From the RAF pilots I also learned that there was a remote part of the camp where it was thought some prisoners were being kept apart from the rest of us, for one reason or another. They thought, after my description of his circumstance, that was where the enemy might have put my "friend Flynn." They were right. I found the area; but also found several sentries there who obviously had orders not to let anyone from the rest of the camp into that area.
Those sentries were also apparently under orders not to let those who had been put in that area come out into the other part of the campground. But Flynn had spotted me when I had approached the place and saw that I had been turned back. When the sentries told him that he was not supposed to come out of that area, he brushed aside their orders with a wave of his hand. They made no physical move to stop him.
I had paused beside a flooded paddy (which had nothing growing in it) when I heard Flynn's call from behind me.The pool of brackish-looking water seemed a better location for reunion than the barren soil all around it. So I waited there for him to join me. Brackish or not, it was water in that paddy. We removed our shoes, hoisted our trouser legs, and cooled our heels and ankles in it as we talked.
The gauntness of his face told me that my friend had been through some manner of rough ordeal. He acknowledged that was so, said they'd pressed him for a "bug war" confession, and that he felt at times like he should as well give in. But he didn't; and in fact had come to feel that he couldn't really have done it even if he'd decided that he wanted to do so to end the ordeal.
He wasn't told that the fighting was ended until the day we began the trip south to Panmunjom. The vile little hunchback whom we called "Quasimodo" had come early that morning and called him outside the hovel where he was kept. He could see trucks loading in the camp near which he was held. He could hear the happy chatter of the prisoners readying to depart. Then he was handed a "confession" they had prepared for him and told that if he would just sign it, he could go also. "But if you do not sign this paper admitting your guilt," Quasimodo told him, "then you will not be allowed to return to your home."
Flynn had handed back the paper and told the hunchback "Go to hell!" Then of his own volition he went back into the hovel, and watched from inside as Quasimodo turned and went away. About a half hour later, another of his persecutor-prosecutors came with "good news" for him. Although there was "no question," of his guilt, the fellow told him, "because of the lenient policy of the Chinese Peoples' Volunteers" he would be allowed to join the others and return home. He was cautioned to remember, however, that there was no question but that he was guilty of "that horrendous war crime." He was being allowed to return home but only "on probation." The sentence for his "crime" was "twenty years!"
The grimness of his face as he briefly recounted those highlights of it, told me that Flynn was still hurting some from the stresses of his ordeal. I sidled away from him just a few feet in the muck of the paddy, and said as I did so: "That being the case, if you don't mind how about keepin' away from me just a bit. I don't want to be seen associating too close with a damn 'war criminal.' Besides which you might still be carryin' some of those damn bugs."
That brought just a flicker of the usual quick smile to his "indian" face, and just a little easing of the tension that was flowing from him. The eyes remained hard and cold, however. There was something more on his mind. It had nothing to do with what had happened to him in the past several weeks. We both knew it would be pointless, and perhaps even detrimental, for him to review further details of his ordeal right then. There would be plenty of time for that sort of thing after we made it all the way back home. Weighing most heavily upon him right then was a new problem which had arisen since arrival at this camp.
Two young soldiers from a tent near to his had sought him out for some advice. They knew about him, they explained, "from the grapevine;" the kind of officer he was, including they knew where he'd been and what he'd been going through during the past several weeks. They had themselves also been in solitary confinement during much of that time, for quite different reason. They were isolated and punished for rebelling against the collaborators whom the enemy had installed as controllers of their group.
The two had approached Flynn rather bashfully, feeling need first to explain their background and circumstance. He was the first American officer they'd had any contact with for more than two years. When first brought to prison camp, any officers or non-coms who were with them at the outset, and sought to give them proper leadership, were quickly removed by the enemy. Opportunists ("progressives") from within the group were then set up as the leaders. Anyone who encurred the displeasure of one of those "progressives" risked being punished by the enemy as these two had been.
After explaining that, one of the soldiers had asked Flynn if he'd ever heard of a "guy named Hammond." He had, of course, because Hammond was known as a leading "progressive" not only through the grapevine, but also because he was often commended for his "good work" in the official prison camp newspaper.
When Flynn had replied that he knew of Hammond, and of the fact that he was a collaborator, the young soldier opened up to him somewhat as follows:
"Well, captain Hammond was their number one boy in our group the big honcho. Anything he said we was all supposed to do. Any of us disagree with him or argue with him well, if it was some little guy, or someone weak or sick, he'd beat 'em up. Guys like us, that he couldn't whip or wasn't sure he could whip well he'd just tell one of them (meaning one of the enemy) and they'd pull us out, put us in solitary a while, with less to eat and a lot of lecturin' and stuff. He's the reason we been in solitary this time and several times before and some other guys too. But it ain't just that not just us and what he did to us. It's the guys that he beat up the little guys. Some of 'em died. Quite a few of 'em died. Some of 'em mighta died anyway probably would've 'cause of givin' up. But we think some of 'em woulda still made it if it wasn't for him, Hammond, treatin' 'em like he did, and never doin' anything for 'em like demanding better food or medicines, when he's supposed to be in charge and braggin' about how much he can do because he's in with the commies ....
