Recollections of North Korea-By CAPT Gerald C. Canaan, USN (Ret.)
It is hard to believe that almost 44 years have passed since I began my tour of shore duty in North Korea as a "guest" of the North Korean/Chinese communists. When I was shot down, I was a new ensign with, at most, 700 flight hours. Sifting here at my desk in Williamsburg, Va., many memories come flooding back in my mind although dimmed by intervening years not to mention age. Space will not permit a recording of my two years as a prisoner of war. Therefore, I will select a few incidents to record.
In November 1951, I was a member of VC-35 night-attack team six serving off the coast of Korea on board the USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31). We were to depart for our home base of San Diego in about two weeks having completed our deployment. Our AD Sky-Raider team was composed of six pilots – one lieutenant commander, two lieutenants, one lieutenant junior grade and two ensigns. The other ensign, John Reynolds, and I had been badgering the team leader, LCDR Al Waldman, to let us fly a night mission together. Fate seems to raise its head at the most unusual times.
On 3 November 1951 our team leader told me that inasmuch as I was the only pilot never to have visited ashore in South Korea, I was to fly a visiting Army colonel to Pusan and that I had permission to remain overnight when we arrived in Pusan. The colonel invited me to spend the night at his command which he informed me was the Joint Advisory Committee on Korea (JACK). It turned out to be a wonderful evening, with food, company and quarters provided. One thing did happen of special note. While at the bar before dinner, I met and visited with a gentleman who was very interested in the precise areas in which I was doing most of my interdiction flying.
After I described the area to him, his reply was "We have been doing a great deal of work in that area and should you be shot down, the chances are good that you will be contacted by a friendly." He would not answer any more specific questions. I thanked him and stated that I would not be a candidate because I was about to depart for home. What a mistake!
The next morning 4 November, I arrived at operations, and there was a message from the Bon Homme directing me to fly to Seoul, pick up a newspaper correspondent and return to the ship. I proceeded to do this and returned to the ship about 1600. Upon landing, I discovered that we two ensigns had been given the green light launching in two hours. Since my lineal number was one or two lower than John Reynolds', I was designated flight leader. At our briefing, we were assigned rail and road routes leading toward the front line area. This was an area generally southwest of Wonsan, North Korea. Our ordnance load on the AD consisted of flares, napalm and 260 pound fragmentation bombs. At launch, I felt a bit uneasy because I had lost my wristwatch earlier that day. Not to worry though, since the aircraft had a perfectly functioning clock.
The weather was low overcast at about 3,000 feet with light snow. The temperature hovered in the mid to high twenties – not too bad a night for an interdiction flight. Our launch was uneventful as was our flight to the beach. Upon "feet dry" in the Wonsan area, I immediately turned southwest to check the main rail route and road in that area. As a side note, our night attack team allowance of three AD-3N aircraft had dwindled to one through attrition. As a result, I was flying an AD-3 without aircrewman aboard for which I was later very grateful (This aircraft had been "borrowed" from our air group attack squadron.)
After several minutes, I noticed a light on the snowy ground and directed my wingman to drop a flare. I placed myself in position for the first run. When the flare illuminated, I saw one of the largest truck convoys of our cruise. We were receiving quite a bit of heavy anti-aircraft fire by this time. I proceeded with my first run which was a low-altitude napalm drop. I scored a hit on the front area of
the convoy. This served to stop the line of trucks as well as provide additional illumination. I told my wingman to set up a racetrack and start picking off the targets.
My second attack was a strafing run and, midway through, I felt a heavy thump under my engine. I notified my wingman and immediately started climbing for altitude since I was well below 1,000 feet. About the time I reached the base of the clouds (2,500-3,000 feet) a great shower of sparks came out of the exhaust and then a thundering, deafening silence my four-bladed prop stood still. I turned my aircraft toward the ocean, thinking that my rescue would be easier in the open water. I called John to tell him I was leaving my aircraft, unfastened all cords, opened the canopy and
crouched in the seat to go over the side.
However, something was holding me in the cockpit; I could not get out. So I sat back down, rechecked all lines, etc. and trimmed the aircraft a bit nose up. As the airspeed dropped below 100 knots, I finally exited the cockpit and landed on the trailing edge of the wing. After I fell off the trailing edge, I pulled my rip- cord and that blossoming chute looked absolutely gorgeous.
