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Akira Buster Chikami

Winter Park, Florida -
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"For me, the hardest part about being a prisoner of war was not knowing when I would get out.  I was never sure and, in fact, didn't find out until the last day that they were going to release us.  They had always preached to us that they were keeping records and that we would be released according to the way we behaved.  Every day they waited until midnight to call out the names of the people who would be released the next day, and every night my name wasn't called."

- Akira Buster Chikami


[Chic Chikami was interviewed by Lynnita Sommer (later Brown) in 1999 while he was attending a POW reunion in Macon, Georgia.  Thanks to a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council, the recorded interview was transcribed by Tonda Hagan in 2023.  In addition to his memoir on the Korean War Educator, segments of Mr. Chikami's memories of life as a prisoner of war can be found in the books A Long Road Home - Reflections of a POW Survivor by Tadashi "Dick" Kaneko; Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul authored by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Sidney R. Slagster; and Remembered Prisoners of a Forgotten War: An Oral History of Korean War POWs by Lewis H. Carlson.  This memoir was activated on September 01, 2023, when Chic was 96 years old and still exercising in his local gym several days a week.]


Drafted July 1945 US Army. Took short discharge a few months later for convenience of the government. Enlisted in Army 1945. Sent to Germany with Signal Corps. Won the Berlin Lightweight Boxing Championship 1946. Discharged 1947. Re-enlisted in the Army in Nov. 1950. Went to Korea January 1951 with 2nd Div., 38th Inf. Reg, George Co. Mortar man (60mm) weapons platoon. May 16, 17, 18, 1951 in May Massacre. Captured August 27, 1951 near Piari. Wounded in the leg. Sent to Camp 12 propaganda center near Pyongyang Aug. 1951-Dec. 1951. Sent to Camp 5 – Dec. 1951-Fall 1952. Then to Camp 4 – Fall 1952-Aug. 1953. Released. Re-enlisted for 3 years and was sent to Japan as assistant manager of the Yuraku Officer’s Open Mess in downtown Tokyo. Re-enlisted again – became an advisor to the Reserve Infantry Unit at the Presidio, SF, CA. Then to 1st Cavalry Div, DMZ, Korea – 1963 in mobile communications. Asked to be transferred out of DMZ to 3110th Signal in Seoul for 3 years. Discharged circa 1966. Enlisted in Air Force. Strategic Air Command. Became missile maintenance superintendent. Retired late 1960s or early 1970s.

Memoir Contents:

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My name is Akira B. Chikami.  When I was in grade school they called me Buster because they couldn't pronounce my first name.  I was born in LaJunta, Colorado, on March 19, 1927, the son of Hatsuro and Tori (Nakajima) Chikami.  We lived there until I was about four or five years old, then we moved to Nevada.  I guess it was the Depression that made us move.  My father was a sugar beet farmer in Colorado, but he went broke.  We were going to go to California, but we didn't make it.  We ended up on a truck (vegetable) farm in Reno, Nevada.


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While I was in school I had good grades and I think I was fairly popular in school because I was always the president of my class and so forth.  I was a very happy schoolboy until December the 7th, when we heard the broadcast about Pearl Harbor.  I was in junior high at that time.  I never dreamed that things would change, but they did.  Once the war started, things changed drastically for me. Different people who I thought were my friends and who I thought were good people changed and turned against me because there was tremendous propaganda against the Japanese during World War II.  I can always remember one of the things people said was, "The only good Jap is a dead Jap."

Even my principal prevented me from running for class office.  He said my grades weren't good enough, but that wasn't true because my grades were just as good as those of the people who ran.  I always played basketball and I was on the first team, but one night before a basketball game he said he wanted to see me outside of the gym.  I met him and he said, "I don't think you should play tonight."  When I asked why he said, "Well, there's a lot of discrimination and I'm afraid that there might be some disruptions during the game."  I didn't feel that way because I knew all the fellows on the opposite team.  I had grown up with them and I knew them.  I thought I had their respect and so forth.  I asked the principal, "What do I tell the coach?"  He told me to tell him that I was sick and not feeling well and he told me that he would explain to him.  When I told the coach he was disappointed and the other team members were very disappointed as well.  They kind of sensed that I really wasn't sick, so I didn't say anything more.  Then the next week during practice I didn't get to play or practice with the first team anymore.  I thought that was kind of strange, so I finally asked the coach.  He said, "Well, you weren't sick the other night."  I asked him whether the principal had told him why I hadn't played and he said, "Tell me what?"  Then I knew that he had never told him.  I lost a lot of faith in a lot of people who I had had a lot of faith in previously. 

I was involved in a lot of things in high school.  I had played all sports--baseball, softball, everything.  After the basketball incident I took up boxing as an outside-of-school extra sport.  I knew that boxing was a matter of just two people.  I was not on a team, so the coach couldn't say that I wasn't good enough to play or participate.  I was heavily involved in boxing. It was an aggressive sport and I took out my frustrations by hitting the bag.  I entered the Golden Gloves tournament and won it when I was only 17 years old.  I won the state tournament, competing against Army, Navy and Marine boys who were quite a bit older than me.  It was quite an achievement, but I was pretty bitter in those days.

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Sleeping in Alleys

I didn't graduate from high school.  I quit in the 10th grade because I was having a hard time with the discrimination. My friend Danny Smasten had also dropped out of high school because of unfortunate circumstances, so we went to Salt Lake City.  I just wanted to get away from Reno.  We got on a bus and when we got to Salt Lake we had no money left.  We had to work in a bowling alley setting pins by hand.

Since we didn't have enough money to get a hotel or room, we slept in the alleys behind big buildings where hot air came up through the grates.  It was Fall and it was pretty cold, so we got big boxes out of the dumpsters, cut them up to make a kind of pallet, and then got another box to cover us while we slept.  We did that for three nights.  The only thing that scared me was fearing that one morning someone with a truck might run over us while coming to empty the dumpster. 

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Threatening the Boss

Danny worked at the racetrack in the stables.  He knew horses, so he would go away with race horses to various racetracks in different parts of the United States.  We finally ended up on Antelope Island.  A lot of people don't realize that there are three islands in the Great Salt Lake--Antelope, Buffalo and Bird.  Antelope is the only one of the three that is habitable because it has a fresh water spring.  The island is pretty good sized--about 17 miles long.  When we went there to work there was a farmhouse and ranch.  They raised a lot of sheep and there was a herd of 50 buffalo.  A lot of times a movie company came out there to shoot Wild West movies because of the buffalo.  We stayed on the ranch for three months and got $50 a month, plus room and board.

There was no electricity and no prejudice.  I guess in those days if you managed so much property or if you were essential to the raising of food and stuff you got a draft deferment.  But in my opinion the foreman was a draft dodger, so we didn't have much respect for him.  Besides that, he didn't treat the animals kindly.  We got in an argument with him one day.  We were supposed to build a fence out on the salt flats.  We had a team of huge, beautiful horses.  We harnessed them and drove a wagon loaded with posts, barbed wire and paraphernalia to build the fence.  It started to rain and when the rains came the wagon wheels sank in the mud.  They sank up to the axle and the horses couldn't pull it anymore or pull it out of the mud.  The foreman came out there and started beating on the horses.  The horses would kill themselves just trying to pull it.  They started sinking up to their chest in the mud and he kept whipping them.  Danny and I both got mad at him and told him to quit or we were going to attack him.  We were just kids, but he saw that we were serious so he fired us.  We told him, "Well, we quit anyway."  We couldn't get off the island for a week because there was no way to get off until they took a load of pigs to the shore on a barge.  We rode with the barge full of pigs to the opposite shore.

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I somehow managed to find my way back to Reno.  Danny went off to the Navy and I tried to join the Army.  I was still 17, so when they found out that I wasn't draft age they sent me home.  In those days, being a Japanese-American, we could not enlist in any service, yet we were subject to the draft.  I had to wait until I was 18.  World War II was still going on when they drafted me around July of 1945.  I was inducted into the military at Fort Douglas, Utah, and then went to Camp Fannin in Texas for my basic training.

When our basic training was almost over they announced that the war in Europe was over, but the war in the Pacific wasn't.  They still needed Japanese interpreters, so I was singled out to go to a Japanese language school in Minneapolis to learn Japanese.  I knew very little of the language and didn't want to go because I knew that I would probably be the dumbest one in the class.  Not having finished high school was another reason I didn't want to go.  My tests showed that I should be able to do it, but I still didn't want to go.   

The only way that I could keep from going to language school was to take a short discharge for the convenience of the government and then re-enlist for a year and a half or two years for a station of my choice.  I chose to go to Germany.

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Boxing Champ in Germany

I got to Berlin, Germany in January of 1946.  My aptitude test showed that I could learn electronics, so I was put in the Signal Corps.  I started boxing and won some titles there.  I got transferred out of the Signal Corps and put in Special Services where my sole activity was boxing.  I won the Berlin lightweight championship in Munich, but lost in the finals of the ETO championships.