"And well, sir we know where the sunuvabitch I'm sorry, sir, we know where Hammond is now. We know what tent he's in and where he is in the tent. And he ain't got them to protect him any more. They don't care what happens to him now 'cause he ain't no more use to 'em. We know right where he is, and we was intendin' to go over there tonight and get him I mean kill him, sir not just for us, for what he did to us, but for the other guys the guys that he killed, or at least caused to die an all the other rotten things he did .....
"We was intendin' just to go ahead and do it, without saying anything to anybody. But then we found out you was here. And well we've heard quite a bit about you. Not just about where you've been these last few weeks, them tryin' to get a bug war confession from you but about where you've been and things you've done before. And well, sir we ain't had no officers or older guys, sergeants and so on to discuss things with or help us. The good ones that were with us they took away right at the start. And there was some well, sir, you know there's been some officers collaboratin', too makin' false confessions, writin' articles for the camp newspaper, and stuff. That's the only kind of officers, of our own officers, we've ever seen since we've been here. Some of 'em came to the camp now and then to give lectures tell us to go along with whatever the commies, said, and whatever Hammond and the other 'pro's' told us to do...
"So when we found out you was here, captain well, we just wanted to talk to you, get your ideas before we went ahead with it. We ain't askin' you to take any responsibility for what we do if we go ahead and do it. We just want to know what you think about it how you'd feel about it if you was in our place. If we go ahead and do it, then I think you could maybe just forget we ever talked with you about it. If we do it, we take all the responsibility if we get caught. We think we can do it without anybody else knowin'."
Such was the manner of plea the two young soldiers had made to Captain Flynn, which he in turn related to me that day. Also, then, he asked me in a sense to share the burden of decision on the matter. He had told them he had to think about it for a while and would give them his answer that evening. Now he sought help from me in forming that answer.
"I know what I'm supposed to do, according to rules and regulations," Flynn said. "I'm supposed to order them not to do it and tell them if they do it now, I'll have to report that they told me they were planning to do it. But I can't do that, and you know why I can't. I'm supposed to tell them just to wait until we're across the 1ine, report the things Hammond did, and let the authorities take care of punishing him for it. But they know that won't happen. Hammond's time is up in the Army so as soon as he crosses the line he gets discharged; after which they can't bring him to trial. They said Hammond has bragged about that whenever anyone has talked about him being courtmartialed when we get back. And I don't doubt that for a minute.
"So they put me on the spot," Flynn concluded in presenting his problem to me. "They didn't mean to, but they put me on the damn' spot. What the hell should I say to them? What can I say to them? What the hell would you say to them if you was in my place?"
"They put you on the spot," I responded, "and so now you're putting me on it."
"You're damn I right I'm putting you on it!" he said. "Not by yourself! I'm not asking you to tell me what I should say. I'm putting you on the spot with me! You've got to help me figure out what to say to those men what to tell them. You know what I want to say, and what I'd like to do, because you'd want to say and do the same. But I can't do that now. So you've got to help me figure out what I can do!"
We discussed the matter then, for some time. Just how long would be hard to recall, because a lot of thoughts passed between Flynn and myself in those days didn't have to be said; they were just automatically understood. Our concern wasn't at all for the collaborator, Hammond. He deserved any vile thing that might happen to him. But the two young soldiers what might be the consequences to them if they got caught or were found out either by the enemy, since we were still in enemy hands, or by our own authorities after repatriation? Also there was concern that somewhere down the line they might suffer from pangs of conscience for having killed someone in the manner they were planning, no matter how much the collaborator deserved it.
Their desire for vengeance was full justified, especially because it was in behalf of lost comrades, more than for themselves. But what kind of vengeance would it be, really, if they sneaked in and killed him in his sleep with him not even knowing what happened? Yet that's the way they'd have to do it, unless the others in the tent with Hammond knew about it in advance. Any struggling in the process would surely awaken the others, and possibly some in adjacent tents as well.
From those and other such considerations, the answer to Flynn's dilemma began to develop. We discussed the difference between this situation and that when we had considered if our own collaborator, Watash, should be caused to have a fatal "accident." That would not have been for vengeance, even though he had caused some harm to others. That would have been to keep him from doing further harm and damage. If something like that was to be done, it should be done as quickly and painlessly as possible, quite as one might kill a mad dog, or as Flynn and I had done as best we could with the hogs that we butchered.
But if he deserved to die for the things he had done (and from what we knew of him we both quite frankly believed that he did), the collaborator Hammond didn't deserve to die quickly. He deserved to know it was going to happen and even be aware when it was happening.
When we arrived at that point in our discussion, the grimness in Flynn's face suddenly disappeared. It had not, after all, been residual tension from the enemy's pressures which he'd recently endured. It was borne of his concern for those two young soldiers who'd come to him for advice. A satisfied smile came on his face as he formulated what he now might tell them.
He would say neither "yes" or "no" to their original intentions, nor to any different ideas they might come up with. He would tell them the thoughts we had just discussed; that dying quick and easy was too good for a rat like that. If Hammond had used others to die, he deserved to be worried for a while. Flynn would suggest some ways in which that could be done; indirectly by describing the sort of things he might himself consider doing. Such as pinning a note on the fellow's bunk, or better yet on him while he's sleeping. (And he'd make clear he didn't want to know what the soldiers decided to do, either before or after they did it. If he was to hear that Hammond had died in his bunk well no doubt there were many besides those two who had every bit as good reasons to want to do it.
