Harold Coleman was held as a prisoner of war in the Korean War from 1951 to
1953, first by the North Koreans and later by the Chinese. This interview is part of the
Korean War collection.
Harold Coleman grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. He first enlisted in the Army in
1946 with hopes of bettering himself through a college education. As an African-
American, he recalls that opportunities available to him at that time in the U. S. were
scarce because of racial segregation. He recounts his time in basic training, with
particular emphasis on race relations. After basic, he was sent to Hawaii and remained
there until 1949, first with a service company and then with a stockade guard company.
He notes that race relations were better in Hawaii than back home on the mainland.
There was a brief interruption in Coleman's military service from 1949 to 1950,
during which he attended vocational school under the GI Bill. He returned to the service
in 1950 just after the Korean War started. The Army was still segregated at that point.
Coleman relates some of his impressions of Korea and the war from when he first
arrived there. He also explains his duties as a soldier.
Coleman details the events of his capture, the long forced walks to various prison
camps and attempts to escape. He recalls that POW treatment improved dramatically
upon arrival at a permanent camp under Chinese supervision. He describes the facilities
at the permanent camp, housing, access to medicine and food, recreation.
Coleman attributes his ability to survive such an ordeal to his training and his
mental attitude. Some comparison is made between blacks' and whites' strength for
survival. Coleman states that he always held the belief that he would one day get back
Interviewee: Harold Coleman
Interviewer: Jason Goley
Date: November 28, 2000
G: This is an interview with Harold Coleman on November 28, 2000. Where did you
live before you joined the service?
C: I was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, on December 15, 1928. I entered
the service for the second time in October, 1950. I was instructed to go to Korea
during the end of 1950. We landed in Inchon, South Korea, right after Christmas,
somewhere in January. We were sent to a field artillery battalion where we were
participants in the 2nd Division, Battery A, for the 503rd Field Artillery Battalion.
We had training for about two or three or four weeks, possibly a month. Then we
were sent off on the front line somewhere around Wonju, South Korea. I was in
combat for, possibly, two months, and we were captured in North Korea,
February 11, 1951. I was taken as a prisoner of war by the North Korean
communists somewhere around the 38th or 39th parallel, north of the parallel.
Right after the war broke out, the Chinese came into the area. They took over
North Korea. We were captured by the North Koreans, but the Chinese later took
us into [custody] and relieved us from the North Koreans. After we were
captured, we walked approximately every night from about February of 1951 until
May or June the next year, about six or seven months, before we got to the
prisoner of war camp. We were in camp number five, south of the Yalu River in
North Korea, and stayed there for approximately two or three months. Then we
were sent to a standard prisoner of war camp, for all those that were being
detained for any length of time. But, the first time, we were in something like a
pipeline prisoner of war camp. The last camp we were in was camp seven on the
Yalu River in North Korea. We were treated fairly nice during the Korean War by
the Chinese. In fact, we were treated so much better by the Chinese than we
were by the North Koreans, because the North Koreans were more concerned
about their country being torn up. The Chinese were just coming over to help
them bring the war to an end. So we got harsher treatment from the North
Koreans than we did [from] the Chinese. We were glad to be turned over to the
Chinese. After we were turned over to the Chinese, we had pretty well nice
treatment from that time. We participated in Olympic games and sport just like
any other person, after we got to our regular camp in Pyongchon, North Korea. I
stayed at that camp from about the middle of 1950 to all the rest of 1951. That is
when I was released from the Chinese prisoner of war camp in Panmunjom.
From Panmunjom, we flew to Seoul, South Korea, where we went to an
evacuation hospital. We stayed at the evacuation hospital approximately three
days, and then we were flown to a Navy ship out in the Yalu Seoul Harbor River,
off from Pusan, South Korea. From there, they took us back to the United States,
San Francisco. We could have come back by plane, which would have taken
probably a day or so, but they wanted us to come back slowly where we could
adjust ourselves back to civilian life, back to civilization. So we took pills on the
way coming back, and it took us about two weeks to come back. We were pretty
well strong when we got back, landed in San Francisco and went to Camp
Stoneman. From there, I was sent home on a fourteen-day delay en route. After
that, I went back to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and from there, I was
discharged, on November 25, 1953. That ended my stay in the Army. After I was
discharged, I came back to civilian life.
G: That is a good summary. We will get back to that a little more in detail.
G: When did you originally enlist in the Army?
C: First time, I originally enlisted on July 11, 1946.
G: Why did you enlist?
C: I wanted to see what the Army had to offer me. I was still in high school, and I did
not see any need to stay in high school at that particular time, because when I
got out, there was not anything for me to do. Things were so segregated during
that time. So I thought, probably going in the service I could get a better deal. Get
a college education and medical care. There was very much reason for me to go
in the service, to try to better my condition.
G: How would you describe race relations in Jacksonville?
C: In the 1950s, race relations were not too good here. During that time, the only
kind of job I could get after I finished high school-I did not have enough money to
go to college-was to get a bus job, you know, bussing at the hotels, or some
domestic job. There were not any other jobs available. That is one of the reasons
why I left and went in the service.
G: Why did you choose the Army?
C: I had wanted to go in the Navy, but I could not obtain my birth certificate at that
particular time. So I chose to go in the Army, because all they wanted was a
verification that I was my age. It was seventeen at the time. I just changed my
mind and went in the Army. I really did want to go in the Navy.
G: Was there any particular reason why you wanted to go in the Navy?
C: Well, I thought at that particular time the Navy was less prejudiced towards
blacks than the Army was, and I could get a better position in the Navy at that
time, which I found out later it was not true.
G: What made you think that it was better for blacks in the Navy?
C: Because at that time, it was so hard to get into the Navy, so there must have
been some reason other than what I was thinking. You had to have so much
more qualification to get in the Navy. In other words, the Navy was not really
accepting too many blacks.
G: In the Navy, I understand, most blacks went to the stewards' department.
C: Right. I wanted something other than to get in the kitchen, say, to serve food. I
wanted something that could make me feel a little bit better, like I was a human
G: So you expected more opportunities in the Army?
C: In the Navy. I had expected more opportunities in the Navy. I went to the
recruiting office, Army and Navy recruiting office, and the Navy was promising us
more than what the Army [was]. The Army would tell you they would get [you] in
there, and they could not tell you exactly what kind of outfit you would be in. You
would be in any kind of outfit that they could see fit for you. But the Navy, you
could go in there and you could pick. It was your choice of what part of the Navy
you wanted to be in.