As I descended, I noticed I was in a valley with rather high mountains on either side. The wind was blowing quite hard and I began what I considered to be large oscillations under the canopy. As a matter of fact, I was swinging beyond the edge of the canopy. I had heard stories of collapsing a chute in this manner, so I began working the opposite riser which seemed to help some. However. as I descended further into the valley, the wind became less of a problem. I did see the ground a few seconds before landing. This gave me sufficient time to note that I was landing in an unobstructed field area and also to relax. I landed on my feet, rolled forward, stood up and said to myself, "what in the world am I doing here in this Godforsaken place?"
Escape and Evasion
Thank goodness I was not injured. I immediately started rolling up my parachute. I took inventory of my belongings, and I discovered a serious mistake
that I had made before leaving my aircraft: I had neglected to check the retaining clip that held my life raft in the seat of my parachute. My raft was lost during bail-out. Had I reached the ocean as I planned my longevity in 40-degree water without a raft would have been next to nil. Meanwhile, my wingman was dropping flares to locate my position … finally felt I had to leave the area because of the intense illumination.
There was about 10 inches of snow on the ground. I had formulated a quick plan of action in my mind. I estimated that I was about 30-40 miles from Wonsan harbor where we occupied an island in the mouth of the harbor (Yo-Do Island). I would make my way to the eastern foothills where concealment would be the best and thence proceed to the Harbor area hoping to procure a small boat and get out into the harbor for rescue. Walking in strange surroundings at night with only a compass for navigation presented a formidable challenge. And very shortly after starting on my trek, I was greatly troubled by not knowing the time and the number of hours left before daybreak. I was having no success in finding proper concealment areas in the flat terrain of the valley.
After alternately walking and then running for a considerable period of time (with many spills alone, the way), I was exhausted. I finally found a small frozen stream with the remains of a bridge stanchion on each side of it. I sat down and leaned back against the stanchion. A few minutes later, I heard a noise, looked around and a long line of men started going past me no more than 25-35 feet away. Of course, I did not move a muscle or blink an eye. I was convinced they would hear my heart thumping if nothing else. After what seemed an eternity, they were gone. I arose, and with renewed vigor, ran away from that area.
The hour of the night now became my most serious problem. I came to the main rail line which ran toward the front line. It was elevated and I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get up to it. For some unexplicable reason, I had my .38 caliber pistol in my hand. When I reached the track, I stood up and paused to catch my breath. Far off in the distance, I heard the sing-song chanting of what I assumed to be a work party repairing the day's bomb damage. Perhaps this was the same group who had walked past me earlier. And then, all of a sudden, like snapping your finders, a Korean man stood in front of me. I had not heard him coming and. to say the least, I was very surprised. My first reaction was to stick my .38-caliber in his gut. He threw his hands in the air as I had indicated to him. He knew no English and I did not know Korean.
So here I was, several miles into enemy territory, and I had my first POW. Now an immense question arose in my mind – what do I do with him? I might add that this question has plagued me ever since that night in 1951. First, I thought of shooting him. However, with a working party in the vicinity, the noise might cause a problem. But even more important, I could not bring myself to shoot someone in cold blood. Perhaps if he had been the only barrier between myself and a rescue helicopter, things may have been different. Second, I could take him with me. But the obvious impossibility of this course of action negated it immediately. Third, I could let him go and that's what I did. As I motioned him down the track, he got a big smile on his face, patted me on the back and ran off. I suspect he played a part in my later capture. I left the railroad quickly and continued on my preselected track terribly worried about my encounter as well as wondering about the time.
Sometime later, I came upon a farmer's field full of large piles of cornstalks. What a great hiding place! I crawled under one of these large piles and was well hidden. I fell asleep almost immediately. My next recollection was of the sound of low-flying aircraft in my immediate vicinity. It was apparent that they were searching for me. At this point, I fell victim to a malady that has afflicted many downed aviators and it's called "rescueitis." I just knew that there was a helicopter over the horizon waiting to pick me up. But first I had to let my friends know where I was hiding.
