The enemy's reason for removing Flynn from the compound at that time will ever remain uncertain. He spent the remainder of the time in the POW camps complex under intense pressure for false confession to germ warfare. That was not merely until the armistice. He was kept unaware that the war had ended, and pressed for the false confession until late August, just a few minutes before being loaded on a truck with others to begin the long journey to Panmunjom for the prisoner exchange.*
[* Note to editor: The story of that ordeal, as recounted by Flynn and approved by him before publication, is contained in the novelized account titled "A Ride to Panmunjom," (Regnery, 1956), under the fictional name of Capt. Ghant.]
There was a reason, of course, why the enemy would attempt to break him down after removing him from the compound. He was a proven leader, respected as such even by those other among the prisoners who at times resented his leadership because he imposed demands upon themselves for better performance, and who hated his "guts" for making them admit to themselves their own deficiencies in that regard. And his reputation as such a leader went far beyond the confines of the really small compound which we had called "big." Word had spread in some measure, throughout the complex of POW camps, about an American Indian named Flynn, a Marine pilot, whose defiance of the enemy's demands and rejection of their blandishments had compelled them to regard him as an "incorrigible."
There were quite a few "incorrigibles" at Camp 2, Annex. In fact that was the camp to which many such were sent to prevent them from asserting leadership in the larger camps elsewhere. Most of those held in isolation or in small groups in and around the village were in that category. Many of the men in the compound were also so regarded. The inclusion there of several other types, including at least one willful collaborator, had demonstrably prevented those good men from coordinating their "incorrigibility" against the enemy as well as they might otherwise have done.
Two things made Flynn a bit outstanding among the "incorrigibles." The fact that he was an American Indian was one of these. Apparently taken in by their own propaganda on the subject, the communist enemy had assumed at the outset they should be able to appeal to him on that basis. As an Indian, he was member of a minority group in America. And "everyone knows," according to the communist party line, that minority groups are oppressed in America. As Flynn himself recounted it, the enemy's first pitch to him was very much along those lines as a member of a minority, he must realize he had been oppressed. Now he could rid himself of that "yoke of oppression." and at the same time enjoy some vengeance, by cooperating with his captors. For communists, as "everyone" also supposedly "knows" are especially devoted to the "liberation of oppressed minorities."
The enemy's judgemental error in that case derived from the fact that Flynn didn't regard himself as oppressed. Probably this was because he wasn't the kind of man who could easily be oppressed, or likely to remain that way for long if ever he was. Neither did he particularly think of himself as member of a minority group, except sometimes in a jocular manner. Yet his Indian origins were part of what made him stand out. In the enemy's initial view, this should have made him susceptible to their blandishments. The more discerning amongst his fellow prisoners would see him as a man risen out of humble, even perhaps underprivileged beginnings, to achievements equal to or exceeding their own.
Demonstrated leadership was the other thing which caused the man to stand out; especially the ability to inspire, encourage, or sometimes compel others into constructive action or out of the lethargy which the prison circumstance did so often induce. In this respect, attention was drawn to him because circumstance put him in position to actually demonstrate those capabilities. Many other of the "incorrigibles," probably equally capable in those respects, were kept isolated and thus denied the opportunity to demonstrate the fact. There was with Flynn an additional factor which made him more noticeable than others, the inborn ability to take the somewhat primitive circumstances of our situation in stride and, when necessary, be himself as primitive as the circumstance required.
Flynn had thus become a symbol of resistance and opposition the enemy. Communists love symbols and martyrs for their cause. They fear the same against themselves. So they had reason after taking him from the compound to want to break him down. Yet that did not at the time appear as the primary reason for removing him from the compound when they did. Far more likely he was removed because of their suspicion, if not fairly conclusive knowledge, of our intention to attempt escape.
They could not have helped but notice his resourcefulness.
They were already quite aware of mine. My previous venture had disturbed them greatly, because of the success in evading their initial pursuit. Their observations of the two of us working together in the compound would unquestionably lead the more astute of the enemy to the same conclusion reached by some of our friends that Flynn and Thorin both had the capabilities as well as the desire to escape, and most likely intended to do it.
So it was that when Flynn was removed, I felt at once quite certain he would not be coming back; especially since I knew at once he had been taken out of the immediate vicinity. I would wait a while, in case he might be returned. But I wasn't counting on it. An important part of our plan and commitment to each other had been that if we became separated or one of us for some reason could not continue, either of us could and would continue on alone. The fact that we had become separated before we got started did not obviate that commitment. If Flynn did not return to go with me, I would still make the attempt, knowing that he would be doing the same if it was at all possible from wherever he had been taken.
