Military history


Death Valley

The United States does not claim to have the key to human wisdom or success. But we do claim the right to be judged on facts and not on fiction.

— General of the Army George Catlett Marshall.

FROM THE TIME man first raised fist to man, the lot of prisoners of war has been hard. The ancient peoples sometimes crucified captives; they invariably enslaved them, for life. From the time of Peter of Dreux, who burned out the eyes of prisoners, with hot irons, to the captives of Stalingrad and the hell camp of Cabanatuan, it has often been better for men to die fighting than to be taken by the enemy.

No nation, no culture has an unblemished record in what is merely a part of the long story of man's inhumanity to man. Germans have starved Russians; Russians have worked Germans to death. Napoleon's seamen rotted, chained like beasts in English prison hulks. A Swiss-American in the uniform of the Confederacy turned other Americans into snarling animals at a place in Georgia called Andersonville.

In recent years Western Civilization has begun to give the moral and ethical questions of the treatment of prisoners of war agonized consideration. The Geneva Conventions, as part of the hopeless task of making war more humane, specified that a prisoner of war must be treated in the same fashion as a nation's own prisoners.

But while Western Civilization has tended to grow more humane in the treatment of its prisoners of all kinds, the balance of the world has not. In World War II it was found that the Geneva Conventions did not adequately cover the subject. The problem was one of culture and chemistry.

An American, or other Westerner, will starve and die on a diet that Japanese peasants or prisoners may live on almost indefinitely. And it is patently impossible to force a belligerent to treat foreign prisoners of war better than, say, its own political detainees.

The question of toughness or decadence aside, American body chemistry has undoubtedly changed in the past two hundred years. A by-product of the rising Western standard of living has been larger bodies, the need for more food, and a psychological inability to readapt easily to the animal-like existence normal to much of the world.

In postwar Japan, Americans imprisoned by the Japanese Government for various reasons have been given a special diet, heated cells, and recreation facilities—none of which are given to Japanese prison inmates.

This has been done because the Japanese Government, since the signing of a peace treaty in 1952, has been peculiarly sensitive to American opinion and pressures.

During World War II the Japanese handled Americans and Britons in the same brutal fashion with which they treated their own miscreants and other Asians. Thousands of Americans and English died or went mad in the POW camps. Almost all the lives of the men in the bamboo camps were shortened, even if they survived.

Yet, in many cases, putting aside the unmistakable brutality of the Japanese guards, the Japanese were able to demonstrate that they had fed the pow's as well as they had fed their own Korean laborers.

The Germans had a peculiarly defined system of standards in handling their own POW's, based on Nazi notions of race. Westerners, including British and Americans, were not coddled, but were generally well treated. Other races, particularly the Eastern European, were handled in a way to suggest that the Germans felt extermination was the final solution.

Americans treated their own POW's, Japanese, Italian, and German, as they vainly hoped they themselves would be treated. The Soviets treated the Nazis and Japanese in kind. Most of the men who were taken in Russia disappeared behind the iron curtain and were never heard from again. Survivors have written of the wholesale degradation and death in Communist prison camps.

The problem is one of chemistry, and culture.

Americans who felt, and still feet, that their soldiers taken by a power of different culture and lesser standards of humanity should be, or will be, treated in accordance with decent Western standards are naïve.

They were naïve in 1950, since no American fighting men were prepared in any way to face what they could be expected to face. The Army, as well as government and society, was at fault. All had known for some years of Communist methods of indoctrinating POW's—the world knew of Colonel General Paulus' experiences after Stalingrad—and knew what Asian Communist culture was like. But just as they had not prepared their young men to fight, they had not prepared them to go into captivity.

In the first six months of Korea, American arms faltered on the battlefield because of a lack of American material and psychological preparation for bloodletting, and in those first six months almost all the American POW's were taken.

Whatever failures there were, in the bleak and dreary prison camps of North Korea, were no more than a continuation of the failures on the battlefield, by the same men.

