A Cold Days in Hell
American POWs in Korea
Publication Year: 2013
Prisoners suffer in every conflict, but American servicemen captured during the Korean War faced a unique ordeal. Like prisoners in other wars, these men endured harsh conditions and brutal mistreatment at the hands of their captors.
In Korea, however, they faced something new: a deliberate enemy program of indoctrination and coercion designed to manipulate them for propaganda purposes. Most Americans rejected their captors’ promise of a Marxist paradise, yet after the cease fire in 1953, American prisoners came home to face a second wave of attacks. Exploiting popular American fears of communist infiltration, critics portrayed the returning prisoners as weak-willed pawns who had been “brainwashed” into betraying their country.
The truth was far more complicated. Following the North Korean assault on the Republic of Korea in June of 1950, the invaders captured more than a thousand American soldiers and brutally executed hundreds more. American prisoners who survived their initial moments of captivity faced months of neglect, starvation, and brutal treatment as their captors marched them north toward prison camps in the Yalu River Valley.
Counterattacks by United Nations forces soon drove the North Koreans back across the 38th Parallel, but the unexpected intervention of Communist Chinese forces in November of 1950 led to the capture of several thousand more American prisoners. Neither the North Koreans nor their Chinese allies were prepared to house or feed the thousands of prisoners in their custody, and half of the Americans captured that winter perished for lack of food, shelter, and medicine. Subsequent communist efforts to indoctrinate and coerce propaganda statements from their prisoners sowed suspicion and doubt among those who survived.
Relying on memoirs, trial transcripts, debriefings, declassified government reports, published analysis, and media coverage, plus conversations, interviews, and correspondence with several dozen former prisoners, William Clark Latham Jr. seeks to correct misperceptions that still linger, six decades after the prisoners came home. Through careful research and solid historical narrative, Cold Days in Hell provides a detailed account of their captivity and offers valuable insights into an ongoing issue: the conduct of prisoners in the hands of enemy captors and the rules that should govern their treatment.
Published by: Texas A&M University Press
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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List of Maps
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In September I met Ralph Dixon and Bernie Gaeling at the Camp Two Survivors’ POW reunion at West Point, where I was a member of the English Department faculty. I was familiar with the Korean War, but the two men told me harrowing stories of suﬀ ering, endurance, and heroism that I had never heard before. A colleague of mine, Col. Lee Wyatt, was also ...
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Private First Class Ray Mellin was playing pool in Kumamoto, Japan, when he learned about the Korean War. A radio announcer interrupted the Sunday- afternoon broadcast of a New York Yankees baseball game to report that North Korean forces had invaded the Republic of Korea (ROK). Mel-lin, a tall, twenty- two- year- old laboratory technician, had just stepped oﬀ ...
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An old axiom claims that truth is the fi rst casualty in war. This principle seems particularly applicable to American service members captured dur-ing the Korean confl ict. Although their fate played a crucial role in the war’s outcome, historians tend to overlook both their ordeal in captivity and their On the other hand, the prisoners of Korea have repeatedly served as ...
1. The Summer Soldiers
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It would be good for someone among the prisoners to make a statement on the radio that the treatment of prisoners by the Koreans is very good.At hours on the morning of June , , the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) fi red a short, heavy bombardment at key targets south of the th Parallel. At precisely , armored columns crossed the border ...
2. The Tide Turns
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Douglas MacArthur later claimed to have envisioned the Inchon landing while watching the ROK withdrawal from the Han River, ten weeks earlier. His plan required Pentagon support, including a marine division. While the Joint Chiefs of Staﬀ approved the concept of an amphibious assault, they were gravely concerned about risking a landing at Inchon. The port ...
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3. The Death March
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On Saturday, October , the prisoners at Manpo learned they would be moving again. Mindful of MacArthur’s progress after Inchon, the civilian and military captives hoped for the best. After several false starts, the pris-oners fi nally moved through a pouring rain to the village of Kosang Djin, fi fteen miles to the southwest along the Yalu. Although food and shelter were ...
4. The Warning
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During the last week of October and the fi rst week of November , Chi-nese forces attacked and overwhelmed UN forces on both sides of the Ko-rean peninsula, halting their advance and suggesting an important new fac-tor in the war. The th Cavalry Regiment’s fate at the battle of Unsan, where it was surrounded and nearly destroyed by Chinese forces, provided an es-...
5. Home by Christmas
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If you have a son overseas, write to him. If you have a son in the nd Shortly after dusk on November , Capt. Clarence Anderson surrendered what was left of the rd Battalion, th Cavalry Regiment, at Unsan. Well ac-quainted with enemy atrocities committed in earlier battles, Anderson and his fellow prisoners anticipated brutal treatment. They soon discovered that ...
6. The Reservoir
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While Walker’s Eighth Army narrowly escaped destruction along the Chongchon River in late November, the Chinese Ninth Army Group waited patiently in the snow- covered mountains surrounding the Chosin Reservoir. Advancing toward them was Maj. Gen. O. P. Smith’s well- trained and well- equipped st Marine Division, with experienced leaders and a full comple-...
7. The Deadly Winter
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We have no obligation to keep alive those who do not adhere to the side Colonel Han, North Korean People’s Army, November The fi rst week of December marked a dramatic turning point in the war. This was the week that Chinese forces overwhelmed LTG Walton J. Walker’s Eighth Army along the Chongchon River Valley, nearly destroy-...
8. Spring 1951
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American prisoners were not the only ones glad to see spring arrive. The pre-vious year had ended badly for the UN forces. In December, Time magazine had characterized the Eighth Army’s hasty withdrawal below the th Paral-lel as “the worst defeat the United States had ever suﬀ ered,” one that could “mean the loss of Asia to communism.” Although the UN forces had with-...
9. The Pilots’ War
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...neither destroyed our front line transportation capability nor did they weaken it . . . Thus, due to the heroic struggle of the Korean people, the The air war over Korea diﬀ ered radically from the ground campaign, and in many ways, so did the plight of the pilots and other aircrew members cap-tured by the communist forces. Throughout the war, UN aircraft controlled ...
10. Mutual Suspicion
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In June of , prisoner morale at Pyoktong hit rock bottom. The days grew warmer, the snow disappeared, and after seven months of captivity, the fi lthy, malnourished prisoners were fi nally allowed to bathe in the Yalu. The survivors also began receiving clean clothes and more food. For many, however, these improvements came too late. Several hundred Americans had ...
11. The Pawns
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There are two things which a democratic people will always fi nd very By the autumn of , conditions for prisoners in the Yalu camps had im-proved signifi cantly. Chinese mistreatment and manipulation continued, but more food, better hygiene, and limited medical treatment dramatically reduced the death rate among prisoners, and the possibilities of a cease- fi re ...
12. Freedom and Recrimination
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It is ironic that the major legend to have come out of this war should be As early as February , Pentagon oﬃ cials worried about the potential impact of brainwashed American prisoners returning home. The men who were repatriated at Freedom Village were greeted with genuine fanfare and hospitality and were soon transported to Inchon. From there, those who ...
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List of Abbreviations
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Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 26 b&w photos. 6 maps. Fig. Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series