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Reprinted by permission from https://rarehistoricalphotos.com

Twenty-one American soldiers refused to return to America at the end of the Korean War.

On 27 June 1953, the United Nations Command (UNC) and North Korean Communist forces signed an armistice ending three years of fighting in Korea. Although the American-led UNC failed to win the entire peninsula, it successfully repelled Communist attacks south of the 38th parallel. Moreover, though contrary to the 1947 Geneva Convention, which mandated the wholesale exchange of all POWs, President Truman’s policy of voluntary repatriation proved highly successful: 47,000 Chinese and North Korean prisoners of war struck a propaganda blow against their Marxist governments by choosing not to return to their homelands.

In September, however, 23 American prisoners of war also refused repatriation, sparking a nationwide debate among journalists, politicians, military officials, psychiatrists, and the soldiers themselves. During a 90-day cooling off period, the GIs were held in the neutral zone at Panmunjom, but only two changed their minds in response to entreaties by U.S. officials and letters from the GIs’ families.

The commonly accepted reason at the time was that they were brainwashed while held prisoner. This was effectively confirmed by 149 other POWs held by the Chinese/North Koreans who “reported that their captors had waged a systematic effort to break down their beliefs and entice them to collaborate”. Time and Newsweek published articles looking for defects in the 21, to explain why they were able to be brainwashed. The magazines blamed reasons such as alcoholism, STDs, low IQs, and being “diseased”.

Race played an important role throughout the nationwide debate, especially since three of the 21 non-repatriates were black. Discussion of the black non-repatriates in the white press highlights public perceptions of Communism and civil rights in the mid-1950s. For example, many publications noted the special effort the Chinese had made to woo black American soldiers, how they had stressed that in their Marxist nation all members of society were treated equally.

During the 90 day cooling off period all 23 US soldiers were held on neutral territory. The 2 that left the group were court-martialed for desertion and collaboration, one was given a 20 year sentence and the other 10. The remaining 21 were dishonorably discharged and journeyed in China.

Once in China the soldiers were sent to a collective farm to work. Within 1.5 years three of them ran away and sought refuge at the British Embassy in Peking. By 1958, 7 more of the soldiers had left China. By 1966, only two remained in China. One of the 21 returned to the US in 1965 and explained his actions in 1953 as being motivated by “anger by the recall of his idol, General Douglas MacArthur, who favored the use of nuclear weapons to end the war. During his two years as a prisoner, he increasingly felt abandoned by America”

One of the three black soldiers (who returned to the US in 1966) explained that discrimination in US was the reason he went to China in 1953. In 1991, he said: “Brainwashed? The Chinese unbrainwashed me. The black man had his mind brainwashed long before the Korea War”. As the soldiers trickled back to the US, an additional reason was revealed: A handful apparently had informed on their fellows while in POW camps, and rather than rejecting the economic and political situation in the United States they were simply afraid to return.

Brainwashed, choice, or fear? What do you think?

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The terrain features of the war in Korea (1950-1952) often resembled the mountains of Italy during World War II. And like those campaigns, horses and mules found a valuable role as pack animals, going where trucks and jeeps could hardly reach.

The Eighth U.S. Army and South Korean forces captured Pyongyang, North Korea on 19 October 1950. In this photo of Pyongyang on that day, South Korean General Shin Sang-Chul, Commander of the 7th Division (left) and another officer are mounted on horses captured from the North Korean Army. Photo: Seoul Times.

The horse had no official U.S. military duty in the Korean War, with Cavalry fully mechanized since the early 1940s and draft animals' work taken over by motorized prime movers. The Army still had two active mounted organizations, the 35th QM Pack Company and the 4th Field Artillery Battalion, both stationed at Camp Carson, CO. However, they were not sent to Korea during the war and were deactivated on 15 February l957.

Some horses were maintained by individual units and veterinary services were provided in Korea. Since the Chinese Communists and North Koreans used mules for transport, it was inevitable that some would be captured by American and allied forces. In their 1951 spring offensive against South Korea, the Communist forces used pack mules for supplies. During the U.N. counterattack north from Seoul in late May 1951, the Communists abandoned their animals as they were forced back. 1st Cavalry Division captured many of the pack animals, using standard 6 x 6 trucks to move them to temporary depots. The mules were found to be thin and sick but were quickly restored by candy, sugar, and cereal from 5-in-1 Small Detachment Rations. The captured mules were then used for transport, particularly in the rugged mountainous areas where they brought in rations, ammunition, barbed wire, steel stakes, mines, and other supplies.


One of the mules captured from Communist forces in Korea was found to have a standard U.S. Army brand (called a Preston Brand), number 08K0. When that brand was located in Army records with the mule's history, it was found that he had been dispatched to the China-Burma-India theater during World War II, possibly with the Mars Task Force. At the conclusion of WW II, he was transferred to the Nationalist Chinese Army. The mule must have been later captured by the Communist Chinese, then moved to the fight in Korea, finally ending up back in the hands of the U.S. Army after more than six years. He had his picture taken, then dutifully went back to work on a pack train.

Article and photos are from olive-drab.com

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In Before I Go Berserk, Hon Jack tells Anne in a letter dated July 15, 1952, “We went on bivouac last nite. That’s overnight camping. We left the barracks at 5:15 and marched 13 miles, with a full pack. Most of us got there but some of the boys just couldn’t get there. They wouldn’t give us any water and we had to eat K-rations.”

K-rations were designed in 1941 as a short-duration, non-perishable, ready-to-eat meal that was so compact it could fit in a soldier’s pocket. Each box contained three meals with a caloric intake of between 2,830 and 3,000 calories depending on the food source used. Despite that K-rations were not intended for long-time consumption, they became a staple of soldiers fighting on the front lines. Eventually, K-rations were found not to be as nutritionally sound as once believed. After WWII, they were phased out. However, K-rations were stockpiled and used in the Korean War.

In addition to K-rations, soldiers were given Accessory Packets. Today, collectors scour the Internet to purchase K-rations from the various wars. They also film themselves partaking in the rations they’ve purchased. One such individual who purchased an Accessory Packet from the Korean War even smokes a Chesterfield cigarette! We thought you’d enjoy seeing what was inside an Accessory Packet and how much this particular collector enjoyed smoking a Chesterfield from 1951. Is it any wonder many soldiers got hooked on cigarettes? - Christine Stevens DeLorenzo

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