G: If you had been able to find your birth certificate, you would have joined the
C: Yes, I would have.
G: In the end, do you think it was better that you did join the Army?
C: As it becomes now, I think it was better that I did go in the Army. But by me going
so young, I could only go by what people tell you. I did not have no prior
experience from what was actually happening. I am glad I did go in the Army
instead of the Navy, because [the Navy] had a bunch of squabbles on the deck.
You know, all branches of service got the lowest class, where you have to be put
or you start up from, and then you go to the different other classes. But the Army,
I found that to be a little bit better organized than the Navy, for there was a larger
influx of blacks.
G: In 1946, the Army was segregated.
C: Yes, it was segregated.
G: Did you know it was going to be segregated?
C: Well, everything else was. Civilian life was segregated. I did not look for the Army
to be integrated during that time. That was back in the 1940s, 1949. Segregation
was practically all over the South and part of some of the North. So, it did not
surprise me to find out the Army was segregated.
G: When you joined and you went to your basic training, this was 1946?
G: Where did you go for basic training?
C: I went to basic training in Camp Lee, Virginia, and I was in the quartermaster
G: What is a quartermaster?
C: Quartermaster is supply for the Army, deals with the supplies and your food and
your bedding and clothing and all that, laundry. It was a furnishment for the Army.
G: Was the quartermaster corps mostly comprised of blacks?
C: Yes, it was completely black. The whole Army was segregated by this time, back
in the 1940s.
G: Did they have a white quartermaster corps?
G: You provided things for the other branches or the other parts of the Army or
C: For the Army itself. Like trucking or transportation and food, clothing, linen
supplies, uniforms and all that.
G: Were you supplying for black units or white units?
C: We were supplying for the whole Camp Lee, that base.
G: Was Camp Lee entirely...?
C: It was black and white. It was a training camp for whites. As you first came into
the gate, about half of the first section was white, and about half of the last
section was black.
G: How complete was segregation at Camp Lee?
C: About 100 percent complete. There was not any integration at that camp.
G: Did it ever become integrated at all? Did the restrictions ever lighten?
C: No. During my whole first six years in the service, the Army was strictly
G: Did you have much contact with white soldiers at Camp Lee?
C: We had contact when we go into town, or into the service clubs, or the PX [on-
base supply store]. We had contact with them then. But we did not have no
contact with them as far as training was concerned.
G: What was the nearest town that you went into at Camp Lee?
C: Petersburg, Virginia, a little small town about five or six miles from Camp Lee.
G: I imagine that town was also segregated.
C: Yes, it was segregated. When you went on leave, the white went to one section
of town and the black went to another section of town.
G: Was there a fairly large black section of that town?
C: A large portion was really for blacks because they had quite a bit of black
soldiers in Virginia. So I would say there was just as much places for blacks to go
than it was for whites. That was within the town.
G: Were there any racial incidents?
C: No, there were not really any racial incidents because you are in the Army, you
have to go by rules and regulations. We were not together. The blacks and the
whites were not together, and there were not any incidents. They went to their
side of town, and we went to our side of town.
G: What were your general impressions about your interactions with other white
soldiers during this period?
C: I had no hard feelings towards white soldiers. All I wanted was to have my own
__ of going the way I wanted to go and the way I should go. But it was set up
in such a way that would not allow you to mingle in the mix. Therefore, we never
had any hardships with the white soldiers. Sometimes we met in town, and we
just say, hi buddy, salute, and keep on going. We never did mingle in town.
G: Did you go off base often?
C: Probably once every weekend.
G: Did you have any problems with the people in Petersburg, Virginia?
C: No, the population treated all the soldiers very dignified and very nice. No hard
relationship with the civilian population. They were ready to get our money. They
did not care what color you were as long you had some money, something to
spend there. You were their buddy.
G: They cared about the color green.
G: What were your general impressions of your basic training experience?
C: I was a young man at the time, and everything seemed to be strange to me
because, a lot of time, I had went through schooling studying these things that
came to pass, some of the things that I studied and I really came in contact with,
it was teaching me a lot of sense, and intelligence too. You speak of things you
have never seen and you read about them in your book, and then you come in
contact with them, then you say, well, these things are true. It is a very uplifting to
G: What kind of things are you talking about?
C: Before I went into the Army, I had never been out of Jacksonville. So, even riding
on the train was uplifting to me. Taking training and having films on what to do,
all that was very intelligent to me. Because see, I never had any of that
experience before, by me coming right out of school and going into the services.
All of this was uplifting to me.
G: After your basic training, what unit were you assigned to?
C: After my basic training, I came home on a thirty-day delay en route. We left
Virginia and came back to Jacksonville. After Jacksonville, we were sent to
Camp Stoneman, California. That was a pipeline service company, and from
there, they processed you to whatever section or theater of the war they wanted
to send you. I was sent to Hawaii.
G: What did you do in Hawaii?
C: At first, I was sent to a service department company. I stayed in this service
company for about a year and a half, and then they assigned me to the stockade
guard detachment. I stayed in the stockade guard department, guarding military
prisoners at the stockade, until I left Hawaii in 1949.
G: You stayed in the stockade and then you left?
C: Hm-mm [yes]. I stayed in the stockade the second half of my three-year shift in
G: What were race relations like in Hawaii?
C: The race relations were much better over there. Those people were much
friendlier. They were more sensitive to black people because some of them were
dark-complexioned themselves. We got along fine with the Hawaiians.
G: Was your base in Hawaii segregated?
G: Was the stockade segregated?
C: The stockade was not segregated, but the Army base was segregated. When
you were a soldier and you messed up in the service and you got sentenced and
everything, they sent you to stockade, black or white. All of them were in the
same place. That was the only integration in the service, stockade.
G: So you were guarding black and white prisoners.
G: Were there other white prison guards, as well?
C: Yes. Sometimes, two of us would have five prisoners. We carried them on details
and showed them what we had them to do, what they were supposed to do. Take
them into lunch, guard them at lunch, and then take them from lunch and get
them back on duty. There were four towers around this stockade. Later on, I was
put into the guard department, where you sit up on one of the towers and you
look down and make sure everything was going correctly and nobody trying to
break out. They had this razor-type wire all around it, and we had five shotguns
up on the tower. They had a big spotlight on the tower looking] over, and you
walked around the stockade.
