It was only a day or so after our liberation of Major Harris from solitary that we were moved to the big schoolhouse. There we would spend but one night, to be loaded on trucks the following morning, beginning the ride southward to the exchange point at Panmunjom.
Probably the reason for the move was because the schoolhouse had tables, benches and even a few chairs. This was far better suited for serving the veritable "feast" which the Chinese cooks had prepared for the occasion, than was the newly constructed pole building where we'd been kept since the final "shakedown." And it was a feast, in the literal sense of the word. The menu was hardly so varied as one might have known at Sun Ya's restaurant in Shanghai. But the quality was par with the best. An excellent soup, containing a few ingredients Arnold had never had to work with. Goat meat with as good a barbecue sauce as anyone could ask for. Rice, of course, and some steamed "jowdzuh" and "manto's." (It was perhaps fortunate for me that they had not tried to use the ovens in the compound for this occasion.) A somewhat better grade of tea was provided, than was usual. Rice wine was adequate at the usual four men per bottle. No fortune cookies, but who needed one then? The morrow would bring for all of us what we most wanted at the moment. And plates of sweetened rice cakes were on hand for the munching. (I stowed a few of those in the traveling satchel in anticipation that rations during the trip south might be a bit meager.)
The night was warm and pleasant. We were free to stroll around the entirety of the school yard. No armed sentries were even in view. The relaxed circumstance engendered a variety of conversations and behavior. One fellow, who liked to be called "cowboy," was practicing and attempting to refine the "war story" he would be telling after repatriation. His basic theme had to do with riding around North Korea on a mule for a few days after he was shot down, trying to find the way out before he was captured. He had a small audience advising him as to whether or not certain aspects of his story would be believed back home. Another fellow a swept-wing jet pilot, no less after spending some time outside, came in with the story that a young Korean woman had called him into the shadows of some bushes in the schoolyard to participate in a bit of sex because she wanted to have an American baby. No one suggested any improvements in his story, or showed likelihood of retelling it for him after repatriation, which was apparently his main intention.
For myself, there was a pleasant reunion with Felix Ferranto. We had not seen each other since spending two nights together at Pyoktong more than a year previously. So there was much we might have told one another about what had transpired with each of us in the interim. But we didn't do much of that because very early in our conversation he rather bluntly informed me that he thought I was being "unfair to Naylor-Foote."
I had never told Ferranto much detail of Naylor-Foote's actions either before the mission or after our capture. The opinion he was then expressing must therefore be based on things which Naylor-Foote had told him during the many weeks they were confined together. When asked why he thought that, Ferranto said something to the effect he didn't think it was right for me to blame Naylor-Foote for the fact that we crashed, when it could have been at least partly my own fault.
"Felix," I said, "that's not what it's about. That's part of it, but not at all the main part. The no-good sunuvabitch lied to me deliberately about the circumstances, about Ettinger's condition, just so he could come along on the mission in place of my crewman. If he hadn't lied to me, neither one of us would be here. And neither would Harry Ettinger, for that matter. Because if I'd known the true circumstance I'd have had my crewman with me, and we'd have had Ettinger out aboard the Rochester in time for breakfast that morning."
Ferranto's reaction was clearly one of disbelief. He asked questions, seeking explanations but still showing disbelief when I gave some. I realized there would be a certain amount of personal concern and loyalty toward someone with whom he'd spent so many weeks of confinement. I realized also that I had already told him more than I should have about the charges which would be made against Naylor-Foote. For it was of some import that Naylor-Foote should not be aware in advance of exactly what my charges against him would be. And it was quite possible the two would be together again before or immediately after repatriation. That would give Naylor-Foote some time to concoct an explanation in advance, which would at very least clutter and handicap official investigation of the matter. For at concocting stories, the otherwise pitiable psychopath was much experienced. And the performance of his cohort, Ulatoski, in conjunction with the matter was evidence that there were at least some others in his "intelligence" organization that were fool enough to believe them.
