Rest in Peace Colonel John J. Dunn
By: Shorty Estabrook, Company “B” 19th Infantry Regiment, one of the enlisted soldiers with Colonel Dunn in captivity.
Much will be said of the life of Colonel John J. Dunn.
He was a great man, an outstanding soldier and wonderful and loving husband. Born in 1911, in New York and Irish. In early life, he bare-knuckle boxed to make money.
I want to tell you of the dark days of captivity in Korea, and I will refer to him as Major Dunn because that was his rank then.
Major Dunn was in the 34th Infantry Regiment stationed in Southern Japan when the Korean War broke out. His unit was rushed to Korea to stem the advance of the North Korean Army.
On July 7, 1950, Major Dunn was wounded twice. The most serious was in his jaw. He was able to stem the bleeding, but he was left very weak. On the next day he was captured by the North Koreans and taken to Seoul.
As the ranking officer among our group of POW’s, Major Dunn assumed command. He insisted that we keep our integrity, and the North Koreans agreed.
He formed us into thirteen sections with two officers and a non-commissioned officer in each section. The Headquarters Section were those with a rank of Captain and above. Major Dunn was especially close to Captain Alexandar Boysen, who had been the surgeon for the 21st Infantry Regiment or the 24th Division. Dr. Boysen appraised Dunn of the men’s welfare.
Dunn was always pushing for more food, water and medical supplies. Medical care was primitive at best. Most of his requests were ignored; sometimes he was beaten just for asking. He knew that discipline had to be maintained, and that was of a major concern.
Major Dunn was interrogated on a regular basis; he had to answer for all the men’s infractions. He was between a rock and a hard place; decisions were hard to make.
He lost a lot of weight; his beard was heavy and his hair line somewhat receding. He was tall, and began to resemble Abraham Lincoln.
His leadership always was to our advantage. Many men survived because of this superman.
But severely wounded men began to die, and we all suffered from starvation and internal illness because of the polluted drinking water. Some of the men were shot, and this troubled the Major.
Our group moved to the capitol of North Korea and we were joined by an 81-member multi-national group of civilians that were to share captivity with us. They came from the French and British Legations; there were priests and nuns, and Tatars, an American Catholic Bishop, a Commissioner of the Salvation Army of England and White Russians.
On October 31, 1950 a new North Korean Major arrived to take command of our group. He was a member of the North Korean Security Forces. This madman, whom we named “The Tiger” had already massacred many American Soldiers at the Sunchon Tunnel to the south.
The Tiger started marching us toward the snow capped mountains to the north. He gave orders that no one was to fall out of the march, and that sick and even those who died must be carried by those remaining. This was the beginning of the “Tiger Death March.”
On November 2, 1950, some the North Korean guards gave permission for several men to remain beside the road, and told them a truck would come to transport them.
When the Tiger looked back and saw those men beside the road, he went ballistic. He ordered six officers, including Major Dunn, to come to a little hill and face the rest of us.
The Tiger then declared that he was going to kill all of them. Major Dunn protested, and was struck on the side of his head. But he stood tall.
Commissioner Herbert Lord , who spoke fluent Korean, began to beg for the lives of these officers. The Tiger relented and said he would shoot only one officer. He then shot Lt. Cordus Thornton of Texas.
The Death March ended on November 9, 1950; 89 people were left shot along the roadway.
The winter of 1950-51 claimed 222 brave souls. Among them was Bishop Patrick Byrne, Catholic Church of America.
By the Spring of 1951 we were more dead than alive. A group of Russian Army Officers came to our camp; they met with Major Dunn. He took a great chance and told the Russians what the Tiger had done to the group.
The Russians apparently believed him and The Tiger was relieved of command and charged with stealing our rations and selling them on the black market. He was sentenced to two years in jail. I believe that the Tiger never saw freedom because the Communist believed in "out of sight-out of mind."
Fifty more of our group died at Andong. Then we were turned over to the Chinese Army and taken to Camp 3. Two more died during that trip, and ten more died after we arrived.
Fifty-eight percent of our group perished in captivity.
The Chinese sent our officers to another camp and enlisted men remained at Camp 3. Our condition improved somewhat as none of us would have survived one more winter with the North Koreans.
Major Dunn risked his life everyday looking after the rest of us. He even became sick himself but continued to lead.
In World War II he had served as a Company Commander in Burma and China with Merrill's Marauders. Difficult assignments seemed to follow Major Dunn.
My final tribute to this great and highly decorated man is that he was a "Soldier."
We Tiger Survivors loved Major Dunn and thank him for his leadership and dedication to those who were captured with him.
I am sure he was transferred to Heaven because he already served his time in Hell.
We love you Colonel Dunn. Rest in Peace. You earned it.
The Taro Leaf, Vol 63(3) Summer 2009, pg. 24-25.