I liked Germany and wanted to stay there, so I applied for overseas discharge.  In those days, in order to do that I had to have a job.  I applied to the Army Exchange Service and was accepted for a job to operate a dry cleaning and shoe repair pickup point.  I was 20 years old.  I sent in my application for the discharge and thought it would come through before I got orders to ship home, but it didn't work out that way.  I got shipped home.  I found out later that my 1st Sergeant had received my approved orders, but held them back because he thought the best thing for me was to be sent home.  I came home, but I could not return to Berlin because the Berlin Airlift had started. 

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Influenced by a Newsreel

I was discharged sometime in 1947, and then I started working at a fish market in Reno for my brother-in-law, who owned it.  I worked for him for a year.  After that I became a professional boxer in California.  It was kind of tough boxing in California because there was still a lot of discrimination.  They called me anything but a Japanese.  I was called a Korean, a Hawaiian, anything but an American-Japanese.

I hurt my hand in late 1949.  I thought that I needed to strengthen my hand, so I went to Colorado to work in an underground lead mine.  I thought it would help to strengthen my upper body, my hands and my arms.  I went through the physical and everything.  There were a lot of people in the line with me who couldn't even speak English.  When I finished my physical and they asked me what nationality I was, I told them I was a Japanese-American.  They wouldn't hire me because of my nationality, even though I showed them that I had an honorable discharge from the military.  That still didn't make a difference.  I was really disappointed, so I left there.

While I was at the Denver train station, I thought that I would go to Texas and work in the oil fields.  While I was at the train station I had time to kill, so I went to a movie.  At that time movie theatres had newsreels.  The one I saw that day showed the 1st Marine Division getting kicked out of Chorwon in the Iron Triangle. The news also showed soldiers marching with truckloads of dead loaded like cord wood on two and a half-ton trucks coming back from the front line.  That excited me because both of my brothers had seen combat and I had always wanted to see it too.  I thought about re-joining the military.

Back at the train station I saw a sergeant and started talking to him.  He was well-decorated, and, of course, I was impressed by his decorations.  He turned out to be a recruiting sergeant.  I asked him, "If I re-enlisted in the military would they send me to Korea?"  He said, "You bet."  He gave me two tickets--one for a hotel for that night and the other was for breakfast at the Blue Goose Cafe.  He told me to get a good night's sleep and to come to his office right across the street when I was finished with breakfast.  The next day I re-enlisted in the Army.  That was around November or December of 1950.  The recruiter promised me that I would go to Korea, and because I had had previous infantry training I was a perfect candidate. 

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Blizzard Conditions

They sent me to Fort Riley, Kansas, where I took what they called a two-day refresher course.  The first day I took an M1 rifle apart and put it back together.  The next day we crawled under the infiltration course with live fire over us.  That was the extent of my refresher course.  They issued clothes to me, gave me shots, and then gave me a delay en route.  I also got advance travel pay to the point of embarkation in Seattle, Washington.

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Mountain Trek

After that I went home to see my folks.  Unfortunately, I lost all my money in a crap game at Fort Riley.  I lost everything.  I had to hitchhike across the plains of Kansas in the wintertime.  I had my gray coat on and carried a huge duffel bag.  The wind and the snow were blowing.  I tell you, it was some experience. Anyway, I made it back to Reno.  I didn't tell anybody that I was back in the service or that I was going on to Korea because I didn't want them to worry about me.  I stayed there just a couple of days and then kept hitchhiking on to Washington state. 

One time some Indians picked me up.  I guess they might have thought I was an Indian since it was late at night.  I rode with them up through the mountains in almost blizzard conditions until they reached an Indian reservation and said, "Well, Soldier.  We turn off here."  I didn't know where I was, but they told me to just keep going straight.  I walked through the blizzard for about a mile carrying my duffel bag until I finally got to a little truck stop.  I waited there until a trucker picked me up and took me on in to Seattle.  Then I shipped out to Japan.

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Jail Time

I left Seattle on the ship Patrick Henry.  It docked in Sasebo.  I had a brother who was still in the service and stationed in Yokohama.  I knew his address and called him when I got there.  I didn't get to see him because I was processed for shipment to Korea.

The first thing they told us in Sasebo was that we were not going to get any passes because Sasebo was a dangerous town to go into.  They told us that they didn't want any of their people getting hurt, and besides, we didn't have time since we were leaving Japan within a couple of days.  Another friend and I couldn't care less what they said.  We decided that we were going to go into town that night. We didn't have any money, so we took our blankets and sheets, snuck under the barbed wire fence, and went down into the village.  We got to a little bar and sold our blankets and sheets to the mamasan that ran the bar.

No sooner than we had sat down and ordered a couple of beers, we heard a vehicle come to a screech out in front.  The mamasan said, "MP.  MP.  Quick, Quick", and showed us out the back door.  It was pitch black.  She pointed up the alley, so we started running.  Some guy at the end of the alley said, "This way.  This way."  We ran that direction and there was a paddy wagon waiting for us.  They must have done that a hundred times because it had to have been staged.  We ran right into the paddy wagon with the MP laughing.  They took us to a Japanese jail--the only time in my life I have ever been in a jail.  It was constructed of huge pieces of  bamboo.  The urinal was just a piece of split bamboo with water running through it, and it smelled terrible.  Boy, we didn't know what we had gotten ourselves into, what was going to happen to us, or what our punishment would be.  The next day the MPs came in, picked us up, and took us back to the compound without saying a thing.  Soon we were shipped out to Korea.

I had been on a big ship before when I went to Germany.  I didn't really get sick, or at least it wasn't too bad.  I was looking forward to the big adventure up ahead for me.  I had always dreamed about being a combat soldier, and now I was going to get my chance.

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Arriving in Korea

We landed at Pusan in the early part of January 1951.  We were put on a Korean passenger train ran by Americans.  We were unarmed on the train, not receiving our arms until we joined our company.  We must have stayed on it for four or five days.  It would go a little ways, stop, go again, then stop again.  I'm not sure when I got the orders, but I already knew that I had been assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, 38th Infantry Regiment when I left Sasebo. The 2nd Division had  been beat up real bad at Koto-ri during the Chosin Reservoir campaign, so they needed replacements more than any other division or regiment.  About six or seven of us on the train had been assigned to George Company, which was a weapons company.

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Playing with the Dead

We got to the company late in the afternoon about four or five o'clock.  It was in reserve at Mokkye-dong at that time trying to rebuild its strength and training.  It was cold and the snow was frozen.  We had warm, woolen clothes and the right gear, but Korea was colder than when I was on that mountain trek back in Washington State.  Korea was really, really cold, as well as having snow and wind.

After picking up an M1, I reported over to the weapons company where the sergeant and some of his buddies were playing with a dead Chinese soldier.  He was frozen stiff and they had a rope around his neck.  They stood him up in an upright position and then somebody got in front of him and made a command like, "Drop dead."  They kicked his feet, the guy fell over, and then they laughed.  I can still remember the first detail that I was put on. After they had had their fun with the Chinese guy I was told, "Private, bury this guy."  When I asked where, they just pointed out to a field.  I dragged him out towards the field and the ground was frozen.  There was no way that I could dig a grave, so I just dug a shallow trough-like thing in the snow.  I put him in there and threw a bunch of snow and stuff on him to cover him up.  That was it. 

It got me wondering what I had gotten myself into.  I thought, "Wow!  This is something else."  It was the first time that I had seen a dead guy like that, let alone people playing with him and then having to go bury him.  After I got to know some of the people in the company I understood things a little more.  There was bitterness over the defeat they took at Koto-ri, and many of their friends had been killed.  I don't think they really knew what they were fighting for.  They were just fighting for survival.  The basic thing was to see if they could last long enough to go home.  In those days the chances of that weren't really good.

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Mortar Man

Weapons Company had 60mm mortars.  There were approximately 200 men in a combat company, and our weapons platoon had about 30 men.  I learned how to aim and fire the 60mm mortar in support of the platoons in the company.  The hardest part was carrying the mortar and the ammunition. The 60mm was a very effective weapon if used properly.  It fired an explosive shell and was used at pretty close quarters.  We could fire it within 15 to 20 yards of our front line troops.  In the months to come I was switched around all over the company.  I had many, many jobs.

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Into Combat

When I arrived at George Company it was in a kind of valley, but we didn't stay there long.  We started moving out, going on to Wonju.  The United Nations forces started taking the offensive and we moved our way up the peninsula.  I went through Operation Killer, Operation Ripper, and the May Massacre.  They all took place below the 38th Parallel.

In Operation Killer we started our offensive and just tried to overrun everything and kill as many of the enemy as we could.  Operation Ripper was basically the same thing with a different code name.  We were advancing quite rapidly, pushing the enemy back.  We hit a lot of obstacles along the way. 

Between the time of my first assignment to bury that dead Chinese soldier to the time of the May Massacre, I had to do some shooting.  It didn't really bother me to know that I had shot someone.  I didn't see the man fall and die, so I didn't know if he was wounded or killed or if I had even hit anybody.  The first time I shot at somebody was when it was dusk.  I could see figures moving, so I shot at them.  I knew that if they didn't shoot back I had probably hit them.

