By Major Thomas
After loading the sick and wounded Prisoners of War (POW), we had to load more aggressive POWs. This turned out to be pretty traumatic for us. Army personnel had long lines from the pens to the ship, with machine guns about every 50 feet or so. We witnessed some of the prisoners break away from the line and they were shot on the spot. Sadly, the prisoners understood that once they returned home, and it was discovered that they had surrendered, they would be shot by a firing squad.
Some of the POWs were mean and constantly trying to escape while aboard ship. They would start chanting, yelling, and then banging their chow trays against the sides of the ship and cells. They would make noise or scream constantly, disrupting the operation of the ship. Eventually, the army personnel would take action, using fire hoses and other means to quiet the roar. As a last resort, a type of tear gas was used to get control, making the POWs sick to their stomachs. That measure required the rest of us, especially the men in the engine rooms, to wear gas masks. The gas would quiet the POWs for the remainder of the trip, but once we arrived the deck would have to be thoroughly hosed down.
The last few loads of prisoners we transported were “anti-communist.” We felt somewhat sorry for those prisoners because they knew that they would probably be shot by firing squads when they were back in their own country. We would let them have full run of the ship. They especially loved the movies we showed every evening and would request the projector operator to show the movie over and over. During the daytime we trusted a couple of hundred POWs with “chipping” hammers to chip peeling paint off the main deck. It kept them busy, but the noise was unbearable. War is noisy, in more ways than one.
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.