The Sioux "chief" then said to this Navy chief, as expression of appreciation for my help: "Too damn' bad you're a dumb old Swede. You'd have made a real fine Apache."
Flynn started to move then, as though to start back to his tent. He stopped short in surprise as; I said: "Well, if you figure that little problem's taken care of, we do have another one."
"What's your problem?" he asked.
"'Tain't just mine. It's ours."
He waited for me to continue.
"...Not a real bad problem," I then went on. "Maybe not really a problem, or anything we can do much about. But I find it a little disturbing." He was looking at me intently, still waiting, so I asked, "Have you seen any recent editions of Pacific Stars and Stripes?"
"Of course not," he replied, obviously puzzled by the reference. "How the hell...."
"Well I have," I told him. "And I don't like some of what I see in it. And I don't think you will, either ......"
Actual exchange of prisoners had begun just a few days previously. In the past day or so, a few copies of that semi-official, newspaper of the U.S. Armed Forces had appeared on the tables at the field kitchen near my tent. Apparently brought on one of the trucks returning from the exchange point, no one seemed to know either why or by whom they had been brought.
One reason may have been because someone of the holding camp administrators wanted the rest of us to see the kinds of stories some of the first ones out were telling to the press. The copy I had included interviews with four Air Force officers who were in the "big compound" with us. Complete with pictures of each, all four of the articles emphasized and in some measure exaggerated the hardships the interviewee had suffered. The "cowboy's" tale was there, about riding around on a mule for a few days trying to find his way out of North Korea; after which it had been real tough going in the prison camp with nothing much to eat but a little rice. Kubicek, who had objected to the inclusion of the hogs head, liver, and feet in the soup Arnold and company cooked for him, also had something to say about the inadequacy of ourdiet. The other two interviews were of similar character.
Flynn, after quick reading of the articles, flicked the paper aside and said, "Well, that's to be expected of those four. This has been the biggest thing that's happened in their lives. They'll want to make the most of it."
"I see more to it than that," I told him.
"Like the reporters not being satisfied with just reporting what those guys said. They think they have to embellish it sensationalize the stories still more."
Flynn picked up the paper and re-read the articles. "I think you're right," he said. "Can I have this paper take it with me?"
"Sure," I replied, "If you promise to reimburse me what it cost." I knew without asking why he wanted it.
Flynn began at once to work up a "boycott" of the press by Navy and Marine officers. It was impossible to gather all or most of them together. So he first sought a few very select ones such as Yerger, Harris, Moritz and Grey. Showing them what was already published in Stars and Stripes gained their support of his proposal that all Navy and Marine officers should refuse to talk with reporters at the exchange point.
Agreement was not unanimous. The Air Force might have had a higher percentage of publicity seekers, but certainly no monopoly. But any of Navy and Marine officers who didn't like the idea had better sense than to openly express disagreement, or refuse to go along with it.
The purposes of those of us who had pushed the idea was simply to avoid the inconvenience of having to put up with sensation-seeking reporters and the embarrassment of being misquoted or misrepresented. But that Navy-Marine "boycott" would turn out to be quite disturbing to the press at Freedom Village and in Tokyo; and therefore very amusing to some of us. When we realized how much the press corps was disturbed, we would have the pleasure of disturbing them still more.
There was yet another slightly disturbing thing in that Stars and Stripes newspaper. The term "brainwashing" appeared in several articles. We'd heard it before, and even sometimes used it in a joking manner. But it appeared in those articles to be used as excuse for weakness and perhaps even collaboration on the part of some of the returning POW's. Still, for the moment, it seemed probably to be just another passing fancy of the sensationalizers in the news media. Shortly after repatriation I would realize that, no matter how it may have started, that "brainwashing" theme would become a damaging fad in more ways than just one. It would for one thing cause embarrassment to some of the returning POW's. More importantly, it would be a great handicap to efforts by some of us to get officialdom to understand the real purposes of the communist enemy in their handling of prisoners of war and hostages.
The enemy's rationale in the process of the prisoner "exchange" was not easy to figure out. And since it didn't seem to matter much, I at least didn't even try. In order to extend the delivery of a few more than two thousand of us over the same period of time they needed to receive and process some 15 or 20 thousand of theirs returning, only 45 to 50 of us were being taken out each day.* Selection by the enemy of who would be included in the daily small group seemed to be basically random. Yet it was soon evident that certain of us were, for a variety of probable reasons, being withheld from release until the latter days of the exchange.
[Footnote: * That concession to the communists on exchange procedures, together with accession to their demand that any prisoners held by our side who said they didn't want to return home had to be interviewed individually by "neutral" observers from India, was a major factor delaying the beginning of the actual exchange, as well as further unnecessary delay for those of us held until the latter days of it.]