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May Massacre

In May of 1951 the Chinese started a great counter offensive.  They threw eight Chinese divisions against the 2nd Division, telling us that they were going to wipe us out.  That was known as the May Massacre.  We probably lost half of the division at that time.  I survived it, but a lot of my friends were killed and some were captured.

Our troops were on the ridge line, and if the enemy got up to our position a lot of chaos started.  That is what happened when they overran us during what was known as the May Massacre (May 16-18).  The Chinese started coming over the ridge line and firing down on us.  We had wire, hand grenades, and mines out there between us and the Chinese, and we had the artillery to fire, but the sheer number of Chinese soldiers stacked up is hard to believe.  Those people just kept coming.  When they attacked us only the first wave had guns.  The second wave didn't have guns because they knew they could pick up the weapons from the first wave and so on.  It was unbelievable to me that they were trained and disciplined enough to be able to do something like that.  Although some people say they were drugged and it might be possible, I doubt it.  I'm sure that before they made their big charges in May they drank a lot of wine sake, but I doubt it was drugs. 

Some of the Chinese soldiers were trying to haul big 4.2 mortars.  Those mortars had a huge base plate that weighed a couple of hundred pounds.  It took eight or nine people to carry them, and they were carrying those things up the mountains toward us.  We rolled grenades down on them and blew them up, yet somebody else picked up the base plate and they kept coming until they got to the top--which they did.

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Good Soldier Named Tex

One of my very good friends was a guy we called Tex.  He was only 17 years old and one of the youngest guys in the platoon.  He was a sergeant in charge of the 57 recoilless rifles.  When we got hit in May we were being overrun, so we started pulling out in the dark.  I came across Tex lying in the road.  He had been hit by a mortar that blew his right leg and arm off.  He was just lying there and he said, "Chic, give me a cigarette."  So I fished around in his pocket, got a cigarette, and I lit it for him and put it in his mouth.  He took a couple of puffs and died.  The thing was, he didn't have to be up there that night.  He was due for rotation and was supposed to go back to the company that night because the next day he was going to be sent back and shipped home.  He wanted to stay with his troops just one more night, which is why he stayed up there.

I was very upset.  Others around me had died, but Tex was a good friend and a good soldier.  I knew him well.  The fact that he wanted to spend one more night with his troops meant a lot to me.  A good soldier, especially in a case like him because he was a sergeant and so young, had to have good judgment.  He was to be fair with his assignments.  It was his job to pick a squad to go out on patrol.  He had to say, "You, you and you are going on patrol."  Those guys might never come back and everybody knows that.  Or if we're in attack mode he had to tell one guy to be the first man out.  These were decisions that leaders had to make.  He couldn't protect his friends and stuff like that.  He had to be fair and distribute assignments equally amongst everybody.  To me, that's what makes a good soldier.  Somebody who is fair and distributes the danger equally in spite of friendships within the squad.

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Chinese Fighters

We were mostly fighting Chinese.  They were different fighters than Americans.  A lot of people don't realize it, but the Chinese were good soldiers.  Most of them were veterans of World War II.  A Chinese soldier didn't get to go on rotation like American soldiers who just served so much time and then got to go home.  In the Chinese army you were there for the duration.  They did what they were told to do.  They were almost fanatical in what they did.

Another difference in the way they fought was the fact that when an American soldier and an American leader got shot or went down, there was always somebody else to take over.  Somebody would grasp the responsibility and carry on.  Whereas, I would say in a Chinese army, if the leader goes down there was a lot more chaos because the people didn't have the initiative to pick up the responsibility.

They did not attack silently either.  When they started the May Massacre they placed huge loudspeakers on the sides of the mountains and broadcast to us.  They told us they were going to annihilate us and to give up.  They flat told us they were going to wipe us out.  When they charged they shot their flares and blew their bugles.  We knew they were coming, and that was a good thing for us.  War there was a lot different than I thought it would be.  I wasn't prepared for that kind of thing.  The beams of their huge spotlights bounced off a cloud, came down and lit up the valley almost like it was daytime.  When it was cloudy it was lucky on our end because we could see them coming quite well.  I guess I just thought that blowing bugles and shooting flares were a thing of the past.  We didn't have time to be bewildered.  We had to fight.  At that time I was a sergeant, so I had to take care of my people.

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Those of us who survived the massacre kept pushing north until we got up around the DMZ, Chorwon and Kumwha.  The area was called the Iron Triangle.  Around July there was talk of a peace treaty.  In August we were extended out in front of the main line of resistance.  We were sent out there as a blocking position to prevent the Chinese from reinforcing a hill to our left that was being held by the 9th Division. 

On August 27, 1951 we were in that blocking position near a small village called Piari.  We were only supposed to be out there for three days, but as we got into the 5th, 6th, and 7th, I knew that we were in trouble because by then I had had enough experience to know that every night the Chinese forces would probe and try to draw fire to find out where our automatic weapons were.  On the morning of the 9th they attacked in great force and overran us.  I was trying to keep our men from bunching up as we were being pulled off the hill because we were drawing too much machinegun fire. 

I got hit in the leg.  I instantly looked at it, thought, "Wow.  This isn't so bad.  Maybe I'll get to go to Japan to the hospital."  I called for a medic and he ran right by me.  He kept on going.  Then my company commander stopped, but said he had to leave.  I couldn't believe it, but he left.  My platoon medic, Bill Middleton from Texas, stopped and bandaged me.  I told him to get going, but he wanted to stay with me.  Two other guys came by and picked me up.  I was between them with my arms around each of their shoulders.  They were trying to half drag me.  We came to a small creek and had stopped for just a minute when a machinegun burst killed both of the guys who were carrying me.  I didn't know them.  I wish I did, but to this day I don't know who they were.  They fell over into the stream dead.  I don't know why I didn't get hit, but immediately after that I was looking at a Chinese guy with a burp gun pointed at me.  I surrendered to him.  The first thing he did was take my watch, my ring, and my bracelet.

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In the Line of Fire

About 25 of us were captured that day.  The funny part about it was that right after they captured us they rounded us up and moved us back toward our lines along a road that I knew went right into our lines.  I couldn't understand why they were taking us that way.  As we got to a bend in the road there was an American machinegun firing right on that curve.  They kept telling us to go straight.  I thought that they were going to make us commit suicide by walking into our own friendly fire, but as we came around the turn whoever was firing the machinegun must have recognized us as Americans because they quit firing.

When we got around the corner there was a little depression.  The Chinese guard told us to stay there.  At that time I looked up in the sky and saw an L6 artillery spotter airplane.  Being a mortar man, I knew what they were going to do.  He was going to direct artillery fire on us, not knowing that we were Americans--or at least I didn't think he knew.  Sure enough, I heard a round go off and saw two white phosphorus (WP) markers.  Then they fired for effect.  I heard five guns go off.  They came in right on top of our group with their big 155 shells.  The blast almost lifted me off the ground.  When the barrage lifted I think almost half of the guys were wounded with shrapnel of some kind.  Some were severely wounded and some were partially wounded.  There was a guy lying next to me and when I reached around I could fit my whole fist into the hole he had in his chest.  He had died instantly.

There were four wounded men in one group.  There was a young lieutenant with them, and he crawled over to me saying, "Sarge, when they have us move out are you going to move?"  I told him that I was, but he said that he was going to take his chances and pretend he couldn't move along with the other three.  When we moved out I was the last one going over the hill.  I heard a burp gun go off and knew that they were shooting those guys.  I never knew until years later that that lieutenant did survive.  The other three died.  The lieutenant was picked up by a patrol the next day with about nine holes in him, but he lived.

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Interrogated in a Cave

Not the first night, but the next day it was raining.  We were wet and hungry when they herded us together and took us outside of a big cave overlooking a river gorge.  One by one they took us into the cave where there were Chinese officers, some who could speak a little bit of English.  The cave had C-rations and other American supplies.  They looked at me and thought that I might be part of the Japanese defense force.  They were definitely afraid.  The Chinese and Koreans were always afraid that one day the Japanese defense forces would join the United Nations and send forces over there, so they immediately tried to find out whether I was Japanese or not.  When they realized that I couldn't speak enough Japanese, they knew I wasn't Japanese.

They took my wallet and started looking at it and the pictures inside of it.  I had pictures of Caucasian girls.  They looked at me, then looked at the pictures, and then "Yapp, yapp, yapp."  I could just imagine how their conversation was going.  Anyway, one of them threatened to push me over the cliff, but I stood my ground.  That was mainly because of my training in boxing. 

The Chinese had a system on how they treated their prisoners.  It's easy for me to look back and understand it now.  The first interrogator was very mean.  He threatened to kill us, pulled his pistol out and cocked it, put it to our head, and then drew back.  Another guy then came who tried to get our confidence by trying to give us a cigarette or mumble that he had lost his mother or his friend was just killed--that kind of thing.  It was an age-old game.  I realize that now, but at the time it was pretty hard.

