I Got Shot Down
Seven airmen talk about the event none wants to experience.
- By Phil Scott
- Air & Space magazine, May 2004
(Page 7 of 8)
NAME: Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Harris (U.S. Air Force)
AIRCRAFT: RB-29 Superfortress
CONFLICT: Korean War
SHOT DOWN OVER: Khakusen, North Korea
It was an RB-29, a recce [reconnaissance] version of the B-29, on a nighttime bomb-damage assessment of a bridge strike. The search lights were on us for less than a minute, then we were hit by [MiG-15s].
I don't know if the flames were coming from the engines or the tanks, but there was burning, and burning furiously. I told the crew to bail out. I couldn't stand the fire any longer and I dove out the front hatch and hit my head on the escape hatch and knocked myself out.
When I came to, I was falling. I noticed I could hear a flapping when I put my hand on the risers, and I realized the noise was coming from the skin from my arms and face. I landed in a rice paddy up to my crotch. It took me 20 minutes to work my way out of it. I was exhausted and in shock, of course. I was not aware of any pain at that time. It was 30 minutes after midnight on the fourth of July . That bit of information flashed through my brain: “Holy cow, it's the fourth of July and I may lose my independence.”
I concealed myself in some brush and I passed out or went to sleep. It was after daylight. The next thing that entered my mind was that I had a terrible thirst, because my wounds were weeping liquid so fast. I was well aware of the pain by that time. I went searching for water, and when I got up I heard some North Korean soldiers searching the area. So one of them walked within 10 feet of me and didn't see me.
After they had looked around the area I could hear a truck start and drive away. I started down the hill and in a field I noticed an old woman and young woman. My appearance frightened the old woman and the young woman rushed over to me, and I made some motions that I needed water. She gave me water out of a bowl and took me into a house where there was a cistern and gave me all the water I could drink. As I was finishing that an old man showed up. He was less than enchanted I was there; all he wanted me to do was get out quick, and I did.
I got on a trail that I thought might take me to another house, but I bumped into an old, old woman. My approach startled her badly. I could tell when she looked at my face and by the way she covered up her mouth. I motioned for water, then she motioned for me to follow her. She took me down the hill, which was practically in a village. She pointed to a building. I passed through the door and saw a guy in a white coat. He looked at me and motioned to me to sit in a chair. He got a mortar and pestle and he threw a lump of white material in and put some water in it and began to mix it up. He came over to me with a thing that looked like a small spatula and began to put that on me.
Then I felt a cold metal pressed in the back of my neck. The old lady had run down and reported my presence. A soldier came there and pointed his AK-47 at me and that was the end of my freedom for the next 14 months.