By late August, some parts of the tent camp were beginning to look like a "ghost town," with many tents vacant and others nearly so. Yet some small areas were still little affected by the early departures. Flynn's area, deliberately populated by the enemy with hard core incorrigibles, had probably had no departures at all. As for myself, I was then alone in my tent and the tents immediately adjacent were entirely vacant. But we had been told we must remain in whatever tent we first occupied so we could be found when our "turn" came to be "exchanged."*
[Footnote: * The enemy preferred always to use the word, "exchanged," rather than "released," or "repatriated;" probably for face-saving reasons. Sgt Arnold caused Tsai to be a bit upset one day by telling him ten Chinamen for one American didn't seem like a fair rate of exchange that it should be at least twenty for one.]
Actually, being alone in that tent and with empty tents around, was not at all troubling. I had learned early in life, and been reminded several times in the year and a half just passed, that solitude can be far more pleasurable and productive than boring or bad company. Besides which there was now some serious thinking to be done. With the day to day concerns of the prior months no longer having to be dealt with, it was time to start thinking specifically of what must be done and what to expect on the other side of the line.
Top priority in the post-repatriation "agenda" had to be report of the deliberate lies and misrepresentations made to myself and my Navy seniors by Army Lieutenants Naylor-Foote and Ulatoski. That was a matter of professional duty. Navy would be interested, certainly, because of the losses and damages suffered in the process of that operation. But Army, especially its G-2 section, would obviously be much concerned.
It was in no sense a worrisome matter for me. The facts when presented to a court of inquiry would be vividly clear. Such time as I spent thinking on it was simply to formulate in my mind how best to present some of those facts to get the proper inquiry started. I realized, of course, that Naylor-Foote in his initial responses to the charges I would make, would try to represent that it was all just a personal vendetta. But that was no cause for worry either, because those same basic facts would at once obviate any such claims by him.
So far as personal feelings were concerned, I truly felt no desire for vengeance, as such, towards Naylor-Foote. The fact that he was a psychopath of sorts eliminated that. Any vengeful or retributional desires I held in regard to the matter (and I did in fact have some) were directed at Ulatoski. Naylor-Foote's accidental revelation to me that Ulatoski was "only a first lieutenant," rather than the combat experienced captain which he posed to be when he came aboard my ship, was only part of it. From other of Naylor-Foote's talk about himself at Pak's Palace, I had learned that the two did not really know each other. They had met and spent but two days together about a month before the mission, after which Ulatoski had gone to Japan on leave, returning just the day before he came aboard the Rochester to propose the rescue attempt. Yet Ulatoski had spoken as though he knew Naylor-Foote well, saying he was eminently qualified to go on the mission by virtue of much experience in behind-the-lines operations in World War 2, and intimate knowledge of the area and the situation in the enemy territory we would be entering. All of which was totally false information.
There were indeed some vengeful desires amongst my solitudinous meditations in that tent. But they weren't directed at the pitiful Naylor-Foote. The Army could probably rid itself of him via "Section 8." Ulatoski I hoped would be brought to account in courts-martial. And more than that it was one of the very few times I felt and retained the desire to bash somebody full and hard in the face.
There was also then both the time and a reason for some worry. The reason I'd had since the interrogation session back in March with "Dr. Flick." But the myriad of more immediate concerns in the interim had not allowed much time to think about it; especially because it was the sort of worry best put aside in the prison circumstance. In the solitude of that tent, with no task other than waiting, there was time for all sorts of thinking, including worry.
"Flick's" matter-of-fact statement during that interrogation "your country and your family believe you to be dead" had sounded convincing in itself by the way he said it. The prior mention by Lt Spence that he'd read something about me in a magazine article served further to confirm it. And the fact that then author of that article, James Michener, had very close association with Navy people in 7th Fleet and in Japan, certainly gave him access to accurate information as to my official status. No matter, then, that prior to that interrogation I had assumed myself to be listed as missing-in-action. There was reason thereafter to assume that in fact my country and my family believed me to be dead.
What changes might therefore have occurred in my personal, family situation in the year and half I'd been gone and thought to be dead? There was plenty of time to worry about it while alone and awake in that tent. But there wasn't anything could be done about it right then. So whenever that worry came to mind, the more sensible thing to do was to go for a walk.
There was an almost eerie feeling when walking in that semideserted tent camp. A mixture, perhaps, of freedom and confinement. As the prisoner population diminished, so also did the number of enemy personnel roving sentries and table waiters at the field kitchens. One could stroll sometimes with no one else in sight. There was a difference, too, in the behavior of those of the waiters and sentries who remained. The waiters now seemed happy to see anyone coming to be served. One beckoned an invitation to have some tea, as I was strolling nearby at midmorning. He smiled pleasantly as he served it along with a well-sugared stick of the deep-fried bread dough. It was almost as if I had stopped at a side-walk cafe.
In my bunk one afternoon, reading the latest available edition of Pacific Stars and Stripes, there came the feeling that I was being watched. Outside the wide-open tent flap, as I looked up, stood a young soldier-sentry. He had probably been there for quite some time. He was looking at me intently, yet not really staring. He dropped his eyes momentarily and shuffled his feet a bit; then glanced back at me with what can only be described as a quick, bashful smile. When I smiled back at him with a nod of greeting, he nodded in reply and turned away from the tent opening, yet still remaining close by. The sides of the tent were up to let air flow through. Now and again as he idled about he would look again in my direction. But it was not at all as if he were ordered to keep watch of me; rather like a youngster wanting to make acquaintance and not knowing quite how to go about it.