So further questions from Ferranto were cut off by telling him the full story would be saved for authorities in Tokyo. Then noting that Felix was quite disturbed over the matter, it seemed best to discontinue further conversation with him. Besides which there was yet one very important matter to attend. The plastic waterbag which had been painstakingly smuggled out of the compound during the final shakedown and since kept hidden, was unwrapped from around my leg and filled from the bucket of "kai schwee" (boiled water) which had been provided for us along with the excellent farewell feast.
Trucks were on hand at daybreak the following morning, quickly loaded and at once grinding their way northeastward toward the railroad yard at Manpo. There, we were told in advance, we would load aboard a train to take us to Panmunjom.
Tortuous roads winding through the mountains made it a slow trip. The trucks were open, "stake-body" type with no seats of any kind. So we would ride mostly standing for the entire trip, some grateful for the ever-changing scenery which kept it from becoming boring. Enlivening, also, but a bit saddening for the few who might think deeply of such things, were frequent clusters of Korean civilians gathered at roadside to bid us farewell. Tears flowed freely, on the faces of most of the women and also from some of the men.
"What the hell are they crying for?" asked one of the "boys" alongside myself in the truck. "Don't they know the war's over?"
The fellow looked at me peculiarly when I responded, "Not for them, it isn't." Then after the further explanation that our departure meant the end of their hopes for liberation, the fellow shrugged and turned away in total disinterest.
Ours was the last truck convoy to arrive at Manpo. Our trucks parked in line alongside the last several boxcars of a quite lengthy train. We had been lined up "alphabetically" by last initial for loading at the big schoolhouse. So also we boarded the train. Which put myself in the very last car of the train, which ended up only a little more than half-full.
The last previous use of that box car (and probably the rest of them as well) had apparently been for the hauling of mules. There was no clear physical evidence of that; the floors appeared well cleaned and were covered with fresh rice straw. But the odor lingered strong enough to sustain for the entire trip. No serious complaints were heard about it, only something of jokes and amusement. Someone expressed sympathy for the mules who must have ridden this train back to communist China, whereas we would ride it to freedom.
As we settled ourselves into this welcome conveyance there appeared in the rail yard a few vehicles carrying a "neutral nations" inspection team. Ten or twelve "inspectors" emerged from the vehicles and walked to a large building about a hundred yards from the train. There were glances in our direction by several of the "inspectors." But apparently trains hauling POW's were not on their list of things to inspect.
Rations for the trip were issued. Two cans of cooked meat per man, and a few hardtack biscuits. Quite as I had expected, no water was provided. Since the trip would take but little more than 24 hours, our "hosts" may have considered it unnecessary. In any case, so far as could be determined, no car other than ours had any water to drink. With only a few more than twenty men in that last car, there was enough in the bag I had brought to provide two reasonable portions per man. It wasn' a critical situation, but every man in the car came to see me at least once.
One of them came to see me for another reason. "LW," the young marine we'd nearly lost to "give-up-itis" came alongside in late evening and said he'd like to ask my advice on something, "in confidence." We were far enough from any others to not be overheard. The last time we'd had opportunity for such private conversation was in the butcher shack, shortly after the ceasefire. Probably he had been leading up to this subject then, but we were interrupted by arrival of Commander Yerger on the ox-cart.
"I've been doin' a lot of thinking about it these past few weeks, chief," he said. "and I've pretty well decided the only thing I did while I've been here that was wrong bad enough that I need to feel ashamed of it was that tape recording I did for 'em down at Pak's"
So that's what was bothering him that had caused his "give-up-itis"! The fact that he had made a tape recording for the Koreans, while at the interrogation center, had slipped my mind. Not that it had mattered then what caused it, so far as getting him out of that regressive state was concerned. But it mattered now because it was troubling him again, in a different way.
He had paused, perhaps expecting some comment from me at that point. When I made none, he continued: "But now I've been trying to figure I expect they'll ask me about that when we get out. 'Cause they'll know about it, I'm sure. The Koreans used it in their radio broadcast, I know, because they let all of us that made tapes listen to them on radio. So I've been trying to figure out how to explain it what to say when they ask me about it. I sure wouldn't try to deny it, or say that it wasn't the wrong thing to do. But how do I go about to explaining something like that? I thought maybe you could help me figure that out?"