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On the March

When we left the cave we started marching north.  We were still being harassed by friendly fire all the time.  They fired artillery into the area where we were for a couple of days before we got out of range of them.  We marched for about eight or ten days.  When we went through the little villages our captors forced the villagers to feed us with whatever they had.  Sometimes it was pretty good.  Sometimes it wasn't much at all.

We walked quite a bit in the daytime and at night they put us in some kind of a mud hut or something.  During the day when we sometimes went through villages, the little kids looked and pointed at me, talking in their language.  I didn't know until years later that they were calling me a half-breed.  They didn't know what kind of a soldier I was.  Sometimes when I was trying to rest or sleep on the side of the road the little kids threw rocks at me or poked me with a stick to see my face.  That's just the way kids were.

At one little village they were having some kind of celebration.  I don't know what it was, but they had caricatures of Uncle Sam and of an ugly American with a big nose and pointed bayonet.  They had a play and all that kind of stuff.  They gave us some cigarettes for the first time, as well as some apples.  Since I was a ranking man, they gave them to me to distribute amongst us.  A couple of days before that they took two sergeants away from our group.  We didn't know where they went or what happened to them.  Now they wanted two prisoners to represent the group.  Of course, since I was a ranking man they immediately said that I would be one of the representatives and a fellow sergeant would be the other one.  They put us in a Jeep and took us away.  I never saw the group again.

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Camp 12

We drove for a while.  I don't know where we went, but we came to a river bank.  I later learned that it wasn't the Yalu.  I can't remember the name of it, but it went through Pyongyang.  Across the river we could see a GI, which was surprising.  There was another guy with him.  We were taken across the river by a boat.  The GI came running over to us.  He was a major named Fleming who had been captured.  He wanted to know how the war was going or if there were any peace talks.  He wasn't concerned about our wounds or anything.  All he was concerned about was the peace talks and what was going on.

The other representative and I were taken to Camp 12, which was the propaganda center located near Pyongyang for the Chinese and Koreans.  It was where the radio broadcasts from Radio Pyongyang originated, and where they published and printed a pamphlet called Towards Truth and Peace.  The pamphlet was distributed to all the prisoner of war camps.  This was completely new to us.  We knew nothing about it.

When we were taken into the camp and met the other prisoners, I was surprised that we seemed to get kind of a cool reception.  I found out later that before we were taken to the camp, which was then operated by Koreans, they had announced that they were bringing in four sergeants who had surrendered in the name of peace.  They were making a big push to get some members of the 2nd Division to say that it was an unjust war and that they wanted peace.  Apparently the other sergeant and I were two of the four.  This particular project of theirs was selective, so when we got into the camp the other prisoners looked at us kind of like they didn't know what to make of us because the Koreans had told them we had surrendered--which wasn't true.

Camp 12 had about three school buildings and a cook shack.  About two or three hundred yards away from there there was another compound and another kind of schoolhouse that housed what they called the Central Peace Committee.  The people in this committee were very progressive.  They were prisoners who were very cooperative with the Koreans and Chinese in publishing the Towards Truth and Peace pamphlet.  They wrote articles for the pamphlet.

There was also a British soldier named Ronald Cox.  He was an excellent cartoonist who made all the cartoons for the pamphlet.  He said that he was a communist even before he was captured.  When the war was over he went back to England.  The people in England couldn't call him a collaborator since he was already a devout communist before he was captured.   A lot of the people at Camp 12 were court-martialed, including Major Fleming and Captain Nugent.

Col. Paul V.S. Liles, a ranking man in Camp 12, was court-martialed, but they didn't make the charges against him stick.  He was a West Point graduate.  It was a tough situation to be a ranking man in a group of captured people because, no matter what he did, there were going to be people within the group who were going to disagree with whatever decisions or cooperation he made with the enemy.  Yet the person in charge had to cooperate to a certain extent with the enemy. As the ranking man in the camp he was getting pressured to have the people in the camp make propaganda broadcasts and write articles.  It was a difficult situation that I wouldn't want to be in. How much food and medical attention that his fellow prisoners got depended on how much he cooperated with the communists.  No matter what he did he was not going to satisfy either group. A lot of former prisoners of war are very bitter about some of those people and have no respect for them, but they don't see the whole picture. 

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I don't recall anybody being punished at Camp 12, but prisoners were put on work detail sometimes.  During the day the prisoners had to work in the fields.  I never went because of the wound on my leg.  I was always left behind with the duty of grinding soybeans.

The communists were pressuring me to make a broadcast.  I was very concerned, so I went to Colonel Liles and asked him what I should do.  He said, "Complain about your leg.  Tell them that you have extreme pain and that you would have to walk from our camp in Pyongyang to make a broadcast and you can't make the trip."  So I complained.  They took me away to a Chinese field hospital.

That was a strange situation.  There was a tent city full of wounded Chinese and Korean prisoners.  I was put on a cot right there amongst them.  Nobody paid much attention to me--I guess because I looked like them, I don't know.  But they didn't bother me.  They tended to my wound, it got a little better, and after two weeks I was returned to the compound.  I learned after coming back to the compound that Clarence Covington, one of the Black sergeants, had gone to Pyongyang and made a broadcast in my name. 

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In December of 1951 our captors made an announcement that we were going to be repatriated.  They had a big party for us--a banquet.  They even gave us some wine, apples and cigarettes and told us to pack our things because the next day we were going to the river at Pyongyang.  A boat would take us across and we would be taken to Panmunjom to be repatriated.  It was hard to believe.  Another group of about 80 prisoners--Air Force pilots or Air Force personnel, was brought in and they were told the same thing.  That night we took all of our stuff and went down to the river.  There were no boats, so they brought us back to the compound and said that the next day trucks would pick us up and take us. 

During the night they found that two people--Sgt. Jack Caraveau and Maj. Hugh Phillip Farler, were too sick to be moved so they were going to have to be left behind.  I volunteered to stay with Sergeant Caraveau because he was the one who had been captured with me.  I figured we were the most recent ones who got captured, so it was only fair that one of us stayed behind.  Lt. Walter Doerty volunteered to stay behind with Major Farler, so there were four of us left behind.  The rest of them jumped on some trucks and they left.  We thought they were being repatriated, but we didn't know for sure. In the next couple of days the airplanes were still flying.  We knew that something was wrong, but we didn't know what happened.  There were days and days where there were no guards.  We could have left, but we didn't have any food, so we stayed there.

Major Farler died of malnutrition and dysentery.  We buried him in a peanut patch near the camp.  One night we were lying on the floor and Major Farler was right next to me.  There is an old saying about a death rattle.  I heard it and I knew that he was dying.  His breathing just kind of rattled.  When he quit I knew that he was dead.  I didn't want to know that he was dead and I didn't want to be the first one to wake up to say that he was dead.  I knew the guy on the other side was probably thinking the same thing.  He had been eating the same things I had been eating, but Farler gave up.  At times he wouldn't eat.  I think if he had just had a little food--a couple of potatoes or something--it would have saved his life.  But there wasn't anything to give him.  I couldn't get anything from the Koreans. Major Farler was the only prisoner that I know of that died at Camp 12.   He had an English wife.  [KWE Note:  Doreen W. Farrar Farler was Hugh's wife.  Their daughter, Diana Doreen, was born in 1949 prior to Major Farler being taken prisoner of war.]

A lot of people died because they wouldn't eat.  It's hard to understand that a person would die before they would eat what was given to them.  I got into a big argument with a POW from Germany who wouldn't eat.  He said, "No way."  Other former prisoners of war from the Korean War will tell you that many of the people who died had what we called "giveupitis".  They just gave up.  A lot of them traded their food for tobacco. 

During the Korean War we prisoners just had to accept death and the things that happened to us. We became hardened to that kind of thing because we didn't want to become too attached to anybody.  I learned later that my children felt that I was a hard person.  In a way I guess I thought that something might happen to them, but the effect was I didn't want to become too attached.  That happened especially in combat where your best friends could be killed.  We became hesitant to make close relationships and get too attached to someone.  I think this carried over to a lot of the POWs in their post-war civilian life.  They came back to their families and they got married, but there was a lack of affection because they were afraid to get too emotionally involved in case something might happen to those people.  My own kids have told me that and looking back, I can understand it.

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Camp 5 Troublemaker

After Christmas 1951 we were taken from Pyongyang by a truck that took us north.  We ended up in Camp 5 on the Yalu River on New Year's Eve.  Camp 5 was altogether different than Camp 12.  It was huge.  There were 3,000-4,000 people there, so we had a lot more people to talk to.  I didn't stay there because I got in a lot of trouble in Camp 5.  Before I got to Camp 5 there were constant troublemakers who tried to oppose the Chinese view.  I was in constant trouble with the Chinese, too, but it was not trouble that involved other POWs.  It was usually something on my own.