The young soldier continued to idle about close at hand as I resumed reading of the newspaper. A slight itching sensation on my left arm had been causing me now and again to rub. It became uncomfortable enough to cause me to look, and to discover a red streak from a small cut on my index finger extending several inches above my elbow. Blood poisoning, from that small cut somehow acquired several days earlier.
So now I had a worry about which something might be done at once, and in fact needed to be. Up and out of the tent, I beckoned to the soldier, then showed him the streak on my arm. He grasped at once from a few motions that I was asking if there was a doctor or a medic. He pointed in direction of a low barren hilltop, beyond which only the peak of a tent could be seen, then motioned that he would lead me to the place.
As we approached a large tent with a red cross sign above its opening, the soldier called out to it. Another young man appeared almost at once. The red cross on his arm and another adorning the satchel slung from his shoulder indicated that he must be a medic. That was the only indication, however. After a glance at the red streak, he searched in his satchel, brought out bottle of iodine, and with the brush on its stopper neatly painted over the streak. With a smile of self-satisfaction, and perhaps assurance to his "patient," he replaced the cap on the bottle and started to put it back in the satchel.
There was no one else in the tent; evidently no doctor around. With a shaking of the head and extension of my hand I asked the "medic" for the iodine. After painting the entirety of the finger, dabbing heavily where the red streak began, I replaced the cap, handed back the bottle, smiled my appreciation along with a "sheh-sheh-nee," and was ready to return to my tent.
The soldier seemed intending to stay with the "medic." This time I motioned him to come with me, and he did. We walked in silence, of course. But as we neared the tent I indicated to him that I was going to do something more about that red streak and that he was invited to watch. From my traveling satchel I took one of the razor blades that had come with the real Red Cross packet.
Surgical steel was what was needed, sterile if that were possible. The wrapper on the razor blade assured it was at least reasonably clean. Careful incision opened the small vein for a short way from the point where the infection began. Then Mother Nature's "suck and spit" snakebite remedy, plus downward stroking from the top of the red streak, rather quickly withdrew the infection from the vein.
The young soldier was fascinated watching the operation. When it was finished, I looked at him and asked: "Hao? Boo hao?"
After but a moment's hesitation he responded brightly, "Ding hao!" Then with an upward thrust of his thumb he added, "Ding - ding hao!" He glanced at his wristwatch after that, and with quick nods we bid goodbye. What was it with him, I wondered as he walked away. Curiosity? Lonesomeness? Or perhaps the wistful desire to be able to cross that line with me, and as many of his countrymen were now doing, go to Taiwan?"
The stresses of surgery can be tiring on both the doctor and the patient; especially when the two are one and the same. Among the meditations during recuperation back on the bunk in the tent that day was rememberance of Peter Love's words, as translated to us by Andy: "Bad men cause the wars, and good men have to fight them." Obviously, no society had a monopoly on either good men or bad.
Around mid-morning of August 30 [check date] I sat on the ground with nearly 50 others while one of the camp officials delivered our final lecture. He didn't deliver it well, but that didn't matter because no one was paying any attention to what he was saying, and he was well aware of it. Three small, stake-body trucks with canvas canopies were waiting to take us to the exchange point.
When the lecture was finished, Tsai took charge of loading us on the trucks. We loaded aboard as he called out names from three lists which he had at hand. The listings again were alphabetical, causing myself to be among the last to be called. There were seven others in the group whom I knew personally, they having been in the "big compound." One other I knew by name only and took note of as Tsai called out, "Hammond!"
So he had made it this far, at least. Whatever else they may have done, the two young soldiers had not killed him. He still had some distance to go yet, and his manner as he got to his feet and boarded the first truck suggested that he was some worried. And well worried he might be. We had learned that for most, transportation back to the States would be aboard a ship. There was a great deal more water between Inchon and San Francisco, than beneath the railroad trestle from which two other collaborators had involuntarily dived.
Only two men were left after my name was called. One of them was Duke Williams, our "baker" in the big compound. The other I did not know. Tsai himself followed the last man onto the truck and the convoy moved out almost at once.
Mike Stouffer (Lt. USAF) seated at the back of the truck, shortly began kidding Tsai, suggesting he should go along with us to Freedom. The little interpreter took it calmly, mostly ignoring Stouffer, sometimes responding but with no sign of disturbance. Not far along the way, a large building came into view, perhaps a half mile off the road. It was a pole and bamboo structure, similar to the one erected in our village, only larger. Flags and banners adorned it, and loud music drifted from it clearly audible to us in the truck. Tsai pointed to it and announced it to be their "freedom" reception center. He ignored the several comments in response.
A short way farther on we encountered an amazing sight. The ground on either side of the roadway was literally covered with clothing pants, shirts and shoes or boots; all appearing to be in good condition. Puzzling for a moment, until the realization dawned it had been cast off by the enemy's troops returning from our sides prison camps in the South. Shortly we would see a demonstration of it.