For some reason, the POW camps have been much more widely publicized than the battlefields. What happened in them has become an emotional issue, and for that reason will probably never be clarified.

Let one thing be clear, however.

What happened in those camps was not unique. It had been known to history before. If it was new to Americans, who pride themselves on being informed, the fault was their own.

In Andersonville, Americans fought each other for scraps of food, and let each other die. Tough panzer grenadiers of the Wehnnacht, whom no one has accused of being overly fat or soft, went listless in Communist pens, and died "for no reason." Americans and Britons in Japanese prisons retreated into dream worlds, and some informed on their buddies.

A human being in a prison camp, in the hands of his enemies, is flesh, and shudderingly vulnerable.

On the battlefield, even surrounded, he still has a gun in his hand, his comrades about him, and, perhaps the most important thing of all, leadership. If he has training, and if he has developed pride, he can stand as a man.

In a POW cage, he is flesh, however strong the spirit. He has no gun, he has no leader, and his comrades are flesh, too.

Americans often forget there are millions of brave men and women behind the iron curtain, living in virtual prisons. They have no love for Communism, yet they accommodate. The Roman Catholic primate of Poland—whom no man accuses of Communism—"collaborates."

In a prison, most men, if their jailor wills, may be broken.

Men there are like all men, everywhere, in that some will never do wrong, and some will never do right. The great majority will lean the way the wind takes them as most men have since the dawn of time.

There were utterly reprehensible acts committed by Americans in the prison camps. These have been recorded, and punished. There were also acts of incredible courage, which have been rewarded, in some cases.

The average man was neither courageous nor cowardly.

Young, untrained, with the iron most men expect in soldiers not yet forged in him, he was forced to face the tiger as best he could.

In the snow-covered bauxite mining camp they would call Death Valley, Sergeant Charles Schlichter and the other Americans taken at Kunu-ti were gathered into an old school building.

Here a slender Chinese officer addressed them in broken English.

He told them that the People's Volunteers had decided to treat them, not as war criminals, but under China's new Lenient Policy. Though the officer did not say it, the average Army POW would be treated much like an average Chinese felon or class enemy. No great pressures would be put on him, other than those of starvation, lack of medical care, and a certain amount of indoctrination.

This was the Lenient Policy. All American POW's, however, were not subject to it. Airmen, in particular, who were bombing North Korea to rubble, rousing the hatred of both Chinese and Koreans, were criminals from the start. Later, when the typhus carried across the Yalu by the CCF hordes spread to the civil population, airmen would be accused of germ warfare, giving the CCF both an out and a chance at a propaganda coup.

Airmen, and some others, would be put under acute stress to confess alleged war crimes. Some were put in solitary. Some were physically tortured. All were starved and interrogated until their nerves shrieked. They were treated in almost the identical way that political prisoners had been treated by Communists for a generation.

Even under the Lenient Policy, no relief parcels were allowed to be delivered to Communist POW's, nor were any neutral observers, at any time, allowed to inspect the prison camps.

Communists saw no reason why Americans should have special privileges not given to their own people.

When he had told them of the Lenient Policy, the officer told the shivering, tired, fearful POW's one thing more:

"Everybody here is the same. No officers, no N.C.O.'s here. Everybody is equal!"

It has always been customary to separate officers from sergeants, and sergeants from other ranks, in POW camps. It is the most effective way of breaking down possible resistance and cohesion in any group of prisoners, American or Hungarian. But the Chinese tried a new twist.

"No one here has any rank—you are all the same," the Chinese said. To Sergeant Schlichter's horror, this had an immediate appeal for many men.

One soldier went up to an officer and slapped him on the back. "Hey, Jack, how the hell are you?" He thought it was very funny.

The Chinese smiled, too.