I used to push the Chinese as far as I could.  One time I pretended that I had a dog.  Another time I wouldn't go to sleep and was out in the yard.  They came by for bed check and the guard told me to go to sleep, but I wouldn't.  He came back a second time and said, "Chikami, Chikami, sleepo."  I just shook my head.  Then they brought a Chinese who could speak a little English.  He said, "Chikami, why don't you go to sleep?  You know the rule.  You're supposed to be asleep."  I said, "No.  I lost my dog."  He told me that I didn't have a dog and I said, "I know.  He's gone.  I lost him."  Again he told me that I never had a dog, but I told him, "I have a dog, but he's gone."  He got mad and took me up to the Chinese headquarters. 

They got the head Chinese instructor to come down.  He was mad because they woke him up.  He started telling me the same thing the guard had told me.  He said that I didn't have a dog.  I told him what I had told the guard.  "I had a dog, but I lost him."  The instructor asked me where I got the dog and I told him that the Turks gave him to me.  He said the Turks didn't have a dog and I replied that was because the Turks gave him to me.  We just went around and around.  The instructor prided himself on knowing English slang so he finally said, "Alright, Chikami.  Let's call a spade a spade."  I jumped up and said, "Oh, you want to play cards."  He just got so mad he started yabbering in Chinese.  Three Chinese guards came and hauled me out and up a hill to solitary confinement.

There were a few hundred Turks at Camp 5.  I liked them and really looked up to them because they maintained their rank in the prison camp just like they did when they were fighting.  The Chinese gave the Turks a pig once, but they didn't want it--they wanted a goat.  The Chinese actually did bring them a live goat.  One time I went to visit the Turks to see if I could try to learn their language.  The Chinese didn't like for us to mingle with the prisoners from other nations so they threw me into an abandoned well.  I didn't know how long they were going to keep me there, but they finally pulled me up with a rope after I had been there for most of the day and part of the night.  There was about a foot of water in the well and the water had leeches in it.  They were stuck all over my legs.  After that I behaved myself (for a while). 

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Finger Poking & Pee

About two or three o'clock in the morning it wasn't so funny.  I only had a summer shirt on and no blanket or anything.  It got cold.  The next day they came and brought some clothes and a blanket to me.  I took the blanket and made a hammock out of it from the beams.  Every time I saw the guard I jumped into my hammock and pretended that I was enjoying myself just laying there.  He would get mad and tell me to take it down, but I just ignored him.  Finally the Chinese sergeant-of-the-guard took my hammock. They thought I was a little bit crazy anyway because when I was exercising in the yard I used to shadowbox.  They had never seen anything like that and they thought I must be crazy since I was punching in the air and snorting around. 

Solitary was in a mud shack on top of a hill.  It overlooked the Yalu and there was a nice view of the river and the whole camp.  While I was in there I had nothing else to do but look around the room.  There was a little hole in the wall close to the bottom of the floor. I poked at it and looked into it.  I could see the boats on the Yalu River.  All of a sudden I saw another eye looking at me while I was looking at him.  He poked his finger in the hole and then I poked my finger in there.  We played a little game of finger poking for a while.  I tried to grab his finger, but I couldn't.  I looked through the hole again, but I couldn't figure out what he was doing.  I could see his pant leg, and then he urinated on the hole and it came through the hole and right into my eye!  It stung and there wasn't any water to wash it.  I had to live with that for the rest of the day.  It was terrible.  He had the last laugh on me.

Solitaire wasn't bad.  In fact, it was kind of comical.  The guys down in the camp circulated a petition to get me out of there so I could come down and play basketball with them.  We had a group of people that we called the UN Squad.  Japanese, Koreans, Puerto Rican, etc. played basketball.  The Chinese denied the petition, and I was kept up there for two weeks. 

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Lightning Strike

Several prisoners died at Camp 5, but I missed the bad part.  That was in the winter of 1950 and through 1951.  A couple of Turks died and a Black guy got hit by lightning and died.  The funny thing is, there was another fellow by the building when the lightning hit.  He was young--about 20 years old.  His hair turned white because of the lightning, so we called him the white-haired kid.  He used to come to the ex-POW reunions.  Both he and the Black guy were just sitting right outside of the hut when the lightning struck.

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Fly-Free Nation

While we were at Camp 5, a campaign began in China to make it the most fly-free country in Asia.  Our captors told us that we could join them in the campaign.  They gave us flyswatters and told us that for every 200 flies we caught we would get a cigarette.  One guy made a fly trap out of sock yarn, and because of his success we all started making yarn traps.  We kept the Chinese nurses so busy counting our flies that the Chinese changed tactics and started weighing our catches instead of counting them.  Then they changed the rules again and only weighed the flies after they had dehydrated so they would weigh less.  One of our fellow prisoners shaved the aluminum foil off of old toothpaste tubes and became Camp 5's 'heavy-weight fly champion' by pushing slivers of the foil into the abdomen of the flies to make them weigh more.

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Stomach Worms

We got rations, but basically we ate a lot of turnips and soybeans.  We didn't get a lot of it, but we did get some bread.  They made a dough, steamed it, and it came out like a steamed bun.  It wasn't too bad.  We very seldom got meat.  We might get a little portion of pork or something, but when it was distributed over hundreds of people we just got a little bitty piece.  It was just enough to flavor the soup or whatever.  The soup had cabbage and turnips and stuff in there.  I can't recall ever getting any treats.  I don't remember ever getting anything like a banana or something like that, but we did get an apple.

Some of the food we ate caused internal health problems.  Lack of a certain vitamin caused night blindness and those who had it couldn't see at night.  We also got beri beri.  It caused us to be bloated and if we pushed our finger on our skin the imprint would stay there for a long time. 

A lot of people had worms.  Skoshie Edwards did.  I just happened to be out by the latrine when he was going and then he started yelling that he had a worm.  I could see it.  Another fella named Gary used to exercise.  He was walking around the exercise yard and started coughing.  He coughed up three worms.  They were stomach worms that during their life cycle went through the lungs and then came up through the mouth.  Back in Camp 5, it was the talk of the camp when a Turk gave birth to one of the biggest tape worms that anybody ever thought of.  In fact, it was supposedly so long that the Chinese took it, put it in alcohol, and kept it as an exhibit.  It was several feet long.  A stomach worm was more like an angle worm.  A tape worm was a long, thin, white worm.

There was definitely a time frame when things were really bad at Camp 5 and then got better.  Change of food caused things to be better.  Too many people were dying and they couldn't let everybody die.  If there were records being taken somebody was going to pay for it in the long run.  Early in 1950-51, they did not have a lot of food.  Things were much better by the time I got captured.

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Chicken Liver

One of my best friends was Tadashi Keneko.  He nearly died in Camp 5 during the winter of 1950-51.  That was before I got there.  He was so sick.  He became so bloated that they performed what they called a chicken liver operation on him.  Quite a few prisoners of war had that operation.  The prisoner's side was cut open and then a piece of chicken liver was inserted and the skin was sewn up.  This was supposed to do something to make Keneko well.  It didn't cure him, but it didn't kill him.  Only a few prisoners who had the operation lived.

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Camp 4 Capers

We moved from Camp 5 to Camp 4 in the Fall of 1952, and things were getting a little better. I had met Archie "Skoshie" Edwards from Arcola, Illinois at Camp 5.   I got to know Archie pretty well and we became really good friends.  He is still a very dear friend.  Archie was the best thief in the company.  He could steal anything, including stuff from the Chinese. At Camp 4 we had a little recreation.  We played a lot of poker and I used to get all of Archie's money most of the time.

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Disappearing Fish

I can recall that Archie went on a work detail and he stole some fish from the warehouse.  He sold them to me.  I forget what I paid for them--probably about $20 a piece for three fish.  I decided to warm those fish up in an old mess kit that I had.  At that time we had a stove in our hut, so I put the fish in the mess kit and put it on the stove.  After a little while a Chinese instructor that we called Chi Chi came into our hut.  He was always after me to try to get me in trouble.  When he walked in the door he saw me standing by the stove with the mess kit.  He was just grinning because he knew he had me.  He wanted me to open the mess kit, but I said that I didn't have anything in it.  He insisted that I open it up, so I finally said okay.  When I opened it there was nothing in there.  The fish were gone.  To this day I don't know who stole those fish, but I'm thankful someone did.  That reinforced the Chinese idea that I was really crazy.  I swear to God that Skoshie took them, but to this day he won't admit to me that he stole them back.

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Brass-Buttoned Cap

I could sew a little bit, so I made a little cap out of GI material.  It looked very similar to a Japanese solder's cap.  Somebody got some brass buttons for me and I put them on my cap.  When we got to formation in the morning I was standing there with that cap on my head.  Sure enough, Chi Chi came by, looked at me, and snatched the cap off my head.  I snatched it back and put it back on my head.  He snatched it back and marched me up to headquarters, telling me that I was a bad POW and that I had to change my ways.  I don't know what made me do it, but I told the chief instructor that I was a bad prisoner and that I would change my ways.  They wanted me to make a self-criticism.  In China, if you make a good self-criticism and depending on your sincerity, you can be absolved of any crime.

