INT: I was thinking of the phrase you used to me once of seeing the face of the enemy when you said the guard came over to you in the cage.
RF: Oh yes. And the one that I belted in particular, I could see the face of Satan himself when he come. He was the enemy. And really, for years, it took me several years to get over the fact of resenting all Oriental people. Finally, I told myself, all Orientals did not do that to me, it was just a very minor few that did things to me personally, so I finally overcome the... I guess the resentment or hatred I had for the Oriental race.
INT: When it got towards the end of the war, the sick and wounded had been released, so you knew that things were maybe coming to an end, tell us about how you actually heard that the war had finished and how you reacted and your fellow group of prisoners.
RF: [Laughs] Well it was the Twenty Ninth. We were isolated from what was known as the lost camp, which we knew that the airmen had been shot down, no-one ever saw pilots, but we knew they had to have a camp with pilots in it and this camp near us was the last camp we found out later on. We were in this little compound, built, you know, with [inaudible] with the brush and consisted of about four buildings and there was cow shed out there and we took the trough and turned it upside down, we used it for a table. This particular time we were playing pea-knuckle, we were sitting at the table playing pea-knuckle and when we observed the Chinese coming, the interpreter and two or three guards and a camera crew and some... we had always said when we heard the war was over, we'd show no emotions whatsoever. So they [inaudible] us out in formation and this Chinese interpreter, he read the fact that this was the third day of August and he read the fact that the war had been over since the twenty seventh of July at ten pm. We stood at attention, we didn't flinch. The cameras were on us and they stayed there thirty minutes or so, I guess. We didn't flinch, we didn't move, period. We just stood at attention. And finally they give up and left. Course, the moment they left, we went completely crazy and so celebrated the rest of the night, the guards trying to quieten us down, no way, but as long as they had the cameras on us, 'cos we figured they'd use that for publicity, for some showing how the prisoners were happy to be there, I guess, they showed things that ridiculous. So when they had the cameras on us, we could have been [inaudible] at West Point, we didn't move.
INT: When you finally did get released from the custody of the Chinese, can you tell us about throwing off the clothes, the camp clothes and how you crossed over into freedom?
RF: When we were going into freedom village, I was sitting on the back of the truck and I just made that, I just took my shirt and [inaudible] and everyone started doing that. But let me back up, prior to that, the only care packages we got that was permitted to reach us from the Red Cross, had come a few days prior and in that was an olive drab coloured towel and a little shaving kit. Well, time we got to the freedom village, everyone was stark naked with the exception of that towel, 'cos we done discarded all of our Chinese clothes, not realising …we didn't know who was going to meet us. We stepped off the trucks, there to greet us was President Syngman Rhee and his wife and General Maxwell V. Taylor. So I literally shook hands with Maxwell Taylor, Syngman Rhee and his wife, dressed in nothing but an olive drab towel. And really I wasn't embarrassed, you know, I was so elated at that period of time that I hoped they understood. like I say, I don't know what I was expecting to greet us when we got to [inaudible]. There'd be some military police or something, but we were so happy and so delighted, there's no way to describe the ecstasy that you felt when you crossed into freedom village. And the MP I saw, I wanted to kiss him, believe me, and it was quite a feeling.
INT: Let's just stop there...
INT: Tell us a bit about some of the taunts and the accusations from the Chinese to you, the prisoner.
RF: Well, typically the Chinese would start the day after early lectures and any time they had a chance to talk, actually, but they'd say, we will tell you why you'vecome to Korea, why you have come thousand miles from your home to spill your blood for theprofiteering war... war- mongers on Wall Street, why you come here to lay down your young lives? Why you over here dying, laying down your young life, you're spilling the blood of the innocent, peace-loving Chinese, Korean peoples. The war-mongers on Wall Street are making money from your blood. They are sleeping with your wives and daughters, do you think this is right? And this would be going on for days on end, hour on end, days on end, forever, continuously. Course we're due to have to have some kind of whip, you know, and I know one example. This interpreter, he was carried away and said when the the war-mongers on Wall Street are sleeping with your wives and your daughters and your mothers in this blacked out New York, I hollered, not my mother, not... [laughter]. Well, then of course eighteen hundred people crack up. But we defeated them humour mainly.