In order to have reasonable time to reach the coastal region we had targeted for an exit point, the first of August or a very few days thereafter was the deadline set for departure. Lt. Moritz was informed of my intention to wait that long for Flynn's possible return, unless a particularly good opportunity for break should happen in the interim. Consideration was given to finding another pardner. But there were very few qualified men to choose from. And the most desirable of those, Lt DeMasters, seemed by then nearly convinced (and quite correctly so) that the armistice would be agreed to within a few weeks. A couple of eager types who asked to go with me, if I was still thinking of going, were told that I wasn't even considering such a thing any more.
So began a period of watchful waiting. Watchful we all were for any signs of impending armistice, or that it might already be ended. We knew full well that if it did end, there was good chance that our captors would not inform of us that fact at once. An absence of aircraft overhead in daytime, or of sounds in the night, would heighten the hopes of even the most pessimistic among us (which included myself). But each of several such instances was ended by sight or sound of renewed air activity.
In one such instance there was consolation in the fact that the renewal of activity included the shootdown of a MiG aircraft by one of ours almost directly overhead. This was additionally enjoyable because when one of jets was seen falling and its pilot bailed out, some of the enemy mistakenly thought it was the American fighter which had been hit. The dead craft came down in a flat spin to crash on the wooded mountainside only a couple of hundred yards away. The big red stars on its sides, clearly visible during its last few turns before it crashed, had a sobering effect on the guards who had laughingly applauded when it first started to fall. Our gracious signs of sympathy towards them during that finale, probably didn't help their feelings much.
Within but a few minutes, villagers who had hurried to the site of the crash were happily returning with salvage from the wreckage, mostly metal scraps which would probably be transformed into utensils or tools of some sort. Shortly after noon on the following day, both gates of the compound were opened wide to allow an oxcart to pass through on the roadway. Seated thereon was the Russian pilot who had bailed out of the downed MiG. He seemed no more appreciative of our expressions of sympathy than had the guards been on the previous day.
There was still plenty of activity for myself during the waiting. An experienced replacement for Flynn to assist in the butchering was definitely not available. There were several volunteer trainees, however, Lt DeMasters being especially enthusiastic.
There was also a continuing increase in the quantity and variety of provisions for the kitchen, enabling Arnold and myself to come up with some improvements in our recipes. When a supply of fresh apples arrived, to be rationed out individually, four apples per man, it was arranged that half of them should be turned in to us so we could put them in pies.
This led to perhaps the most grievous argument the sergeant and I ever had. He thought the apples should be pre-cooked, then put into tightly sealed turnovers of flattened dough and deep fried in bean oil. My idea was to put sliced raw apples and some finely chopped ginger root into turnovers of larded dough, with ventilating holes and a sprinkling of sugar on their tops and bake them in the ovens as apple pies rightly deserve. We resolved the matter by agreement to do half of them each way, at the same time commending ourselves as better negotiators than the "damn fools" at Panmunjom. We began a comparative test when the pies were done by each sampling one of his own pies. After just one bite, Arnold offered to acknowledge that mine was the better, but only on the condition that I would eat the remainder of his and let him have the rest of mine.
The fixing up of the kitchen facilities continued and in fact seemed to intensify; with the Chinese Supply officer we called "Andy" continuing to tell Arnold it was only to make things better for us. (It is entirely possible that "Andy" did not himself at the time know otherwise.) The continued presence of the slave labor family working in the compound gave us the pleasure of sharing with them, still surreptitiously, of course, some of the comparative "bounty" which our captors were now showering upon us.
A quite generous, individual issue of hard candies provided something easy to pass on to the workers, and for them to smuggle out. This was probably especially appreciated by their young children who had to stay in the ratty tent while their parents were at labor. An extra bar of "sweet smelling" soap (which I for some reason felt certain was produced in the American built factory which I had seen in Shanghai) was a bit more difficult to transfer, but therefore all the more satisfying an achievement when it was done.
Honcho, Eyebrows, the First Lady and two other of the women were seated at the woodpile just outside the kitchen on a rest break, along with their party flunky supervisor. From inside the kitchen, I caught the attention of the ever alert Eyebrows by moving the bar of soap in my hand within his view. By motions it was conveyed to him that the soap would be put on the ledge outside and behind the building, after which I went out and placed it there. When I returned inside the kitchen so that he could see me, Eyebrows spoke to the flunky, probably asking permission to go behind the building to relieve himself. After picking up the soap, Eyebrows returned to the group and quickly gave the bar to First Lady. Honcho distracted the flunky by talking with him while First Lady deftly and gracefully maneuvered the bar of soap underneath her voluminous skirt, apparently tucking it into the waistband of her pantaloons. That having been done, Honcho indicated it was time to resume work. A word then to his wife, First Lady, sent her out of the compound with her buckets to fetch some water.
