrival at Pak's Palace, was regarded by the Korean communists as possibly convinceable that South Korea had started the war. Upon arrival at Pyoktong, Dobbs had been ushered into the presence of one Wilfred Burchett, a propagandist for the communists who professed to be a bona fide news correspondent. Burchett proffered an American made cigarette and a drink of whiskey. Dobbs declined; profoundly and with a very uncomplimentary categorization of his "host." Burchette chided him, saying he shouldn't have such an attitude; especially since he (Burchette) had asked to "interview" Dobbs about his former roommate, John Quinn. (Quinn was one of the first American captives to give in to the enemy's demand for confession to "germ warfare.") When Dobbs remarked on the preposterousness of the "germ war" propaganda, Burchette had said:
"Oh, then I suppose you're going to deny that you participated in germ warfare, also."
Which statement by the enemy's ace propagandist wiped out any lingering wonderments Dobbs may have still had regarding the communists' claims and purported proof that the US and South Korea had started the war. His comments then to the phony newsman, Burchette, earned for Dobbs the honor of being labelled "incorrigible." He had therefore spent the intervening months until after ceasefire under pressure for confession to the false charges of "germ warfare," sometimes in solitary and otherwise in company of a few other of the incorrigibles.
Altogether, some fifty or more of the post-ceasefire arrivals had suffered protracted menus of isolation, pressures, and entreatments similar to those which Green, Ettinger and Dobbs had experienced. When these were added to the stalwarts who were already there, the "incorrigibles" considerably outnumbered the whining and griping types who might otherwise have grown restless and moody during the weeks of waiting. The characteristics which had enabled those men to endure their prolonged ordeals, in the new circumstance of only waiting a while longer to go home made for a high-spirited atmosphere, indeed.
There were also the joys of reunions. In some cases, of men who had been separated after having shared and helped one another through earlier trials of captivity. More joyful still were the sometimes event of finding amongst the newcomers a friend thought to have been killed instead of captive. When Marine Captain Roy Grey arrived, another Marine pilot more recently shot down exclaimed, "My god! Everyone in the squadron was sure that he'd 'bought the farm'." Sgt. Arnold and I had thought so, too, as we had watched from a hilltop near Pak's Palace when Grey's plane crashed in flames on the flatlands below. But we had met him a few weeks later at a Chinese field hospital near the Slave Camp. Capt Grey's presence in the group would prove beneficial to discipline as well as morale. Combined with that of Lt Moritz, his leadership shortly would bring us another victory over the enemy before heading for home.
Further adding to the almost festive atmosphere in the compound was a great increase in supply for the kitchen of those foodstuffs which had previously been quite limited of ration. "Andy," the supply officer, explained to Sgt Arnold that he was just giving him to use at once the things which had been already at hand or on the way, allocated for use in our kitchen "if the war had not ended." By rough calculations, at the rate of issue which had been normal prior to mid June (at which time the ceasefire had already been agreed to, though the enemy chose not to tell us) the volume of eggs, chickens, and pork-on-the-hoof which was provided in a matter of about three weeks would have extended over three or four months.
Which meant, to the several of us still inclined to analyze such things, that until sometime early in June the administrators of the prison camp complex were prepared to continue feeding us indefinitely. We wondered, therefor, as to what might have happened in early June to bring the enemy to agree to ceasefire. Recalling the intensity of the interrogations back in March, we speculated that the threat of another amphibious assault by our forces might have caused the enemy high command to decide it was time to call "quits" on the military part of the war. We realized that only some such threat would bring about the ceasefire. For it was otherwise best suited to Soviet global strategy for the military stalemate in Korea to be continued indefinitely.
Such speculations then were only an academic exercise, of course, since the ceasefire had actually happened.* Perhaps we did it partly from force of habit, having for so long sought to figure out such things from whatever bits and pieces of information were available. It was in any case good exercise for the mind, while the Spirit soared in anticipation of return to Freedom, and the body absorbed the comparative bounty of food suddenly made available.
