There wasn't time, as things went, for Maury to get much of the therapy he needed from the men of the kitchen crew and the several officers, in addition to Grey and Moritz, from whom it would have been drawn. He would have benefitted, personally, from a longer period of association with those in the prison circumstance. For as he had himself noted, distinctions of rank and formalities between officers and enlisted men had been set aside, without being totally ignored. This enabled easy crossing both ways of the official line of distinction between them, so they could draw from one another the support everyone needed from time to time to maintain the sense of humor and other attributes which were vital to conscience-clear endurance of the prison circumstance. That was so, of course, only between those of both categories with the intelligence and common sense to do it. But they were easy enough to distinguish, and it was from such as they that Maury could quickly have learned, as he had also mentioned, "to joke and laugh again." Which was one of the things he felt was almost forgotten during his prolonged period of total isolation.
Why Maury had been kept in total isolation all that while is impossible to know for certain. We never discussed that in the brief time we were together in Korea, or the few times we saw each other afterward. It could have been for several reasons; or it could have been for no particular reason at all. It can only be seen for certain as another example of the fundamental inhumanity of a political system based on the Marxist concept of mankind. (And that basic characteristic of Marxism will eventual1y assert itself, no matter in what manner or under what label such, a political system is imposed.)
Within just a few days after Maury's arrival in the compound, the "Chinese Peoples' Volunteers" presented to each of us a tan-colored cloth bag with over-the-shoulder carrying strap, literally bulging from its contents. Toilet articles soap, razor, toothbrush, mirror, comb, and so on made up the lesser of its contents. The bulge resulted from two cartons of tailor made cigarets, packaged somewhere in the "Peoples' Republic:" of China, and several small packets of hard candy which could have been packaged most anywhere. And these were "presented!", not merely handed out, with a broad smile from Tsai or Chung who might sometimes even say the recipient's name.
A day or so later, several large boxes were brought to the compound, the contents thereof to be distributed to ourselves, by ourselves. They contained cloth bags, olive-drab in color, of the same number as had been issued of the light tan bags. They were also of about the same size, but they didn't bulge. Red "plus" symbols on the flaps indicated they had been sent by the International Red Cross organization. They contained toilet articles, item by item the same as were in the bags previously received. But no cigarets and no candy; hence, no bulge.
As soon as the large pole and bamboo building was completed, the process began of transferring all of us to it. And a "process" it was, not a matter of simply picking up our few belongings and carrying them to it. Every man would be stripsearched. A far more thorough search than most of us had been subjected to when captured.
The searches were conducted by several well qualified and very efficient two-man teams. Even so, the processing of the 180 or so of us took 6 or 7 days. For the "efficiency" of those searchers was in thoroughness, rather than speed.
And for what were they searching us now? It was learned immediately that one purpose was to remove any and all items of U.S. military issue which any of us still possessed. Complete new prisoner uniforms were being issued after the search, including underwear and canvas shoes. The diary books which had been issued months earlier, for us to write down our "thoughts and things to remember," were being read carefully again. This time any pages containing things uncomplimentary to themselves would be removed. And of course, the search for anything someone might be trying to "sneak out," such as a list of names of other prisoners, records of significant events, names of camp officials, interrogators, etc.
"Andy" informed Sgt Arnold that the kitchen crew was to be the very last ones to move out, after which we would do no more cooking for ourselves. I told Arnold to make sure I was included in the crew list he would give to "Andy", because I had something that needed to be done after all the others were gone. Arnold did not ask what that might be.
After observing the path of travel by those who were through the search and on their way to the new building, the large plastic water bag was hidden along that way while getting water from the well. The boots which John Peyton had given me were not government issue. So I had hoped they might be allowed for me to take. When it was realized that this would not be allowed, I thought of smuggling them out as well. But somewhere on down the line they would almost certainly be spotted and taken. That left the sad fact that they must be destroyed.
The biggest problem of all was that of the ovens. Thanks to the arrangement for the kitchen crew to be the last men out, I would have access to them after we last would use them. But I had not yet figured a satisfactory way of sabotage which would not be so obvious as to cause someone most likely myself much trouble.