We began to meet some of the trucks bringing repatriates from the south. Big, "10-wheelers", they carried 40 or 50 men each, in their open and uncovered boxes. The occupants of them were quiet until quite near to meeting us on the roadway. Then a shouted order would set them into frenzied action; casting off items of clothing and shouting as their truck and ours passed one another close by. A typical "spontaneous" demonstration, upon order of the party lackey in the group.
Enthusiasm amongst the demonstrators varied greatly, appearing to depend in some cases on the proximity of the leader of it. Most notable in the rear corner of one of the trucks was a half-naked little fellow with a very sad look on his face, simply dropping a boot over the side and looking back at it as the truck rolled on. A leather boot, probably the best footgear he had ever worn, and it was unlikely he'd ever wear so good a boot again.
As we were meeting that long line of larger northbound trucks, the lead one of our own 3-truck convoy stopped because its engine quit running. The second truck pulled on around and stopped ahead of it. Ours stopped behind it and Tsai hopped out to investigate the situation. He was back aboard very shortly, and we moved on. "Sorry fellahs, but you almost made it" was but one of the cheerful calls to the occupants of the other truck: as we passed them by. Tsai quickly explained that it was only a "small" problem which the driver could probably soon fix. Otherwise our truck would come back for the others after we had been unloaded.
Both trucks swung sharply around upon arrival at our "Freedom Village," in order to back in for the unloading one at a time. Ours backed in first and Tsai was out of it quickly with the passenger lists in his hand. A Marine captain was waiting to receive them. Tsai said something to the captain as he extended the papers towards him. The captain ignored whatever Tsai said, deftly snatched the papers and moved forward a couple of paces putting the little interpreter behind him. Well done!
A line of husky young Marines was close at hand. One would be there with hand outreached as each of us descended from the truck. He would then serve as escort to a simple but impressive arch, bearing the words: "Welcome! Gate to Freedom!" There were a few so overcome with emotion as to need an escort to lean on during the short walk to the gate.
As he called our names, the captain called out also a man's rate or rank. The escort would greet his man accordingly. "Welcome home, Chief!" mine said as he grasped my hand. "How you doin'? We're sure glad to have you back."
"Doin' all right, corporal," I answered, "And mighty glad to be here."
We exchanged a few more amenities as we walked. It was good to feel the strength of his arm at my back and the firmness of his shoulder beneath my hand. Yet it made me aware of my own thinness which I'd not thought of much until then. We paused for a moment and gripped hands again, when we reached the "Gate to Freedom." Then with a slap on my arm he said, "Take it easy, Chief," and ushered me through the arch.
A medic was at hand just inside the arch, with gurney and wheelchair in case such things might be needed. He smiled and spoke softly in greeting as I passed by to an open doorway, beyond which the processing began. A quick check there by a doctor and a medic consisted mostly of questions as to how I felt.
The next door opened into a rather large space, in one corner of which was a small cluster of filing cabinets. A sailor in dungarees attending those files beckoned me to come. As I arrived he asked simply: "What branch of service?"
"Your name? "
"Thorin ." I spelled it out to him for clarity.
The sailor moved to the appropriate files. I seated myself in one of a short line of folding chairs, alongside two men who were there before me. The sailor lifted a card from the files and read from it over his shoulder, my full name and id my rating and then as my service number: "316 59 95.""That last number should be a four," I said. "316 59 94."
"Oh okay," the sailor responded, without turning to look at me. He then lay the card atop one of the cabinets, and began filling out an identification tag for me from the information on it. But I noticed that he made no alteration on the card itself before putting it back in the file.
I said nothing about it to the sailor as he looped the string on the ID tag around my neck. But I thought to myself, "That's a damn smart way of checking to make sure that I'm really me." If the Soviets had perchance put a "ringer" in my place to slip him into the United States, no matter how well coached in other ways, he might get caught up by the mistatement of that one digit. But a sailor knows his service number as part of himself, because that's the way he gets paid.
It was some reassuring to think that at least someone back at home had sense enough to be on guard against such a trick. But there was a disturbing element, as well. Was some such identification check done on every one who came back? Or was it done in my case because, as the interrogator "Flick" had said, my country believed me to be dead?
Someone came by, an orderly of sorts, and asked all three of us if we wanted to meet with the press. None of us did. "Just stay here, then," he said. "There'll be someone to come and get you in a minute." He himself departed then, through a door directly across from us over which the sign read "PRESS."
Shortly, two men came out from that door, carrying cameras and associated paraphenalia. The taller of the two, I recognized at once; Kazakitus, the number one man of the combat photo team aboard the carrier, Phil Sea in 1950. His fatigue cap bore a CPO anchor, so he'd been promoted since then. His eyes fixed on me at once and there was a "can-it-be" look on his face as he approached.
Deliberately, I held my own face placid, even avoiding too directly looking at him. He stopped close in front, bent down slightly and peered at me intently. Very hesitantly then, he asked: "Are you Chief Thorin?"
"Well of course I am, Kaz," I replied, "otherwise still unmoving. "What the hell's wrong with your eyes? I recognized you the minute you came out of that door."
Upon arising, then, for proper reunion with a former shipmate, there came yet another surprise. I had to look up considerably, to the eyes of a man with whom I'd previously stood eye to eye. Along with considerable of weight while in prison I had lost two inches in height.