(*There would be satisfaction in learning long afterwards that analysis had been fundamentally correct. The communists had returned to Panmunjom from their last "walkout," and agreed to the ceasefire only after President Eisenhower sent his message to Moscow threatening that if they did not do so he would "order whatever action was necessary to end the war militarily!")
Still, only in comparison to previous rations could the foodstuffs provided after announcement of the ceasefire be called bounteous. The total prisoner population of Camp 2 Annex was about 180 men. Four hogs in three weeks might sound like a lot of pork. But the sway bellied, razor tusked critters weighed little more than a hundred pounds on the hoof, leaving but 60 or 70 pounds of meat and lard for the soup pot. That figure divided by 180 did not tally up to sufficient of fat pork per person per week to cause much worry about our cholesterol.
Of rice and beans there had been sufficient quantity mostly from the time we were turned over to Chinese custody. Nutritionally, our diet then was probably insufficient to "keep our healthy" nearly so well as the "friendly little clothing merchant" (the interpreter, Tsai) seemed to be telling us we should. But it kept us alive, which was really all that Tsai's communist masters wanted it to do. And that had seemed bounteous compared to what we'd had at Pak's Palace and the Slave Camp. In the aftermath of starvation, a full stomach feels better than an empty one, no matter the nutritional qualities of its contents.
Since then there had been much improvement, nutritionally as well as otherwise. But it was still inadequate in some respects. Most noticeable was the calcium deficiency; especially affecting the younger men. Rambo, Shaw and several others had noticed some looseness of their teeth in the fall of 1952.
When we began the butchering of hogs for ourselves, Arnold and I had figured a way to extract the calcium from the bones. We burned them one by one atop a bed of coals in a cooking fire chamber. We watched closely, shovel in hand, as the flames changed from yellow to bluish white. Then in the instant when it suddenly crumbled, we tried to catch it in the shovel. When we succeeded, we simply dumped the white powder into the soup pot. For that would be the calcium that was in those bones, broken down by heat to a form which could be assimilated.
A great idea, that for which Sgt Arnold and I would have liked much to have congratulated ourselves. But it was put into practice too late for some of those younger men. Otherwise sound and solid teeth sometimes simply fell out while they were eating of those "bountiful" meals we were cooking in August of 1953.
Still and all it was a happy enough time that such bothersome misfortune, though hardly enjoyed, might at least be taken lightly. One hardy young man, admiring the quality of his new fallen tooth said he thought he would be losing yet another. In which case he hoped it would match well enough to have the two made into cufflinks.
Now and again, midst this generally good spirited gathering, there were signs of private anxiety or worry. Someone for some reason feeling a bit lonely in the crowd, drifting away from the others to sit meditatively by himself or wander around alone. Usually someone else would notice and look for signs if the man seemed troubled over something and in need of sympathetic companionship, or only wanting to be by himself for a while.
It might be a momentary and trivial worry. As with the fellow who sat near the bathing area one day, still mostly unclothed, looking for some time and quite sadly at his gaunted arms and legs. When a friend inquired into his sadness, the fellow spread out his arms and said, "Look at me, the condition I'm in. Ain't this a helluva way to be going home?"
Said the friend, who was similarly emaciated, "Look at it this way so we've lost 40 pounds or so. What a pleasure it's gonna be gaining it back."
Yet it might be something of more serious concern, something deeply troubling a man which he felt he couldn't share with anyone. It might be the sort of thing which, before the ceasefire, could cause the despondency and self-isolation which preceded "give-up-itis." As I worked alone in the butcher shop one day came the sensing of someone behind me. Standing in the doorway, when I turned to look, was the young marine, "LW", from the mud hut, who had been sparked out of that unique affliction by Lt. Moritz and myself several weeks earlier. He smiled at me as we exchanged greetings, but wanly enough to suggest that he was troubled about something. Probably he had been there watching me for a while before I sensed his presence.
Certain was the feeling from his demeanor that there was something on his mind which he wanted to discuss with me. But it wouldn't do at all for me to ask if that was so. When he proved hesitant to speak further I simply asked, "Whatcha doin'?"
"Aw, nothin' much," he replied. "Just wanderin' around. Kinda restless, I guess."
"Want a Job?"