G: Was there any resentment from the white prisoners having black guards?
C: Well, there was nothing they could have done about it. They were in prison. They
were just like anybody else. The white and the black, I could not find any
difference between them. They were under lock-and-key, and we were the
guards over them. They had to accept it. There were Hawaiians and black and
white prisoners there.
G: You left the service in 1949.
C: Right in there, right.
G: What did you do after you left the service?
C: After I left the service, I came home and I went to Walkers Vocational College [for
studies in] radio, television and electronics. That was under the GI Bill. I went to
school for about fifteen months. See, I got out in July of 1949. For about fifteen
months, I was in vocational school, and I left and went back in the service before
I completed my training in college. I went back in the service in 1950.
G: Why did you return to the service?
C: Because this school did not have an advanced course in radio and electronics. I
almost finished. I got to the place where I was almost in my senior year in that
vocational [training], and I found out that they did not have an advanced course.
So I said, I will just go back in the service. That was right after the Korean War
G: Did you expect to go to Korea?
C: I did not care where I went, really. I knew at that time, the war had just broke out
and they were sending most of them to Korea. By me having prior service, well, I
had the chance to be a cadreman in Camp Lee, Virginia, but I said I did not want
to be a cadreman, because you got to go right back, you got to train other
soldiers. You are going right back through the training which you went through
before, and that is hard. I just took the chance. Send me overseas, whatever you
want to do. I do not want to be a cadreman. So, they sent me to Korea. I had no
choice. When they give you a preference and you do not want it, you look to go
where they want to send you. That is what happened to me.
G: Your second time in the service, what was your MOS [Military Occupational
G: What is that?
C: That is duty soldier.
G: When did you first find out that you would be going to Korea?
C: They sent us to Camp Stoneman, California, and we stayed in the pipeline
company until our orders came around. It was about a week or ten days. They
call you out, call your name and group, probably, and then they would ship them.
They would go one way, and the next one go the next way. My group happened
to be assigned to Korea.
G: In your second time in the service, had anything changed as far as segregation?
C: No, segregation had not changed then. We were still in a segregated unit.
Segregation did not change until after I was a prisoner of war and came back.
Then there was integration, after I had went to Korea and came back. When I
came back to Camp Stoneman, white and black was in the same barracks. I
said, what is going on? I had been over there for three years. I knew that Truman
said he was going to change it, that he was going to make the whole Army
integrated. But that was before I got captured, and when I was captured, I knew
nothing about it until I got back.
G: Where were you assigned when you went to Korea? What units were you
C: I was in field artillery. I was in the 503rd Field Artillery Battalion. That was the big
guns with large howitzers. 155-millimeter howitzers we shot.
G: What did you expect to find in Korea?
C: A bunch of war. That is what I found, too, a bunch of shooting [and] bullets going
over your head. I did not expect no more than what an average person would
expect of a war. I had never experienced it, but I knew what a war probably was
like before I got there.
G: Did you have any opinions about the war?
C: Yes, I had a lot of opinions. The first time I started thinking, I said, well, why
would people want to have a war, from what I had seen. I had not experienced
nothing like that in my life. We were going to the front line, and it looked like the
whole Korean civilian population was going the other way. We were going north,
and they were going south. They were trying to get out of Korea, and we were
going right into it. I said, if something like that would happen in the United States,
people would be dumbfounded. They would not know what to do. People had
their cows and whatever luggage they could hold. They were getting out to keep
from being killed, and we were going into it. But that was our duty, so there was
nothing you could do but just go ahead. Those were our orders.
G: When you left Camp Stoneman, did you go directly to Korea or did you stop off?
C: We stopped off in Yokohama, Japan. That is where the ship got supplies. We got
off the ship and went to Camp Drake. From there, they broke us up in even
smaller units, and then they sent us to Korea. We stayed in Camp Drake, Japan
about two or three days. We got clothing and whatnot, supplies, and we kept
right on to Korea.
G: Do you remember the date of your arrival in Korea?
C: Korea? We landed in Inchon. We left Camp Stoneman, California, the day after
Thanksgiving in 1950. We got to our unit a little before Christmas. Christmastime,
we were up in the mountain in the snow, lost. We were supposed to report to a
certain place, the mess hall to eat, and we were stranded in the snow. We had
Christmas about two or three days after Christmas in 1950 because we were
lost. We were not lost. We were really snowbound. It was snowing so hard, we
could not go. We just had to stay there in the snow, probably about two or three
days. We got back with our company, and we had Christmas about the first of
January or something in there.
G: So, you landed in Inchon a little bit before Christmas?
C: We landed in Inchon after Christmas. I am sorry. We left California the day after
Thanksgiving, and we got to Korea a few days before Christmas. We got
snowbound during Christmas. I would say I must have got to Korea around the
last of November, first of December. Anyhow, Christmas we were stranded.
G: Do you remember what your first day was like in Korea?
C: The first day, we were traveling on trucks going to the north. We were passing
the civilians and everybody going back. We did not know really where we were
going, but we were going up near the front line to have training on those 155-
millimeter howitzers, the big guns. We had about three or four days of training on
them to get familiar with them. Some of the guys had already had artillery
training, but I did not have artillery training because I was in the quartermaster in
my prior service. So, the ones who did not have the artillery training, they gave
them extensive military artillery training, and in about two or three, we went to the
front line. Got in our unit, the 503th Artillery.
G: Was that a segregated unit?
C: Yes, it was segregated. All black.
G: So, you first arrived and were going north, and refugees were going south. You
spent a couple days training on 155 howitzers.
C: Right, after we got to some little small outpost in Korea. We trained about two or
three days here and then went to another section, two or three days there. In
other words, I got about two weeks training after I got to Korea, not counting
traveling time, but just the training, about two weeks. Then we went into combat.
G: What were your initial impressions of Korea, for example, the people, landscape,
C: It was very cold, sub-zero weather in the wintertime, thirty and forty below zero. It
was winter when we arrived [because] there was snow, and after I was captured,
then the summer came.
G: Did you have much contact with the people?
C: The Koreans?