In this way, and in others, such as putting ranking POW's on the most degrading jobs, the Chinese broke what little discipline remained in the POW ranks. The officers themselves did not quite know what to do. To many of them, it seemed self-aggrandizing, almost totalitarian, to insist upon their right to command, since they were only captives, too. Most of them did nothing.

The officers and sergeants, as well as the young men, faced a new situation, for which they were wholly unprepared.

Morale, among the captives, was already gone. Now the last shred of discipline went, and with it went many Americans' hope of surviving.

There was no one to give the POW's direction, except the Chinese. Among the Americans, it could not be anything but dog eat dog, hooray for me, and to hell with you.

The disciplines that hold men together in the face of fear, hunger, and danger are not natural. Stresses equal to, and beyond, the stress of fear and panic must be overlaid on men. Some of these stresses are called civilization. And even the highest of civilizations demands leadership. There has to be a Chief Executive of the United States, with the power to bully and chivvy both the Congress and the people, sometimes into doing what is necessary for their own good.

In Death Valley, there was no one to bully and chivvy the wretched prisoners but the Chinese, who had no American's welfare at heart. Men did not hold together, but came apart, dissolved into individuals, governed only by their individual consciences. And as fear, cold, sickness, and starvation deepened, conscience shallowed.

The controls of civilization make men, often against their will, become their brother's keepers. When the controls are taken away, it is but a step to becoming their brother's killers. The veneer of civilized decency is much thinner than most Americans, even after seeing Auschwitz and Belsen, think.

Civilization is a fragile discipline, at best. In Death Valley it disappeared.

The prisoners, in subzero weather, were huddled into filthy huts where there was not room enough even to sleep comfortably. Men lay on the odorous ground, pressed tight against each other at night, week after week.

The food they received daily, in a bucket, was not enough to keep the aver-age American in decent health. Rapidly, they began to starve.

A number had combat wounds that had received only cursory treatment. Infection and dysentery seared them, making the huts even more horrible.

What medical care they received was pitiful by any standard.

Sergeant Schlichter, rather than an Army doctor, was placed in charge of the camp hospital, in accordance with the CCF policy of humiliating officers. The hospital was an old North Korean school building, high-roofed, heated by two pot-bellied stoves, without pipes.

The stoves had only green wood to burn, and the smoke lay across the room like a blanket of death. Sergeant Schlichter and his surgeon, Captain Shadish, had to crawl about on their hands and knees to keep from choking.

The crude "hospital" had pallets for only sixty men, among the hundreds who had untreated combat wounds, dysentery, pneumonia, jaundice, and psychic disorders. The Chinese allowed Shadish exactly enough medicines to give four men one sulfa tablet four times a day.

Each day, Shadish and Schlichter, crawling from man to man, had to play God. To the four men who had the best chance to live, they administered the sulfa. The worse off, Schlichter said later, "We committed to God's care."

Men died.

Each morning Charles Schlichter came into the hospital and said, "Sit up." Then he said, "If the man next to you can't sit up, shake him. If he doesn't move, call me—"

Then, after those who could sat up to be counted, Schlichter and Shadish carried out the dead. The ground was frozen, and they had no tools, but at first, while they still had strength, the bodies were buried in shallow graves. Later, when their strength began to fail, they turned the bodies over to a detail of South Korean prisoners. The ROK's threw the emaciated bodies on the ground outside the camp.

The prisoners remained in Death Valley from the day after Christmas until 12 March 1951, and each day men died. They died of war wounds, of infection, pneumonia, dysentery. In most cases malnutrition was a contributing factor.

The prisoners continued to receive only a diet of millet and maize, boiled in a pot, delivered in a bucket, supplemented by dog. But the dogs grew more wary, and the prisoners weaker. Without salt, greens, or essential minerals, they sickened.

The sick and those with war wounds died first. Then the men without faith began to die, often, seemingly, of nothing at all.

The youngest men, oddly, died first.