As I saw it and told him he didn't really need to explain it to anyone. Most important was the fact that he had recognized and admitted to himself that he shouldn't have done it. So far as our authorities were concerned, he needed only to acknowledge that he had done it and afterwards, having recognized it was a wrong thing to do, had refused to make another.
He wondered how I knew they had tried to get him to make a second recording.
"Because it's their standard procedure," I told him. "Get a guy to give in on just one little thing something unimportant, that he feels isn't wrong or hurtful to anyone else. That recording you made all you said was that you were alive, and in good health, being well treated and well fed, and just hoping the war would end soon so you could come home. You were lying a little bit, especially about being well fed, but you knew if you didn't say something like that they wouldn't play the tape, and you wanted to get word out so your folks would know you're alive, and you figured it likely these damn' commies would not otherwise inform our side that you were. Is that about right?"
"Yeah!" he said, "That's just about exactly right, the way I was thinking, and the way it was. But how did you know ..."
"Because it's their standard procedure," I repeated. Then for a while we reviewed some of the things that happened at Pak's Palace, not just to him, but with all of us. The "opportunity" to make a tape recording to let our "families back home know" that we were "in good health and being treated well" was not offered to everyone at Pak's. But it was offered to most of the young enlisted men and to those of the officers who had otherwise given the interrogators the impression, at least, of willingness to "cooperate" in some measure.
There were many things to consider in appraising this young man's feelings now about himself. Several other young enlisted men at Pak's made similar tape recordings. Two who refused, Rambo and Gilliland, went to the Slave Camp with Sgt Arnold and myself. At least two Air Force officers, Capt Kubicek and Lt Stahl, also made recordings which the enemy found suitable for broadcast. One most significant aspect of "LW's" feelings about his own action was that he never mentioned about others making such recordings. He did not, as some would, regard that as justification or excuse for himself having done so.
Actually, the recording he made and the first ones that some others made were not really violation of the basic code for military men when captured; to give no military information other than their name, rank, serial number and date of birth. In a sense, the one "LW" had made could have been regarded as compliance with the modification of that code which was issued to Navy and Marine Corps personnel in the summer of 1951. The basic rule to give no military information still applied, we were told, "But if they start talking politics pretend to go along and they might release you." The Air Force had gone beyond that (according to Captains Kubicek and Dobbs when at Pak's), with instructions to respond to questioning on military matters to give appearance of cooperation yet evade telling them anything of real importance.
All such instructions played into our captors' strategy and real objectives. They were not interested primarily in getting military information from us. (They had far better and easier ways of getting that.) Their main objective was to use prisoners in their propaganda and for development of political pressures back in the USA.
They did not expect, ordinarily, that a man would at once denounce his country and otherwise "turncoat" into their service. (Such a one would be of very limited use to them anyway.) So the procedure was first to ask for only "a little bit of cooperation," on some innocuous or generally innocent matter such as was the content of the recording "LW" had made. Once they gained that first "bit of cooperation," they asked for a little bit more. And after that, still more. So bit by bit they led their victim on. Those who gave in to those successive entreatments for just a "little bit" more would too late realize that their "cooperation" with the enemy had become collaboration. After which they were no longer asked, but were told what further was wanted from them, or otherwise knew on their own what further was expected.
Thus did official instructions to "pretend cooperation" with our captors in some other regard, actually start some into the progressive procedure by which they eventually came in some measure to serve the enemy's purposes. In some cases this led to complete submission to the enemy's demands; full-fledged collaboration. In others it resulted in commission of one or a few acts which, though perhaps of minor import, would later cause them feelings of guilt or shame. That in turn could result (as it had with "LW") in feelings of depression and loss of self respect which gradually developed into the regressive condition which we called "give-up-itis."