He only looked at me pleasantly in response, waiting for me to say more.
"Doesn't pay much," I said further, "but good fringe benefits."
"Doin' what, Chief?"
"Helpin' me cut up this hog. I'm runnin' behind schedule. If I don't get some of it ready for tonight's soup pot, Arnold might fire me."
"Well sure," he said. "I'd be glad to if I can. But I don't know anything about it. I never did anything like that before."
"That's okay," I said. "Neither did I until after I started doin' it."
A few simple instructions after handing him one of the crude cleavers set him to chopping up parts of the critter in a manner quite satisfactory to Arnold's recipe for "chopped pork soup."
As we chatted meanwhile, about nothing in particular, he soon relaxed, and mentioned that it felt "real good" to have something to do. After a while he mentioned the fact that we had been together briefly at Pak's Palace. I suspected that whatever was on his mind must have to do with the time he'd spent there.
"But I never got to know you there," he said, "cause you and Rambo and Sgt Arnold they sent you guys off to the Slave Camp, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember." I waited then, expecting him to proceed into whatever it was of that time that he wanted to discuss with me.
"Yeah, and I remember when you guys came back from there," he said, "when we all got back together to be brought up here. You guys that had been at the slave camp you were all so .
"Well, I know it was real rough there with all the work you guys had to do. But I wish I'd been sent there with you, instead a stayin' at Pak's. You guys that'd been at the slave camp had a lotta well spirit, I guess. All gettin' along together, joking and laughing about things. The ones at Pak's, all of us, we didn't get along like that maybe it was because we didn't have anything to do but sit around and get bored with each other. And then the interrogators. They were always buggin' us for what they called 'cooperation;' wantin' us to write letters home tellin' what good treatment we were gettin' and tape recordings, askin' us to make recordings about it ." The young man paused at that point, hesitating, then continued. " And there was this guy, Naylor-Foote; the one tried to escape a while back. You knew him, didn't you?"
"Yes. I knew him."
"What d'ya think of him? I mean of him tryin' to escape and the other guy gettin' killed, In all?"
"Didn't surprise me any," I said. He started to say something more but stopped as I continued. "If You remember, he had a big escape plan worked up down at Pak's which...."
"Oh that's right! Sure!" he interrupted. "We was supposed to take over the truck, and Shaw being a truck driver was to...."
"..... Which could have got us all killed," I interrupted him in turn to finish my comment, "if we'd been fools enough to go along with it."
"LW" began then to recall some of the details of the grand escape plan Naylor-Foote had quickly devised as we prepared to leave Pak's Palace for the trip to Pyoktong. But he was disrupted and we were both distracted by the unusual sight of an oxcart trundling along on the roadway which passed through the compound. The cart stopped within our view, inside the compound, just long enough for its lone passenger to disembark with his cumbersome bedroll. Another prisoner joining the group, but this one apparently from somewhere away from the village. Momentary hope that it might be Flynn returning, was dashed when a much shorter figure came off the cart. The oxcart trundled on at once, and the new arrival quickly disappeared from our view as he walked toward the big barrack.
We had finished the meat chopping. The distraction had ended our discussion of Naylor-Foote; which I preferred not to continue, anyway. It also kept "LW" from getting to the matter he really wanted to discuss with me. That would come some days later. He had really enjoyed having something to do, and wanted to know if there might be other things he could help with. Clearly it was the sort of thing the lonely young man needed. We had something special in the offing, in which we could use a good number of willing helpers. A supply of apples had been brought to the kitchen that morning, for rationing of four apples per man. Two apples per man would be issued, the remainder prepared otherwise in the kitchen.
"We could use some help tomorrow," I told him. "Come on over to the bakery and help us make the pies."
"What time?" he asked.
"Anytime after breakfast."
"I'll be there!" was his happy adieu. Less than an hour after "LW" had departed, the new arrival came to the kitchen area looking for me. He spoke first to one of the others, saying he was "looking for a navy chief named Thorin," whom someone had told him might be found at the kitchen. Having found me, he quickly introduced himself, Maury Yerger, Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy, and then said:
"I come to find you, Chief, because I need someone I can trust, to explain to me what the hell is going can here."
