PERRY POINT — Roger Stone Sr. was 90 days away from his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army when North Korean troops invaded South Korea in June 1950, triggering the Korean War.
That led to what he calls the government’s “involuntary extension” of his service, and Stone — a resident of a small Virginia coal mining town when enlisted at age 18 in 1948 — found himself shipped from his stateside post to North Korea with the 1st Calvary, 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment.
On Nov. 28, 1950, some three months after arriving in country, Stone and six comrades were captured during an ambush on a country road in Kunu-ri.
“We were attempting to push the Communists back when we were ambushed,” Stone recalled.
The captors stripped the prisoners of their boots, a common tactic, and then they “marched us forever,” he recalled. With their guns leveled on their prisoners, the North Korean soldiers marched Stone and the others in the cloak of darkness to avoid attracting attention.
“For one month, they marched us through the night,” Stone said, remembering that the list of stopping points included two caves in which they spent several days, a mining camp and a detainment center called Camp 5.
The prisoners ultimately were corralled onto a barge that took them to their final destination, Camp 3 — a bleak place where Stone would spend nearly three years in harsh captivity.
“They fed us millet, which is like birdseed. We all had vitamin deficiencies. There was no hygiene,” he said. “There was no physical torture, but they used mental torture on us. They would tell us, ‘No one wants you back home,’ and ‘Everyone has forgotten about you.’”
To say that Stone’s captors didn’t use physical torture, however, could be technically inaccurate.
“They performed an experimental medical procedure on me. They put either a chicken or pig liver in the right side of my body because they wanted to see how the body would react to it,” Stone said.
Stone spent 33 months as a prisoner of the Korean War before he and his fellow captives were freed shortly after July 27, 1953, the Korean War Armistice Day.
After his return to the United States and his honorable discharge, Stone spent 90 days at his native Sugar Grove, Va., before re-enlisting in the Army. He served from 1954 to 1957 and, while stationed in Germany with an engineering battalion, he learned the fundamentals that he later would apply during his civilian career as a heavy construction equipment operator. Stone, who lived in Rising Sun for a few years in the 1960s, got married and raised a family.
“I’m not one to dwell on the past. I never think about,” Stone said. “I just served my country.”
While Stone isn’t one to dwell on the past, his 51-year-old son, Roger Stone Jr., of Virginia, is.
After obtaining medical records and more than 300 pages of pertinent documents through the National Archives, he spent three years lobbying the Army because he believed that his father deserved a Purple Heart for the surgical wound suffered during that experimental medical surgery while a prisoner of war more than 60 years ago.
His perseverance paid off in March, when the Purple Heart was bestowed upon Stone during a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
“What happened to my dad was a Korean War atrocity,” his son said, emphasizing, “He earned it.”
As for what lingering effects that surgically implanted chicken or pig liver had on him, Stone, who is 86 and now lives in Essex, chuckled and then commented, “Well, I’m still alive, so I guess it must have helped me.”
Stone was one of seven former prisoners of war who, along with the widow of an eighth former POW, recently attended the annual POWs luncheon in the gymnasium at the Perry Point VA Medical Center.
“The number of former POWs is dwindling,” said Ming Vincenti, community outreach coordinator for the VA Maryland Health Care System. “We had 20 to 30 former prisoners of war when we started this six or seven years ago. Most of them have since passed.”
Ming told the attendees, “While we could never fully repay you for the sacrifices you have made for our freedom, it is our privilege to gather each year to show our gratitude and admiration, and to pay humble tribute to those who remain unaccounted for.”
Stone gains a measure of comfort attending the annual former POWs luncheon because, without even uttering a single word about his imprisonment, those in that select group already understand.
“I don’t feel so alone when I come to this,” Stone explained.
As did Stone, the other six former POWS in attendance shared their stories with the Cecil Whig. The following are synopses of their accounts:
Walter Czawlytko was a gunner on a B-24 Liberator on June 29, 1944, when Nazi fighter pilots ambushed the 10-man crew approximately 28,000 feet above southern Germany, sending the bomber plane into a downward spin.