When the baking was finished on the last day of cooking, I set to doing such damage to the ovens as had by then been thought of. At the same time those items of escape gear which were burnable had been tossed into the firechamber along with the boots. With a long rod I'd managed to chink some of the firehardened clay from between the rocks inside of the firechamber. The taut wires strung across inside the ovens to make the racks that supported the pans, had some of them been kinked and chafed in the hope they might soon afterward break. With a piece of wire I was poking the mud caulking from the holes in the sides of the oven through which the taut wires were strung. That should allow at least some smoke from the fire chambers to enter the ovens themselves. As I was doing so, came a whiff from the burning soles of the boots.
And from that came the answer to that long burning question of how to sabotage an oven for after you've gone when you haven't got a time bomb.
Peppers! Dried peppers! Memory flashed to the day Duke Williams had fired up the ovens to heat them for baking, unaware of the pan of dried peppers I'd put in one of them just to dry a little more in its warmth. When thick black smoke started coming out of the oven he pulled out the pan and brought it to show me and apologize for ruining my peppers. On his way, as he passed through the kitchen, the smoke was so pungent it drove everyone outside. Chopped fine and mixed with the sand in the oven bottoms !
To the kitchen, and a call to Arnold: "Hey, Bill...?"
From somewhere outside came a "Yeah?"
"Are there any dried peppers left around here?"
"I don't know. What You want 'em for?"
"To fix the ovens."
There was silence following that, until Arnold appeared in the doorway, looked at me and said, "Fix the ovens ? We're through with the ovens. And what ... ?"
"That's the reason I gotta fix 'em now, is 'cause we're through with 'em."
"Fix 'em 'cause we're through with 'em? What the hell you talkin' about?"
"Fix 'em so those damn' bastards can't use 'em. That's what I'm talking about.!"
"Oh cripes, Chief," he said, "you don't dare do something like that. I know how you feel. But you do something like that and you're in real trouble. And me, too, most likely. No telling what they'll do if you do something like that."
"They won't know it 'til were long gone. That's why the peppers."
"Peppers," he said, now puzzled for the moment. "How you gonna... ?" Suddenly he, too, recalled that pan of smoking peppers. "Oh hell yeah! We must still have some around here somewhere."
We found two strings of them. Chopped fine and mixed with the sand in the bottoms of the oven chambers, it didn't really show. When those ovens next were fired and the chopped peppers heated, the bake shop building should shortly fill with heavy black smoke, acrid enough that just a whiff of it would burn one's nasal passages. A lungful might possibly be fatal. It would in any case drive everyone out of the small building, or keep them out for a while. And if they threw in enough water thinking the place was on fire, it might put the fireboxes out of commission.
It was satisfying, in any event, just to think of such possibilities.
Immediately after the ceasefire, Lt. Moritz and a couple others had set themselves to the task of making several lists of known POW's. In addition to those actually present, names that anyone could remember. With needle-sharp pencils, they printed the names as finely as they could on narrow strips of paper about twelve inches long. The strips were then tightly rolled, into cylindrical shape an inch and a quarter long and less than a quarter inch of diameter. Several of those were required, for listing all the known names, and two complete lists were scribed. These "microscrolls" (as we had dubbed them) were being smuggled out, one roll per man of those selected to do it.
One of the tiny scrolls had been found by the searchers. This no doubt intensified their already thorough inspections. At the beginning of the search, mine was held under the toes of my left foot, having practiced several procedures of shuffling it from there when necessary.
One of the searchers carefully inspected each item of apparel as it was removed. The other, seated at a table, was checking the various items in the tote bags and bedroll. The diary books, we now knew, were of special concern. Pages had been cut out of some, others had been confiscated completely. When mine was opened, there was nothing written in it, except my name printed on the first page. The searcher of "odds and ends" then looked over at me and said, somewhat harshly as though it was an offense, "There is nothing written in here! Why not?"
From his manner of speaking, it appeared that he was quite fluent in the english language. He fully deserved response as aggressive as his question, and some agitation at this point might be useful. With appropriate tone and emphasis I said:
"Anything worth remembering about this place or you I can keep very well right here!" and pointed at my head.
He glared at me for but a brief moment, then resumed his inspection of other items. More important was the reaction of the clothing inspector. He glanced back and forth between myself and his pardner, before resuming inspection of the seams of my undershorts, which had just been removed. All that remained were my socks. As I started to remove them, the clothing inspector glanced down and quickly said, "No - no. Is okay - okay. Leave on, okay."