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Hot Water

Self-criticism was when you criticize yourself for doing wrong, you understand how wrong it is, you won't do it again, and you'll try to do something better.  We were supposed to do this in front of everybody else, which I didn't want to do.  They didn't make me get out in front of everybody and criticize myself, but I did criticize myself to them.  They said, "Alright.  Now to show your sincerity what do you consider you could do to help your fellow man?"  On the spur of the moment I said I would make hot water.  When they asked me what I meant I told them that if they would give me a big pot I would make hot water so the people could have hot water to shave or wash.  They thought it over and thought that might be a pretty good idea.  Lo and behold, they gave me a huge cooking pot and told me that I could make a place out in the yard.  I dug a depression, got some stones, and I placed the pot on top of them.  They told me where I could get the wood to burn.  The water would have to come from the river, which was outside of the camp a couple hundred yards away.  This allowed me to go out of the camp to get water from the river for the pot and to get wood to burn.

It was a pretty good deal when I started making hot water for everybody.  Every day I got up about 4 o'clock in the morning, but after a while it got old for me to carry water and get the wood.  At night the people wanted hot coals to keep their feet warm, so I said to them, "Okay.  I'll give you some coals, but tomorrow you have to carry some wood or water."  Pretty soon I got all those guys carrying water and wood while I just sat there and supervised the whole thing.

I was able to keep clean at Camps 5 and 4.  I never got lice.  We had some people who really kept clean.  Several of them come to mind.  They washed their clothes whenever they could.  They even tried to press them by folding them, laying them on where they slept, and then sleeping on top of them.  It was like a press on their clothes.  I had great respect for those who really tried to keep themselves clean.

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Bundles of Marijuana

We had work detail that usually consisted of going after wood to burn.  Marijuana used to grow all over North Korea along the stream beds and banks.  When we went on wood duty and walked along irrigation ditches we found it there, too.  One of my friends used to collect bundles of it.  He stuffed it in his clothes and when he came back he looked like a clown because his clothes were so full of marijuana.  He then dried it out and smoked it.

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Mail Call

My folks found out that I was alive in December of 1952.  I think the Chinese made a broadcast or they released a list of prisoners.  That's when we started getting mail.  We could mail a letter out if we used an appropriate address like "care of the Chinese people's volunteers for world peace".  We had to say the appropriate things in the letter; we never said anything derogatory about the Chinese. 

I think the Chinese used the mail to their advantage.  Some people got a lot of mail and other people got very little or none.  We didn't get packages from home.  A couple of weeks before we were released they gave us a Red Cross package, but that was the only time. 

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Exercise and Sports

There was a walking track that we used for exercise.  We were also able to play softball, football and soccer.  We had a ball and bat and a regular soccer ball and football.  We even had boxing gloves and I used to fool around with boxing.

Towards the end of our captivity at Camp 4 we had competition between companies.  2nd Company won the softball championship.  The Chinese gave us material and one of the guys made a red banner that said, "Camp 4 Softball Champions."  The names of the members of the team were written on it.  Paul Myers, our pitcher, had the banner.  When I visited him a couple of years ago he gave it to me.  I told him that I would try to get it to a safe place like a museum or something.  I took it to Andersonville and they said they would display it.  Hopefully they still have it.

The Chinese also had what they called the POW Olympics.  It was a huge propaganda effort.  There was competition between all the prisoners of war camps and the various sports.  There was pole vaulting, the 100 meter dash, 1000 meter walking competition, volleyball, softball, boxing, and basketball.  If we were good enough we could choose which category we wanted to be in.  I probably could have entered the boxing competition, but I didn't want to because I had gone pro before and didn't think it was right.  Besides, I would really have been helping out their propaganda.   Many did participate.  A lot of people were very enthusiastic about it and they trained for it.  In Camp 4 we had competitions between companies to see which basketball players would be selected to represent Camp 4 in what they called an inner camp Olympics. 

The big POW Olympics was a one-time shot in 1953.  Prisoners were transported to Camp 5 where they were housed, fed, trained, and intermingled with prisoners from other camps.  The advantage of this was prisoners wanted to see the other people regardless of the fact that it was a big propaganda operation.  A lot of officers went; they were well represented.

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Not an Easy Life

The Chinese published a pretty thick pamphlet called POW Life that told about the event.  It was purely propaganda.  They sent it to every POW's family.  It had pictures of how great we lived and how the winners of the competition got various medals and awards.  There were foreign reporters and photographers there. The life of a Korean War prisoner of war was not an easy one, in spite of what the pamphlet said.  There was lack of food and much hardship in the POW camps in the beginning of the war. 

The purpose of the Olympics was to show the humane treatment that the Chinese gave to the American prisoners of war.  Yes, it was humane treatment, but it did not erase how they had treated prisoners in the first years.  The Chinese were trying at the last minute to make the world believe that we had been treated well or give the impression that we had had that kind of life all along--which was nowhere near being true.  It was only near the end that they had the Olympics to show comradeship and fellowship.

A friend of mine by the name of Katsuki Tanigawa wrote a very small but wonderful book entitled Survival.  He was a Japanese-American World War II veteran and one of the most respected NCOs in the Britain camp in Korea.  Katsuki [1917-2009] lived in Hawaii.  He printed up a couple hundred copies of his book and gave it out to his friends, but it wasn't formally published.  You will never find a better book that will allow you to understand the philosophy of the Chinese.  He was very well aware that they were making a great effort to change our minds about how we were treated.  In a lot of ways that's easy to do.  People can forget real quickly. I have a lot of empathy for the people who were captured in 1950 and 1951.  I know their stories by heart and I'm thankful that I wasn't captured at that time and didn't have to go through what they did.  It was a terrible time.  I didn't suffer like those people did, and for that I am very thankful and very fortunate. 

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Crossing the Bridge

For me, the hardest part about being a prisoner of war was not knowing when I would get out.  I was never sure and, in fact, didn't find out until the last day that they were going to release us.  They had always preached to us that they were keeping records and that we would be released according to the way we behaved.  Every day they waited until midnight to call out the names of the people who would be released the next day, and every night my name wasn't called.

There were only a few of us left on the 5th of September 1953 when I was released and I think there were a few stragglers that were released on the 6th.  By that time we had been taken from Camp 4 to a place called Freedom Village where we waited for our release.  We got a Red Cross package with a toothbrush or mirror or something.  I can't really recall since I didn't save things like that.

The day I was released five of us were put into ambulances and were driven to the Freedom Bridge.  We got out and walked across the bridge.  The fact that I was free didn't hit me for quite a while.  There was usually somebody waiting for us from our unit at the end of the bridge.  In my case it just happened to be a General.  He greeted us and welcomed us back.  We were then asked what religion we were because there were chaplains there.  They gave me a protestant chaplain because I said it didn't make any difference since I was not a religious person.  The chaplain took me into his tent and welcomed me back.  He asked me if I would like to say a prayer of thanks.  I told him no.  He looked at me and asked me why I didn't want to thank God for being released.  I told him, "If you're trying to tell me that he's responsible for getting me out, then he must have been responsible for getting me in."  He asked if he could say a prayer for me and I told him to go ahead--which he did.  

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Processing Out

We went through a processing line where they checked our name and our critical stuff.  They asked if we had any money or anything that we wanted to turn over.  I had $5,000 in script money that I had won playing poker, but I didn't know whether it would be any good or not.  I had most of the money in a can.  They gave me $5K of script right back.  That was much more than all my back pay for the time I was in prison camp, so I couldn't believe it.  We were then given showers and clean clothes, and then we were fed.  We could eat whatever we wanted--steak, ice cream, etc.  I ate a lot of ice cream. 

We were interviewed by some Red Cross people.  They wanted certain information.  I told them that I wanted to go to Japan instead of going straight home.  The Red Cross worker said that I couldn't go to Japan unless I had relatives there.  When I told her that I had a lot of relatives there, she asked me who they were.  I said, "Well, look at me.  There's thousands of them just like me."  She got mad and blew her stack.  She said that I couldn't go to Japan unless I gave her the name and address of a relative there.  She said that they couldn't permit me to go to Japan and that I was going to go home on a boat.  I've been a rebel all my life and I wasn't going home on any boat.  We were allowed to make one phone call to the United States.  I called my sister and she told me that my brother was in Tokyo and gave his address to me.  I took it back to the same Red Cross gal and told her that she could check it out.  She checked that my brother was in Tokyo, so they had to let me go to Tokyo. 

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Never Did.  Never Will.

I wasn't anxious to come back to the States right away because I never felt good about being a prisoner of war.  Never did.  Never will.  I don't like the idea that I was captured.  It's a stigma that's hard to accept.  I don't know if it would have been better to die or to live with it.  The Japanese tradition is you die before you get out, so I don't know.