One could not but admire the smoothness with which they managed to smuggle out the little prize. And this time by way of thanks, Honcho's able assistant was able to give me more than just a flick of his eyebrow. With no one else at hand to see it, I received a big smile and a wink.
"Uncertain!" is perhaps the best single word for the atmosphere in the compound during the first half of July, 1953. Any substantive indications that the war might end soon we're roughly balanced by equally substantive indications that it might drag on for yet some months; even into the next year. Mere "hopes" swung the balance for some to the idea that it would surely end soon. Which turned out to be beneficial since it kept their spirits up during the short period until it did end. It would have been devastating, perhaps even fatal for some, if things had for some reason gone the other way dragging on into another winter.
And "indicators" were all we had to judge by. Reliable facts were not available to us. Had we been informed of the fact that agreement had been made on the main issue of voluntary repatriation, then expectation that it would end in a few more weeks would have been well justified. But the enemy deliberately kept those facts from us. While they did so primarily in their own self-interest as they sought time to effect some "facesaving" details of the exchange, there was a measure of justification for them doing so which was in the best interests of the prisoners, as well.
Had they told us in early June that the big issue was resolved, and there were only details of the exchange still to be arranged, there would have been great joy and revelry amongst the emotional element of the group but for only a few days. Shortly, restlessness would have begun, grumbling as to why it was taking so long to arrange those simple details. The exact consequences of that, in terms of behavior of those emotional types, is hardly predictable. But one way or another it would have been disruptive to keeping good order amongst them, not only to the enemy but to the responsible seniors in the prisoner group, as well.
So as July dragged on, we analyzed whatever indicators were at hand and watched closely for new ones. If a day or two passed with no air activity overhead, we listened after dark for the sounds of any night flyers, and whether or not there was any anti-aircraft firing at them.
At dusk on the 16th of July the sound of rifle fire was heard, coming from the east end of the village area. About six or seven rifle shots in fairly rapid succession. Then several minutes later came the sound of a single pistol shot.
The significance of that combination of sounds was quite disturbing. Lt Moritz and myself, already in recline at our spaces in the mudhut, shared a foreboding of it. In amazingly short order, through the communication "grapevine" which the kitchen gang had developed, we had considerable detail of what had happened. Sgt. Arnold himself, came to the mud hut to report it to me. To the considerable puzzlement of Lt. Moritz, Arnold began the report by saying to me:
"Well, Chief, your old buddy finally Succeeded in getting somebody killed."
"Yeah," the sergeant confirmed.
"I figured he might be involved," I commented, "because of where the shots seemed to come from. What happened?"
"From what we've got so far," Arnold described, "Naylor-Foote and the guy that's been with him for quite a while that British 'spook,'* [*intelligence agent] Adams-Acton tried to make a break for it by knockin' the guard down as they walked past him toward the latrine, and then just runnin'. The guard went down, but didn't stay down. He got up and started shootin', wounding Adams-Acton enough to stop him. Naylor-Foote apparently wasn't hit; gave himself up right away when a few other soldiers got there. When the officer of the guard got there he just did Adams-Acton in with his pistol."
"They just knocked the guard down and ran?" Moritz asked. "Didn't grab his rifle away, or anything?"
"That's the way it looks," Arnold replied.
"Well that doesn't make sense," Moritz observed, "to leave his rifle there with him. He's bound to get up and start shooting...."
"He was supposed to stay down out cold," I interjected. "Apparently Naylor-Foote forgot to give the guard a copy of his script ."
Moritz, who had little or no knowledge of Naylor-Foote's prior performance was the more puzzled by my remark. Arnold, having listened to many of Naylor-Foote's fantasies, and the great escape plan he had planned as we prepared to leave Pak's Palace, nodded his understanding with a grim smile and said as he departed:
"Well, at least now he'll have a story of his own to tell, instead of making himself out as the big hero in someone else's."
"Now just what the hell did he mean by that?" Moritz asked me, of the sergeant's parting remark.
"Naylor-Foote's a psychopathic liar," I replied. "Makes up stories about great things he did during World War II things that never really happened. Talks about things that actually did happen real things that somebody else did maybe something he's read about; and tells the story as if he was the guy who did the great things. That's what Arnold was referring to."
"Arnold knows the guy personally?"
"Sure! From down at Pak's Palace. Naylor-Foote was always telling great tales about himself down there. Arnold called him on it one night when he made out as though he was the big hero in an operation somewhere that Arnold himself knew about."
"Well, then I guess you know the guy some, too," Moritz said.
"Better than Arnold...," I probably smiled to myself as I said it. Then in response to the other's questioning look, I added. "Naylor-Foote was the cause of me being captured; because he lied to me about the circumstances of the man I came in to pick up. Did it deliberately so that he could come in with me instead of my crewman lookin' for an easy medal and caused us to crash."
Moritz was silent for a while; perhaps a somewhat stunned silence. Then he said, "How come you never told me anything about this before?"
"Because I didn't want you to know about it," I replied. "Didn't want you to be burdened with knowing about it. You, or anyone else. If the enemy was to get wind of it if they had any idea of how I feel about Naylor-Foote, and how much I really know about him, they'd be houndin' me on it from here to eternity."
"But Arnold knows about it doesn't he? You must have told him...."
"Only a part of it, a small part because of the situation at Pak's. Arnold, and a few others because I had to. Told them just enough to convince them he's something of a psychopath, and not to be trusted. This isn't the first great escape scheme he's dreamed up. He had one down at Pak's, when we were getting ready for the trip up here, that could have gotten several people killed including me and Arnold. We Arnold and me and a couple of others, were supposed to knock out the guards in that case; on Naylor-Foote's signal. Just as he apparently had it scripted for this guy Adams-Acton to take the risk this time."
"Well, I'll be damned, Moritz said, and digested what he'd just heard for a while. Then he spoke again:
"What about this guy that was killed, Adams-Acton? You and Arnold know anything about him?"
"Only what's come in on the grapevine. He's a British 'spook'. And if what Arnold's got so far is correct, I'd say he must be or rather must have been just about as nutty Naylor-Foote."
"Why do you say that?" Moritz asked. And there may have been some disturbance that such a thing was said about a man who had just been killed.
"Because in the first place," I told him, "it doesn't make sense, if it can possibly be avoided, to take physical action against the enemy's personnel. That gives them more than just an excuse, it is a valid reason to do what they apparently did to this fellow, summarily execute him. The only way you can expect to have much time to get clear is by sneaking out quietly. If there's no way out except by taking one of there men out then it should be a complete job. They can't kill you any deader for killing one of their men than they can for just punching him in the face. And to just knock the guy down and run, leaving his rifle so he can shoot you with it when he gets back up . That's why I say this Adams-Acton must have been just about as nutty as Naylor-Foote." (Further report the next day confirmed that was exactly what was done.)
There was no noticeable increase in security around the big compound, in the wake of Naylor-Foote's ill-fated escape attempt. Neither was there call to assembly to lecture us about it. More effective, the enemy apparently felt, was simply to make sure word was spread about it to all prisoners in and around the village.
Just a few days later, Tsai informed me that I must come to the kitchen to "explain the ovens." When we arrived there, Honcho and Eyebrows were waiting beside the ovens. "You are to tell this man," Tsai said, indicating Honcho, "how these ovens are built so that he can rebuild them. He does not understand your language, so I will be translator."
"Why are the ovens to be rebuilt?" I asked. "They're working fine, there's nothing wrong with them."
"They are to be moved" the interpreter replied, "farther from the kitchen. Also a roof put over them so it is better work to if it rains."
There was no point in arguing against the idea. It was obviously more of the camp commander's order. "It will be easier to do," I told him, "if I had something to make diagrams pictures to show how they work, instead of just words."
A few words from Tsai sent a soldier hurrying off to their headquarters building. He returned shortly with a sizeable slate and a tripod easel on which to put it. Arnold complained to Tsai about depriving us of use of the ovens, just to move them a little way, and asked how long before we could use them again.
Tsai spoke to Honcho, asking the question. Honcho made reply to Tsai, who then translated: "He cannot say exactly how long it may take until he knows more of how they are built. He is sure it will take several days, and regrets the inconvenience. He will work as quickly as he can."
"Tell him I know it's not his fault," the sergeant said heartily for Honcho's benefit. Then grumbled for the benefit of Tsai and the supply officer, Andy, "But it don't make no damn' sense to tear 'em down just to move 'em a few feet away."
Explanation of the oven design through an interpreter was a very unique experience. After drawing a diagram on the slate, it was explained with words and gestures; the words directed at the interpreter while pointing at parts of the diagram for Honcho's benefit. Only one small part at a time was presented, to make certain the translation always pertained to that at which I was pointing.