Which was a very puzzling beginning of what was an almost baffling conversation until, in the course of it, the reason for his own puzzlement came clear.
Lcdr. Maury Yerger had been shot down and captured six months previously. Since then he had been kept totally isolated. He had not so much as seen another American, even at a distance. For that matter, he had seen very few of the enemy, and talked with even fewer of them. The sentries posted near the hovel where he was kept of course never spoke to him in english. His refusal to answer any questions of interrogators beyond the required identifying information limited in turn any conversations with them. They had said nothing to him at all of what was happening at the armistice negotiations. There were extended periods when no interrogators even showed up. He had simply to sit in solitude, his food brought to him, wordlessly, by one or another of the guards, and entertain himself however he might within his own mind.
In the morning of the day he arrived at the compound, the sentry had escorted him to a roadway where the oxcart was waiting, and indicated for him to get aboard it. The Korean driver of the oxcart said nothing to him during the two or so hours of travel and, upon arrival in the compound, spoke only to his ox, bringing the vehicle to a stop, and indicated for his passenger to get off.
As Lcdr Yerger had then walked toward the big barrack, but before he actually reached it, he was intercepted, virtually surrounded, and thereby stopped in his tracks by a half-dozen or more total strangers. (This would have happened almost immediately after he had disappeared from our view from the butcher shop.) One of them asked who he was. Then as soon as he had identified himself by name and rank, he was bombarded with questions: When were you shot down? What ship were you on? What squadron? What kind of plane? Where have you been ? and so on . He hadn't answered any of their questions. Some of them were the same that he had been refusing to answer when the enemy interrogators asked them. Instead he pushed on past those who were blocking his way, wondering if this was some kind of setup.
Were those really Americans, he had wondered; and prisoners of war as they appeared to be? Or was this a sort of elaborate setup using actors or turncoat collaborators where they would bring a man who had refused to answer their questions and make him think he was now among friends and could safely talk of such things. He didn't recall that any of those who had stopped him, had mentioned their own names to him. Nor had he paid particular attention to their reactions when he ignored their questions and pushed himself on past.
Upon reaching the building he had set his baggage down in the porch area and walked emptyhanded into one of the rooms. There he had found himself almost completely ignored. There he saw only small groups of men talking, some of them quietly and others excitedly, with each other. Some might glance at him as he passed, and even nod in greeting. But no one so much as asked him his name or showed any sign of caring who he might be.
He had idled around, then, listening in on conversations, and trying to be unobvious about it. But he couldn't make certain sense out of the bits and pieces of information thus gleaned. He heard mention of the war being over. But if this was a setup, that's what the enemy might want him to think. For the most part, the chatter he listened in on was quite meaningless to him. He was unaware that they were conversations of men long separated reliving things previously shared or telling each other of experiences in the interim. Then out of one of them he heard mention of a "Chief Thorin."
Into that conversation, Lcdr Yerger politely injected himself to ask if the "Chief Thorin" he'd heard mentioned was a Navy chief petty officer. Informed that such was the case, he had asked if it was known where that Navy chief might be found. Whoever he was talking to had sent him to the kitchen area.
After he'd been assured that I was indeed a Navy chief petty officer named Thorin, the first question Lcdr Yerger asked was, "Is it true, Chief, that the war is over?"
"It's over," I told him. "The ceasefire was last month the 27th."
"Would that be July?" he asked.
"Oh, yes sir!" I said, suddenly realizing that the man must have just emerged from an extended period of solitary confinement having no certainty even as to what month we were now in. "And we're well into August now...." I told him the date (which is now on my own part long forgotten).
"All right," he said, and then quite slowly as if searching for the way to begin, "My next question is what can you tell me about all these people here? Who are they? What are they? I realize they're all prisoners. But the way they act . It has me all confused. When I first got off that cart out in the yard a bunch of them surrounded me, chattering like a flock of magpies asking all sorts of questions I didn't want to answer right then to anyone. But then, when I got away from them and inside the building nobody said a word to me, didn't even notice me, until I heard someone mention your name and asked them where I might find you ......"