A lot of the former prisoners of war think they're heroes, but they're not. How can you be heroes for being prisoners?  It doesn't make sense to me.  I got a Purple Heart medal, but I never got anything for bravery for anything that I did.  I have a good friend who got the Medal of Honor.  Hiroshi H. Miyamura is the only Japanese-American who got the Medal of Honor.  He got it for killing a hundred of the enemy.  Now, would I want a Medal of Honor for killing a hundred people?  I don't think so.  I wouldn't mind getting a medal for helping somebody, but not for killing 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 people.  That's usually what those medals are given for--for killing a certain number of enemy.  Those two men who carried me, yes, they're someone to give a medal to.  Even today they still try to make heroes out of the POWs of the Forgotten War, but where do they get the idea that we are heroes?  To me it's just wrong.  It's a misnomer.  We're survivors, that's all.  We're not heroes, but a lot of people believe the propaganda.  It's not true.

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Back in the States

I stayed in Japan for ten days and then I came back to the States.  My mother had died a long time ago when I was small, but I visited my dad.  He was happy to see me and everything, but I only stayed home about 15 days in Reno.  The same people who had discriminated against me when I was a 16 or 17-year old kid in high school were now the same people welcoming me home saying once again, "Hey, you're a hero.  Welcome home."  The Jaycees and the Lions Club wanted to invite me to appear at their luncheon--hometown boy comes home.  Big deal.  They were the same damn people who would just as soon have run me out of town in 1945. 

I reported back to the military base, reenlisted for three years, and asked for an overseas assignment.  We were not supposed to get an overseas assignment so soon after returning, but I slipped through and was back in Japan within a short time.  My military occupational specialty (MOS) was infantry, so I should have been assigned to an infantry unit somewhere.

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Yuraku Officers' Mess

While I was waiting for assignment at Camp Drake, a captain called me in and asked me if I could speak Japanese.  I told him, "No.  Not really."  He asked me if I could speak a little bit of Japanese and I said, "Nah, nah, nah.  Very little."  He said that he was a member of the officers' club in downtown Tokyo.  He said that he was on the board of governors and that they needed an NCO that could speak Japanese.  "We would sure love to have you if you can speak the language," he said.  I replied, "Well, Sir.  I can learn real fast." 

I was given the plush job of being assistant manager of the Yuraku, a huge officers' mess in downtown Tokyo.  I had a civilian for a boss and I could do just about anything I wanted to do.  I didn't have to report to the company like I would have if I had been assigned to a company or have daily formations and everything.  I was given exemption for being at the formation because the young officer was intrigued by the fact that I was an ex-POW.  I didn't have a high school education, so he said, "Sir, I'll make a deal with you.  If you complete a GED I'll see that you're exempt from formation every morning because I'll know you're at the Yuraku."   It was a great deal--I didn't have to go to formation in the company; I was taking courses to get a GED and further my education; I was given a room at a hotel; I was billeted at the Yuraku; I was paid $60 a month extra for working there; I had a civilian for a boss.  You couldn't beat it.  Back in the States I had purchased a 1954 Chrysler New Yorker with some of the money that I had won in poker games.  I had it shipped over to Japan and I used it for probably two or three years.  I sold it for more than what I paid for it. 

I worked at the Yuraku for three years.  It was probably the most fun time of my life.  I was a single bachelor at the time.  It was a great job.  We had over 150 girls working inside the club.  I'm not talking about the prostitutes on the street right outside the club who were waiting for the young officers.  I'm talking about the dining room and bar waitresses, telephone operators, and whatever.  I was responsible for the morale and welfare of the indigenous personnel who worked in the hotel, which meant I was supposed to keep them happy and make sure that their morale was good.  I got money from some of the companies that supplied the beer, meat, etcetera for the dining hall, and I used that money to have parties and outings for the personnel.

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Reserve Unit Advisor

After working three years at the Yuraku, I re-enlisted in the Army.  I couldn't keep that job because I was sent back to the States where they reverted me back to my infantry MOS.  When I went to Korea I was a private.  I came home a master sergeant.  I didn't have the knowledge that I should have had to be a master sergeant in an infantry unit.  It normally took at least 20 years to become a master sergeant, and there was a lot of experience and knowledge that I should have to be an effective NCO.  For the past three years I had been at the Yuraku as an assistant manager.  Now I was going to have to get into another infantry unit.  I was the perfect candidate since I had been in combat infantry in Korea.

While I was waiting for assignment, I visited a friend in San Francisco who was the advisor to an infantry reserve unit.  He was older than me and had played ball with my brother.  Major Burch worked at the Presidio in San Francisco.  Since I had an infantry MOS and he needed an NCO, he talked to the Colonel and had me assigned as an advisor of Major Burch's infantry reserve unit.

Now I was in an outfit with my friend as my boss.  He immediately sent me to school to learn how to type.  I continued my education to get my GED.  Major Burch wanted me to apply for a commission and said that he would "grease the wheels" to make it happen.  I would get a combat infantryman's badge and a commission as a 2nd lieutenant.  I thought about it and I was tempted, but decided that being a master sergeant was not a bad position either.  I turned the commission opportunity down, but continued my education.  While I was at the Presidio I got married.  My wife and I had two daughters who were both born at the Presidio.  The cost of each birth was $6.50.

If I stayed in the infantry I knew that I would run into a lot of obstacles, so while at the Presidio I applied for microwave school in New Jersey.  Going to school would keep me from staying in infantry, and the microwave school was one of the longest electronic courses that the Army gave.  If I went into a new specialty there would be no set rules as to what I would be expected to do.  When I graduated from that communications school, I asked for overseas assignment.  I thought that somehow I could work my way back to Japan.  Instead, I was sent to the 1st Cavalry Division in Korea on the DMZ.  I didn't want to be there.

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Communications Outfit

Because I had just finished communications (microwave) school, I was sent to a mobile communication unit on the demilitarized zone (DMZ).  That was in 1963.  I knew there was a regulation that prevented former prisoners of war from being reassigned to a combat unit in the field of operations where they were captured.  One of my friends in Headquarters found the regulation for me, so I asked for a transfer out of the mobile unit.  My commander, who was a colonel and West Point graduate, got mad.  He was really upset.  He tried to stop my transfer to special services where I would be the coordinator and purchaser of supplies from Japan to Korea for all the NCO clubs in Korea.  I had that job wired up, but he squashed it and got me put into a communications outfit.  He said, "This soldier has just finished a long communications course and he is going to stay in that MOS."  I left his outfit on the DMZ and was sent to the 3110th Signal Corps in Seoul, Korea.  They were responsible for the communications in Korea.

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3110th Signal Corps

The 3110th was just setting up a microwave site from Seoul to Osan Air Base in Korea.  I had the microwave background, so they put me in charge of an isolated site between Seoul and Osan.  I was on top of a mountain with about 15 men.  Since it was a brand new site, when I went there there was nothing but a Quonset hut and a hut up on the top of the mountain.  We started bringing in radio equipment and stuff and set up a microwave link. This was really an interesting job and I didn't mind it, but we had to start from scratch.  We brought our own generators up.  It was a wonderful experience to build that thing. 

Korea at that time was pretty much the same as it had been when I was with the 2nd Infantry Division in 1951.  There still weren't many improvements.  Returning to Korea did not really bring back memories of being a prisoner of war.  I don't have any traumatic after thoughts about Korea.  I've never suffered from that kind of thing.

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Up for Re-enlistment

When my tour of duty in Korea was up three years later, I came back to the States and took a navigation equipment repair course at Fort Gordon.  From there I was sent to Fort Hood.  My enlistment was coming to an end.  They had a job picked out for me to head the repair of all the communications equipment for the 3rd Armored Division, so I went down for an interview. 

At that time there was a sergeant who was in charge of that communications equipment.  There were two Quonset huts just full of Spec 2 and Spec 5 technicians repairing radio equipment that had come off of tanks and Jeeps.  The equipment was cluttered with mud and dirt and there was a list of tech orders a mile long to repair those things.  I didn't want any part of that job.

Since I was coming up for re-enlistment I told Headquarters that I wanted to go overseas.  They told me, "Sergeant, no way.  We have this job for you here and it's the job you're going to take."  I told them no and said that I could re-enlist for another job.  When they said no they really had me in a hard spot.  They laughed at me when I said I kind of wanted to go into the Air Force.  I drove down to Waco, Texas to talk to the recruiters.  They looked at my records and said that they would take me, but I would lose my time in grade. I had eight years' time in grade in the Army. When they told me that they would take me in grade and send me overseas like I wanted, I took a discharge from the Army and enlisted in the Air Force.

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Air Force Career

The Air Force sent me to Baker Air Force Base in California.  They didn't send me overseas like they had promised.  They tell you a lot of things to get you to join, but then they don't do it and you can't do anything about it.  They sent me to Strategic Air Command with B52 bombers that were always on alert.

I was sent there to an armament and electronics maintenance squadron.  They didn't know what to do with me because I didn't even know what a flight line was.  I had never been on a flight line and had no idea what the Air Force language meant.  They made me a senior NCO in charge of the night maintenance shift.  It was a good job.  I lived close to the American river, so I could go fishing during the day.  At night I just sat in the squadron with younger guys who loved to hear my war stories. 