INT: Right, well let's go on to the very end...
INT: Tell us briefly about the kind of taunts that you were tools of Wall Street, etc.
RF: Well, typically the Chinese would come out, start propaganda lectures or any other time they had a chance to talk to us. After they'd come out, they'd say we're here today to tell you why you've come to Korea, why you travel thousands of miles just to lay down your young lives. You are here as a tool and canon fodder for the profiteering war-mongers on Wall Street. While you are here laying down your young lives, spilling your blood and spilling the blood of the peace-loving Chinese and Korean people, they are back on Wall Street making big profits from your life. While you are here dying, giving up your young lives, they are sleeping with your wives and your daughters and your mothers. And we would counteract that with humour usually. As [inaudible] said, one black guy from New York, he hollered, not my mother, not my mother! So eighteen hundred guys crack up and it pretty well neutralises anything they happen to say. One thing the Chinese did, they learned that unity was power and they started separating, they separated ranks to start with. Then they separated nationalities, then separated colour and then they tried to use that against one another. They tried to use the Brits against the Americans, the American against the Brit, the Turks, the Greeks, one against one another. They definitely tried to use the rank, the enlisted ranks against the officers' ranks. And they definitely tried to use the racial thing with the blacks and whites. It didn't work. They tried, but it didn't work. But they used every tool they could to disunify the prisoners, separate and conquer and that's kind of what they used.
INT: But they didn't succeed?
INT: Tell us about the end of the war, crossing into freedom and how you were dressed.
RF: Well, as we crossed the line into freedom village, we were dressed in a olive brown towel that had been given to us by the Red Cross about a week prior to being released. We were up at the officers' compound, the last compound, and the interpreters come in and they picked out about seven or eight of the collaborators and said, we want you to come with us, we have some people for you to meet. Now, all the time we'd been there, the Chinese did not recognise the international Red Cross, so therefore we were not allowed to get any assistance from the Red Cross. This particular day, they had Red Cross representatives, we learned later, in the compound, but they picked, hand picked the ones they wanted 'em to interview, which was about seven or eight men who was collaborated with the Chinese over the years. They were gone about two hours. When they returned, they had a ox cart loaded with parcels, so they give every man a shaving kit, consists of toothbrush, razor, soap and a comb and toothpaste. and they gave us a olive drab towel, bath towel. And that is what I was wearing the minute we were wearing as we crossed the freedom line into freedom village. We had shed all of our Chinese clothes and we wanted to get rid of all of it as fast as possible.
INT: What were the emotions that you were experiencing at that moment?
RF: Well, the emotions, it's hard to explain. I was... There's no words to describe how elated I was and my friends as we come across the line, we were singing a song and God Bless America and... to the top of our voice. and we finished our song before we got off the truck. But it felt like tons had been lifted from your back, it felt like for the last two and a half years I'd been carrying an enormous amount of weight, I mean tons. And all at once I could breathe, I was light, I was free. Freedom's something you can't describe. Freedom's being able to go to the bathroom when you want to, you know. That sounds like a little thing, but that's freedom. And we had been deprived of that.
INT: Just expanding a little bit on the meeting, tell us just about meeting Syngman Rhee, his wife and General Maxwell Taylor and what their reaction was and what your appearance was.
RF: As we departed from the truck, about ten of us and oh, we were only dressed in an olive drab towel, given by the Red Cross, and there's General Maxwell Taylor, President Syngman Rhee and his lovely wife to greet us, shook hands with us. They didn't appear to notice that we were wearing only towels! They greeted us and we like to think they understood and they welcomed us home and they moved us on out. But they did not even appear to notice that we were only dressed in towels.
INT: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW