My dad–Russell Kingston–was one of the longest-held prisoners of war during the Korean Conflict, which lasted from 1950 until 1953. The conflict (it was never a declared war) lasted for only three years, yet dad was a P.O.W. for 33 months. Dad has shared many stories of his time in the camp with me. As you can imagine, most of them were harrowing. Here is one of his many memories of that time in the North Korean camp.
“…In the meantime, while I was there (in the camp), I had malaria fever twice. I had my tonsils removed by the Chinese in a little makeshift hospital they had. I had one tooth pulled with no Novocain, and I won’t even say how many times I was forced labor, this, that, and the other, because I don’t even know whether people would believe that I done forced labor or not.
When I had malaria for the second time, they carried me up to this little ole Chinese building. They left me in there three or four days. Then they gave me a little shot in the arm, which was–I don’t know–probably sugar water or something like that, I don’t know.
To show you some of the hardships, uh, it was early spring and it was still kinda cool. Well, I got to feeling better and I got up and I walked outside and the sun was shining on the side of this building. So, I walked over to the side where the sun was shining, and when I walked over to the side of the building there was a G.I. standing there with no clothes on whatsoever. And I said, “Buddy, what’s wrong with you?”
He said, “Well, I’m out here to pass a worm.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He said, “Yeah, the doctor said I had a tapeworm and I came out here when the pain hit me. They gave me some medicine and told me to come out here when I had to go.”
So, I went on back in but later he passed the worm, and I had never seen one. And there were doctors out there with sticks stretching it out and measuring it. I guess it had to be about six or eight feet long. It looked to me like garter rubber, like women used to put in skirts and stuff.
Later on, I was so sick I couldn’t raise my head up. This little nurse came in, and she was young and a pretty thing. She went about giving shots to some of the other guys with malaria, and by next day a couple of them were dead.
Well, she came over to my bed and she had two needles. When she raised my arm she seen my watch.
I smiled–which I was so weak–and I said, “Would you like to have my watch?” And I gave it to her. I thought I was about to die anyway.
She put down the needle she was about to give me my shot with, and reached over and got a different needle and gave me a shot with it instead.
The next day I felt better, and was able to leave the hospital not long after. I never saw that nurse or my watch again.
But I’ve always wondered, “What was in that first needle?” And would I have died if she had given me that one instead?
I don’t know.”
© Wade Kingston