C: No, we did not have any personal contact with them, because they were not
allowed to come in the military districts. That is what we were in, military districts.
So we had no connection with the Koreans. [Tape interrupted.]
G: What exactly were your duties as a soldier during the war?
C: In Korea? I was a powder chip cutter for the field artillery. They would shoot the
gun, and we would take the powder charges and cut them depending on how far
we wanted the projectile to go. It was a howitzer that we could shoot twelve
miles, so we had twelve charges. If you cut the twelve charges in half to six, that
would go six miles. We would set up to whatever our commanding officer tell us,
what charge they want. We had to cut the charges down to make them go where
they want the bullets to go.
G: You were in Korea about two weeks before you actually went up to the front for
C: Right. I went into combat and stayed on in combat about four weeks.
G: You were in combat about four weeks?
C: About four weeks, yes, before I was captured.
G: And that was in February of 1950?
C: February of .
G: Do you know if you were engaged against the North Koreans or Chinese?
C: We were engaged the first time with the North Koreans. We were engaged with
the North Koreans about three weeks. While we were in combat then, the
Chinese came in. The Chinese came in around the last of January, or
somewhere along in there. They came in droves, too. They took over all the
North Korean positions, because there was more Chinese than North Koreans.
We had almost annihilated most of the North Koreans before I was captured. The
Chinese came in to keep it from being a victory for the United Nations. That just
prolonged the war.
G: Go ahead and talk about how you were captured.
C: After we got into combat, we were backing up the infantry on the front line. We
were advancing probably about ten or fifteen miles every day, so we knew we
were pushing them back, pushing the North Koreans back. A couple of weeks
later, we were firing dead to the north [meaning exactly north]. Then we got
instructions to start firing to the east, and then we got instructions to start firing to
the west. We knew something was wrong then. Then, pretty soon, we got
instructions to fire to the southwest, and all the way around us. The news started
going around, saying we almost should be surrounded, from the way we were
shooting. We do not need to shoot back behind us, because our own men are
behind us. During that time we started shooting behind us, our company
commander told us, it looks like everything is hopeless. He said, men, we are
almost outnumbered. He said, now, I am not your company commander anymore
because things look bad and look very desperate. He said, everybody has to
take care of himself. During that time, in the mountains behind, you could see the
Chinese coming down in droves. It looked like ants just coming down the side of
the mountain. Then they started overtaking our position. There was not anything
for us to do but just lay low, let them go over, take our position. They passed us.
We had hand-to-hand combat. Later on, we grouped up. There was about five of
us, black and white, and we just got into a big foxhole that the Chinese had built.
They overran us, and we just got in there in the foxhole, just waiting for them to
pass us. We just threw our guns up because we were outnumbered, and they
just told us to come on, making motions for us to come on. They captured us.
That was happening throughout the whole area. Probably thousands and
thousands of soldiers were captured during that time. That was in the winter
offensive, in 1950. The Chinese overran almost all of the military positions. After
they captured us, they got some of the other POWs and we started walking every
night. We would not walk in the daytime. We would walk at night, all night, and
we would get into some caves or some bunker and hide in the daytime to keep
our planes from bombing us. We still had our uniforms on, so they did not know
who we were. They thought we were with the Chinese. You know, a lot of people
disguised themselves as American soldiers. Our planes bombed us a lot of
times. Being captured by the Chinese, they came and strafed the Chinese right
along with us.
G: The planes came by, and they strafed you?
C: They would come by and strafe us. A lot of times they would carry you out in a
cave, hide in a cave or up under a railroad crossing or something like that. Up
under the tunnels, we would stay there until everything got dark, and then we
would start moving again to the north. I walked from February of 1950 when I
was captured until probably about May or June, when we finally got to...it was not
a permanent prisoner of war camp, but it was a stationary prisoner of war camp.
After we got there, we stayed at one prisoner of war camp, and then they would
transfer about another day or so to another one. I got to my final one, in the
picture I showed you, it was about July in 1950.
G: What did you do during the day while you were hiding on the long walk?
C: They had the guns, and they were keeping us from being out in the open where
planes would bomb us. The United States Air Force had a saying that said, stop
everything that moves and move everything that stops. They did not do any
running around in the daytime because our planes were over us in the sky. The
Chinese had very few planes at that time. Our planes took possession of the
whole sky in North Korea and South Korea. That is why they moved us at night.
When a plane would come in or something like that, they had the guns. They
would start shooting in the air, pow, pow, pow. That would send in the signal to
all the rest of the Chinese, there is a plane in the area. That plane would come
this way five or six times. They would keep an eye on it, and they would start
shooting. When they shoot, they come on back and get way back behind us. It
was usually the understanding that the planes were heading that way. They
would put out all the lights and fires and everything, and then we would escape
G: How did they feed you during this long walk?
C: We were moving every night, so sometimes we did not get anything to eat. If our
plane would strafe us and tear up the kitchen or hurt some of the Chinese, we
would not get anything to eat until the next morning. They were feeding us
sorghum and millet and corn. They would feed us once a day, about first dark. A
little after first dark because they would start cooking when it started getting dark.
That is the only thing we had to eat, millet and sorghum. We did not have any
kind of meat whatsoever.
G: How were you treated during the march?
C: As long as I do what they said, I was treated nice. But if you tried to be stubborn
or tried to go against what they said, you would get beat or kicked or knocked
down. So, to try to keep your own health, you did what they said. I had no trouble
because I did what they said.
G: Did other people around you have trouble? Did they resist?
C: Yes, some of them would get stubborn, did not want to walk, some of the
prisoners of war, and they would kick them or push them and make them walk. At
one time, I had raw feet. My feet had walked so much in the snow packs. When it
started getting warm, I started sweating inside my rubber boots, snow packs, and
my feet got so raw. But I just kept doing the best I could do. I never did stop. I
just kept on going regardless.
G: Do you remember any specific incidents along the march?
C: Yes. Well, I broke away from the march two times. The first time I broke away, it
was about seven of us. All of our last names started with a C, Collier, Coleman,
and Connell. There were about seven of us. Two white guys were with us, a
white sergeant, and me, I was a PFC [private first-class] at the time, and three or
four other privates. We broke away. We were trying to get back to the Yellow
Sea, off of Inchon. We were trying to get back there because some of the
prisoner of war pilots that were shot down were telling us where there was a
rescue harbor at. We were trying to get to that harbor. We walked for about two
or three days and were captured back again by another group. That group took
us and kept us marching right on. [End of Side 1.]