Schlichter, who never lost his determination to live to return, or his faith in God, believed that most who died didn't have to die. For the first time in his life, he wondered if the will to die, when men's worlds have been turned upside down, was not stronger than the urge to live.

There were men who had grown up with no strong belief in anything; they had received no faith from parents, school, or church. They had no spiritual home or haven. Exposed to horror and misery, when the man with the gun cut the line to home, destroyed every material reason for living, they could not adjust. They no longer wanted to live.

Schlichter saw men who refused to eat the meager slop he was eating, in his own effort to stay alive. He heard men mumble fantasies, living in a dream world of their own warm, protected past. One boy angrily told him, as he urged the youth to eat, "My parents never made me do things like this!"

Another told him one night, sobbing, "I know my mother is bringing me a pie tonight—a pie, Sergeant."

In Charles Schlichter grew a feeling, which he never lost, that some American mothers had given their sons everything in the world, except a belief in themselves, their culture, and their manhood. They had, some of them, sent their sons out into a world with tigers without telling them that there were tigers, and with no moral armament.

Most of those who could adjust, who wanted to live on, lived. It helped if a man could hold to something. Some lived simply because they came to hate the Chinese so much.

And there were some, determined to live, who took food from the sick and dying, and there was no one to say them nay.

Not all the quitters were youths. The older men went, too. One night a decorated officer said, simply. "I'm going to die." He lay in his hut, neither eating nor drinking, unspeaking, until he did.

Without discipline, without a chain of command, there was no effective way to help the dying or aid the faltering. There were men who needed to be cheered, helped, cared for. No man would obey another, and no organized effort was ever made. Organization had broken down completely. It must be reported that few officers showed any willingness to take command. The failures were not of the few, but of the many.

Each day Shadish and other doctors went to the filthy, crowded, lice-ridden, fecal-smelling huts, taking the sickest to the hospital.

Each night Sergeant Schlichter reported to the Chinese commandant the number who had died. There were some Turks and ROK's with the Americans. To Schlichter's knowledge, not one Turk had died.

On 12 March 1951, while winter still howled through North Korea, the enemy closed down Death Valley. There were fewer POW's now, and they could be consolidated in fewer camps. The men of Death Valley were assembled from their huts and marched north.

Charles Schlichter closed out the hospital by burning the straw pallets on which the sick had lain. When the straw went into the fire, the floor and shimmering sides of the stoves were black with lice, trying to jump away. Schlichter loaded some twenty patients, pale with jaundice and too ill to march, onto a mule cart and rode north with them. He was the last to leave the valley.

As he left, he stood up in the cart, looking back. The last sight he had of Death Valley was of three starving Korean dogs, snuffling warily in from the hills to feed on the bodies of the young Americans they had left behind.

On the 17th of March he arrived at Camp Number 5 on the Yalu River. Here the officers, N.C.O.'s, and other ranks were separated.

And here, now that they had been starved and sickened into a disorganized, slack-faced mob, more animals than men, their education began.

The island of Koje, approximately the size of an American county, lies in the Korea Strait a few miles southeast of Pusan. Koje-do is only a mile and a half from the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, but it is five hours from Pusan by boat, twelve hours by twisting road, which in early 1951 was connected to the mainland by an ancient ferry.

Koje-do rises green and lovely from the sea. It is a land of lush hills, clear streams, and delicately tinted paddies. The hills hold wild deer, and the streams run with trout. Korean farmers and fishermen have lived upon it since the dawn of history, and in 1951 the island was further populated with refugees from the north, diverted from teeming, crowded Pusan.

Up close, the beauty fades, and the odor of Koje-do is indistinguishable from that of the mainland.

To Koje Island, in early 1951, were sent the 80,000-odd prisoners of war taken so far by the United Nations during the Korean War. The Eighth Army was in full retreat, and there were rumors on the wind that all Korea might have to be evacuated. The thousands upon thousands of pow's gathered around the Pusan area were in the way; worse, they were a potential hazard. On Koje, it was felt they would be both secure and out of the Eighth Army's hair. In early 1951 all Eighth Army, from General Matt Ridgway down, was monumentally uninterested in the POW's it had taken. The Eighth Army had more pressing concerns.