"Progressive" was the label the enemy gave to those who were proceeding along that "cooperative" course toward willful collaboration. They used the term in its literal sense denoting progress toward their objective, and in a commendatory manner sometimes accompanied with a pat on the back, and perhaps a cigaret or some other extra "treat" the non-progressive wouldn't get. Quickly then, the other prisoners came to use it as a derogatory term, synonymous with such as turncoat, traitor, "rat fink" and so on. Generally they made no distinctive judgements as to whether a fellow prisoner had become a "progressive" because of ignorance, fear, or willful quest for special privilege and sometimes personal power over themselves. By failing to make such distinction, those who staunchly resisted the enemy's effort to bring all into submission and compliance, drove the weaklings among the "progressives" into closer alliance with the willful collaborators. Meanwhile, any among the resistors who showed ability to lead the rest of them in organized resistance were quickly isolated by the captors as "incorrigibles."
I asked "LW", as we discussed some of those things, "how come" he didn't make that second recording they asked him for at Pak's. That, he explained, was because they wanted him to say that our side started the war, and was keeping it from ending, and he "wasn't about to say things like that!" Also, he said that they had not pressed him very hard for another. He was a bit puzzled as to why they hadn't, because they had done so to several others who were there.
The reason for that was quite easy to figure. Those several others he mentioned were two other young enlisted men whom the enemy probably found much easier to persuade than "LW," and three Air Force officers who would have been much more useful to the enemy's purpose than another young enlisted man. One of those officers, Lt. Stahl, was apparently quite easy to persuade, and eventually became a full-fledged collaborator as a regular contributer to the Chinese prison camp publication called "Towards Truth and Peace."
Capt Kubicek, having made one recording quite similar in content to that of "LW's", also did not make a second one. But the enemy probably expected that he would do so because of the freeness with which he continued to respond to their questions about his technical "expertise." He did that quite in keeping with his understanding of Air Force instructions in that regard. Also, his responses consisted mostly of double-talk and gobbledy-gook, but the interrogators at Pak's were not themselves able to perceive that fact.
Capt Dobbs did not make a recording, and most likely never even considered doing so. Eventually, after being turned over to Chinese custody, he was declared an "incorrigible" because of his blowup when the communist propagandist, Wilfred Burchett, accused him of dropping "germ bombs". After that he endured more than a year of intense pressure for confession to that fictitious "war crime".
But while at Pak's, Dobb's must surely have appeared to the enemy as persuadable to almost anything. By the time he first arrived there, he was close to accepting their other fictitious contention that the United States and South Korea had started the war. A recording by him even expressing doubts on that subject would have been a grand prize for the enemy. But his basic loyalty and common sense prevailed, actually with ease, on that issue. No matter how serious his doubts in the matter, he would never even have considered expressing them on record for the enemy to use in propaganda.
Considering the environment in which he had remained after making that first recording, "LW's" refusal to make a second one, far more than made up for the first one. In addition to the three less than exemplary officers just mentioned, also at Pak's during that time was the ever-whimpering Lt "CJ" and the psychopathic Lt Naylor-Foote. "CJ's" specific actions I did not recall, but his basic attitude was ever a demoralizing influence on the young enlisted men.
As for Naylor-Foote, shortly after Sgt Arnold and I went to the Slave Camp, he promoted himself to "Colonel" and put himself in "command" of the prisoners remaining at Pak's. He told them he was "masquerading" as first lieutenant just to fool the enemy and conducted a farcical ceremony swearing them all to secrecy about it. He exercised his command mainly by apportioning the food, ladling rice a spoonful at a time into their bowls. When the others of us returned to Pak's from the Slave Camp, and were about to board the truck for the trip north to Pyoktong, he scared the daylights out of "LW" and several other of the young enlisted men by telling them of an "escape plan" he had quickly devised, which he would order into effect shortly after we departed Pak's Palace. It wasn't done, of course, because the men he was going to direct (including myself) in the killing of the guards and taking over the truck were none of them foolish enough to go along with it.*
[* In his debriefing statement after repatriation some fifteen months later, Naylor-Foote condemned us all for cowardice because of our refusal to go along with his escape plan.]
Such were some of the recollections which flashed through my mind at the very beginning of our box-car conference, which caused me to tell that young marine I thought he needed only to acknowledge his error for having made that tape recording, and should feel no obligation to further explain it to anyone.