G: You were saying you had strayed away from the large group.
C: Yes, there were about seven of us, and we broke away that time. We were
walking and walking. This sergeant told me all the rest of them had gotten tired.
There were about seven of us, and it was only me and the sergeant. He was
much stronger than I was and bigger than I was. He would walk and get up about
half a block in front of me, and then he would sit down and wait until I get there. I
am pulling up over the mountain, and when I got there, he would take off again.
He was so much stronger than me. Night came, and I got to the place where I
had gotten so far behind him. The Chinese had come down into the little path.
They were heading south, you see. When they ran up into us, boy, I just fell
down and played like I was dead. I was so surprised. I do not know what
happened to the sergeant because he was a little ahead of me. I do not know
whether they killed him or what happened. I just fell down in the road and played
like I was dead. One of the first line of the Chinese come up there and push me
on the side like that with his foot. I just acted like I was dead. He said something
in Chinese to the other one, saying that I am dead, and the rest of the troops just
filed right on past me. When they filed past me, I got up and I did not know what
to do. The snow covered the ground, and it had some little broom sages. I made
me a little what-you-call-it and laid up on the snow. Put my overcoat over me, put
the broom sages up on the snow and made me a bed. I laid up there with my
overcoat upon me. I went to sleep, and I woke up the next morning. I was by
myself, and I knew I was in enemy territory. I went down in the valley, and I saw
where the Chinese had wasted a lot of rice on the ground. I grabbed that rice up
and ate it, and it tasted like chicken to me. After that, then they swooped back
down on me in the valley, and I just gave up. I just gave up, and they took me
and carried me on a bunker with them. They were shooting out the bunker. They
treated me real nice. That is when I really knew that God was real. He was real
because I was praying. I was praying that something would happen. It just looked
like a spell went on me that said, they are not going to bother you, they are not
going to torture you or anything. They even rode me on a donkey going back. I
told them my feet were so sore, and they put me on a donkey. Three or four of
them were in front of me and two or three of them behind me. I just rode about a
day or so, and they were carrying me back to where I had broke away. A feeling
just went through me. I said, I do not know what it is that is happening to me, but
I just want it to keep on. I did not have any problem with nothing after that. That is
when God really talked to me, really came to me and said, you just be yourself
and you will be home. Do not know how long it is going to be, but you just be
yourself and you will get home again.
G: Would you consider that a born-again experience?
C: Yes, that is what it was. It was not really a born-again experience because I was
already a Christian, but, yes, you could say it was a born-again experience,
because when you get down and you ask God in needy times, He will help you.
That was a time when I really needed Him, and I knew that He was still alive.
G: So you prayed a lot?
C: Yes, I prayed to get out of that situation. I was in a situation and I just said, I did
all I can do. I do not know which way to go. It was just sort of like He came to me
and just showed me where to go. I had nice treatment during that, probably
about, two or three months. I just felt like it was a dream. I just said, whatever it
is, just let it keep on happening. They started feeding me some of their own food.
I got on their horses and rode. They were not horses. These were little old
ponies, little mini-ponies. They carried us back, right back to where I broke away
G: Once you got back to the main group of marches, how were you treated then by
C: Well, we were going every day. They did not have time to chastise you then.
They gave you some food, and early that next evening, you would go on again.
You did not even see a lot of their faces, really, in the dark, but they were right
there, pushing you and telling you where to go. They had two or three of them at
the end, in the rear, and they had two or three of them at the front, the head.
When they passed a place, they waited until the last soldier passed, and then
they would go behind them. The way I broke away was [when] we got to a
stream of water, and we had already planned it, said, now, when you get to this
stream of water, the last one, all of us are going to break away. It will be almost
near the end. Some up in front of us would play like they could not get across
and delay them back there, you know, and the other troops going on. Then we
jump off on the side of the cliff. Then the line started going back again, and the
Chinese at the back of it, they do not know there is a big break in the middle of it.
That gave us time to get away.
G: Were you explaining the first time you got away, or the second time?
C: That was the last time I got away.
G: How long were you away the two times that you escaped?
C: The first time, it was about a day, and the last time, it was a couple of days. This
time when I arrived with the Chinese, they had already captured me back then,
you see. They had captured me back, and they were carrying me to the crew that
I had broken away from. That crew was further north than where they were. They
had communication, but we did not have any communication.
G: Just to make sure, you were going with the main group and you escaped the first
time. Then you were captured again, and were taken back. Now, you are saying
on the way back, you escaped then? Or did you get back to the main group and
C: I do not understand.
G: I am not exactly clear? Okay, the first time you escaped was obviously from the
G: And then you were recaptured. Did you get taken back to the main group at that
C: No, no. I did not get taken back to the main group the first time, but the second
time that I escaped and I was on a pony, they carried me to the original one that I
had broken away from.
G: To what would you attribute the kind treatment that you received after the second
time that you escaped?
C: I attribute it to God because there was not any other way, I do not think. I had
prayed for it, and it just came to be a reality. He had a big picture in what would
G: So you got back to the main group the second time. How long after that did you
keep on marching?
C: About a month or so before we got to the pipeline camp to get all of them
together and group them up until you get a certain amount. Then they would
send us to what they would call a permanent POW camp. They had about five of
them over there, and you went from one to the other one. Sometimes we stayed.
The first one I got to, I stayed about four months. The next one I got to, I stayed
about one month. Then the third one I got to, I stayed there permanently until the
armistice was signed [ending the Korean War, July 27, 1953].
G: You were in three camps altogether?
G: Was there a difference in treatment at the three camps?
C: Yes. After we got to a permanent camp, we got better treatment then. We got
where we could have religious services at night and pray. Sports, at that big
prisoner of war camp that I showed you by the Yellow River, we played soccer
and basketball and ice skating in the wintertime. A lot of times, the Chinese
carried us sightseeing on the river ice, just going on the ice. They were very nice
there. We had a lot of pleasure then, because we got to know our capture crew,
and they could speak English and communicate with us. We got to where we
was able to send letters home. It would take about three months for a letter to get
home. I wrote my sister a lot of letters during the time I was captured.