As we gripped each other tightly, Kaz said to his companion photographer, "Tell 'em I'm tied up for the rest of the day, and for as long as this fellow's here. I'm going with him wherever he goes. I'll fill you in later as to why."
For a while he just looked at me, shaking his head as if in disbelief, and very much at loss for words. Then he said, "I thought it was you when I first saw you but couldn't believe it didn't want to let myself think it because the word around here all the while has been that you had bought the farm."
Moments later the poor fellow gasped, and with a look of alarm said: "Ohmigod! I shouldn't have said that shouldn't have mentioned that! Here you are just come back and wouldn't know and I...."
"Hey, Kaz ." My hand on his arm stopped him. "That's nothing to worry about. That's no surprise or shock to me."
"You knew ?"
"I had reason to suspect that was the case."
"Oh damn," he sighed in relief. Then, "God, this is wonderful you coming back. I want to follow you through this whole process. Everywhere you Oh cripes! I forgot. You probably said 'no press' like all the others."
"I don't see a typewriter hangin' on your chest. That looks like a camera to me."
"Then you don't mind if I tag along with you?"
"Wouldn't have it any other way. You that is. Nobody else."
An orderly arrived then, and led us to a reception room where USMC General Pate was welcoming Navy and Marine arrivals that day. The general was seated at a plank table, holding a somewhat battered cigar box between his hands. Riker, Spence and Starret were seated across from him, having arrived before me. Williams had been behind me in offloading by virtue of the alphabetical listing.
The general rose to greet me. It struck me as unusual that he put down the cigar he was smoking, in order to take my hand, yet held the cigar box in his left hand instead of just leaving it on the table. When he had seated himself again, the general offered a cigar to me, but from several lying on the table instead of from the box. Then he resumed holding the box between his hands as before. Which suggested there must be something special in it.
After introduction, my "former shipmate and Navy chief photographer" Kazakitus received the general's permission to remain. He then faded into the background, his own presence hardly noticed as he waited for those moments when the kinds of shots he wanted were just naturally there. An orderly arrived with servings of ice cream and cookies. The other two thanked him, but when he set some down before me, I glanced first at it then at him and said as if seriously disturbed: "No coffee ?"
The orderly looked at me for a moment and then at the general, whose face showed a bit of surprise. The other three having started at their ice cream paused with beginnings of smiles. After months of close association, my actions surprised them not at all. As though just to them, I said:
"What the hell's happened to the Navy and the Corps while we've been gone? More than a year and a half I've been without a cup of coffee and the first thing they bring us is ice cream."
Nothing more needed to be said to the orderly. He scurried away to get some coffee. The general, if he had not felt it before, now sensed the unique camaraderie which existed between the four rather bedraggled men he was hosting. And so the real reception party began. The arrival of Duke Williams livened it still more.
If there can be such a thing as quiet ribaldry, that's the atmosphere which developed as we consumed the refreshments (after the coffee arrived, of course). The general, observer only at the start and with no refreshments other than his cigar, was soon fully joined in the party otherwise. At the proper moment he served the "Piece d' resistance" by opening the battered cigar box, revealing its contents.
Golden Wings! When they learned that their general was going to Panmunjom to greet returning Navy and Marine aviators, Marine pilots had tossed their own wings into that box for him to present to us. Arrangements had been made for that to be done in front of television cameras. When we had finished our refreshments, the general started to lead us to the studio where that would be done. But someone apparently involved in the handling of such matters said:
"We can't do that now, general; because all of these men have said they don't want to meet with the press."
The general was taken aback by that, and seemed to be looking to us for an answer. Junior officers are naturally (and properly) a bit reluctant to make suggestions to generals or admirals unless specifically asked. Master sergeants and chief petty officers are not so inhibited or handicapped. With full confidence that the others would be in agreement, I ventured to say:
"The reason we decided and agreed before crossing the line that we should all refuse to meet with the press here at the exchange point, was to avoid talking to reporters. We'd seen in copies of Stars and Stripes that were brought to us from here, how ridiculous was some of the stuff they were putting out. Now having the general pin these wings on us in front of cameras isn't anything the same as giving reporters the chance to misquote or exaggerate something we might say. The men who pulled those wings off of their own chests so the general could pin them on ours deserve to see it done. It's also the kind of thing I think the folks back home ought to see and hear, instead of some of the tripe they're otherwise getting."
That was all the assurance the general needed. Without further word he beckoned us to follow him to the studio. He spoke but a few words in introduction, and a few more with each of us as he pinned on the wings. An altogether grand reception!
There was a strictly private meeting with the general then for each of us. It was opportunity to tell him anything we might feel should be reported at once, and any immediate requests for personal reasons. In my case there was the need to report on "two Army officers whose deliberate misrepresentation and lies caused the failure of my mission and my capture." Informed that the officers were associated with intelligence operations, and that I would make formal charges if necessary, the general at once decided I should go home via Tokyo, rather than aboard one of the ships.
Concern for the two young soldiers who Flynn said were planning to kill him, prompted me to tell General Pate the basic story of Hammond and the fact that he had been released that day.. No matter if the collaborator well deserved such fate, if someone were to get caught up for dumping him overboard, they might suffer from it more than he. The general would pass that bit of information over to Army. Whether for that or other reasons, Hammond was sent home via Tokyo, also.