"And no need to apologize!" I added. If some rear echelon commando tries to tell you that you should, refer him to me or to Arnold or to Joe Green, Flynn, or Lt. Moritz!"
The young man smiled quietly on that for a moment. Then soberly he said: "I still sure do wish I'd had sense enough not to make that recording, and maybe gone to the Slave Camp with you and the others."
Comment would have interrupted his evident deep reflection. Perhaps he was himself now remembering the circumstance he'd dwelt in at Pak's during that while. If so, he was remembering later events as well. After quite some time of silence he said: "I guess maybe you're right that I don't owe any explanations or apologies to anyone else. But I sure as hell owe an apology to you!"
"What do you mean?" I asked; then realized before he replied what he was referring to.
"I mean for the way I acted that day in the mud hut. And the way I talked to you...."
"No apology needed for that," I said. But he continued talking:
"....I don't remember just what all I said. But I know it was nasty and rotten, and I ."
"Doesn't matter what you said!" I managed to interrupt. "Or what you did! Most of all doesn't call for an apology. Because that's what let me know you still had enough spark left in you that we could maybe bring you back out of it. And also," I added after several moments, "enough of manhood to make it worth the effort."
He looked at me intently for a moment, then looked away. We both sat with our own thoughts for several minutes. Mine were on the several causes of "give-up-itis." Some cases had been due to basic weakness and deficiencies of character. Those were the more difficult to cure because only the stimulus to come out of it could be provided by someone else, and usually had to be. But recovery required some kind of drive from within the self.
Kubicek, during the first week after our transfer to Chinese custody, was roused by my disgusted comment that he should at least get up and dig his own grave. He was was then driven to recovery, at least in part, by the desire to regain my respect. Tuttle had appeared as though he could quite happily die, if his friend "Pappy" would just remain at his side feeling sorry for him. Just a few hours of solitude without sympathy impelled him back onto his feet by himself. After that he apparently decided that the company of many others was more desireable than the catering to his self-pity by just one or a few.
"LW's" case was not due to a deficiency of basic character, but to a feeling of guilt and shame for not having lived up to a standard he had set for himself. Moritz and I had several times noted the early signs, withdrawal and self-neglect. But we did not fathom the reason for it. Had I remembered about the recording, I would have suspected that as the cause. Then perhaps he could at that time have been helped to realize it was not so serious a breach of honorable conduct as he came to think of it. Or if he had come to me, or to any of several others to discuss it, the same could have followed. But he couldn't do that because of a feeling of inferiority towards those of us he knew at the time who had gone to the Slave Camp because of our "non-cooperative" behavior at Pak's.
In sum, it appeared his feeling of guilt was more for having failed himself, than any other. Ironically, then, he was probably now better off for having slipped into "give-up-itis" and snapped back out of it, than if it had been possible somehow to help him avoid it. For the process of recovery in any case did draw upon and therefore further develop some element of inner strength and potential. The depths of despondency to which this young man had sunk required tremendous inner drive to bring him back out and in turn to confide with someone else his deep feelings.
"LW" broke my meditations with another question. "Chief," he asked hesitantly, "did you go talk with Lt Moritz that day, right after you left the mud hut?"
"Did you just now figure that out?" I asked in response.
"Yeah," he replied, now smiling at himself, and needing no further comment from me on that. But shortly there followed another question:
"How come nobody told us the kind of things that happened to us might happen if we was captured? And what we should do about it how we should handle it?"
"Because nobody knew."
"But you knew," he said. "You and Arnold and the other guys that went to the Slave Camp. At least you knew what to do about it. But me, I..."
"We didn't know," I said in interruption. "We just figured it out soon after we got here."
He looked at me for just a while before saying, "Then how come I didn't? How come ....?"
"There's something called 'experience'," I said, "which can make a bit of difference. And as a matter of fact, it looks to me that you did figure it out. After you realized what it would lead to after you realized that first one was a mistake, and they come wanting you to do something more you told them no. That's why I say you don't owe anybody any explanations or apologies not even yourself. So I think it's time for you to quit worrying about that quit buggin' yourself about it. Time to be thinking instead what you're going to do after you cross that line after you get back home. Have you given much thought to that?"
