The 24th Infantry Division Association

Founded August 1945 on a Philippine Island beach


Korea P.O.W. – A Thousand Days of Torment Korea P.O.W. – A Thousand Days of Torment

by William H. Funchess, Life # 1725, Companys B & C, 19th Infantry Regiment

Ed. Note:  I copied the following paragraphs from Mr. Funchess’ riveting book with the title above.  I selected the paragraphs below because they really hit me, but they are not contiguous in the copy.

... Suddenly a small enemy soldier, scarcely five feet tall, burst through the crowd. He wore the same cotton padded uniform as the others except he wore fur-lined leather boots. He walked within inches of me, stopped, reached up and pulled my right arm down and started shaking my hand. Then he spoke in perfect English. “We are not mad at you. We are mad at Wall Street.”  I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know what he meant.

... I was confused, not to mention scared stiff, but I was also relieved that we were not killed on the spot.

... It was November 4, 1950. China had just entered the war, and apparently one of their missions that day was to take prisoners. I asked the interpreter what his nationality was. He hesitated and finally answered with two words, “North Korean.” I knew he was lying.

... Soon reality set in. I realized many men in my platoon had been either killed or captured. No immediate help and no counterattacks by the U.S. or South Korean armies were forthcoming that would liberate us from our captors.

... We were alone and we were prisoners of a hostile army in a hostile country.

... All in all, we were a miserable lot, but we kept believing friendly forces would be coming across the mountain almost any time. We heard either bombing or artillery in the distance on several occasions, and that gave us hope. We thought U.S. forces would soon set us free. But it was never to be.

... One of their favorite topics of conversation was what they termed “The myth of Christianity.” They would say in effect, “Where is your God now? If you ever needed your God, you need him now. Why don’t you ask your God to feed you? If you asked Stalin or Mao Tse Tung to feed you, perhaps you wouldn’t be starving.”

... As the snow melted, he added more. Finally he had a pan of warm water. Then Father Kapaun offered each of us about one-third cupful. It tasted so good. It was the first or second day of February and was the first time I had a drink of water since my capture on Nov. 4.

... That struck me like a blow between the eyes. I just couldn’t believe that men on both sides of me had died during the night and I didn’t even know it until the next morning. Two men out of a dozen in one night—the odds were frightening. Would I be next to die? Several times I said aloud to others in the room as we lay down for the night, “I wonder if we will see the sun rise tomorrow?”

... On another occasion the camp commander stated that it would be quite difficult to control the U.S. POWs if they were healthy and well fed. It was a simple matter, he added, to control the actions of Americans who were starving and in a weakened condition.

... When a man stopped killing his lice, the number of little critters really multiplied. Maybe the man was sick or something, but he had to control the number of lice on his body and in his clothing or they would suck enough blood so that he would die.

... Several hundred lice, each one-fourth inch long, could suck a lot of blood!

... There were several men who wouldn’t control their lice. They soon turned ash-gray and died.

... The weight of all the POWs fell off drastically. Every part of the body shrank except the head and eyes.  Necks were so small it looked as if they were too tiny to support their heads. You could see the outline of ribs showing through. Legs looked like toothpicks. All of us resembled walking dead since there wasn’t a single healthy man in camp. I don’t know what I weighed, but I estimated it to be less than 100 pounds.

... The Communists were masters in the use of propaganda. They decided to provide Frank Noel, a captured Associated Press correspondent, with a camera and film. They also provided a special guard to tag along behind Frank whenever he used the camera. The special guard, who spoke English, would only allow Frank to take pictures of things that were favorable to the Communist cause.  Some of the first pictures I saw were made of POWs swimming in the reservoir near Pyoktong.

... The Chinese had what they called “Summer Olympics.” The purpose of the Olympics, of course, was to get pictures to portray their so-called “good” treatment of POWs.

... General Deng would often lecture us. He would speak to us in Chinese and then it would be translated into English. On several instances, I saw evidence that he either spoke or understood English, but he never let on to us that he did.