But I needed to remove the left one in order to shuffle the miniscroll to elsewhere. Fortunately at that moment the "odds and ends" inspector was examining my cap, and was starting to remove the little anchor which I had molded and affixed to it.
"Hey!" I almost shouted, "You don't take that! That's mine!"
He responded quietly, with no show of anger or resentment, explaining. "No, I must take this because it is an item of uniform your navy uniform. And we are instructed to remove all such items."
"But that is not a uniform item," I argued in milder tone commensurate with his. "I made that here. And it is the policy, is it not, that we may take with us things we have made while we are here? That carving " I pointed to the short stick on which I had carved a mermaid. "are you going to keep that, too?"
"No," he said, as he picked it up. "This you may take with you. We know you have made this since you have been with us." He put the carving with other things already passed, then held up the little anchor again and said, "But this, I don't think you have made here. How could you make such a thing while you are here? Where would you get materials to make something like this?"
"I made it," I explained almost patiently, "by melting a tube from the toothpaste. I cut a pattern in hard clay and poured in the melted metal of the toothpaste tube. And the wire look at it closely, it is a piece of copper wire I found, twisted to look like a rope. It is not a uniform item. I made it right here."
He did examine it closely. And the other fellow helped him do so. They even discussed it some, in Chinese. After which he looked at me with an almost friendly smile, shook his head, and said, "We don't think so."
My look was probably one of resignation and disappointment. At least that's how I tried to make it appear. I would smile later over the fact that while the two of them looked closely at the little anchor, I was able to transfer that little scroll to elsewhere.
Still, dammit! I did so make that little anchor while I was their "guest" in Camp 2 Annex. And I think that "odds and ends" inspector was sharp enough to realize it. He just may have kept it himself as a souvenir. Of course, if the Party were to find out he did such a thing, he might be in trouble.
Sgt. Arnold and I were the last to depart from the compound. He was waiting when I came out from the search. Probably the argument over the anchor had made mine take a bit longer than his. As we walked together toward the new building the plastic waterbag was retrieved by stopping where it had been hidden to retie a shoe.
The new building looked huge, compared to the "big barrack," or any other buildings in the area. Inside it looked, if anything, even bigger. With more than 150 men there, it was not at all crowded. They seemed scattered, really, in small groups, some seated, some standing and a few meandering around. A relaxed and happy gathering, now. The move to this place meant that in just a few more days they'd be on their way to freedom. Still confined, they were, but celebrating anyway because the hardships of it were over.
But not for everyone! There were quite a few still not present, and some of them also not accounted for. The two most worrisome on my mind were Major Harris and Captain Flynn. Nor was it only myself concerned about the matter. Several others were every bit as much so. And in this new circumstance it just might be possible to do something about it.
Lcdr Yerger, Capt Grey, and Lt Moritz had situated themselves in the approximate center of the huge room. Moritz arose at once, when he saw the sergeant and myself enter, and hurried over to greet us. After the simple amenities Moritz said to me, "Did you get yours through, Chief?"
"Yes sir Sam. I sure did."
"Good," he said. "That's all but the one of them, then. Which means for sure a complete list. Providing we can keep them the rest of the way. I think we need still to hold them close. I don't trust these bastards even now. They'll still keep watching us and might even pull another shakedown."
As I expressed agreement with that, Arnold was studying the both of us with a "what the hell are you guys talking about" look in his eye. He was not in on the "microscroll" project. He was busy enough handling the kitchen and there were others available for the smuggling out of the scrolls. "I'll tell you about it a little later, Bill," I assured him. "It's a 'top secret' operation."
Arnold took his leave after a bit more of casual conversation, perhaps sensing that Moritz wished to talk some with me alone. We began at once discussing the new situation. Yerger, Grey, and himself had chosen deliberately to place themselves in the center of the place. It was in effect, and deliberately so, the command center of the group. No matter that we would probably be here but a very few days at most, the establishment (or re-establishment) of our own military order was important for several reasons.
There was need for some in both categories to begin readjustment of relationships between the commissioned officers and enlisted men. This need not obviate, nor even diminish, the deep and lasting friendships which had developed between some of them. It was a matter of remembering and returning to the proprieties of military conduct in public situations, and keeping personal relationships strictly private. This seemed already to be happening to some extent automatically. Quite noticeable was the fact that the small groups gathered here and there were mostly segregated in that respect. Also, and this definitely of their own volition, the enlisted men in situating their bedrolls had assembled themselves generally starting at one end of the spacious hall, and the officers at the other.
The fact that the enemy, when they announced the ceasefire, had emphasized that they expected our senior officers to assume responsibility for order and discipline in the group, imposed upon themselves the obligation to respect those senior officers as spokesmen for the group. The armistice itself imposed a similar obligation upon them. Hostilities having officially ceased in the other fields of battle, they should also have ended in this one. They had not ceased, of course, so far as the enemy was concerned. The strip searches were themselves an hostile act. The fact that some prisoners were still being held in isolation, and we suspected unaware of the ceasefire and still under pressures of some sort, was even more hostile. Though it would have to be done very carefully and very limited as to physical action, the new situation since our transfer from the compound opened the opportunity for ourselves to be a bit hostile, in turn. At very least, it put our senior officers in position now to make demands of the enemy (rather than merely "requests").
And that was what Moritz wanted particularly to discuss with me. He and the other two had set themselves apart in the center of our spacious new quarters primarily because it was the best if not the only place they could be sufficiently apart to discuss a matter about which we should if we could be some hostile. They had been trying to figure some way to demand that Majoy Harris be brought to join us out of the solitary situation in which we knew he was still being kept. Obviously, such a demand would have to be made to the camp commander. The problem was, how to get to him to make it. Since almost the very beginning of the transfer to this building, none of the camp officials had been to the place. The sentries posted outside the door either did not understand english, or were under orders to pretend that they didn't. So also the soldiers of the guard company who brought the rice, soup and tea at mealtimes.
Moritz wanted to know if I had any thoughts as to how to get that demand to the camp commander. At the moment, none, I told him. But certainly I would give it some, and if anything reasonable came to mind bring it over to them. Meanwhile, the best thing the senior noncommissioned officer might do to assist those senior officers in their several important tasks was to quietly make his presence felt with the other enlisted men.
As it turned out, none of us had to come up with an answer to the problem of getting the camp commander's attention. it came in consequence of the somewhat revelrous spirit of many among the prisoner group, in their new circumstance, combined with the fact that the guard company troops were basically good soldiers who dutifully followed their orders.
After the evening meal, the general high spiritedness continued and perhaps intensified. Few, if any, were inclined to retire or go to sleep at the appointed hour. So when the sentry opened the door and called in, "Suejo" (sleep), there was a spontaneous chorus of happy responses such as "Bug off!" "Not tonight, buddy," and "Go to hell!" The sentry said nothing more, and gently closed the door.
Following that, the noise of celebration became perhaps a bit louder. After ten minutes or so the door again opened, and the call of "Suejo," repeated. The responses this time were a bit stronger of word and tone: "Hey! We told ya, forget it tonight!" "Can't you see we're busy?" "Didn't anyone tell ya the war's over?" Louder, they were, but not at all nasty. No one was wanting to cause a confrontation. They were simply enjoying the feel of the nearness of complete freedom. Again the sentry quietly closed the door.
When next the door opened, ten or fifteen minutes later, it was not the sentry, but the officer of the guard who appeared. He stepped inside a short way, just far enough for two soldiers who accompanied him to come into view as well. The place quieted as all became aware of this different situation. A bit more loudly, perhaps, than was necessary, the officer of the guard then called: "Where is the senior officer?"
Capt Grey spoke briefly with Lcdr Yerger, who listened and then gave his approval to whatever the marine captain had said. Grey arose, then, and moved to confront the enemy officer.
Now definitely louder than was necessary, the officer of the guard demanded: "Are you the senior officer here?"
"No," Capt Grey replied in normal tone, "I am second senior. The senior officer has sent me to request..."
"I will speak only with the senior officer!" the other proclaimed in interruption. "I am officer of the guard!"
"My senior officer will not speak with you," Capt Grey responded. "He wishes to speak with the camp commander."
The enemy officer appeared caught off balance by Capt Grey's maneuver. Probably it disrupted his own intended plan of verbal attack. He was staring solemnly at Grey as he pondered his own next move. Sgt Arnold and I moved some closer to the entrance in case the two soldiers might be ordered to seize our captain. To improve the odds, we beckoned Gilliland, Price and Rambo along with us. Finally the officer of the guard said:
"About a matter which we are certain you are not authorized to decide," Grey replied. "A very important matter which we are sure only your commander could decide."