G: How long until you were allowed to send a letter home?
C: They would give us a piece of paper and an envelope once a month, and it would
take the letter about three months to get home. It would go through China and
Czechoslovakia and some other place, a neutral country, and then it would go to
the United States.
G: Were you always a prisoner of the Chinese?
C: I was captured by the North Koreans, but most of my time in prisoner of war
camps was spent with the Chinese because they took over almost all the war
from the North Koreans. North Korea was almost annihilated, and then they
come in to save the country.
G: Did the North Koreans and the Chinese treat you differently?
C: Yes. The Chinese was much more lenient to us than the North Koreans. The
North Koreans would kill a lot of the GIs. We saw GIs when we were first going
into combat all on the side of the road and in wells. They slaughtered them
because they knew they were getting slaughtered. During the time the Chinese
came in, the Chinese stopped all that, and they took all the prisoners. [Tape
G: When did the North Koreans turn you over to the Chinese?
C: That was about a month after I was captured. The North Koreans held us about
three weeks. All the rest of the time, the Chinese. That is when the Chinese first
came into the Korean War. That is when [MacArthur] was talking about bombing
China. That is when the Chinese came in there.
G: Something unusual about the Korean War [is that] it was the first time the
Chinese spent a lot of time indoctrinating the prisoners.
C: No, I was not indoctrinated. When I first got captured, the North Koreans
indoctrinated. We had already been trained to not give anything, no more than
your name and your ranking and your serial number. The Geneva Conference
[Convention; international meeting setting rules of warfare] declared that a
prisoner of war is not supposed to answer any question but that, but they will put
it to you in such a way if you do not answer, they are going to put you in solitary
confinement. So I gave conflicting reports to them. I never gave the right thing in
anything I said. Just like they if they asked me how many men were in my
company and it was 200, I would say twenty-four. I would never give them the
right, accurate answer. They put lights in front of your eyes and keep you up half
of the night. So, if you wanted to go and get some sleep, you just go ahead and
tell them anything that you wanted to tell them. You do not tell them anything that
will help them. The way that I would tell them, they would have to backtrack
themselves to find out, and when they found out, it was not the right thing.
G: What kind of devices would they use to get you to talk?
C: To make you talk, they would tie your legs down and your hands down...of
course, this never happened to me, but I have seen it happen to a lot of the GIs.
Pull your legs down and your hands and then stretch you. Put you in a cold place
and take your shoes off. Put you in there with nothing but your shorts on and
shirts on, and you would be in sub-zero weather. I know one fellow who knocked
a guard down because the guard kept hitting him with the butt of the rifle. He
would not do what the guard told him to do and the guard kept hitting him, so he
just got aggravated and he knocked him down and knocked the rifle. The rifle
went one way, and he went the other way. They put him in solitary confinement.
When we saw him again, it was about two months and he had frozen feet. They
had kept him in a place where his feet just got frostbitten.
G: Did they ever torture you?
C: No, I never did get tortured. I do not know why or for what reason. Those
Chinese were much more lenient to a black than they were to whites. I have seen
a lot of white guys get some bad treatments when they did not want to give in to
what they wanted them to do. So I have seen them torture a lot of them. This guy
that got his feet frozen, he was a black guy. I guess he got to the end of his rope
and he could not stand anymore, so he just had to defend himself. But the most
of them that were tortured, they were mostly white guys.
G: Did they spend a lot of time telling you how America was no good for blacks?
C: No, they did not say to much about [how] America was no good for blacks, but
they said America was impure, so it was no good, period. It was no good, period.
That fellow there that I was showing you went to school with me, he came over
into Korea while I was a prisoner of war, and he told me a Chinese plane came
by night and dropped a bunch of leaflets on the ground and said my name was
on it. He wrote back to his family and said, is Harold Coleman a prisoner of war?
They said, he is missing in action over there. He said my name was on some of
that propaganda they dropped out of the plane. [The leaflet] said that I was a
prisoner of war, getting them to try to surrender. You know, not surrender but to
stop the fighting. They were trying to go into the minds of the soldiers that were
over there fighting, try to get them to go against the company and whatnot. They
were dropping propaganda, see, to try to change their minds. This guy said my
name was on one of those propaganda leaflets.
G: Do you know if those leaflets were just dropped on any old American company,
or was it a segregated company?
C: It was all over American soldiers. See, this was after I was a prisoner of war. He
was with the 25th Infantry Division. I do not know whether he was with a black
outfit or not. I was already captured. I did not know about this until I came home.
He was telling me, I know one of your friends, and this friend told him, yes, he is
over there somewhere. He went over there to fight, and then the war was ended.
He then came back and got discharged from the Army. I never seen him in a
uniform because I was a prisoner of war all that time. He done went in the
service and came out before I ever got back.
G: What kind of housing was there in the camps?
C: The camp was a Korean village where some of these refugees were moving out.
They moved the prisoners of war in the village where the North Koreans would
be leaving. A lot of times, the Chinese would come in there and make the North
Koreans move out and put the prisoners in there. This place where I was where I
showed you the picture, that was a Korean village, but they evacuated it and put
us prisoners in there.
G: Was the housing adequate?
C: It is not adequate to American standards. Their houses are built out of mud and
straw. They have a fireplace at one end, and they have hollow holes up under
the ground with clay. When they cook, that heats up the floor, and the smoke
come on the other end of the house. You lay on the floor and sleep on straw
mats, and that was how you kept warm. They were not adequate, but they were
adequate enough to make you survive.
G: What kind of medical treatment was there, if you were injured or something?
C: Well, you had to be almost dead before you could get any medical treatment.
When I first got captured, I had double pneumonia, and they sent me up to go on
a mountain to a little old place that was a hospital. They put me in that. I stayed
out of my head for almost two or three weeks. I had double pneumonia when I
came to. I was too weak to even move. When I got up enough, they would not
feed you nothing but liquid food, rice and water and stuff like that. They called it
soft diet, but it was not anything but millet and corn in the water, water-style. We
had to drink hot water. The water was so contaminated, they had to boil the
water to drink. During the hot summertime, or even in winter, you had to drink hot
water. When I came to from that, they had a doctor, supposed to have been a
doctor, and they did a lot of experimenting on me. They would give me a shot
every day, one in the arm. They were saying it was to upgrade our health. Later
on, we found out they were experimenting on us. They took the appendices out
on a lot of them, a lot of the GIs. They said they got bad appendices, and they
would take their appendixes out.
