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Drug Use by POW's and Others
This is a great article I saw in our Honolulu
newspaper this morning about an ex-POW who says he was
captured with his company near Unsan.
One thing I found interesting was his story that he
and the other prisoners smoked marijuana while in the
PW camp. Other than Martin Russ's excellent book "The
Last Parallel", in which he claims heroin was used to
help celebrate his promotion to Sergeant, I haven't
read much about drug use by US forces during the war.
I checked the Army's official history, "The Medics
War" and it has a couple of passing references to some
units with a "narcotics" problem.
How prevalent was drug use? It seems more of a topic
associated with the Vietnam War, not the Korean War.
Posted on: Sunday, April 9, 2000
Memory of fallen comrades
reunites Korean War POWs
By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
The Korean War happened so many years ago that only
veterans remember the grim details.
Especially Nick Nishimoto.
Thirty-three months as a prisoner of war did that. The
numbing cold, the starvation, the comrades dying
almost every day. He buried his best friend.
He couldn’t forget all that, even if he wanted to.
Today at Punchbowl, Nishimoto and other veterans will
honor the men who didn’t come home and the courage of
those who did.
The annual POW Recognition Day starts at 10 a.m., but
the story — the theme of this morning’s events — began
almost 50 years ago. The start of the Korean War marks
its 50th anniversary in June, bringing the memories of
the lost and the living into poignant focus.
Events like this are the only time that POWs let down
their guard, Nishimoto said. They’ll discuss things
they’ve never told their families.
“They don’t have to hold back because we all went
through the whole damn thing,” said Nishimoto, a
71-year-old Pearl City resident. “I can talk to you
about it, but in your mind, you don’t know the cold
and the starvation.”
Nishimoto, born and raised in Hilo, joined the Army in
November 1948. He was 18 and tired of working at the
pineapple cannery. Two years later, on Nov. 27, 1950,
his company was captured near Unsan.
Camp life was brutal, Nishimoto said.
No one had winter clothing and the communists would
not give them blankets. At night, prisoners kept warm
by using each other’s body heat. Fourteen people in a
room 8 feet by 8 feet.
Fires were forbidden. Once, a guard caught prisoners
trying to take down a beam for a fire. He made them
hold it overhead until they collapsed.
Food was scarce. They ate millet that was cooked like
rice in a central kitchen. Sometimes they had corn.
“On corn, millet and barley, it is hard to survive,”
Nishimoto said. “A lot of guys died of starvation.
When their body got weak, they would get pneumonia.”
Pneumonia killed nearly everyone who caught it and
would have claimed Nishimoto, if it hadn’t been for a
Chinese doctor. He gave Nishimoto penicillin, and he
“When a guy died, we didn’t tell the guards,” he said.
“We were starving. That little bit of extra food kept
a lot of us going.”
It was so cold, they could store a body in a shed
where it would freeze. That first winter, 1,500
people died. But that’s not the worst of it, Nishimoto
The dead were buried near the banks of the nearby Yalu
River. “When you try and dig on frozen ground, even
after four hours of work, you only get down about one
foot,” Nishimoto said. “So the next heavy rain, most
of the remains were washed away.”
When the river rose, the bodies that were in the
vanished downstream. Once, a crew of prisoners sent
out to find wood stumbled across a patch of marijuana
and smuggled it back. They tore pages out of Bibles
for rolling paper and smoked it. It was one of the
few times Nishimoto ever heard laughter.
Nishimoto was released in August 1953. He returned to
Hilo the following month. At first he didn’t want to
be with anyone but his Army friends, especially the
Hawaii soldiers he met in his POW camp.
It took several years before he felt comfortable with
his family and other friends. He would eventually
re-enlist in the Army, go to Vietnam and retire as a
He never forgot his fellow prisoners.
He made peace with himself by getting involved in POW
reunions and serves as senior vice commander for the
Hawaii chapter of the American Ex-Prisoners of War.
This year, as he has for the last seven years,
Nishimoto organized a Hawaii reunion. About 50 former
POWs from Korea and World War II and their wives or
widows traveled from the Mainland to be here.
“I put my heart and soul in it,” he said.
The ceremony today at the National Memorial Cemetery
of the Pacific at Punchbowl, complete with a
Pentagon-approved Air National Guard missing-man
flyover, will be the high point.
But one thing remains undone.
He needs to return to North Korea, to the camp he
lived in for 33 months.
He needs to find Albert Chang, his closest friend.
They met in basic training and were captured the same
Chang developed blood poisoning. Nishimoto held him in
his arms one day, helplessly watching the life drain
out of him.
Nishimoto buried his friend on a hillside, away from
After all these years, he can still picture the barren
If the North Koreans would let him, he could get
within 100 yards of the grave.
“If there was a chance, I’d try to get him buried at
Punchbowl,” he said. “My life will be complete when
his remains come back. I buried him. It’s my job to
try to get him back.”
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