POW Experience of Joe Annello
On the 22nd of April 1951, my unit, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, entered into defensive positions along what was identified as “The Kansas Line” adjacent to the Imjim River.
Hershey(Hiroshi) Miyamura, the squad leader of the second squad and myself, the squad leader of the first squad, machine gun platoon were sent to a hill and attached to support “Easy” (E) Company.
In coordination with the E Company Commander, we placed our two Heavy(water cooled) and two light machine guns (air cooled) intermingled with E company riflemen in positions to give us the best possible field of fire.
The morning of the 24th of April 1950, the Battalion Intelligence Office told Hershey and I that the British Marines urgently needed help. Since there was no reported enemy activity to our immediate front and none expected in the foreseeable future, they were pulling all the riflemen out to assist the British Marines a few miles to the North West of our current positions.
After E Company riflemen pulled out, that left Hershey’s and my squad, 22 men with four machine guns on the hill covering a couple of hundred yards. But, even with no enemy contact expected, it left Hershey and I more than I a little concerned. We instituted the one man on alert in each fox hole for the evening.
Not long after dark, we were hit with an overwhelming force of Chinese soldiers. They had infiltrated to our rear and completely enveloped our positions through the many unoccupied positions that were previously covered by E Company troops.
To say that things were hectic would be a gross understatement. We were being challenged from all sides by superior forces. There was a lot of close in fighting, man to man, thankfully, we had plenty of stocked ammunition for the guns and plenty of hand grenades!
After about two hours, I tried to call in some mortar fire and flares at the section CP, but, on the way was shot across the back of my legs
and as I was going down, a grenade exploded next to me and that was the end of the fight for me as I slowly lost consciousness.
I awoke the next morning to the prodding of a Chinese bayonet. Two soldiers were standing over me motioning for me to get up. I tried to get to my feet, but, couldn’t move. They each took one of my arms, and dragged me off the hill to a house at the bottom where in the courtyard, there were about twenty other prisoners, some wounded, but not seriously.
To my everlasting gratitude, my friend, Hershey was among the prisoners and he immediately gave me first aid to best of his ability with the limited amount of first aid that was available. It was at that point that I found out I had a large wound about two inches from my spine caused by the hand grenade.
We were all housed in a Korean hut for the night, and the next morning we were lined up for a march to the north for internment in a POW camp. God was looking out for me at that time because I couldn’t walk and he made Hershey available to help carry me. A difficult task as Hershey was wounded, but not seriously, himself.
Hershey carried me for about ten miles bringing curses from the guards because we were slowing the column and they had a timetable to keep for the march. They finally ordered Hershey to lay me down at the side of the road. At first he refused, but, the guards threatened to shoot him. I told Hershey to please put me down.
He reluctantly did as he was ordered, saying to me, I’m sorry Joe”! I told him “It’s OK Hersh, I sincerely appreciated all that you have done for me.” We said our goodbyes since we knew what was going to happen based on past history. I made peace with my God!
The column of POW’s and guards moved off leaving three guards behind. As they marched off the three guards were smoking, laughing,
while looking at me lying in the ditch at the side of the road. To my surprise, after about five minutes, they just took off to join the rest of the troops who had disappeared from sight. I was dumbfounded at what had just happened!
Three years later, Hershey told me that he had informed all that knew me, that I had “bought the farm”, since anyone who dropped out after I did was shot! God was truly looking down on me!
I laid in the ditch for about two days unable to move on my own. I had managed to still the flow of blood by pressure but was very weak. My fatigues were stiff with the blood that I had lost. Two days later, I awoke in the early morning to the prodding of another Chinese bayonet.
When they realized that I was still alive, they loaded me on a push cart with large bicycle wheels. As I looked around, I saw several other
wounded Chinese soldiers being pushed on the same type of carts. They were obviously taking them to the rear for treatment.
About mid-morning a flight of Corsairs came on to the column and strafed it on two runs. The soldiers dived to the sides of the road leaving the wounded on the carts. For the second time I thought I had run out of luck, but I was wrong, thankfully once again. Several Chinese soldiers had been wounded, load on to trucks and we went back on the march. That evening, we came to a Chinese Bivouac area and I was turned over to another Chinese group. They put me in the kitchen of a Korean hut where I fell asleep thoroughly exhausted.
When I awoke the next morning, I heard voices in English from outside. The door opened and the Chinese carried in four more wounded soldiers, three Americans and one Turkish soldier. Two of the Americans were severely wounded. The last was an Air Force pilot, a second Lt. whose name was Melvin.
THE INTERNMENT EXPERIENCE
The most serious of the wounded was Dave we made room in an area of the Kitchen where we wouldn’t bump into him. The next was Bill, and then Bob. The Turk had been shot while in his sleeping bag, and had a couple of stomach wounds. All of the American soldiers were from the 7th RCT except the pilot and the Turk. At this point, none of us could walk except the pilot.
None of us had eaten for four days or more, so Melvin asked the Chinese guarding us to get us some food. They gave him a sausage shaped sack of gruel. It had no nutritional value, but when mixed with water, if filled your stomach and made you feel like you weren’t hungry. This was the last food that we were given by the Chinese for the rest of our duration in captivity.
Since the pilot could walk, the Chinese allowed him to scrounge whatever food he could from the locals in the area or whatever weeds and other edibles could be found growing outside of our hut. They also allowed him to go down to the Imjim River, about 100 yards from our hut, to get water. The rest of us were not allowed outside of the kitchen except after dark to relieve ourselves in a ditch about 10 feet from our hut.