G: What kind of experiments were they doing?
C: That is what the Chinese doctors said. After we found out, they said that they
were experimenting on us. They were giving us some shots to build up our
resistance, but then later the experimenting, that is what we found out it was.
Because I had the pneumonia, but after I got up, I think I got up because I got in
a warmer place. Those hospitals were a little warmer, and it kept me out of the
cold. So I got a little better, and then I got up good enough to where I could come
out and sit on the steps. I would go out to sit on the steps in the sunlight, and the
sun would just take all of my energy. I would not be able to get up out of the sun.
The sun would just take your energy.
G: Do you think that was part of the medicine they were giving you?
C: No, we were just that weak, and the sun drained the energy. When they gave us
a chance to go out in the sun, we had not seen the sun in so long. But when they
gave us the chance to go out and sit in the sun to relax, the sun just took you in.
You are weak anyhow. You are not getting the right food. The sun just drew it out
of you. You sit there for any length of time and you get ready to get up, you find
that you cannot get up. You lost your strength in the sun. That is just the way it
G: How did you find out that they were experimenting on you?
C: We came to the conclusion, it got out from some of the interpreters, the ones
friendly with us. They said, this person had appendicitis] and they did not have
no appendix, and they were telling us they were giving this to upgrade our health
and our health did not get upgraded anymore. I took shots in my arm every day
for about a whole month, one in this arm and one in this arm. Some of the guys
complain about different sicknesses, and they [said], oh he ain't got nothing but
appendicitiss, and they were going around taking out appendixes.
G: Did they take yours out?
C: No, they did not do anything but give me a bunch of shots, and I do not know
what the shots were for. I do not see where it improved my health any.
G: Did they ever try to get you to confess to war crimes?
C: No, they never [did]. Only thing they want to try to get out of me is different
information about my outfits and the outfits that was in Korea.
G: Your entire POW experience, did they keep on trying to indoctrinate you and
asking you questions?
C: Oh yes. The first part of the time after we got to our first original prisoner of war
camp, they indoctrinated you a lot of times. They found out the ones that they
could get a little bit of something out, and they gave them easier treatment in the
prisoner of war camp.
G: How were those people treated by the other soldiers, the other prisoners.
C: They would down them. We used to call them down soldiers. You call them a
down soldier because they give up a little bit of information to get better
treatment. They were just a different type of people that did not live amongst us.
They lived in separate barracks from us.
G: Were they better barracks?
C: No, they were not any better, but they got better treatment, better food, some of
the food the Chinese was eating. We were eating food cooked especially for the
prisoners of war.
G: Did they spend a lot of time trying to teach you about communism?
C: After we got into this original last prisoner of war camp, they showed us Chinese
movies, have the writing up under the picture. The lyrics was in Chinese, but they
would put it up under in English. They would be trying to indoctrinate us about
Mao Dengong, the leader of the Chinese, and Chou-En-Lai. They were the
leaders of China back in the 1950s. These were their leaders that they were
trying to praise him and all of that. [They] was indoctrinating us about that they
were trying to do this and that for, I guess, imperialist warmongers and all that.
The Communist Daily Worker is the communist paper, they gave us that to read
and all about these Chinese ideals and all of that. We read it because it occupied
G: That is an interesting concept. How did you occupy your time?
C: Well, I told you we had football games, basketball games, skating, soccer. Most
of the times in the summertime, we would have to go to the mountain and get
firewood to burn to keep us warm in the wintertime. In the summertime, every
day we had to go to the mountain and get wood and dead trees and whatnot. We
hauled that back for months until it gets cold, and then we used that wood to
keep us warm and to cook food.
G: Did you have to cook your own food?
C: No, the Chinese cooked the food. They would not allow us no food. Only thing
they give us a little bit of what they cooked, and they cooked theirs separate from
ours, and the prisoners of war, they cooked their food separate.
G: What kind of stuff did you eat in the camps? Was it different than during the
C: Right before the armistice was signed, we started getting meat. About three
weeks before the war was over, they gave us canned meat. We got beans. They
would start cooking the rice, but it would be hard. Gave us something hard to
chew on. Closer to the end before the armistice was signed, they started giving
us better treatment, better food, a little bit more time to play. You did not have to
go every day getting wood. We would play volleyball in the evening and baseball.
I usually played a lot of volleyball because that was more down my line. I was not
fast enough to play basketball.
G: To what do you attribute your ability to survive? What do you think made you
C: I will tell you what I think I would attribute to me surviving is my training. What I
went through, I listened to my training. It was very interesting thing that I never
did think that I would ever have to go through this. I had prisoner of war training
during my first time being in the service at boot camp. A lot of these guys, they
figured they would not ever come to this. We used to go to the movies where
they showed films and different things, and they would be asleep. The sergeant
would have to throw his helmet over and knock him on the head and wake them
up. But all this was interesting to me, and I found out one of the reasons I
survived [is because] I did a lot of the things the training taught me to do, how to
survive, how to get along with your captor. I think that played a very important
part in me being able to survive over there.
G: What kind of things did they teach you?
C: They teach you about keep your socks dry and keep some food in your breast
there, what do you call that, you keep your C-rations [Army-issue food] in here.
When I was captured, I had C-rations all in my shirt. I lived on C-rations for
probably a couple of days after I was captured. How to keep your socks dry and
your underwear. You know, when you sweat, try to get yourself in a position
where you will not keep your feet wet, because you can keep walking. That was
the main object, to keep moving, keep walking. A lot of how to not be intimidated
by certain propaganda that they [would say]. Tell them the war crime act, allow
you to tell them and no more. Just to be gentle with them where you would not
get any backlashes. All this survival [training] generally helped, and the physical
fitness and all that. I just thought it played an important part in my survival.
G: Did patriotism pay a role in your ability to survive?
C: No, I do not think patriotism. I was born and raised in America, and I know the
American way of life. I have been patriotic to my country, but as far as patriotic
over there, I do not think that had anything to do with surviving. In other words,
me being in a black camp and a black man, that played more part in me surviving
than anything else, I think. Just determination and willpower to keep on and do
something better, to go ahead.