“We were hit by flak. We pulled out at 4,000 to 5,000 feet. I parachuted onto a farm and got hung up in a tree. It was around lunchtime. A woman with a butcher knife came out of a farmhouse and ran toward me. Either she was going to cut my silk (parachute) and let me go or she was going to tell,” Czawlytko recalled. “Ten minutes later, German soldiers grabbed me.”
Czawlytko, who had enlisted with the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 at age 19, was now a prisoner of war, along with his nine crew members.
He was placed in a nearby German prison until Feb. 4, 1944, when Czawlytko and hundreds of fellow prisoners were rounded up to start a 900-mile “death march” to another prisoner of war camp in northern Germany.
The march occurred during a brutally cold winter. The German soldiers already had taken the prisoners’ boots and replaced them with inadequate footwear. Their furnished clothing was equally lacking.
“We were dying left and right from malnutrition and exposure. The German soldiers would put the bodies in a ditch. They would shoot them in the head first, before moving on, to make sure they were dead,” Czawlytko remembered.
On April 9, 1945, after marching about 300 miles and concluding that they would surely die in the procession, Czawlytko and a buddy discreetly peeled away from the back of the line, snuck into a ditch and pretended to be dead.
Their saving grace: The older, more seasoned German soldiers were at the front of the long marching line by that point.
“We made like we were dead. The (German) soldiers at the back were teenagers,” Czawlytko said, explaining that they were either unaware of the bullet-in-the-head protocol to ensure death or shirked the obligation because they lacked the nerve to do so.
After the death march had disappeared into the distance, Czawlytko and his buddy ran into the woods and eventually attached with a unit of British soldiers they had found.
Czawlytko, 91, of Rosedale, went about four decades without talking about his nine months as a prisoner of war. That changed about 30 years ago, however, when his grandson, Matthew William Conrkran, then 11, interviewed him for a school essay entitled “Someone I Admire.”
Henry Raemer was a turret operator on a B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber plane when he and his crew were shot down over Holland in February 1943, forcing him and his comrades to parachute into the enemy territory before the plane crashed into a lake.
Raemer, who had enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in 1943, was captured by German soldiers and spent the next 15 months in captivity, which also was marked by inadequate clothing and insufficient nourishment.
He, too, was later forced into a death march — a 3-month-long trek from Holland to Germany. Also convinced that the march would end in certain death, Raemer took advantage of a German lapse in security.
“I escaped off the line and went to the British lines,” Raemer said.
Raemer, 93, now lives in Towson.
Orville Hughes suffered gunshot wounds to his upper torso and both legs during a battle in Germany in April 1945, landing him in an enemy hospital and making him a prisoner of war — ever so briefly.
“I was a prisoner of war for only two weeks,” Hughes said, explaining that U.S. and allied forces soon overran that section of Germany. “I was liberated by our own troops.”
Hughes, 95, of Monkton, had enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942, starting a military career that ended with retirement and an honorable discharge in 1969. Hughes received a Purple Heart medal during his service.
Leonard Kirk was serving as an Army medic with the 45th Infantry Division in the 157th Field Artillery Regiment in southern France when he was captured on Sept. 2, 1944, some three months after the Invasion of Normandy.
“The medics always went ahead to treat the wounded. We didn’t meet any resistance so we kept advancing and got ahead of our tanks and heavy artillery. We came to a town surrounded by hills. The Germans were in those hills and we were surrounded,” outlined Kirk, who had enlisted in the Army in January 1943.
German soldiers immediately took Kirk’s medic bag and then marched him and the other prisoners for two days to a town where interrogations were conducted and POW numbers were assigned so the Red Cross could notify their families of their capture.
Kirk spent approximately eight months as a prisoner of war in four different camps.
“They would take us to the camps in boxcars. They were called ‘Forty-and-eight’ boxcars because the boxcars could fit either 40 men or eight horses in them. They would cram about 50 of us in one of those boxcars, so you had to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. There were two windows, maybe 8 inches wide and a foot long, on opposite ends of the box car and that was it. That was all the fresh air and light you had. You would ride like that all day. They would stop to let us use the bathroom along the railroad tracks and give us something to eat, usually stale bread,” Kirk recalled.
