Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Monday, July 30, 2007

Pop

I think I heard his actual name once but I couldn't tell you today what it was. Everybody just called him Pop and he was a regular at the China Seas stag bar. If you saw a rough old cob, probably in his fifties or sixties, chewing on an unlit cigar as he played cards and gave everybody a hard time, you'd likely found Pop.

He was retired from the Army and living with his Chinese wife in Taipei. He had a million stories to tell, most of which probably shouldn't be repeated here. But there was one period of his life that he rarely talked about and that was his time in Korea during the 1950s. I'd heard that he was a POW in North Korea and one night I asked him about it.

He said that he was assigned to a forward operating unit and one night he was the sergeant of the guard. He made his usual rounds from one sentry to another throughout the night, but around dawn he found two sentries who'd been killed.

He said that he quickly looked out over the valley in front of him and it looked to him like it was moving. He soon realized that he was seeing thousands of Chinese combat troops heading straight for his position, practically on top of him at that point. He and his comrades were quickly captured and spent the rest of the Korean Conflict as prisoners of war.

It was a hard existence and many didn't make it. He said they wore only thin cotton pajamas and no shoes. There was little straw on the floor of their building and no heat. They huddled together to try and keep warm and avoid frostbite.

It was clear to me that Pop still held a special hatred for one particular guard in that camp. I don't remember the name after all these years, so I'll just refer to him as Kim. Pop said that Kim loved to inflict pain wherever and whenever possible and he was really good at it.

Every morning the prisoners had to stand outside of their wooden barracks in their PJs and bare feet for roll call. During the brutal Korean winters, this was pure torture for all of them. Pop said that Kim would walk up and down the ranks and would often kick the prisoners' ankles for no reason other than the fact that he enjoyed doing it. Pop said that his own feet and ankles never did heal right. He walked with quite a limp when I knew him.

He always volunteered to work in the fields during potato harvest because sometimes he could sneak a potato to eat. But if Kim happened to catch him, it didn't go well. He said, "He'd beat me and then take my potato. I could handle the beating, but I sure hated to lose that potato."

I was talking to another Army guy one night who had known Pop for a number of years and he told me the rest of the story. He said that when Pop was repatriated at the DMZ, he told the guards on the North Korean side, "You tell Kim that I'm coming back for him."

A year or two later, American soldiers guarding the DMZ detained a man who was trying to slip across the border. Pop didn't quite make it back to settle the score, but he sure gave it his best shot.

Don

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