I Got Shot Down

Seven airmen talk about the event none wants to experience.

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(Continued from page 5)

As we broke out of the squall, I see a rice paddy 200 or 300 feet below me. I put it into a tight 360-degree turn and brought it down in the center of this paddy. Six people in back of the aircraft are not waiting to get the hell out. The aircraft commander got out of the left door, but mine was jammed. The crew chief, Fred Crowson, helped me crawl out through a window. I looked off to the right and I saw black pajamas [Viet Cong] running toward us. Someone yelled, “Here they come.” I pulled out my trusty .38 revolver.

I kept firing at bad guys as I ran toward a dike. I dove over it and within a few seconds somebody came and landed a foot from me: Captain Robert Young [one of the passengers]. Six or seven bad guys were in front of us. I fired, reloaded, and the third time I reloaded, two bad guys with AK-47s took a running jump over the dike and one stuck his barrel in my face, one pointed at Bob's face. A third guy said, “Surrender or die.” I dropped that .38 damn quick.

They took us just past the tree line and took our boots off and pulled the laces out and tied us up with the laces. They used our socks as blindfolds. Within a couple of hours they walked us into a POW camp. There turned out to be about a dozen Americans in there. Later that night they brought in Varnado. Mike had been shot in the chest and above the knee cap, and it looked like it had shattered his knee. A week or two later they took Mike away because he had been wounded. We only saw him once again in July and he looked absolutely terrible. Bob Young, he survived for two and a half years. He was a six-foot-tall, 190-pound ranger, a brilliant guy, but he got so sick he dropped down to 75 or 80 pounds. On a Sunday, it was drizzling, and [a guard] unchained me and another guy to pick up the dinner bowls. Somebody yelled, “Go check on Bob.” I kneeled down and said to him, “We got to get a little food in you.” The poor son of a bitch, he died in my arms. Of the last four guys in the helicopter, it turned out that one of them hid in the jungle and made it back to friendly territory in three or four days. The other three were listed as missing in action and have since been declared killed in action.

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 [1952]. 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.

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