Everything was going fine.  Every now and then a red light would go off and the guys jumped into their truck and ran out to the flight line to meet a red bomber that was coming in.  They fixed it and the bomber would take off again.  I thought everything was going just great until one day my squadron commander told me that the wing commander wanted to see me.  I thought, "Oh Geez.  What did I do now?"  When I reported to the commander he said, "Sergeant Chikami, are you in charge of the A&E maintenance at night?"  I replied, "Yes Sir."  He said, "You know, ever since you've taken over I've never had a call from you."  I told him that I didn't know I was supposed to call the wing commander except in case of an emergency to let him know what was going on.  He said, "This is the first time in a long time that I've had some good sleep and a good night's rest.  You're doing a great job."  I thought I was going to get it, but instead he complimented me.  In fact, they made me NCO of a six-month period. 

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Missile Maintenance

The Air Force turned out to be a blessing for me. They sent me to Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois for a missile maintenance course.  I always knew where Archie Edwards was, so I went to see him while I was at Chanute.  I became a missile maintenance superintendent and that's what I ended up doing in the Air Force.  When the promotions came around I was the only NCO in the Air Force walking around with a combat infantryman's badge.  I'm  very proud of that.  I got promotion in minimal time to E8 and during that time I went to school and was close to getting a four-year degree when I retired.  I made E9 in minimum time and then retired from Loring Air Force Base around 1969 or 1970.

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Final Reflections

I saw an ad about the Korean War POW reunion in Louisville, Kentucky almost twenty years ago, and I have attended every reunion but one since then.  I reconnected with the guys I knew in Korea.

One of the lessons our government still hasn't learned is that they should let the military run the war instead of the politicians.  They're still doing the same thing.  The politicians are still doing the war and the military is doing what the politicians want them to do.  I think that's wrong.  It's the same thing that happened in Desert Storm.  I don't think we ever should have stopped the war.  We should have kicked Saddam Hussein out and we wouldn't have the problem we've got in there.  We're in a terrible mess in Kosovo and I'll bet you our troops will be there for 30-40-50 years.  It will be that many years before we ever get them out.  We still have troops in Japan.  Why, we still have troops in Germany and that was 40-50 years ago. 

I've told my two daughters a little about my wartime experiences, but they don't ask so I don't know whether they have that much interest in it.  We don't live real close.  They live out in California and I live in Florida.  We just haven't communicated that much about it.

I really believe that the Korean people appreciate the part we played in the Korean War.  They appreciate it more than the American people do.  In the cities where we have our reunions and conventions, the Koreans are very generous supporters of us.  I participated in the Korea revisit program about six or seven years ago and the respect and gratitude they showed to us was overwhelming.  They are a thankful people and they have made strides and changes in South Korea that are unbelievable.  Something good definitely came out of the war, and I attribute a lot of that to the presence of the American soldiers and what we did in Korea.  As I said, the Koreans appreciate us more than the Americans do.  I believe the reason the Americans don't is because of ignorance of the facts.  The Korean people know and understand. 

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Command Report

[KWE Note: The following 2nd Infantry Division Command Report (found on the Korean War Project) lists the strength of communist forces in February of 1951.]

Chinese Forces - February 1951 North Korean Forces - February 1951
42nd Army   V Corps  
Corps Troops 2,500 12th Division 5,000
124th Division 9,000 7th Division 4,000
125th Division 6,500 6th Division 3,500
126th Division 6,000   Total = 12,500
  Total = 24,500    
40th Army   II Corps  
Corps Troops 2,500 31st Division 4,000
118th Division 10,000 9th Division 3,000
119th Division 6,000 2nd Division 4,500
120th Division 4,500 27th Division 2,500
  Total = 23,000   Total = 14,000

39th Army

Corps Troops 2,500    
115th Division 10,000    
116th Division 6,000    
117th Division 8,500    
  Total = 27,000    

66th Army

Corps Troops 2,500    
196th Division 10,000    
197th Division 9,000    
198th Division 8,000    
  Total = 29,500    

37th Army

Corps Troops 2,500    
109th Division 7,000    
111th Division 8,000    
  Total = 17,500    

Combined Total =121,500


Combined Total = 26,500


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Camp 12 Prisoners of War

  • Allen, Clifford
  • Ballen, Clifford
  • Bajo, Emiliano
  • Caraveau, Jackie N.
  • Chikami, Akira B.
  • Christie, Gilbert
  • Coxe, Dwight E.
  • Doerty, Walter L.
  • Farler, Hugh Phillip
  • Fisher, William
  • Fleming, Harry
  • Gambocurta, Henry
  • Ghyers, Robert H.
  • Goor, Robert R. Sr.
  • Gordon, Roy T.
  • Hannen, William R.
  • Jones, Robert Leslie Jr.
  • Kaschko, Harold L.
  • King, Marvin E.
  • Liles, Paul V.S.
  • Mac Ghee, David F.
  • Meadows, Jacob S.
  • Millward, George E.
  • Narvin, John E.
  • Neel, Clifford L.
  • Nehrbass, Richard F.
  • Nugent, Ambrose H.
  • Oldewage, Daniel M.
  • Porter, John P.
  • Prokop, Alois
  • Richie, Preston E.
  • Stephens, Douglas E.
  • Ward, John G.
  • Wilson, Louis

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Hugh Philip Farler's Daughter

Diana Doreen Cothern, 72, of Gibson City, Illinois, formerly of Maryland, passed away peacefully on Thursday (November 4, 2021) at home. Her husband and daughter were with her. Diana was born on August 14, 1949, to the late Hugh P. Farler and Doreen W. (Farrar) Farler, in Biloxi, Mississippi, at Keesler AFB.

Diana is survived by her husband, James E Cothern. Also surviving are her children, Vicki (Brian) Fowler of Florida and Skye (Samira) Castle of Oklahoma; grandchildren, Austin and Chase of Maryland and Kellen, Skye and Skyra of Oklahoma; niece, Kaitlin (Eddie) Sebestik; nephew, Matt (Julie) Fisher of Illinois; brother-in-law, Gary (Randy) Cothern of Wisconsin and sisters-in-law, Joyce Cadwell of Washington and Janet (Tom) Townsend of Illinois.

Diana spent her life as a caretaker of others. In the early years, she ran a home-based day care business. In later years, she took care of her grandmother, stepfather and mother in her home full time until their passing. She was also a volunteer firefighter EMT for several years.

Diana was a free spirit who loved adventure. Notable things she did was a non-tandem sky dive, and she worked on her pilot license and did a solo flight.

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Archie Edwards Obituary

Archie E. Edwards, 80, of Arcola, Illinois, passed away at.8:28 p.m. Saturday, May 12, 2007 at his residence in Arcola, IL. Funeral services will be held at 2:00 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, 2007 at the Edwards Funeral Home at 221 East Main Street in Arcola. Rev. Kent Conover will officiate. Burial with military rites conducted by the 14th Military Police Brigade of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, will be in the Arcola Cemetery. Visitation will be held from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, 2007 at the funeral home.

Archie was born January 25, 1927 in Arcola, a son of Golden and Gertie (Madewell) Edwards. He married Ruth Ann Secrest on March 6, 1954 at the Marshall Avenue Christian Church in Mattoon, Illinois. Survivors include his wife, Ruth Ann Edwards of Arcola; one son, Steve Edwards and his wife, Debbie, of Arcola; two daughters, Beverly Edwards of Mesquite, Nevada and Tami Kearns and her husband, Kevin, of Arcola; three grandchildren, Michelle Hopkins, Jason Edwards and Megan Kearns; three great-grandchildren, Evan Shultz and Trevor Edwards and Ivie Edwards; four brothers, Hollis Edwards and his wife, Irene, of Kempton, Illinois, Junior Edwards and his wife, June, of Browning, Illinois, Bill Edwards and his wife, Sharon, of Rushville, Illinois, and Tom Edwards and his wife, Peggy, of New Cambria, Missouri; one sister, Ruth Farrell and her husband, Bob, of Dwight, Illinois, one sister-in-law, Gwen Edwards of Pontiac, Illinois and several nieces and nephews. His parents, one infant daughter, Connie Edwards, four brothers, Sam, Robert, John and Landon Edwards and two sisters, Edna Fox and Shirley May preceded him in death.

Archie was a member of the Arcola VFW and a contributing member of the Korean War Museum at Rantoul, Illinois. He was the greenskeeper for the Kaskaskia Country Club for twenty-eight years, where he also enjoyed playing golf and was a lifetime member. Archie also enjoyed raccoon hunting. Archie was a veteran of the Korean War. He was a Sergeant First Class Regular Army and a gunner in the artillery section of the 2nd Division. Archie enlisted on November 21, 1945 and was honorably discharged on June 9, 1954. During his time in the service, Archie was a prisoner of war for thirty-three months at Camp #5 on the Yalu River, across the boarder from China/Manchuria. He was a recipient of the Purple Heart and other distinguished medals for his service to his country. Memorials may be made to the donor's choice.



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