Now the fellow was really quite flustered. Grey's statement was somewhat belittling of him, but also most probably true. It was a minute or so before he could figure a way around it.
"My commander is not available now," he then said. "He has authorized me to make decisions in his absence. So your senior officer can discuss the matter with me."
A good maneuver, to be sure; which might have worked against some uninitiate. But not against Capt Grey. He responded at once:
"If you say that your commander has authorized you to make decision for him on this matter, then my commander has authorized me to discuss it for him, with you. Do you wish me to state it to you?"
If he might have preferred it otherwise, the officer of the guard now found himself in position where he had no reasonable choice but to say, "Yes."
"We want Major Harris to be brought to join us here tonight, from the solitary confinement where he has been kept for months, and where we know he still is." Grey stated it quietly. Enough so that it probably could not be heard very far beyond the 20 feet or less distance where Arnold, myself, and our "troops" had positioned ourselves. No theatrics. This wasn't cinema. This was real life. Just a simple, quiet statement let the enemy know what it was that we wanted. The atmosphere in the place told him the intensity of our desire.
To his credit, the officer of the guard realized the futility, for himself, of further argument. He not only was not authorized to make a decision on that matter, he most likely was glad of it. Keeping a man in solitary and under pressure after the ceasefire was, to any member or servant of the communist apparatus, a justifiable thing so long as nobody else knew or complained about it. But trying to publicly justify it was quite a different matter, especially to a bunch of the man's friends who had also reasons of their own for an unfriendly attitude.
"You will understand," the officer of the guard said to Grey, "as you have yourself mentioned, a matter such as this is not one which my commander would authorize me to decide. The commander will be here in the morning. I will see to it that it is brought to his attention, and I'm sure...."
Recognizing that the fellow was now attempting a stalling tactic, Grey interrupted. "That will not do," he said. "By morning you could have moved him to somewhere away from here. He should be brought here tonight at once. There is no justification for him to be kept from here. And it is violation of the armistice that he is still kept from joining us."
The guard officer looked about for a moment then. There was nothing physically threatening in the behavior of the prisoners. And there were more men, with weapons, in his guard company than there were of prisoners, without such. But the situation had now reached a point where he could actually do nothing either way on his own. The matter would have to be brought to the camp commander's attention (which it probably already was).
"It is possible," he said, "that the camp commander has returned by now. I will go to see if that is so, and if it is get an answer for you from him."
"And if you do not find him, will you come back and tell us so?" Grey did not for a moment trust the fellow in any regard.
"Yes. Yes, of course," he said after a moment. "And meanwhile you must order the men to stay quiet. It is now far past the time ......"
"The men were noisy," Grey cut in, "because they thought the war was over and they were happy. Now they will realize that the war is not over for everyone. It is not over for Major Harris until he is here with us. If the men wish to be noisy about that, we will not order them to be quiet. When Major Harris has joined us, it will not be necessary to order them to be quiet."
The officer of the guard then left on his mission to "find" the camp commander. Capt Grey spoke briefly to the assembly to make clear to all what was happening. If, perchance, support for the action was not entirely unanimous, any dissenters had enough wisdom at least not to openly express their disagreement.
The camp commander arrived perhaps 20 minutes later, accompanied by Tsai and with two soldiers behind them. From what Arnold and I were able to see while the door was open, there were no additional troops, other than the two sentries, outside. The commander and Tsai proceeded to the center of room where Yerger, Grey and Moritz had risen to their feet to await them. The soldiers had stopped about halfway to that point, and stood at ease with their rifles "butts-on-the-ground" alongside them.
From our position close to the doorway, Arnold and I could not hear the conversation. But from almost its very beginning we could see the camp commander shaking his head negatively. That was by itself sufficient reason to move our troops into position. The five of us strung out behind the two soldiers, midway between them and the doorway. One of them noticed our movement, and called it to the other's attention. They turned their faces forward again then. They showed no particular sign of nervousness. But they were probably aware of the uselessness of rifles at close quarters, especially when that badly outnumbered.