He had; but it turned out that, too, was a part of what was bothering him. Field thought that he might like to stay in the Corps, but figured because of what he'd done they'd no longer want him. The Marine Corps, I told him, knows the value of experience. The guy who's made a serious mistake and survived and overcome it, is one of the best at helping others to avoid it. And if someone started to make a big deal out of that one "mistake" of his, he should refer them to myself or, better yet, Major Harris or Captain Flynn to set them straight on how well he had overcome that "mistake."
At that point, the young man seemed finally to relax. For some time thereafter we did talk of various other things. Ful1 darkness came as we talked. A few snores from elsewhere in the car may have prompted his apology for taking so much of my time. That didn't matter since I hadn't planned to go out that night, anyway. Rather than stumbling over bodies searching in darkness for the space where he'd left his knapsack, we decided he might as well stay where he was and help me guard the water bag "in case a thirsty camel might come along."
Sleep seemed to come quite easy that night for the occupants of the last boxcar of our "Freedom Train." And probably so in the next several cars ahead, which contained the rest of the former inmates of Prison Camp 2 Annex. But farther forward the situation was quite different. From there, even before the train rolled out of Manpo, had come the sounds of shouting. Unintelligible because of the distance, some may have been shouts of joy. More likely the most were of anger. For jammed into those forward boxcars was the former populace of the main prison camp and the larger ones. And emotions and tensions were quite high amongst them.
The leading "progressives" (collaborators) who had been overlords while in the camp, now found themselves surrounded by a resentful crowd of former "subjects." Their usefulness to the enemy having ended, so also had the backup from the enemy which they previously relied on. And more than merely resentful, some among those surrounding them were justifiably vengeful; having long awaited the time and opportunity for vengeance which was now at hand. Even after the train was rolling some of those shouting sounds drifted back loudly enough to be heard over the rattle of wheels on the rails. An ominous sound, it was, somewhat disturbing.
Not so disturbing, however, as to interfere with anyone's sleep in that last boxcar. Within minutes after "LW" and I had toasted "goodnight" with a few swallows of kai shwee in our ricebowls, there was the sound of gentle snoring from the other side of the waterbag. Though I could not see him I felt certain it was the best sleep "LW" had known since his capture. There had always been much restlessness in him during the nine months we'd slept side by side in the mud hut.
My early awakening next morning may have been due to the slowing of the train, rather than the beginnings of daylight. None others seemed yet awake, and there was very little light. The sound of the wheels said we were moving very slowly, and there was a sensation of side to side motion like on a ship in a gentle sea. From one of the small, square windows in the side of the boxcar, could be seen the reason why. The train was on a very high trestle above a large expanse of water, creeping across very slowly for a reason not at all hard to fathom. The side to side motion was of the trestle, itself. It was high enough that there would be some such motion no matter how sound its structure.
There was enough bend in the trestle that some of that structure ahead of us was visible from the window. Flimsy looking it was, of course; yet of pattern which I knew was well engineered and of sound design. But I also knew that trestle had many times been the target of aircraft from Task Force 77. So I wondered how many times it had been hastily repaired, and thought how ironical it would be if the thing were to now collapse.
But it didn't collapse! Our "freedom train" crept across that trestle and was picking up speed before any other passengers in its last boxcar had awakened. The entire train made it across, but not quite all of its passengers. Word came back along that long line of boxcars, through heads sticking out of the windows, that two well-known "Progressives" had departed the train while it was creeping across that high trestle. Not voluntarily, of course, but with the insistence and assistance of some of the men over whom they had wielded the power of our captors while in the camp. By the time that report reached the last boxcar, there was uncertainty in it as to whether or not the two were conscious when they left the train, and might therefore have some time for reflection before they hit the water.
A large crowd was on hand that afternoon when the "freedom train" stopped for a while in Pyongyang. A solid line of North Korean soldiers blocked the citizenry from approaching the train close enough for any conversations. The pro-American sentiment amongst the populace in that region, so evident during their brief period of liberation in 1950, was no doubt still very strong. A few unintelligible shouts floated across the hundred or so yards which separated the crowd from the train. Otherwise it was but a larger version of the kind of sad farewell we'd received from the small clusters of citizens along the roadway between the prison camp and Manpo.