We spent that night at Freedom Village. Next morning, Williams, Spence and myself, plus Lt Moritz, were "helicoptered" to Kimpo in a Marine Corps H04S. My fame in the helicopter business had not yet faded, as of then. When the pilot learned after landing that I had been one of the passengers, he wanted to take me up for a brief flight in the co-pilot seat alongside him. But the Air Force officer in charge of loading it said the C-130 which would take us to Tokyo was to take off momentarily; and in fact had been waiting for us.
Moritz thanked the officer, somewhat jokingly, for holding the flight for us. We went quickly up its ramp and well aft in the big bird found seats and strapped ourselves in.
But it turned out there was no need to hurry. The ramp remained down and a few minutes later four more people came aboard. They were not passengers, however. One of them had a light meter, another had a camera, and the other two had note pads. They moved around the cargo craft rather quickly, respectively taking light meter readings, now and again taking a picture, and almost constantly jotting down notes on the pads.
They even took a picture of the four of us, together with a couple of flight nurses who stopped by to admire Moritz' beautiful red beard as he showed them the burl pipe which I had carved for him. One of the note-jotters jotted our names,* after which they moved to the front of the plane, but stopped and began to chat at the top of the ramp.
[* The picture was published, somewhere. It credited Moritz with carving the pipe, myself with growing the beard and didn't credit Spence and Williams even with ogling the flight nurses.]
"What's next?" Moritz asked of the flight nurses, now realizing we were waiting for something more.
"We're waiting for the general," one of them replied. (The name she said is unremembered.) "He's coming to welcome you guys back home."
One of our foursome commented: "Well now ain't that real damn sweet and considerate of him." The ladies showed some signs of surprise at the remark, but none of disapproving. My three companions didn't show any signs of either.
Finally, a short, pudgy fellow hurried up the ramp, flanked by two not much taller but much leaner. Two stars on each shoulder identified the pudgy one as the general. One of waiting note-jotters directed the general to the first of the ex-POW's he had come to welcome home; a fellow on a stretcher near the front of the plane. With camera and recorder turning, the general grasped the man's hand and said quite fervently, "He11o there, son. How are you?"
The patient's reply was inaudible to us. As the general started to say something more the man with the recorder said, "Just a moment, general; this thing isn't working."
The general dropped the man's hand and turned to one of the lieutenants who had come with him, chatted while the cameraman appeared to be showing his former light meter assistant how to operate the recorder. The words, "All right general, we're ready now," brought him back to repeat his opening performance with equal fervor. After a few more welcoming words to that one, a similar performance was recorded at several preselected places. Our foursome was not on the general's itinerary. Which was unfortunate because one of us had something very definite in mind to say to him, in response to whatever words of welcome he might express.
The magnitude of the general's offense against all of us, and the effect upon our feelings at the time, may be difficult for the reader even to imagine. The delay in departure was insignificant. Endurance of many months in prison, some for as much as 3 years, automatically developed patience in such matters. What that general's performance did was suddenly despoil, at least for a while, the wonderful feeling generated by the well planned and well conducted reception of us at Freedom Village. Had that general made one of his "welcoming" pitches to the foursome of which I was a part, he would have received a seemingly sincere expression of appreciation for it, followed by clearly sarcastic expression of the hope that he had not been as much inconvenienced in coming to welcome us as we had by his having done so.
If some might question that I would dare do such an insubordinate thing, they must consider the unique circumstance. The general would not really have dared do anything in retaliation. He would have had no real basis for charging me with insubordination, or any other official offense, plus which the psychological advantage would have been entirely mine. The publicity he would have gotten from any action he might take, other than just moving on his way, would have been quite the opposite of the kind he was trying to acquire.
Feelings of disgust were by no means confined to myself or my three close companions. The atmosphere was pungent with it; showing on the faces and by the whisperings of the other passengers as their eyes followed the pudgy, publicity seeking general and his entourage around the plane and finally down the ramp.
Immediately, then, began a stirring of conversations amongst most of the passengers, venting to each other their feelings of anger and disgust about what had just happened. My companions, however, sat silently holding equally strong feelings within themselves. Perhaps it was the presence of the Air Force flight nurses which kept them from expressing their feelings right then, at least to one another and myself. Or it may have been just the customary restraint which junior officers must apply with regard to expressing feelings about someone of higher rank.
There are times when such restraint is both necessary and proper. There are times such restraint holds in bitterness or resentment or disgust which needs somehow to be vented. And there are times when a chief petty officer feels a sort of duty to express for commissioned officers he respects, such feelings that he knows they are holding, but must not at least for the moment themselves express.
"Well, gentlemen," I said my three companions, "that proves it to me! I'm now finally convinced we've really made it! I've been worried up 'til now that all the things that've been happening were just a big show the 'commies' put on to make us think we'd been released, but they were really keepin' us. But that the fellah that just left here he just couldn't have been anything else but a real-life American general!"
It worked! At least for myself if not for the others. By the time the plane was airborne and headed for Tokyo, the pudgy little general was almost forgotten. My thoughts could dwell for a while on pleasant probabilities; and then later concentrate on unpleasant duties still to be done.
Table of Contents ©2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.