We would learn later that the conversation began with the camp commander telling them that Major Harris would be brought to join us in the morning. Yerger and Grey refused to accept that. That would give the enemy time for a strip search, or to move Harris to elsewhere. It was quite probable that the camp commander was not really authorized to make a decision on this matter, either. The retention and continued pressuring of Major Harris here in this camp, and similar treatment of others elsewhere, would have been on orders of higher authority; the very top of the POW camps administration in Pyoktong. It was quite possible the commander had not yet been able to contact Pyoktong regarding the situation here. By morning he would be able to have done so. He would shortly realize he was no longer in position to do so.
The camp commander did not see our movement into position to block the exit because he was facing away from us. Grey and Moritz saw it. Tsai saw it also and said something to his commander (in their language, of course) causing the latter to look around at the scene behind him.
The resultant action was a delight to observe, no matter that we could not hear the conversation. The camp commander spoke briefly to our three officers, who seemed to nod approvingly of what they were hearing. The commander then said something to Tsai, who at once started towards ourselves and the doorway behind us. Capt Grey signalled to us, then, by just nodding his head, to let the little fellow pass us by.
Tsai was a truly affable fellow. Almost always in greeting, or even just in passing, he would flash to us at least a quick smile. And it was almost impossible not to smile a bit in return. But this time, when he glanced at Arnold and myself as we moved apart to let him through, the smile was not there. We both decided to greet him smilingly anyway. Somehow we knew, without hearing anyone say so, that the "friendly little clothing merchant" was scurrying out to bring Major Harris to us.
During the wait for our major's arrival, the other three of our senior officers graciously invited the camp commander to have tea with them (there being a bucket of it close at hand, somewhat cooled since the evening meal). They all seated themselves and appeared to converse amiably. Moritz would later report that was exactly the nature of it; amiable conversation about ordinary things, including some sharing of feelings about the ceasefire.
It was a pleasurable thing to observe. As we remained in our position behind the soldiers, but with the tension of the situation now gone, Arnold remarked of Capt Grey, "Now that's the kind of officer we could use a lot more of." From start to finish he had handled the whole thing so well. Once he had maneuvered the officer of the guard into a corner, so to speak, he had helped the fellow find a face-saving way back out. And now having outmaneuvered the camp commander he had done the same for him. Having gained what we wanted, there was nothing more to gain by gloating about it. Don't mention or even allude to what had actually caused him to do it, but just act as though the camp commander had sent Tsai to bring the major simply because he decided it was the proper thing to do.
"That," said the sergeant," is what I would call 'finese'."
"Are you sure," I commented, in the manner that he and I often bantered, "that it ain't more like what the French call 'sav-wah-fair'?"
It was at the same time an amusing scene. And remembered the more so when our story-tel1ing, RAF pilot, Olaf Bergh commented afterward: "Wot an ungodly hour that was to serve tea! But I suppose when you've no brandy ......"
In a very short while, ten minutes or so, Major Harris arrived. As soon as they were inside the building, Tsai scurried off to rejoin his commander, leaving Harris standing alone blinking his eyes against the comparative brightness of the place. For a short while he could not see at all clearly. When I took hold of his arm, he clutched mine and said, "Oh, Chief it's you! Where are we? What the hell's going on?"
He hadn't been told the war was ended, not even now. When Tsai came to get him he had only said for him to gather all his belongings and come along. So here was another, somewhat similar to Maury Yerger; kept in total isolation for months, pressured for false and basically senseless confessions or concessions, then suddenly and without explanation transplanted into an entirely new circumstance. In this case it was probably even more traumatic than what Maury had experienced.
"It's over, Bucky," I told him. "We'll be on our way home in just a few days."
Arnold had reached him by then, and taken hold of his other arm. "And Bill, you two Oh, god it's good to...." He was so shaken he was having difficulty even speaking.
A host of well-wishers was approaching to greet him. Whether it was because he saw them coming, or just because of how he felt at the moment, is uncertain. "You two just take me somewhere off in a corner or something and tell me let me catch up ......"
Arnold sensed the man's need for some time to adjust. He intercepted the others to keep them away and explain to them the reason. I led the major to the place along the wall which I had chosen for myself. There was enough space in the building to leave us far enough apart from others for the manner of privacy that was needed.
To learn from me what was happening was only part of his need. And probably the lesser part of it. First of all he needed release of some of the long pent-up emotions within him. We sat down on our bedrolls and it shortly began to flow.