But the generally placid scene was suddenly disrupted by a young soldier who broke from the line and came running toward our train. As he started to run he pulled off the cap he wore, with the red star on its peak, and flung it back toward the line. A shouted order sent 8 or 10 other soldiers running after him. But he had a good start, and was about a third of the way before his pursuers left the line.
The men in the boxcar toward which he was headed had opened its door and called out encouragement, with arms outstretched to help him in when he would arrive. But the loud yelling of his pursuers apparently caused him to look back over his shoulder. He tripped and fell, twenty or so yards from the train. The others were upon him before he could rise. For several minutes then they all stomped and kicked him, at least to unconciousness and possibly to death.
A couple of men jumped from the boxcar and turned calling for some others to join them to rescue the would-be escapee. None followed, but called instead for the two to get back in the car. Reluctantly they did so, looking back both angrily and sadly, as the "victorious" troops of the North Korean army dragged the limp body of their victim back to the line for display to the crowd of citizens.
It would be unfair to assume that the refusal by those others to follow was borne of cowardice. It was by then too late to help the fallen man, so there was nothing to be gained by trying. Had he made it to the boxcar, however, the situation would have been quite much the opposite. His pursuers could not have followed into the car or dared even to try. Nor was it likely their officers would have ordered more troops to the train to forcibly take him out. The troops at Pyongyang were Korean. The Chinese communists were in charge of the train and ourselves. No low-level functionary would have wanted to decide what to do about it, if that soldier-defector had made it onto the train.
That could in fact have created something of a dilemma for the enemy high command in North Korea. They would for several reasons not have wanted international attention drawn to such an event. And that would have happened if he had made it into the boxcar no matter how they dealt with the problem afterwards. Forcible removal while the train was still in Pyongyang would probably have been noticed by some of the "neutral" observers who were in the area. If he would have traveled for a way with the American prisoners, and then been removed, the story carried out by the Americans when repatriated would be much more attractive to the sensation-seeking news media than a "minor" tale about some North Korean soldier getting stomped to death by his buddies because he ran toward the train.
Nor would the typical newsmen of that time have been likely to even believe there could be a great deal more to the story than just that. They would readily believe that the soldier who was stomped had wanted to go to South Korea. But would they have believed a repatriated American if he told them it was very likely that some of those soldiers who did the stomping would have liked to go to South Korea also?
A great many of the soldiers in the North Korean army at that time were from South Korea; youngsters captured or kidnapped in the early part of the conflict and given the choice between joining the North Korean army or being put to slave labor or death. There were also many who were born in North Korea who wanted to go to the South. In fact many had done so, defecting during the war and languishing in POW camps until Sygman Rhee ordered them set free in May of that year.
But why it would be asked if they themselves wanted to go to South Korea, would those other soldiers join in the stomping of one of their comrades who was only trying to do what they themselves would have liked to do? That was because if they hadn't done so they would have been taken to task and probably punished by the lackeys of the communist regime who were appointed over them. Such is the nature and the purpose of the "self-policing" system imposed upon all of its subjects by a communist dictatorship.
After less than an hour, the train left Pyongyang traveling southward. But it stopped again after only a few miles because it could go no farther. The bombed-out bridge over the Chinanmpo river had not yet been rebuilt. Trucks waiting there were quickly loaded to take us the rest of the way to the staging area near to Panmunjom.
Some two hundred or more small tents, each holding but ten or twelve men, were our sleeping quarters in the holding area. They were quite widely dispersed over a barren area of low, rolling hills. For the most part, there appeared to be no effort to assign us to particular tents or areas. The trucks simply stopped where there seemed to be spaces still available, and let us out to find one for ourself. Somewhat surprising was the "luxury" within the tents. Some were equipped with folding cots. Others had double-deck, steel bunks with springs and mattresses. We didn't have to sleep on the ground!