In those days, Naval Aviators were issued long white scarves. In our air group, we had sewn large florescent arrows on these scarves so one could position them on the ground with the arrow pointing in the direction of water strafing runs. It was visible up to about 800 feet. I gradually worked this scarf up over the top of my pile of cornstalks. After a period, I realized this maneuver was not effective. Then I thought of firing a few tracer rounds from my .38-caliber towards the aircraft in the hopes of being seen. I had checked my immediate area as best I could for troop movements and signs of activity but had noticed none. Nevertheless, this effort on my part was doomed to failure because the search aircraft were receiving fire from heavy guns in the not too distant foothills. After firing two rounds, I recognized my folly. I leaned over to replace the two rounds, heard a slight rustling of the cornstalks, and looked up into the glint of the morning sun reflecting off six bayonets about two inches from my head. With that horrible mistake, I commenced a close, even intimate, association with the horrors of worldwide communism of the Korean/Chinese variety.
Pak's Was No Palace
After completing my first interrogation with the major and the sergeant, we left the Korean home and continued our journey across the waist of Korea to the
capital city of P'yong Yang. About 20 miles northeast of the city, we arrived at a North Korean POW camp at midnight on a very cold November night. I was literally thrown into a room that contained 11 other human beings. What a night! I soon discovered that all of those bodies were sleeping on the dirt floor in a big circle, packed together. At certain intervals, those in the middle shifted to the outside of the pack and those on the outside edges moved to the middle in order to have their chance at some body heat. Since it was bitter cold, I soon joined this rather crude but fairly effective way to keep from freezing. Introductions to my roommates could wait until morning. At daybreak I met each of my roommates and also learned the daily routine. Precisely at first light, the North Korean guards shouted, blew whistles and opened the doors to announce reveille. We were issued a small amount of cracked corn as our total food allowance for the day. Of course, cracked corn is inedible unless cooked sufficiently to soften it. Unfortunately, we had at most 30 minutes before work call and this was insufficient time to cook the corn. We would hide this partially cooked corn and then continue cooking it in the evening during the 30 minutes between our return from work and "lights out" (which was darkness). One did not have to be a great intellect to figure out that survival was a very tenuous concept at the camp which was named Pak's Palace, after the officer in charge. Our daily wok was in the local mountains cutting timber and hauling logs. It was a difficult situation – practically no food and very physical work.
At daybreak, my fellow POWs told me that the blood curdling screams were coming from a U.S. Army major in the advanced stages of dysentery. One of the many unfortunate aspects of this illness is one has an almost unquenchable thirst. Every night after he had finished his last canteen of water, he started screaming for more water which, of course, the guards ignored. We were powerless to help, since we were not allowed out of our room. I learned the major had stopped eating anything even though we did our absolute best to prepare edible cracked corn for him. After receiving permission from the senior American POW present as well as the North Koreans, I went to visit the major to see if I couldn't talk him into eating something. When I entered his room, I was met by a terrible stench and I was shocked when I looked at him. Despite the brutal December temperatures, the major was clothed in summer fatigues material. He only wore a shirt and a three-foot square piece of blanket-like material covering his privates. He had defecated all over the room and himself. He was just skin and bones – a skeleton with skin stretched over it. I had never seen nor smelled anything like it. I introduced myself and he did likewise. He was a very pleasant person who immediately told me he was just waiting to die. As a young, 22-year-old healthy ensign, the entire scene was one unbelievable horror. I can tell you that at that moment, I made a solemn vow with myself: In the future I would eat anything edible that was offered to me. But at that moment, I knew I had to do something positive, so I told the major that I was a new POW, having been shot down only a month ago. I advised him that peace talks had started and everything pointed to an end of the war soon. All we had to do was hang in there and do our very best to survive. I asked him if he was married. His face lit up and he produced a picture of his wife and two good-looking children. I congratulated him on his fine family and again mentioned the peace talks. I told him I had something for him to eat. He looked at me and said with absolute sincerity, "No, I'm just waiting to die." I was bitterly disappointed and nothing that I said moved him at all. In a few more days it became apparent that if something drastic didn't happen we were going to lose him. Our last-ditch effort was to pull his hair to make him eat. It didn't work. We were able to pull out his hair without his making a move toward eating. Just a few days later, the guards must have gotten tired of his constant screaming at night and they opened his door and windows. The next morning, we found him frozen to death.
