EX-POWs RECALL KOREAN HELL

More than 300 gather here

August 01, 1993|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

Bill Norwood crawled into the corner of the Korean mud hut, tucked his head between his legs and waited for death.

He was surrendering for the second time. The first time came in the early hours of April 26, 1951, when his company was cut off by thousands of Chinese soldiers just north of Seoul. He fought off bands of Chinese infiltrators all night until his ammunition gave out. Then he gave himself up.

After several months as a prisoner, Mr. Norwood was wracked with dysentery and beriberi and weakened by malnutrition. His captors moved him into a large hut reserved for the dying. This time, he was ready to give up without a fight.

But he didn't. And last week, he was one of more than 300 ex-Korean War POWs from around the country who gathered at the Marriott Hunt Valley Inn for their annual reunion, which winds up today. The Association of Ex-POWs of the Korean War, with 2,000 members, has been meeting every year since 1976.

The reunions are planned around the week of July 27 -- the anniversary of the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War. This year, they celebrated the 40th anniversary of the peace that freed them from captivity.

More than 5 million U.S. servicemen fought in the Korean War. More than 33,000 were killed and 103,000 were wounded. More than 7,000 were captured. Of those, fewer than 3,500 came home alive.

At this year's reunion, the survivors visited Arlington National Cemetery, played golf and traveled to Camden Yards for a baseball game.

But mostly they talked, sometimes in quiet one-on-one conversations, sometimes in groups of gray heads huddled in little knots.

They shared the tears, the laughter, the trauma and the horror of their memories. They talked about Death Valley, Camp 5, Boot Hill, the Bridge of No Return and The Big Switch. And they remembered those who never returned.

Saved by the cook

Bill Norwood, a retired warehouse supervisor from Cleveland, Tenn., thought he would be one of those.

"After I had waited for death a couple of days, I heard a voice in this familiar Tennessee twang one morning telling me I was a quitter, that I would be helping the enemy if I died because it would just mean one more mouth they didn't have to feed," Mr. Norwood recalled.

Dave Dawson, a fellow Tennessean he had met on the long march to the POW camp, had learned of Mr. Norwood's move to the death hut. He delivered a tongue lashing and persuaded Mr. Norwood to keep fighting, this time for survival.

Mr. Dawson also was the camp cook. He brought Mr. Norwood charcoal from the cooking fires to eat to control his diarrhea.

Then he brought him small extra helpings of rice. Within a few weeks, Mr. Norwood left the death hut on his feet -- rather than on a makeshift litter carried by the burial detail.

The capture

The Chinese entered the Korean War in full force in November 1950. On the 8th Army front south of the Yalu River in N. Korea, an onslaught by hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops surprised the 2nd Infantry Division.

Bill Zollenhoffer is a retired Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. employee of the first block of North Curley St., Baltimore. He was a medic in Korea with the 82nd Anti-aircraft Battalion, 2nd Division. During the night of Nov. 30, 1950, Chinese troops overran the battery's little convoy on the road south of Kuniri.

The men scattered. Mr. Zollenhoffer and three others dove into a freshly dug Korean burial hole 300 feet from the road.

The attack was so sudden that wounded men still in trucks and ambulances were left behind.

"As I lay in the hole I could hear the Chinese going up and down the convoy vehicles firing their burp guns," Mr. Zollenhoffer said. "I could hear our wounded begging for mercy. I heard them scream as they died. After about a half-hour, the shooting stopped. So did the screaming."

Near dusk on Dec. 1, while he was still trying to make his way south to the new United Nations line, Mr. Zollenhoffer was captured by the Chinese. "They marched a group of us into this long ditch, which came up to our chest," he said. "The Chinese set up two machine guns pointing toward us. I thought about the screams and cries of mercy I had heard the night before."

For 45 minutes the prisoners stood in the ditch and stared at the machine guns. No one said a word. No one moved. Then an English-speaking Chinese officer appeared and ordered them out of the ditch.

"It seems strange now, but when I stood in that ditch thinking for sure I was going to die, I wasn't scared anymore," Mr. Zollenhoffer said. "Instead, I felt at peace. It was the most peaceful feeling I had in my 37 months in Korea."

The march

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