We could move freely about the campground. But the area was large enough that one needed to take care at first not to wander so far from his own tent to have difficulty finding it again. Several field kitchens had been set up to feed us; with crude tables and benches near at hand. For the most part we were served a sort of deep-fried bread stick, similar to the "Indian bread" of early frontier households, usually sprinkled with sugar. Some of us, at least, would have liked as well or better to have continued to the end the rice and "whatever" diet which had sustained us quite well in the last 10 or so months of our confinement.
But it was served to us! We didn't have to pass through a serving line. We had only to seat ourselves by a table at any one of the field kitchens and "red cross volunteers" would bring to us whatever was being provided at the time until we had all we wanted of it. White armbands they wore bore a red cross. Their physical appearance and condition identified them as Chinese Peoples' "Volunteers." Simple, lightweight shirts. and trousers similar to our own replaced the combat uniforms they would have been wearing only a few weeks previously. They were well selected; neat in appearance and quiet of manner. There was no display of either friendliness or animosity between the servers and the served. Only now and again a glance of the mutual understanding and respect which develops in men who've both faced the full risks of battle, even though on opposite sides.
Our helter-skelter arrival at the camp had scattered many of us who would have liked to stay in close touch through those last days until repatriation. Also, one wanted to locate others who had not been seen for a while. In particular, I wanted to find Flynn. And there was no way to find anyone except to go looking. Tsai, Chung, and a few others had gone from tent to tent the day after our arrival making lists of who was in them. But that information was not available to us. No camp administrative types were seen after that. A few unarmed Chinese soldiers roved around as sentries of a sort. But no one seemed really to be in charge.
Having been on one of the very last trucks to arrive, the tent in which I finally found an empty bunk space contained no others with whom I was acquainted. Neither did the first three tents visited the following morning. But the third one provided an interesting new acquaintance. As I paused at its entrance and tapped on its open flap, a very British voice sounded, "Good morning, old chap, c'mon in."
Two Royal Air Force pilots were among the occupants of that tent. Upon learning that I was a Navy helicopter pilot, they asked at once if I knew Lt. Thornton. Told that I did, they laughingly informed me that they called him "Rotorhead" and regarded him as "an entertaining sort of fellow." They assumed then I must also have known Lt. Koelsch. I knew of him, but explained that both he and Thornton were from a different squadron than myself. I also knew from the grapevine that Koelsch had died some months previously, and asked if they knew how he died.
Indeed they did. They had been with him all the while. It was "give-up-itis," one of them said, "but of an unusual sort." He went on to say it would have to be regarded as a form of suicide. Koelsch had one day said he'd decided it just "wasn't worth it," to go on in the prison circumstance; that he wasn't going to eat any more of "this rotten worthless food."
"We figured at first he'd go back to eatin' after a day or so," the RAF pilot said, "'cause he kept talkin' about what he was doin'. So we just sort of kidded him about it, thinkin' that's what he was really doin' just kiddin'."
When they realized he was serious about it, continuing not to eat, they had tried both coaxing and insulting him, but nothing they did had any effect. When he started to weaken physically from the self-starvation, as the RAF pilot described it: "We force-fed him. A couple of us holdin' him and one of us stuffin' food in his mouth and making him swallow it But as soon as we'd turn loose he'd go outside, stick his finger down his throat and puke it up. We tried that several times. But then he stopped talkin' to us altogether, except to tell us to leave him alone. Didn't want anything more to do with any of us. After that, he was just like any other case laid down, not even gettin' up for the latrine. Just layin' there in his own filth and in just a few days maybe even a little quicker than most he's curled up and died."
"Poor chap," the RAF pilot concluded. "Something lackin' in 'im. Don't know just what. He just didn't have what it takes to see it through."*[*Note for JT: Shortly after return to the U.S., Thornton and some cronies in the medals and awards section of BuPers, began pushing for a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor for Koelsch (I think so themselves might bask in its reflected glory). They succeeded. The actual citation can be found in the book now published containing the full listing of CMH awards. In addition to the representation of Koelsh's performance while a prisoner of war as somehow exemplary and inspiring to others, it includes the utterly preposterous and totally false contention that he stopped eating so that others would have more food.]
Table of Contents ©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.