The problems of handling the POW's, of feeding, clothing, guarding, and disciplining them, was delegated to the 60th General Depot in Pusan, which later was to become the 2nd Logistical Command. The mission of the 60th General Depot was to supply the troops fighting in Korea, and they were doing a superb job of this. The fifteen technical service officers, under their Quartermaster Corps C.O., were proficient in the way that only American supply officers can be proficient.

They had to be, for United States troops are prodigal on the battlefield.

But however efficient these men might be at supply, none of them knew anything about the handling, care, and feeding of Asian Communist prisoners of war. They were logisticians, not cops.

But in their defense, it must be said that nobody else in the United States Army knew any more than they did. When the shattered conscripts of the Inmun Gun began to surrender in droves in the fall of 1950, the United States found itself facing a new situation.

In World War I America's Allies had assumed control of all POW's.

In World War II the United States came in late, and took over an existing British system. And the Germans and Italians captured after North Africa had proved to be a fairly tractable lot. In spite of Fascism there was no great cultural gulf between captors and captured; they understood each other, adhered to the same general code. Several hundred thousand POW's were sent to places like Montana and Texas; at the end of the war they were shipped home without incident.

In spite of protestations at the time, World War II was never an ideological war, for Fascism and Nazism were fundamentally inexportable. The German Reich never stood a chance of winning a political victory in Europe; it stood and fell by arms alone.

Ideology never raised its ugly head in the prisoner-of-war camps outside Russia in World War II.

The Japanese POW's taken in the Pacific were so few as to be insignificant. The Japanese-Americans herded into detention camps after Pearl Harbor showed a remarkable restraint toward the intolerance of their native land.

When the Korean War began, therefore, the United States had no experience in the handling of hostile prisoners of war. It had developed no real doctrine; it had trained no personnel. And worse, the United States Army understood Asians imperfectly, and Communists not at all.

When the thousands began to flow into the POW cages in Korea, U.S. authorities were certain of only one thing: they did not want to bring almost 100,000 Orientals to the homeland for detention. The prisoner-of-war compounds on Koje-do were born of expediency. And like so many measures so adopted in the modern age, the temporary solution became permanent. Once rid of the POW's, General Ridgway, and his successor, Van Fleet, never wanted them back.

It was up to the logisticians at Pusan to make out as best they could.

Major William T Gregory, Corps of Engineers, was engineer supply officer of the 60th General Depot on Christmas Day 1950. Bill Gregory was a career reservist, tall, redhaired, and skinny. He held a Regular Army warrant as master sergeant, and he intended to return to his North Carolina home only when the Army made him go.

As a part of rounding out his career, the Army sent young Major Gregory to Koje-do. The C.O. of the 60th General Depot called him in and said: "Bill, the POW's are coming to Koje Island. You are appointed Procurement Officer for them. Go buy food—all you can find."

The C.O. didn't know just how many were coming, or just when they would arrive—all he could do was to send Bill Gregory and a small party on ahead to the island.

LST's crossed the choppy strait from Pusan, dumping thousands of small, miserable, brown-skinned men on Koje's beaches. Soon there were 40,000 prisoners, mostly Koreans, herded together in the open rice paddies up from the sea. There were less than two hundred U.S. personnel to guard them, and not even a barbed-wire fence to wrap around them.

Cold, hungry, and apathetic, the POW's sat in the fields, and waited. They gave no trouble. They expected to be badly used, after the way of all captives in the Orient. At the best, they expected to wear their lives away in labor battalions, slaving for their captors. At the worst, they expected to be shot.