... The next day an English-speaking Chinese officer separated me from the few remaining POWs and ordered me to get on the back of a waiting truck. I thought it was strange that I was the only POW on the truck. The Chinese officer then got on and sat across from me. There was an armed guard sitting beside the driver. The officer gave the signal to the driver to pull out of the holding area.

... The truck moved slowly and did not seem to be headed toward Panmunjon. Instead, the driver seemed to be going in circles. Finally the truck stopped outside a compound surrounded by a fence.

... About 20 young POWs approached the truck and told me they were going to refuse repatriation. One of them suggested that I get off the truck and join them. I emphatically shouted, “No Way!”

... I told them they were American servicemen and were expected to return home. They laughed and began taunting me. I told them they were making a mistake, and said no more. The truck pulled away.

... The truck moved slowly and I had the feeling the Chinese were deliberately killing time. After a while the truck stopped in a wilderness area. The terrain was hilly and covered with trees and brush.

The English-speaking Chinese officer said, “Get off!”

I picked up my few possessions and slid off the back of the truck. I just stood there as I wondered what was going to happen. The Chinese officer shouted, “Walk down that path! If you step off the path, you will be killed!”

I saw just a narrow foot path leading into the wilderness so I hesitated. When I hesitated the Chinese screamed, “Move!”

As I cautiously stepped on the path and began walking, I expected a rifle shot in the back. I held my arms in front of my body in order to make as small a target as possible. But there was no rifle shot. There was only an eerie silence behind me as I cautiously walked down the narrow, crooked path. I heard the truck drive away and I realized I was alone.

While I was walking down the path, I wondered if I was free or if I was still a POW. Nobody was in sight and it was a strange feeling, indeed, to be alone in the wilderness. I walked several hundred yards and was careful not to step off the path. I figured it was probably mined on both sides. I realized I was walking in “no man’s land.” It was a bizarre feeling.

Suddenly, in the distance I saw a U.S. Army ambulance parked where the path widened. The back doors were open and I saw two men in uniform standing at the rear of the vehicle. They were looking down the path as if they were expecting me.

I recognized one of the men as a major, so I saluted. He said, “Lieutenant, you don’t know how lucky you are to be here.”  I answered, “Yes, but what happened?”

The major told me both sides had been holding war criminals. “Last night,” he said, “both sides agreed to release war criminals.”

My eyes became moist as I realized I was free. My war, the forgotten war, finally came to an end on September 6, 1953.

The pain and misery I suffered at the hands of my Communist captors ended after 1,038 days of torment. ###

Ed. Note:  All of the above paragraphs were copied directly from the 139 pages of Mr. Funchess’ riveting book.  I didn’t want to take anything away from his most graphic portrayal of his 1,038 days in captivity!

You may order the book for $10, postage paid, from:

Lt. Col. E. G. Sturgis
South Carolina Military Department
1 National Guard Road
TAG-DSO-Stop 42
Columbia, SC 29201-4766
Ph: 803-806-4440

You may reach Bill Funchess at:
107 Brookwood Drive
Clemson, SC  29631
Ph: 864-654-4617

Funchness at Taejon

Oct. 2, 1950. Funchess and fellow 19th Infantry Regiment members recapturing Taejon, South Korea--leading their unit with flags (left to right) are Cpl. Howard Moll, Panamint Springs Cal.; Capt Louis Rockwerk, Bronx, N.Y.; and Lt. William Funchess, Rowesville, South Carolina. (APWirephoto). Rockwerk and Funchess were captured Nov. 4, 1950, Moll was not.

Funchess in POW camp - 2nd from right

Funchess, second from right in photo, in captivity after first issue of clothing as a prisioner. Photo by Frank Noel, a captured Associated Press correspondent.

Funchess on Ship returning home

Funchess photo taken aboard ship returning to the U.S.

Bill has donated all proceeds from his book to the SC State Military Department for a museum.  He told me that some 600 POWs have read his book, and he has not received a single complaint about its contents, which are without embellishment.

The Taro Leaf, Vol 62(1) Winter, 2008, pg. 33-35.