As expected, the enemy had sought all the while they held him in solitary to get a written confession from him for his "crimes" against their "hungachi" policy. But far more than that. He was questioned about details of such organization as he had managed actually to effect. And they knew enough about it to give him great cause for worry, not so much about himself as for others of us. They didn't ask him if he had tried to organize an "escape committee," they told him they "knew" he had done so. They didn't ask him for names of men on his "escape committee." They named two and asked him to confirm it.
In that case, he had been able to deny their accusation without lying. For those named were in fact not any of the three who were really involved in that. It was, instead, two of the three young officers who liked to talk about their expertise in such matters, and who had asked me in June to quickly make some knives and hatchets for them.
He had been asked, of course, to tell them who amongst those in the compound, might be planning to try escape. He had acknowledged, sensibly, that many talked about it, perhaps even discussed plans. But he would insist he didn't know if anyone was really serious about it. When they mentioned the "little lieutenant's" Easter escapade, he turned that as an example of why he didn't think anyone was really serious about it. After walking out of the compound, that trio had not gone far before they decided to just sit down and wait to be brought back, since they had no equipment, or food and were uncertain even of where to go.
He was questioned repeatedly about myself, since I had made escape the previous summer did he think I might be planning to try again? He had sought not to overplay it, but from "what little he'd heard me say about it" he had the impression that I felt on basis of that experience there was very little chance of making it all the way out. They had told him they had "heard" that "Thorin and Flynn" were planning to escape together; what did he know of this? He could only persistently and repeatedly deny knowing anything of it.
Such were the things about which the enemy had pressured Maj Harris during the past several months of complete isolation. He had been subjected to the usual gamut of threats, entreatments and protracted interrogations without sleep. Having successfully resisted and endured all that, and now suddenly rescued from it, telling me, of it should have further relieved the tensions and pent-up emotions. But instead he was worsening in those respects. He was bitter. But not at the enemy. They had done nothing other than what we had come to expect from them. His bitterness was over the fact that someone had given them so much of accurate information. Finally he blurted it out:
"And I now know for sure who was the goddam traitor in our midst! It wasn't Watash. It's Kubicek!"
It was a surprise to hear that, yet somehow not entirely so. It was by no means an impossibility, but there were a number of substantial reasons for doubt that it was actually true. Yet there was at the same time no doubt that Major Harris must have some very substantial reasons for believing what he had said. It was important, because of the major's distraught condition, to be very careful in any questioning about it. I sought to avoid even a hint of disbelieving, and give the impression of only reasonably wanting to know, as I asked:
"How do You know this for sure, Bucky?"
"Because I saw the sunuvabitch when he did it. And saw him get his payoff ......"
He continued, then, describing what had happened. 0n the next day after he'd been pulled out of the compound, he was allowed to sit outside in the sun. While there he saw Tsai bring Kubicek to a building not far away. They entered the building and remained inside for quite some time. He thought maybe as much as an hour. When they did come back out, there was a third man with them whom Harris did not recognize. The three of them stood talking for a while, in a manner which seemed to Harris to be one of enjoyment, including smiles and possibly some laughter; though the distance was too great to hear anything. Then the third man reentered the building, returning with a small package which he handed to Kubicek. There was a bit more exchange of what appeared to be amiable conversation, after which Tsai sent Kubicek back to the compound by himself, unescorted. Harris thought Kubicek may have looked in his direction a time or two, and knew that he was there; though of that he was not entirely certain.
Memory flashed, then, to the story Kubicek had told me of his "unusual" experience on that day. Tsai had taken him from the compound to "meet a man from Pyoktong who wants to talk with you." As they approached the meeting place, Kubicek had spotted Harris sitting outside a building not far away. (He had begun his report to me of the incident by saying he knew where they were keeping Bucky.) The man who Tsai had said "wanted to talk" with Kubicek had with him a thick sheaf of papers; copies he said, of the great volume of doubletalk: which Kubicek had written while at the North Korean interrogation center (Pak's Palace). There'd been a few questions then, about some of the things in those papers, but no real interrogation. Mostly just talking tea and rice cakes were served and later a glass of rice wine. Even after they went back outside, the fellow talking and laughing about the way Kubicek had put one over on the Koreans. Then he had gone back in and brought some of the rice cakes and some candy for Kubicek to carry with him as he was sent back to the compound unescorted.