On Koje-do there were no combat troops, no HQ, no organization. There were no compounds. Fortunately, the POW's gave no trouble. Bill Gregory ranged the island, buying rice. He was the first of the big spenders come to Koje; all he could find, he bought. Soon he had tons and tons of rice stored on log foundations some of his engineers had built over the marshy soil.

But as fast as Gregory bought it, the POW's ate it. Koreans and Chinese ate a hell of a lot of rice, together with fish, vegetables, and other items. Finally, just before the economy of Koje-do collapsed, Gregory got authorization to purchase supplies directly from Japan. Now, with the competent Japs securing mountains of fish and rice for shipment across the strait, Gregory was relieved of food procurement.

He was ordered to begin constructing compounds. The POW's could not live in the fields forever. The Neutral Nation inspection teams were raising hell. A few more American troops came in, plus the 93rd Engineer Construction Battalion and two battalions of ROK's.

The ROK troops weren't much help, but with the U.S. Engineers Gregory began building barbed-wire compounds. These were jerry-built affairs, for time and labor were limited; even wire was scarce. Inside the wire, Gregory constructed living quarters—huts—and sewer lines running down to the sea, for the forty thousand POW's were consuming rice by the ton, with no place to dispose of it.

One source of labor was indigenous personnel. In a very short time, most of the inhabitants of Koje discovered there was such a thing as the U.S. payroll. For all of them it was a very happy discovery. The half of the island that was unable for some reason to get on the payroll was able to sell or otherwise do business with those who had.

The Chinese and North Koreans were moved into the new, hardly secure compounds, already overcrowded as more and more POW's reached Koje. But the comptrollers were screaming over the expense: good or bad, there was to be no more money for pow camp construction.

Through it all the POW's remained subdued and quiet. They made no trouble.

Five weeks after the first captives had landed on Koje, a specially trained Military Police Detachment arrived from Camp Gordon, Georgia, to assume direction of the island. This unit, from its commander down, had been given careful instruction on how to handle POW's, which was, after all, an MP function.

There was only one problem—the instructors hadn't known anymore than the people they taught. But they had given them some ideas.

Colonel Fitzgerald, the MP commander, took charge at once. He called all officers on the island to a staff meeting.

"These people are our equals," he said, strongly. "Our job is to teach them democracy." However dimly, someone in the States had recognized the essentially ideological nature of the conflict with Communism. "We're going to treat these people as human beings. I want you to understand that if a pow is abused, or refuses to work, and a U.S. guard strikes him, the guard will be court-martialed. We are here to teach these people democracy, and we can't do it by being a bunch of bullies."

The inescapable Anglo-Saxon sensitivity to race—all the captives belonged to the colored races—tended toward a certain overcompensation on the part of the American guards. It was not enough to stress that the POW's were human beings, to which there could be no argument; it must be brought out that they were fully equal human beings, which was debatable.

However, the assembled officers shifted their feet and got the message. The prisoners were to be equals, and not to be bashed, no matter what. They were also to be taught democracy. That was clear enough.

Nobody asked Colonel Fitzgerald, however, the approved method by which democracy was taught, which was probably just as well. As it turned out, the method seemed to consist in giving the POW's anything they wanted. As Bill Gregory put it: "We told 'em we're here to serve you. If you want anything, you let us know, boy. We're going to show you what democracy means. You're all damn fools to be Communists—you do the way we do, and you'll be living on top of the world."

It was a materialistic approach. The main idea seemed to be that democracy was better than Communism because it produced a life richer in the goods of this world.

Colonel Fitzgerald had plenty of help. In addition to the Americans, there was the International Red Cross, informing the POW's of their rights, and a U.N. Commission on Korea, called UNCORK by the GI's for reasons having nothing to do with their announced mission.

The POW's were furnished books on democracy, and copies of the United States Constitution. That took care of the theory, for those who could read.

For the rest of it, tons of athletic equipment, much of it abandoned by U,S. units in Pusan, were shipped in. A new hospital was built, with sick call daily. North Korean and Chinese doctors treated the POW's; these men were allowed all the drugs and medicines they desired.