It was important, I felt, that Honcho should know the reasons for certain aspects of the design, rather than merely how the structure was built. The first diagram showed that the oven chambers were above the level which flames would reach, with explanation that this was to avoid overheating the metal on the bottoms of them. The back walls of the firechambers were sloped to make the firewood burn completely, rather than having charred ends gathering there for lack of oxygen to burn them. The spaces for the heat from the fire to flow up, had to be both narrow and even on both sides of the chamber. A stove pipe vent above each end of the oven, instead of just one in the middle, was shown necessary so the ovens would not be hotter in the middle than at the ends.
Honcho's eyes followed intently the diagrams as they were drawn and pointed to. Quite as intently he looked at and listened to Tsai as he translated my explanations. A nod at me afterwards indicated readiness for me to proceed. When the presentation had been finished to my own satisfaction, I asked if there were any questions. Honcho's response to Tsai's translation of that was long enough that; I expected there were some. But it turned out to be otherwise, Tsai translated back to me: "He has no questions but wishes to say your ovens are of very good design; and also that you are a very good instructor your explanations have made it very clear."
After a nod in acknowledgement to Honcho, I said to Tsai, "Perhaps your translations were clearer than my explanations."
This brought a slight smile from the "friendly little clothing merchant". More significantly, it brought a sidelong glance from Honcho which furthered the suspicions I'd had from his reactions during the presentation, that an interpreter was really not needed. Further to Tsai, I then said, "Would you please tell him my thanks for his kind words, and that if I sometimes watch as he rebuilds them it is not because I think I must supervise, but only to learn from his work."
While the ovens were being rebuilt, traffic of the women bringing water and clay from outside the compound enabled the transfer to the laborers of a great deal of food and such other things as we felt would be useful to them. As soon as Honcho and Eyebrows had the basic structure rebuilt, the other two men erected a pole shed building around it. Duke Williams decided a sign was needed over the door identifying it as the Bakery, and with his name on it as Chief Baker. Sgt. Arnold allowed it was almost worth being without use of the ovens for a few days in order to have a roof over them.
Meanwhile, the days were counting down toward my deadline for departure. Lt. Moritz and Sgt. Arnold, the only ones in whom I had confided those intentions, both had mixed emotions about it. They recognized my qualifications to make such a venture. And they appreciated the duality of my motives; that it would be to the benefit of others, if I made it, not only for myself. But they were concerned about the risk, though they didn't want to say so directly, that it might end up with me as it had for Adams-Acton.
Moritz did finally come out with it; during a whispered conversation at night in our corner of the mud hut. He had first expressed concern that I was now planning to go it alone. Hadn't I said when we first met, following my previous escape attempt, that two men together was the ideal way to go? That was certainly so, in some circumstances. In any case, better than three or more because of communications. But in the present situation, grabbing up a new pardner wasn't necessarily a good idea. There wasn't time for the kind of planning which would make for good coordination. None of the few candidates available had anywhere near the experience and know-how of Flynn and myself. One of the most important elements of our plan had been neither of us had to worry about the other. Either of us could go it alone if we had to. Any new man I might take on such short notice, I would have to worry about. The delay until August put some time pressure for the trek. A new pardner, of less capability than Flynn, would likely hold me back more than he could aid in progress.
Each counter presented to Moritz' arguments or questions, only brought on another, until I said, "I think what's bothering you about it the most is that little incident last week at the other end of town."
"Yes it is, Chief," the lieutenant admitted. "I can't bear the thought of having that happen to you."
"It won't," I told him.
"How do you know it won't?" he came back quickly. "How can you be sure that...."
"What happened to Adams-Acton won't happen to me," I explained, "because he brought that on himself. He asked for it invited it by the stupid way in which he went about trying to escape ......"
The intentness of Moritz' silence urged me to continue, "I'm not damn' fool enough to try to outrun bullets; or a platoon of these soldiers, either. I'm a coward. I'm gonna sneak out, as I did the other time. And try again to give myself some time and some room to maneuver."
"Sure," Moritz said, "I know you intend to sneak out. But suppose you don't make it they catch you then what ...."
"Then I will not in the process have justified my own execution, as Adams-Acton did. By striking that guard, he not only gave the officer of the guard an excuse for doing him in after he's caught. He practically forced him to do it, as a demonstration that he wouldn't let any prisoner get away with attacking one of his men."
"Well, that's true," Moritz conceded. "But even so, this guard company officer we've got now the way he struts around in his high top boots strikes me as the type that'd look for any excuse to ......"