After he had told what he'd experienced, the reasons for it seemed to me quite clear. The group that had intercepted him on his way to the barrack would have been some of the yo-yo's and talkative types. They had behaved in that manner whenever a newcomer arrived, even before the armistice. They had done so also when Tsai or Chung entered the compound, rushing to ask if there was anything new from the "peace" talks; in effect inviting the enemy to play their emotions like a yoyo. Now like any group of gossips or compulsive talkers, bored with themselves and each other, they were ever on the lookout for someone new to talk with or about.
The people inside the building who took no notice of him were busy in happy reunions with others they had not seen for some time. They ignored him as he passed by because they didn't know him, and there were many others there whom any given one of them did not know.
It probably took a while to explain that to Lcdr Yerger; and he would need some time to think about it and observe a few things for himself before he could expert fully to grasp the situation. But it was sufficient of initial acquaintance for us to proceed into discussion of his next concern.
"Chief," he said, "being as I am a lieutenant commander, I expect I'm probably amongst the seniors of the officers here. So I need a sort of 'who's who' rankwise, and anything you can give me about how things are organized here."
"Well, commander," I replied, "I will tell you first of all, you are not 'among' the senior officers here; you are it! You are 'SOP'. (senior officer present) And you need ......"
"Are you sure?" he interrupted, with much concern. "Are you certain of that?"
"No question about it, Sir. There's no one else here above two stripes. Quite a few of those, and quite a variety; different services and vastly different characters. I'll go so far as to say you need a 'who's who' not only of rank but also of reliability."
The lieutenant commander studied for a few moments; the concerned look even stronger. Then he said, "I'm going to be asking you to go a lot farther on that score, Chief. But first I guess I need to let you know what a spot this puts me in...."
It was then that he told me of his total isolation during the entire time since he was captured, and his unawareness of the ceasefire, or much anything else, up to the moment he dismounted from the oxcart earlier that day. He'd never even seen a POW camp until then. "And now here I am in one," he concluded. "I'm 'SOP' in a place and circumstance which I know absolutely nothing about. And you tell me that in addition to the respective ranks of the other officers, I need a rating of their reliability..."
"Of which the latter is in this situation the more important," I interjected.
"Can you help me in that?" he asked.
"In that regard, commander, I can tell you that you're in luck. So am I. We all are. The two top-ranking two-stripers here at the moment are also both tops in that other department."
"Their names?" he asked.
"Grey and Moritz," I told him. "Capt Roy Grey, Marine; Lt. Sam Moritz, Navy."
We talked further then about the two officers. Moritz was well acquainted with everyone who had been in the compound prior to the ceasefire, and with such organization as had existed then and since. Grey had joined us in the compound only a few days earlier, along with other of the "incorrigibles" who had been kept isolated in solitary and small groups in and around the village. He was quite renowned, justifiably via the grapevine, for his persistence and frequent success in contending against the camp administrators. I summarized my recommendation of the two officers by saying:
"You'11 be checking them out for yourself, of course, commander. I'll just say that in my opinion you can lend your extra half stripe to either or both of those two with confidence they'll do it no harm. And if you'd like a second opinion on that," I added, "Sgt. Arnold, over there, Army sergeant and chief cook, has been keepin' an eye on officers for almost as long as I have."
Which last brought a smile to Maury Yerger's face. Perhaps the first exercise his smile muscles had known for many months.
There was no shortage of volunteers for the pie baking, next day. One of the new arrivals, a young Air Force pilot, had once worked in a pastry shop. Arnold put him in charge of the "pie rollers" and he shortly had a production line going as though they'd been in the business for years.
We had plenty of shortening for making tender pastry; lard from the several hogs butchered recently. But this fellow had an added touch. His pie rollers didn't roll out from one big ball of dough. They started with three small ones, flattened separately, dusted, stacked, and then together rolled out to a 14-inch circle.
Huge turnovers was actually what were made, as long when folded and crimped as our oven pans would accommodate. As much of sliced apple as the pastry could hold, laced with chopped raw ginger and sugar before the foldover, and a sprinkling of sugar afterward. By noontime, or a little after, the crude table we had set up for rolling and filling was stacked high with the finished product; fresh apple pies which any pastry shop in the world might be proud to put out for sale.
