Operation Big Switch

By Major Thomas 

You might not have heard about “Operation Big Switch” during the time of the Korean War.  As a result of negotiations at Pam Mum Jan, an agreement was reached to swap out prisoners; theirs for ours.  The enemy prisoners were all detained on the Island of Koje-Do, if I remember correctly, about two days from Pusan, Korea .

The plan was to build cages on our tank deck to hold the prisoners during the travel from Koje-Do to Pusan, Korea.  There were 10 cages built on the tank deck, to hold 100 prisoners each.  We loaded the sick and wounded prisoners first.  The army supervised the transfer with rows of their personnel from the prisoner “pens” to the beach and our ship.  I never could understand why they would have machine guns on both sides of the path, from the pens to the ship.  Nor could I fathom why they thought the prisoners, especially the sick ones, would run.  I guess they thought they needed the extra security.

We were one of the first LSTs to take a load to Pusan, Korea.  I recall seeing camera crews from news stations in the USA and other countries on the beach, taking pictures of the unloading.

Unfortunately, the “higher ups” forgot to factor in the POWs toiletry needs.  So after two days of travel, the stench was pretty bad.  We had to use heavy pressured fire hoses to wash the entire tank deck area.

(More on this topic in next week’s issue)

Major Thomas, age 84, served three tours in the Korean War from 1952-1956 as an Engineman Second Class in the Navy.  He was raised in Owensville, Missouri where he returned after his enlistment.  He and Marge are retired and enjoy working with stained glass, antique tractors, puzzles, and writing his memoirs.

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