"In that regard," I interrupted, "the officer that was in charge of the guard company before when I took off last year. There's no doubt in my mind that he wanted very much to shoot me, after we got back to the village. He'd lost face with his own troops; lost their respect if he ever had it. It was his own damn' fault for the way he'd handled things. But he'd naturally blame me for it. Then probably he'd been chewed out by the commissar. So when he came to the hovel where they'd put me, grabbed the guard's gun, ranting and raving as he pointed it at me there was no doubt in my mind that he wanted to shoot me. But I was also quite sure that he wouldn't. Y'know why?"
"Party discipline! Or, more accurately, his fear of it. He was already in much trouble for the fact that I'd escaped, plus the fact that he and his search party hadn't found me on the first day, and then his mishandling of several things after the recapture on the way back to camp. But once I was back there he'd of been in a heap more trouble if he'd shot me without the Party's approval."
"Well, fine" Moritz said, "So it worked out okay last time. But still ......"
"Still there's a risk, of course. But there's also a risk of dying of something else if this thing drags on through another winter; no matter that the foods better now and ......"
"You're right on that," Moritz interjected in turn. "Which is the reason I've never really expected to talk you out of it. And I'm not sure I really want to. If I was to convince you not to go; and then the thing dragged on another year; then you'd have every reason to Oh, hell! When it comes right down to it, I guess I'd want you to go, if I was sure this thing isn't going to end soon. And I realize you have to go soon if you're going. So I guess the only thing I can do is hope and pray that the damn' thing ends before you have to go."
Arnold actually said very little about the matter. His concern was evident in the fact that he mentioned it even less as my deadline date approached. We really didn't do a great deal of talking, as we continued the normal routine of working together in and around the kitchen. Now and again a brief comparison of views on the prospects for the war to end. A more specific indication of his concern began after the Adams-Acton fiasco. Now and again he would reminisce just a bit about some of the experiences we had shared in the past, particularly during the trying days at the Slave Camp.
We had entered the last week of July, before the sergeant said anything directly on the subject. We had for a few minutes been watching Honcho as he neared completion of the ovens. With his eyes still on the workman's hands, Arnold said quietly to me:
"Still goin', hunh?"
"Yeah. Unless you want to go along with me."
"You know I ain't up to that," he said. Then finally turning his eyes toward me he added with an impish smile, "Besides if I was to cut out, who the hell would feed poor 'CJ' his pablum?"
"Okay, then," I said in similar vein, "You stay here and keep the little kiddies alive, while I run home and send someone to fetch 'em."
"Next week then, if it isn't over ?" Arnold was at once dead serious again.
"Can't wait any longer?"
"Nope. Need the time. Waitin' any longer would be cuttin' it too short." Arnold was aware of my judgement that two months should be allowed for making the 240 mile trek to the east coast.
The sergeant's eyes were turned away from me again as he said, "I know you feel that you have to do it, Chief. And I understand why you feel that way. But I still wish you wouldn't?"
"I'm not Sure 'why.' I don't know . Hell , I guess I don't really have any reason for it. I Just don't wanta see you go ......"
"Is it because of what happened at the other end of the valley last week?" I asked, thinking that might be troubling him.
"No," he replied quite assuredly. "Not at all. 'Cause you're not that stupid. That stupid ass deserved to be shot; only maybe they shot the wrong one or should've shot both of 'em....
"Dammit, Chief" the sergeant continued, "I really don't know why I feel that way. Unless maybe it's because it'11 be so damn lonesome around here without you. It doesn't make sense at all for me to feel that way; 'cause the fact is I think you can make it. I know damn well you can, unless you get a bad break. It's gonna be tougher for you gettin' outta here this time though, isn't it?"
"Some? With all the extra guards they put on at night. And the bed checks. You won't have all that time to get clear like you had...."
"I probably won't be leaving at night this time," I said in interruption.
There was a short, surprised pause and then, "You've figured a way to slip out in the daytime?"
"Think so. With a little help from you and a few others."
A quick, slight smile of eagerness appeared on Sgt Arnold's face as he said, "Just let me know what and when."
"The 'when' will be early of a morning. The 'what' all depend on what's needed."
"How early?" he asked. "Before breakfast, or after?"
"Can't you wait 'til after, so you can start out with a full stomach?"
"Travel better on empty," I said. "And it looks like a good time for me to leave is right when our friends here (meaning the slave laborers) first come in to work."
"You sneaky sunuvabitch," Arnold said with a smile, and enthusiasm likely borne of the fact that he might play a part in the launching of my venture. "Just let me know what you need."