"They're too damn' pretty to eat!" Arnold said. He was beaming with pride at the sight. Justifiably so. The man had worked wonders in that primitive kitchen setup during the past several months. And now with the time near when he would leave it, this was in fact something of a grand finale for him.
"You guys are great!" he said to the men who had made them. (In this case, once we had set them to the task, Arnold and I had only to stand back and watch the show.) "Maybe instead of going home we ought to set up shop here. There'll be a built-in market when they bring their own troops back from the camps down south, 'cause those guys'll be accustomed to better food than they'll likely get once they're back here."
When the comments on that had subsided, Arnold said seriously, "All right, let's count out what we'll need to hand out to everyone here." (He knew the number and gave it.) "And set the rest of them back with the ovens. We'll put some aside for Harris and Ferranto and whoever else they're still holding out in the village, and hope to hell they'll deliver them to them. There'll still be a few left over, and you guys that made 'em deserve full well to share 'em. And if any of you that helped make 'em want to help hand 'em out you made 'em, you deserve to hear the thanks we're gonna get for 'em."
"Mo-rice!" he said then to that one of his regular kitchen crew. "You haven't done a damn' thing worthwhile all morning. So you go let 'em know the pies are ready, and lead the lineup around the end of the kitchen."
As the pies were handed out, Arnold and I stood nearby with an eye on the few among the first in the lineup who we knew might try to sneak back in for a second. None did. I shared with Arnold the pleasure of watching faces of men as they walked away with their pies. But there was a related problem plaguing me which I dared not as yet share with anyone. And the baking of those pies made it all the more urgent to resolve: I had not yet figured a way to sabotage those ovens!
It takes a while to hand out some hundred and seventy or so pies. The lineup of men to receive them extended out of sight around the end of the kitchen building. When finally the end of the line appeared, it was in the person of the latest arrival, Lcdr Yerger. Wordlessly he accepted his pie, seeming not to notice the man who handed it to him; nor anyone else, his eyes were transfixed on the pie. He walked back to the corner of the kitchen building, seated himself on the ledge of it's foundation stones, and held his prize before him just looking at it.
Arnold and I watched him for a while; somewhat amused, but perhaps it was more sharing of his enjoyment. For we understood the reason for his actions. Except for the baked hardtack buns which were part of his meal last evening, this would be the first semblance of "home-cookin" Maury Yerger would have seen for six months. And it was as "American as apple pie!"
After several minutes, I called to him, "Commander we did bake a few extra if you'd like one to eat while your looking at that one."He arose, then, and came to join us at the bakeshop doorway, still looking mostly at his pie as he approached. "Gentlemen," he said, finally lifting his eyes to look back and forth at the both of us, "I realize that my behavior here must make me look like an absolute fool. But the thing is, I'm just completely overwhelmed by this..." (he lifted the pie as exhibit) "... for several reasons....
"For one thing," he continued, "the idea that anyone could create something like this in these circumstances.... I wouldn't have believed that and in fact didn't believe it. When someone came over to the barrack a while ago and yelled 'come get your pies!', I thought it must be some kind of joke. Such as maybe you made up some rice cakes or something, and called them pies, sort of kidding yourselves pretending they were something you really would like to have. Even when I came around the corner there, and saw that it really was some kind of a pie being handed out well I really did wonder if I was dreaming so much has happened to me in these past few hours since yesterday morning when I first got here....
"But on top of all that," he said in conclusion, "it just so happens that I love apple pie. It is my favorite food. If someone was to ask what is the first thing I'd want to eat when I get back home, that would be it! Some apple pie. Most others, I know, would say they wanted steak or something like that. And of course I'd want that, too. But the very first thing I'd ask for would be a piece of good apple pie. So when I got up there to get mine and I knew it was apple before I got there because I could smell it well, it just overwhelms me. And that's why I'm just as happy looking at it for a while as I will be when I finally decide to eat it."