Could Kubicek have made up such a story to cover up a meeting with the enemy to give them information. Not likely, and in any case he would have had no need to do so. He could have not mentioned the meeting at all. Also, what Harris had just described fit precisely what Kubicek had told me, except as seen from a distance and not observed in its entirety. From that alone, it seemed quite certain it was a setup to mislead the major into thinking as he now did. What Bucky continued to describe as I remembered Kubicek's story made it even more so.
Major Harris was not accused of anything or interrogated about anything on the day he was removed from the compound. He had been told only that someone from Pyoktong wished to talk with him. He had spent the first night and next morning with no further mention of why he was there. An hour or so after he had witnessed the scene of Kubicek talking with the enemy, the man who wanted to talk with him arrived. It was the same man whom he had just observed talking so amiably with Kubicek and presenting to him a gift.
A setup? There was no doubt in my mind that's what it was. A setup to make Major Harris think the information with which they confronted him had been given to them by Kubicek. In fact, such specific information as Harris mentioned the enemy knew, could have been gained by them either from Watash, or from their snooper sentries listening to the careless talkers (of which Kubicek did happen to be one).
So on the one hand I was certain of Kubicek's innocence. At the same time, Bucky's certainty of Kubicek's guilt was well justified, on a basis of what he had seen and what happened immediately afterward. For the several months he'd been under extreme pressure from the enemy, the major had had to endure the perhaps more horrendous burden of believing he had been betrayed; and by a man in whom he had trusted enough to have him as a member of his actual escape committee.
To say anything even slightly suggestive that Kubicek might be innocent, could have sent the major into apoplexy. Probably some of the major's pent-up wrath at Kubicek would have been turned upon myself if I made such suggestion.
As Bucky was relating the last part of his account, I had searched for some way to deal with the situation. There were two problems, really. There was need to get Bucky's mind off that, if possible, so he could calm down, think of some pleasant things, and eventually get some sleep. And there was need to keep him away from Kubicek and, for that matter Kubicek away from him. Unaware that he was even suspected, let alone already in Bucky's mind convicted of treason, Kubicek was one of those rushing happily to greet the major when Sgt Arnold kept them back and sent them away. From somewhere came an idea which would to some extent serve both purposes.
"Well Bucky," I said, "that being the case, it looks like you and I have simi1ar sad duties to perform as soon we get across the line."
There was an encouraging look of surprise and curiosity as he said, "What what do you mean?"
"Well, we're both going to have to make some very serious charges against someone once we get out of here against people who've been through some rough times here along with us. That's not going to be a pleasant thing to do. But it has to be done."
"Who is it you've got to..." he started to ask.
"The guy that caused me to get captured," I answered before he could finish the question. "Caused both of us to get captured. . . . "
"Oh yeah," he said, "the guy that came in with you Naylor-Foote ......"
That led into discussion of the escape attempt, of which the enemy had made certain he was aware. So the change of subject had been achieved and Bucky was beginning to relax. When he mentioned that I'd not told him any details of how the guy caused our capture, it was an unexpected opportunity.
"I haven't told anybody very much about that," I said, "because I don't want the bastard to know in advance what I'm going to say.... and incidentally, Bucky, that's something you might want to consider. Kubicek doesn't know you're onto this. It might be a good idea not to tip him off by saying anything here."
It was a great idea to put into the major's mind, but from the look on his face he was about to resume talk on that subject. So I hurried to say further:
"But what the heck that can come later. We can't really do anything about it 'til we're out of here, anyway. So let me tell you what happened here tonight how we managed to get you here with us...."
From there on we had it made, for getting the major relaxed, and his mind off of Kubicek for a while. He enjoyed tremendously the account of the action which brought about his release to us. The story of the strip searches seemed to make him drowsy and somewhere in our last days in the compound he went to sleep.
So he could sleep now. But I couldn't. Not for a long time. From the sounds, it seemed that all others around were sleeping. Some probably drifted off still thinking of the small battle we had just won. Among the better of thoughts in my wakeful mind if only we had men in Washington with the intelligence and guts of Capt Grey, we might even win the war.
Then, of course, there were those who soundly slept because they thought the war was completely over. And if that's what they thought, then for them it surely was.
But not for everyone!
The Ride to Panmunjom
But Not For Everyone
Table of Contents ©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.