I wondered why they had put us into the small and crowded kitchen area of the hut when there were two rooms in the hut. I found out that afternoon that they kept their horses and mules in the living part of the hut during the daytime so that they wouldn’t be observed by our low flying observation planes.
The down side of this was that the horses kicked down the wall and were crapping down into our kitchen. This of course brought the flies and other insects into the kitchen. The flies laid their eggs in our wounds and before long we were inundated with maggots. We didn’t know it at the time, but the maggots were good as they ate all of the decaying flesh in and around the wounds. It just didn’t make us feel very good when we saw them.
In addition to not feeding us, the Chinese refused to give us any medical attention. The irony of this was that we were being held in a forward medical station that treated their wounded, but not our wounded. We were of the opinion that they were just housing us until we died. At times we pleaded with them to give care to Bill and Dave, the most serious wounded in our group… They refused.
It wasn’t long before this took a toll on us. Bob, developed gangrene in his leg…going up to almost his knee. Once again we pleaded with the Chinese to help him, but, they again refused. We asked them for the instruments or a very sharp knife so that the pilot and I would attempt to amputate Bob’s leg. They refused once again! We were going into our fourth week of captivity when Bob passed away.
Melvin, the pilot, and I wrapped him in my poncho and dragged him to a covered kimchi storage pit about five feet from the kitchen and buried him after we all prayed for him in the kitchen. Things were pretty glum in the hut for a couple of days after Bob died. No one seemed to want to talk. Dave and Bill were seriously ill by this time and it looked like they couldn’t last for another two weeks.
Melvin and I talked out side of the hut one evening about what were our options here since the Chinese wouldn’t feed us or provide medical care. We decided that one of us would have to escape to try to get help for the remaining guys. We decided to talk to the others since we didn’t know what the repercussions would be when the Chinese found out that one of our group was missing!
It was no surprise that everyone agreed with the plan. That night, Melvin and I snuck up the hill to make a POW sign with rice straw and an arrow pointing to our hut. We talked about which of us would try to escape. I told him that I was raised in Boston and could swim like a fish. If he could help me to the river, I was pretty sure I could make the swim.
He argued that he was the stronger of us so that he would make the escape attempt. He told me that if we didn’t see any signs of a rescue within three to four days, that I should try to get to the river to attempt an escape. When we returned to the hut we told the others about the plan. They all enthusiastically agreed!
Since Melvin had the freedom to walk around our area, he traded his flight jacket to a farmer who was living in a bombed out hut about 100 yards from ours, for a sack of gruel. We figured that it would last us for about three days. That evening under the pretense of getting us water from the river, Melvin stepped into the river and started his journey down river.
The following day when one of the guards looked in on us, he discovered Melvin was missing. He asked us in sign language where had Melvin gone. We told him, using sign language that some passing Chinese unit had taken him up north since he was a pilot. The Chinese were really upset, but, there were no repercussions. I think it was perhaps that they had also talked about shipping him up north on several occasions and maybe though that it had happened without their knowledge.
I took care of Bill and Dave as best as I could. Melvin had left us enough water and gruel to last for three to four days, so it was just a matter of feeding them and taking care of their personal needs. The Turk by this time was able to take care of himself.
Three days later at sun up, a flight of corsairs came in over our positions and bombed and raked the hills surrounding our hut to keep the Chinese in their bunkers. Then a Task Force of five tanks came into the area, surrounded our hut, and took us out on the leeward side and put us on the tanks while firing their weapons constantly at the hills surrounding our hut. They had travelled about 50 Kilometers into enemy territory to get to our position.
After we were loaded on the tanks, they backed out of the area for a couple of hundred yards then turned south headed to the front lines of the first Calvary Division. The tankers were from the 5th Calvary. We were free!
The next day, Melvin was sent to Tokyo, Japan, Dave and Bill were sent to the States, and I was sent to Fukuoka, Japan where I received my first operation. The Turk was sent back to the Turkish Brigade. We never hear from him or about him even though Bill tried several times to make contact with the Turkish Government.
When I found out that Hershey was still alive, I drove to Gallup, NM to see him. When I walked into the place that he was working, he turned white as a sheet and said, “My God, you’re dead!” When I assured him that I was still alive, he said that he had told all of our friends that I was dead! He had assumed that they had shot me the day that he left me in the ditch since that was the way they handled those who couldn’t make the march to the camp up north.
Melvin, Bill, and Dave have since passed away. At the time that we were having our last POW Reunion in 2014 at Louisville, KY, I found out that Dave was very ill. I took a side trip and drove from Louisville, Kentucky to Rossville, GA to see him before he passed away three days later.
As a post script, in 2007, I returned to Korea with the JPAC Team from Hawaii to try to recover Bob’s body. While we were scouting the area, a Korean gentleman approached us to find out what we were doing. The land was owned by his cousin. When it was explained to him what our mission was, he said he knew exactly where the hut had been standing and took us to the site.
The reason he knew where the hut had been standing was because he was the son of the farmer that had traded Melvin a sack of gruel for his flight jacket. He tearfully told us that the Chinese had discovered the jacked two days after we had escaped and shot his father on the spot!
I told him, that because of his father’s efforts, five soldiers had gone on to freedom and life back in their own countries. For this, we were eternally grateful to him.