Sgt Arnold had picked up one of the extra pies from inside the bake shop. He extended it toward the commander and said, "And that's also why you need this one, commander, so you'll still have one to look at after you eat the other one."
"No, no," Yerger said quickly. "That wouldn't be right for me to take an extra...."
We both knew he was thinking of the proprieties of careful rationing under these circumstances. Arnold started to say something by way of persuasion, but I beat him to it, saying:
"I feel it my duty to remind you, commander, Navy Regulations require that you at least taste the pie which Sgt. Arnold just offered."
He sensed at once the joshing nature of my remark. "How so, Chief?" he asked, now in similar spirit.
"Well, sir, I feel that the responsibilities of a 'senior officer present' are pretty much the same as those of a commanding officer, which includes inspection and at least sampling of the food which is served to his subordinates."
Came again a soft smile on the commander's face as he responded, "I don't know if that interpretation of Navy Regs would stand up in court. But it strikes me as a damn good excuse to eat some of that pie providing that you two will share it with me.
Arnold carefully broke the one he was holding into three pieces. Neither of us had yet tasted of them, either. It was unanimously agreed that nowhere in the world could a better apple pie be found.
As we meandered away from the kitchen, the commander told of his meetings earlier that day with Capt. Grey and Lt. Moritz. Probably in the short time remaining, there would not be need for assertion of his rank. But he was satisfied that if such need arose, those two officers could help him do it well.
At our point of parting, came some personal considerations. "One thing I've noticed in the short while I've been here," he said, "is that formalities between officers and enlisted men have been pretty much set aside. Not ignored, mind you I don't think they're really ignored, but just set aside. And I think under the circumstances it's really a good thing for the most part. Talking with you and Sgt Arnold a while ago relaxing, that's what I need. Learning to joke and laugh again .... I guess maybe a fellow can forget how to do that when he's had no one to talk to for oh hell, there I go getting myself morose, remembering things it's now time to start forgetting. What I'm getting at is, I'd like it if at least for the duration of our stay here, 'til we get out of Korea if we'd just skip the normal military formalities if you'll just call me 'Maury'. Can we do that, Chief?"
He had quite well recognized his own need. The fact that he was the senior officer in the group automatically imposed much responsibility upon him, in a circumstance for which it was impossible for anyone to be prepared in advance. "On-the-Job" training was really the only way to gain the necessary understanding. The long period of total isolation which he had endured, not only prevented him from learning anything of the situation he now was in; it inflicted personal trauma from which he needed time to recover. In ordinary circumstance, he would be allowed a period for "recuperation" before return to duty. Here, the return to duty was immediate. So he needed "on-the-job" recuperation. To recover from the personal trauma he needed personal contacts, minus the restraints of military formalities.
I could provide part of what he needed in those respects. That was evident from what had already developed between us, and in the fact that this was what he was asking me for. I also knew the place where he could find some more.
"Yes sir Maury," I said, with sufficient pause between for him to glance up in surprise at the first part. When he did so, I brought my hand up to my brow in salute and continued, "...I'm sure we can do that if you'll just be so kind as to answer my salute then I promise I'll not do it again until we're out of here."
With a smile and shaking of his head, he shifted the pie he still held to his left hand so he could flick the other up to his brow. He was, understandably, at loss for more words at the moment, so I filled in the void by saying:"You'll be spending some time getting acquainted, finding out more of who's-who and what's what around here, because that's something you have to do. But whenever you're tired of that, or bored, come on over to the kitchen get acquainted with Sgt. Arnold and if you feel like it we might put you to work with Gil or 'Mo-Rice.' They'll want to keep calling you 'commander,' and throw in a 'sir' now and then. But once they realize why you are there, they won't hold any of that against you ......"
We clasped hands, then; for the first time, actually. Salutes are great, when they're rendered sincerely. But a hand clasp leaves no doubt. He was still somewhat at loss for words, himself, but was obviously enjoying mine, whether or not they made any sense. "Welcome home, Maury," I said to him then. "You must be home, because I see you've got your apple pie.""Chief," he said, "I'm beginning to feel just a little bit at home. I really am."
Counting DownTo What?
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©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.