The circumstances now allowed exchange of nodded greetings between the kitchen crew and the slave laborers, no matter if the Party flunky was at hand. His unconcern may have begun because of my mention to Tsai that I would be an interested observer as Honcho rebuilt the ovens. It was only natural that I would nod in greeting to Honcho, whenever I stopped by to watch him. Shortly, despite the language barrier and the forbiddance of actually speaking anyway, a unique sort of communion developed. Even the womenfolk, who for good and sensible reasons usually avoided eye contact with any of the prisoners, soon dared to give us glances of appreciation for the things we were able to give for them to smuggle out of the compound. Now as we were working so close together, this was being done on much bigger scale than before and, literally, right under the eyes of their Party flunky supervisor.
Although there were no battles overhead, not a day passed after July 20 without some sign of continued air activity telling us the war was still "on." If we saw or heard no aircraft in the daytime, the droning sound of the "night heckler," sometimes punctuated by several rounds of anti-aircraft fire, would assure us that it had not yet ended.
Daytime of July 26 had seemed especially quiet. Sufficiently so to heighten the hopes of even such pessimists as Arnold and myself that this time it might really "mean something." But that night, as Lt. Moritz and I quietly talked of that possibility, came again the sound of the twin-engined heckler which frequently made a run in our vicinity. However, this time there was no anti-aircraft fire as he passed the area where that usually was heard. Nor were there sounds of exploding bombs. Instead was the sound of the aircraft circling a few miles westward. A full circle, we heard, after which it flew towards us. It passed almost directly overhead, flying much lower than usual. A short way beyond, it circled again. Then it droned away to the south. There still had been no bomb explosions or anti-aircraft fire.
"What do you think, Chief?" Moritz whispered.
"It just could be," I answered. "There must be someone down there smart enough to realize if it's ended they need to let us know, because these bastards sure as hell won't until it pleases them."
We knew there was a somewhat larger POW camp a few miles west of us, and another about the same distance to the east. The sounds of the aircraft circling seemed to have been at those locations. If armistice had been agreed to, then surely someone of our military command would recognize the need to let us know if they could. Moritz and I speculated that the aircraft might have been equipped with a "public address" system, to call down the news as it circled over those two camps. (Actually they had dropped leaflets bearing the information.)
As for why they had passed over us without circling it was possible that they were unaware that this was a POW camp. The enemy had told us it was so marked, on the roof of the big barrack. There was some manner of marking there, but there was no certainty as to what it was.
Moritz wondered if it would be advisable to mention these possibilities to the others. No one of the others said anything about the passing aircraft's unusual flight pattern, though most were still awake and had heard it. We agreed it would be best not to do so. Substantive though it seemed to be, it was still just speculation. For either of us to mention it would send the hopes of the "yo-yo" types skyrocketing. Then if it turned out to be incorrect, we would be blamed for their subsequent misery, instead of the enemy. Better, we judged, would be to say nothing now and on the morrow, if there was no air activity, bug the enemy about it and discuss our speculations quietly with a select few among our prison mates.
That we did. Moritz managed to catch Tsai by himself, and ask him directly if the lack of firing at the aircraft which had passed over us in the night did not mean the war was over. Our "friendly little clothing merchant" said he hadn't heard any such news, and didn't see any significance to what Moritz had mentioned. However, as Moritz reported it, Tsai had acted a bit unusual during the discussion, and seemed anxious to get away from it.
Sgt. Arnold was a bit surprised when I told him what Moritz and I were thinking of the situation. He had heard the aircraft, of course, and was a bit miffed at himself for not having recognized the unusual character of its flight pattern. Agreed at once that it was an encouraging indication. He also agreed, quite profoundly, that it would be best not to suggest it to the "yo-yo's," at least until there were some further things to judge by.
Similar reactions were gained from the several others with whom Moritz and I discussed the matter that day.
There was no sign of aircraft activity throughout the day of July 27, and also none that night. This event in itself raised the hopes of the "yo-yo's" to the level which we had come to recognize as the danger point. If there might be renewal of aerial action or another "bad news" announcement by the enemy on the morrow, they would drop into deep gloom, again.
About mid-morning of July 29, I entered the new "Bakery" building to check progress on the ovens. Honcho was applying an overal coating of fine cement, and nearly finished with it. His ever-present assistant gave me a "double-eyebrow" lift in greeting as I entered. The flunky supervisor was not at hand, nor was anyone else in the vicinity. The kitchen crew was at work in the other building. After response to my nod of greeting, Honcho spoke to Eyebrows who looked about outside from the doorway and quietly spoke a few words back.
Very softly, then, without pause in his troweling of cement, Honcho said to me: "You will please pardon my poor english. The enemy does not know that I can understand your language. And you must tell none of your own people except those in whom you implicitly trust ......"