Mess halls were constructed. The POW's own cooks worked in stone and baked clay kitchens, with new Korean utensils. They were given more rice, fish, and vegetables than nine-tenths of them had seen in their lifetime.

They were inspected for cleanliness and health by a special Medical Sanitation Company.

They were given new clothing, some of which, like socks, they didn't know how to use. Because most of the U.S. supply of fatigue uniforms had been diverted to surplus sales and relief work around the world and now with a new war were scarce, the POW's were issued new officers' pinks and greens, straight from QM depots. Each man received new boots and a clean mattress cover.

Major Gregory saw many men inside the barbed wire walking about in better uniforms than he owned. American officers had to pay for their uniforms, and Bill Gregory had a family in the States.

Now the POW's were screened, to determine their sentiments. Already it was becoming known that many of them were not true Communists. Of the nearly 80,000 Koreans, many were conscripts taken in South Korea, or men torn from their homes in the North, with no interest in or inclination toward politics or the war. Of the nearly 6,000 Chinese, many were soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek forcibly incorporated into the Chinese Peoples' Volunteers; many had suffered, or their families had suffered, from the Communist conquest.

Already, there was ferment in the compounds between the fanatic Communists and the non-Communists, as different factions jostled for control. This ferment was dimly seen by the guards, and not understood at all. Communists and non-Communists were treated alike, as equals.

But the screening did have one result. The worst Communists, officers and men alike, were segregated into compounds like the soon-to-be-notorious 76. The segregation did not have the desired result; instead, it concentrated Communist talent.

Now, a certain senior colonel of the Inmun Gun, the ranking POW in Compound 76 and on Koje-do, had a staff at hand. All Lee Hak Ku had to do was use it. But while the Russian-trained Lee remained the senior officer on paper, the real power among the captives was probably in the hands of a small, evil-faced officer called Hong Chol.

Lee Hak Ku, by surrendering, had shown himself capable of weakness, and the inner cadre would never again wholly trust him. And Hong Chol was where he could keep an eye on Colonel Lee.

Together, these two began to organize and control the compounds. When the Americans told the prisoners to elect representatives from each compound, Lee and Hong were ready. The campaign was brief, violent, and secretly bloody.

Occasionally, the guards would find a corpse in the latrine, or a body stuffed down the sewer line. Now and then a roll call turned up someone short, and the POW's would seem to be uneasy, talking and muttering in small groups.

The missing men were often listed as escapees.

And the Lee-Hong slate was elected. Whatever the non-Communist POW's had learned from reading the U.S. Constitution, the Lee-Hong forces were better organized at the precinct level.

Meeting with U.N. representatives, the new representatives of the prisoners slowly became more confident. The new chief honchos, or head knockers, met daily with the guards, and began to demand things.

To their delight, they were never disappointed.

They asked for whitewash, and got it. Soon, pretty rock designs of Chinese, Korean, and U.S. flags adorned the compound yards. They asked for record players, paper, ink, mimeograph machines, and work tools.

Because the U.N. Commission felt it was good therapy to let them work, they got everything they asked for, at U.S. expense.

There was no appropriation for extra barbed wire, or for more compounds to case the crucial housing shortage, which made the existing compounds so large as to be almost unmanageable. But there was money for sheet metal, saws, hammers, and nails for the prisoners, who went studiously to work, making things. Some of the items they made they buried underneath the floors of their huts before the Americans had a chance to admire them.

Happy with their work, a certain amount of spirit returned to even the most apathetic Communist POW. Now some of them ignored their guards when ordered to work for their own benefit, such as in the kitchens, and spat in the guards' faces if the Americans became insistent.

One day a sergeant approached Bill Gregory. The sergeant was an old Army man, wooden-faced with his consciousness of duty. "Sir, you told us to let you know if anyone hit a POW—"


The guard wiped his face. "Major, I just hit one myself."