G: Do you think many white soldiers had more trouble dealing with this kind of
C: Yes, I believe they did. That is a mental problem. See, the average white person,
I do not think he has endured some of the things that black people have endured.
Now see, the black man, he is capable of taking all this hard, disgusting ways
about living that he had been living through it every day. We had a white pilot
who was shot down, and he lived about three or four days after he was shot
down. He could not take it. When he see them planes going back, coming back
over from bombing and said they going back to Japan and they sat up in the
officers' club and get coffee. He was eating the same thing that we were eating,
and he could not take it. He died. His daddy was a big general in the Army, and
we used try to tell them to eat this, and man, I am not going to eat all this. He did
not live but three days with us.
G: He would not eat?
C: Well, once you lose your appetite, you start dying right there. He got to the place
he would not eat. He could not eat this stuff. He just sat up and think about when
the planes go around, and I should have been in that one going back there. Oh,
in ten minutes they will be landing over there in Japan and they will be in the
officers' club getting a shot of liquor or some ice cream and chicken or whatever.
He would start telling us, and we were eating the leaves off the trees. He could
not do that. He did not survive. I got to the place where I would eat mulberry
leaves and anything to survive, green wild onions, everything. It had a lot of
energy in it. It kept me living. That is what I am saying some of them go. The way
that I come up, I did not come up with no silver spoon. I just came up the hard
way, and by me coming up the hard way, when I really went over there and got
into, well, it was not really hard to me. It would not have been hard to do if you
would have [grown] up with [a hard life] in this country. If you done went through
these things, you can do it better than someone else.
G: Did you ever try to escape the camps? You already told about the march. Did
you try to escape while you were at camp?
C: I never tried, because I had just settled down and said, I am just going to stay
here, because one day I am going to be home anyhow. Never, after I got to the
camp. After we were playing different it just got away from me. I said, well,
I am going to have to stay here until the end.
G: Did you ever doubt that you would go home?
C: No, something told me that I would be home. I used to go to sleep and dream
that there were logs all the way across the Pacific Ocean, logs right side of each
other, and I walked the logs and go all the way home and come right here into
Jacksonville and start playing. We would be playing different games. Just like
some of the Chinese said, okay, it is time to go. This was in my dream, said, it is
time to go, you got to go back. And I just go right on back over. That showed me
a lot of things that I would probably be home, those dreams.
G: You said you believed that blacks were treated better by the Chinese?
C: They were treated more leniently. They were not treated any better. I think they
were really after the white soldier. The black soldiers, they figured we were just
drawn into the war by the whites because there was segregation in the States.
So we had a little more lenient treatment, but as far as food and concern, it was
not any better. We all were almost starving, all, black and white. While some of
the whites would have to go and get wood, go to the hill, and you probably would
be playing some kind of game or something. It was a little bit different. They
would not put it as harsh on us as they would do on the white, but we were all
prisoners of war and that is what they look at.
G: What did you think of your captors, the guards and such?
C: The Chinese in particular, do you mean?
C: Overall, I think the Chinese, they were doing their jobs just like anybody else. I
think they were some nice people. But the North Koreans, they just do not have
any kind of humane feelings for any other people. I can understand their war.
Their country was being torn apart. So they had to feel more disheartedly
towards the soldiers than the Chinese, because that was their country being torn
apart by the Americans and the United Nations. So from that point of view, I
would say that is why the North Koreans were harder on all American soldiers
over there, because they were tearing their country up. But the Chinese were
different people. They were just a little bit more lenient and humane than the
North Koreans. You can understand. If somebody comes in and tears your house
up, you would be mean-willed too. That is the way I look at it.
G: So you do not harbor any resentments to the captors?
C: I have resentment to the North Koreans, but I do not have any resentments to the
Chinese, because we got to their place and we were friends up until, you know, a
little before the armistice. They gave us recreation and let us play, and they
would take us on walks down on the frozen river. They were more like brothers
and sisters. We knew we had to live with them, and they had to live with us to
make us do right. But the North Koreans, no, they would slap you and beat you
and do anything else. I am so glad I was not under their control very long. About
a month or so. I was kind of grateful that the Chinese did take us over.
G: Did you have much freedom of movement within the camp?
C: Yes, we had freedom of movement. We had different chores to do like going to
the mountain and getting wood. When we came back, we would sit down and
have time to joke in the little shacks there and go play volleyball or football. We
had some Olympics there, called the prisoner of war camps Olympics. We would
compete in different sports around the camp. That is how we killed our time. But
most of the time in the summertime, we would go to the woods and get wood.
That was our daily task, going to get wood and pile it up for the winter.
G: I read somewhere about prisoners of war in North Korea, that they would go get
the wood and stuff like that, and I have heard this also from other people I talked
with, that there was marijuana growing out in the field.
C: Yes, quite a bit of that went on. That is when we would get the marijuana, when
we go to the mountain and get wood. It was just growing green up there, and the
cows used to eat it and get out there and be running around crazy. When we go
to the woods to get all the wood, we would take off our long-sleeve shirts and tie
it up like that and then stuff that stuff all in there and fill it up and bring it back and
put it up on top of the straw roof. Let the sun hit it and dry it out, and we just
smoked that stuff. That was a pastime. That was the only pastime as far as
enjoyment. Allowed you to get your mind back together. Yes, that marijuana grew
wild out there. They would smoke that stuff, and it would all be gone. In the
wintertime, we did not go to the woods because there would be snow up on the
mountain. They would take that stuff and be smoking that stuff and telling jokes
inside the huts. Divided the leaves, and then they would take it and start mashing
the berries up with a hammer and smoke that. I tried a few times, but it just did
not agree with me.
G: The marijuana?
C: Yes, it did not agree with me. It almost run me crazy one time. I thought I was
walking on the clouds and found out it was just me. When I get straight and sober
from it, you just think of how stupid you was doing. It just got advantage of my
mind, almost made me feel like I was going crazy. I just could not do it. The guys
who were in there with me, they were smoking. I was the only one black man
with about twelve whites in this particular barrack. They would be smoking that
stuff and try to get me to smoke and got me to smoking it one time. It made me
so sick, and they were laughing. It made me so sick, I would not mess with it no
more. But they would smoke it, and they would just sit and tell jokes. It would
make you feel like you were flying. Well, I think I am going to have to let you
finish up another time.
[End of Interview.]