He looked directly at me then, perhaps more for some sign of assurance that I would keep his secret, than to see if I was surprised by his words. If there was any sign of surprise in my reaction, it was only at the fluency with which he spoke. There had been prior indications of his understanding during explanations of the oven structure. He said further:
"I reveal this fact to you because I have something to tell you which I think it is most important you should know. The war is ended. Yesterday was the day of the cease fire. But the enemy does not intend to tell you of this for some time yet perhaps for several weeks unless you can find some way to compel them to admit it to you."
Honcho had continued to look at me directly as he said all that. He must surely be some concerned at revealing his lingual ability. Doing so brought jeopardy not only to himself, but to the entire group of political prisoners as well his family.
"Be assured," I quickly told him, "it will not be necessary for me to reveal to anyone your identity as source of this information. The one whom I will tell of it will not question me on that. And I shall tell no one else any of this. But 1et me thank you, even so, for all of us, that you would so endanger yourself and your family in our behalf."
Barely perceptible, there appeared a lessened anxiety in him. We were both now glancing at Eyebrows, in case he might signal of someone approaching. Not only the Party flunky, or Andy, or any of the other enemy were of concern. It was equally important to him that none other of the Americans know of his ability to understand our language. With no indication from Eyebrows of any danger, Honcho then said:
"I wish also to tell you how much we regret that we dare not express our thanks to those of you who have given us so many things food and things some of which we know that you still need as much as we. And of course, I dare not even ask you to now tell the others for us."
"We have seen the thanks in your eyes in the eyes of all of your family," I told him. "No more than that is needed. You know Arnold, and Gililland (He nodded, obviously knowing names from having heard our conversations.). They, and some others who have given us things to pass on to you . We have known slave labor, too; when we were held prisoner by the Korean communists near Pyongyang. So we understand your circumstance. It is a good feeling to be able to help you now, as some of your good countrymen did for us then."
Honcho nodded his appreciation. Then, after another glance at Eyebrows, he patted the now nearly finished oven structure and said, "This does my work please you?"
"Very well. Better than my own."
"Not better," he said quite emphatically. Only it looks better because of the cement for finishing. I like to think it is maybe as good as your work but it is not better....
"And I wonder," he continued after a slight pause, "how it is that you can do this kind of work. I know from the talk that you are at pilot a helicopter pilot which must be very interesting. And I see that you do many other things. But where did you learn to do this kind of work, with rocks and mud, as we do here in Korea?"
"Right here," I told him. "Here in this camp. First building the fireboxes, then the ovens. I learn from studying the things that were here, and perhaps a little bit from here." (I tapped the side of my head with the last remark)
"Ah yes," Honcho responded now with at full-fledged smile. "I think more than just a little from there."
To that I responded, "And I think that this which you have done this and the other good works you have done with rocks and mud is not the sort of thing that you were doing before the communists put you at slave labor."
"You are right," he said quickly. From his look I sensed that he must wish as fervently as did I that it were possible for us to converse at length, further sharing our thoughts and experiences. But we were both keenly aware we would not likely have much more time to safely do so. He glanced at Eyebrows, and again patted the oven structure. He seemed almost to be caressing it, as a sculptor might his carving. And he said:
"This, we have created you and I. It is a good work. I will say it a beautiful work. We are its creators, you and I your brain and my hands. Yet soon when you are gone, the communists will be using it and acting as though they did it."
Now suddenly it was realized that we had overlooked the simple reason for all the fixing up of the cooking facilities. The enemy would be using this camp for the processing of their own repatriates after the prisoner exchange. There was good reason for having misinterpreted. This camp was in Korea. We would have expected the Chinese repatriates to be taken all the way back into China, rather than being processed here.
More pressing in my mind at the moment, however, was the sensing from Honcho's tone and manner that he much regretted, even resented that this which he regard as "our" joint creation would now be used by the communists. The thought flashed at once that before departure from the camp I must try somehow to sabotage it. I was certain he would be pleased at such prospect. But as I started to say something to him, Eyebrows called the alarm of someone approaching. Honcho busied himself with his tools as I moved unhurriedly out of the building.
Sgt. Arnold was the innocent disrupter of that conversation with Honcho. Completely trustworthy though he was, he should not be burdened with knowledge of what had just transpired
"How they doing with the ovens?" he asked at sight of me emerging from the little building.
"All finished," I replied. "We can put a few coals in the firechambers now to help with the curing, and fire 'em up tomorrow."
"We'd better let Duke know. Heys been itchin' to get his hands on some dough again."
"I'll tell him," I said. "I have to go back to the mud hut anyhow. Forgot something...."
But Not For Everyone
Table of Contents
©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.