"Don't tell me, boy—don't tell me," Gregory said quickly.

The N.C.O. saluted and went away.

This kind of crisis Bill Gregory had to learn to live with.

One day, the flags went up, blue and yellow and made of clean new mattress covers donated by the U.S. Army. Seeing the myriad banners flying over each compound, each with its Communist propaganda slogan, a gi remarked to Gregory: "Boy, aren't they pretty sir? These people are sure artistic!"

"They sure are," Gregory said.

Since the POW's seemed to enjoy putting them up, the flags were allowed to stay.

Bill Gregory had other things on his mind, however. He was busy installing automatic flushing commodes in the four-holers that served the compounds.

And he had a problem on the beach, where one of his sewer lines emptied into Korea Strait. The mouth of the line, made of 55-gallon drums, ran out three hundred feet beyond the water's edge—but Korean tides were extreme, and at low tide the sewer mouth was exposed.

The problem was caused by rice. The prisoners ate rice as if they had never eaten before, and kept the new toilets busy. And rice feces, among the various kinds, are unique. They come out as small hard balls, tough as cement, insoluble in water. They will not float, nor will they wash away. They lay by the hundreds of millions on the beach, like dark, ugly snails.

The beaches of Koje-do, at low tide, were a sight to behold.

It was one engineering problem Bill Gregory was never to solve.

With the prisoners learning about democracy in lectures, and happily at work the remainder of the time, turning out mimeographed newssheets or banging away in the metal shops, Colonel Fitzgerald could turn his attention to the U.S. personnel on the island. It had come to the C.O.'s notice that many of the POW's looked better than his own troops.

He ordered officers to wear pinks and greens on duty, and all personnel were to don ties. After all, the eyes of the world were on Koje-do.

And with the compounds slapped together, he ordered work commenced on the officers' club. This went up quickly, a huge, barnlike structure of sheet metal and native island timber. While it was built, somebody arranged for Koean barmaids, in freshly starched dresses, to be imported from Pusan.

Things were looking up all over.

There was even a rumor that the Eighth Army was now winning the war on the mainland.

During this period, Major Gregory noticed that the population of Koje-do, aside from the POW's, was increasing. More and more Koreans showed up, to get jobs as servants, houseboys, laundrymen, barbers. The U.S. payroll, after the manner of such rolls, continued to increase geometrically each month. In Colonel Fitzgerald's HQ there were more Koreans than GI's.

The Koreans who still hadn't made the payroll were opening new business ventures, selling souvenirs to both GI's and pow's. Each day tradesmen surrounded the compounds, doing a brisk trade through the barbed wire.

It would have been cruel, and a blow to the local economy, to interfere with them.

The ROk's of the two guard battalions were doing well, too. Most of them had brought in their families. Some had also opened up new businesses. All were busily engaged in erecting new quarters, complete with landscaping.

Two alert Koreans noticed that the traffic between Pusan and Koje had increased tenfold since 1950. They dug up two diesel barges to supplement the official ferry on the end of the island, and they soon grew rich.

A great many of the young women refugees from North Korea, who had been dumped on Koje by the ROK government, found steady employment, at compensation formerly undreamed of in East Asia.

Colonel Fitzgerald inspected the officers' club daily, and it was coming along real well.

The POW's continued to make things in their shops. They put out more flags, some of them artistic triumphs. They sang and chanted in their compounds, and seemed content. Now and then a battered body blocked one of Bill Gregory's sewers, which was a hell of a nuisance until they removed it.

But it was understood that the Asians weren't too well checked out on modern plumbing, and no one worried.

The POW press turned out more and more newssheets, flooding the island. Many began to turn up in Pusan, as the paper ration was increased. One evening Major Gregory found one in his quarters. He asked his houseboy what it said.

He was told, "Oh, the Communists are telling the people what fools the Americans are."

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