Kirk ultimately wound up at Stalag 7 in Mooseburg, about 25 miles from Munich. He was housed in one of several barracks that held 100 prisoners who slept on straw-mattress bunk beds, stacked three high.
Under armed guard, prisoners were allowed to walk in the camp compound during the day. German soldiers made them work in the kitchen and perform other chores. Kirk was forced to accompany German soldiers on missions but, because of a Geneva Convention clause, he wasn’t permitted to function as a medic.
Provisions were sparse.
“They gave us bread that was 50 percent sawdust and 50 percent flour. We ate horse meat, potatoes and rutabaga soup,” Kirk said, noting that, by that point in the war, German soldiers were eating much of the same food because supplies had been depleted.
Kirk and his fellow prisoners were liberated on April 29, 1945, when Gen. George Patton’s armored division overran that German prison camp.
After receiving his honorable discharge on Dec. 28, 1945, Kirk bounced from job to job for a while before working 38 years for a food vending company, retiring in 1988 as manager.
Kirk, 93, of Eldersberg, told the Cecil Whig recently, “It took me 40 years to talk about what happened to me.”
Walter Webster, who had enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1949 at age 17, was stationed in Okinawa when the Korean War started in June 1950.
Part of the 29th Infantry Regiment, Webster was shipped to Korea to fight. On July 27, 1950, just three weeks after arriving there, North Korean forces overran U.S. troops in Hadong and captured Webster — who had suffered a gunshot wound to his left thigh — and 111 of his fellow soldiers.
After taking their prisoners’ boots, the North Korean soldiers forced Webster and the other captives to march toward a camp in Namwon.
“We were barefoot and they marched us day and night. When they heard planes fly over, they would move us into huts in villages. When the planes were gone, they’d start marching us again,” Webster said.
Many did not survive the march.
“A lot of us were wounded. It would take two guys just to help one march. A lot of them fell out along the way,” Webster said. “Someone would file out. Then you heard a gunshot and that was it. They shot everyone who filed out.”
As for his own gunshot wound, “I still had my first-aid kit, so I kept it clean myself. The bullet went through my leg and just missed the bone, so it wasn’t too hard to treat. I would sprinkle some powder — I don’t remember what it was called –— on the wound and put bandages on it.”
Food also was scant. “They would give us a rice ball, about the size of baseball, every now and then,” Webster recalled.
On Sept. 30, 1950, two months after Webster and his fellow soldiers were captured, an allied tank division overran the North Koreans and broke up the march, liberating them.
“I was transferred to a hospital in Japan and stayed there a month. Our feet were raw from marching barefoot. All the skin was off of them. They kept Vaseline bandages on our feet. We also had severe dysentery,” Webster remembered. “My gunshot wound was already healed.”
After his hospital discharge, Webster was flown back to the United States and received his honorable discharge. He later received the Purple Heart medal.
Webster went on to marry and raise five children, who did not learn their father had been a prisoner of war until they were adults.
“I never talked about it for years,” said Webster, 84, of Salisbury. “One day, after my kids were all grown, a reporter interviewed me at the VFW post and put it the newspaper. That’s how they found out.”
Edwin “Bud” Huson
Eleanor Huson, the widow of Edwin “Bud” Huson, attended the annual POWs luncheon in honor of her late husband, who spent one year as a prisoner of war during World War II.
Huson, who enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in October 1942 at age 18, was captured by German soldiers in Germany in May 1944. He was forced to participate in the grueling “Black Death March” across Germany, before he was liberated in May 1945. He returned to his stateside home a month later.
In November 1945, Huson, then a mere 21-year-old, was honorably discharged at Andrews Air Force Base at the rank of sergeant. Like many of the POWs featured in this article, Huson was highly decorated. His long list of awards included the World War II Victory Medal, the Eastern Campaign Medal with a Battle Star, a Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation, a Good Conduct Medal and a POW medal.
Huson died in 2007.