Next came the very difficult task of some sort of a funeral. Two obstacles immediately came to mind: 1) burying a body in the frozen North Korean ground and, 2) a service that the North Koreans would permit. Finally, we prepared a shallow grave of sorts and the North Koreans permitted a prayer but no outwardly visible Christian insignia. All went well with the ceremony until we stuck a small cross in the snow after the funeral. The North Koreans went berserk, but I noticed that none dared touch the cross. I was able to verify this fear, if you will, with my own possessions. When I was captured, I was wearing a Saint Christopher medal. Neither the North Koreans nor the Chinese took it from me. In fact, they wouldn't even touch it and it was the only personal item that I later returned home with.
The longer we staved at Pak's Palace, the more we realized that we were all on a downhill slide to becoming skin-covered skeletons too. Fortunately, about mid-December 1951, the Chinese decided to assume responsibility for all captured personnel. The North Koreans moved us out on foot one morning. We marched in bitter cold weather for several days to reach our destination. We had totally inadequate clothing and no food to speak of. Shortly after departure, it became evident that one of our fellow POWs was incapable of continuing the march.
We were given permission to fashion a stretcher for him but we were told that we had to "keep up" or leave him by the side of the road. It was extremely difficult to carry him, for we were all in marginal condition due to gradual starvation. His condition seemed to worsen as we went on and finally he was either incoherent or said nothing. The march lasted about five or six days and when we arrived at the marshalling point, we were advised that we had been carrying a dead man – that he had probably died the day before.
A final comment about Pak's Palace. To add to our misery, there was an irresistible aviation target only a few hundred yards from our camp: a very tall brick chimney. It was the sole remaining part of a once producing factory. As you all know, any aviator worth his salt will try to demonstrate his proficiency by dropping his last bomb down a chimney or a stack. As a result, we frequently "hit the deck" when another intrepid aviator missed the chimney. When we left Pak's Palace, the chimney was still standing.
Many of us tried to escape from the POW camp in North Korea but to the best of my knowledge, none were successful. Them are many reasons why escape was so difficult. First, our camps generally were located far north, in the vicinity of the Yalu River. Escaping to the west didn't make sense since we had few, if any, friendly forces in the North Yellow Sea area. Escaping to the east presented one with a very long walk. We couldn't make provisions for an escape much before departure. I worked in the kitchen but with rice and millet as our staples, I couldn't prepare much of a food packet. It was all perishable. This dictated that escapes be undertaken in summer when food could be taken from the land. And as I have mentioned, the North Korean checkpoint system was extremely well organized. Hence, one always tried to stay off the roadways. But the impracticality of making long marches through the mountains and with no food and when in marginal health eventually forced an escapee to return to the roadways and eventual recapture.
The most successful escape attempt I knew of was by one of my South African friends in camp. He was gone about 30 days and did manage to reach the east coast of North Korea. This speaks very well of his determination, physical conditioning and planning. Unfortunately. he was captured on the coast-line while attempting to steal a boat with which to put to sea. After recapture. punishment was almost always the same. First, the POW was displayed in several small towns where the local populace was encouraged to vent their wrath by hitting, stoning, etc. Thereafter, the individual was placed in solitary confinement under terrible conditions (e.g. standing in chest-deep water) until a Confession was obtained. As the reader may know, very few trials were ever held in the communist world without first obtaining a confession by whatever means were necessary. The resulting farcical trial always ended with the POW being sentenced to lengthy periods of solitary confinement.
Friends Are Where You Find Them
This event occurred during the summer of 1952. It was 0530 and time for reveille. As usual, Chinese fire drill (not too unusual since this was a Chinese prisoner of war camp). Bells. whistles and shouts all coming from the Chinese guards announced that it was time to "hit the deck." I was a member of Camp 2.
Pyoktong, North Korea.
Interestingly, at this point in the war. our POW camp had been "sealed off." We had not received any new POWs for some time and. as it turned out, were not to receive any more by the war's end. In view of this isolation, it was a treat to be taken out of the camp by our captors on a working party even though much of the work was un-pleasant.
It turned out to be my lucky day. My name was called to be a member of a working party going to the Yalu River (about five miles away) to unload supplies and return them to our camp. We left camp at 0900. There were about 20 of us in the work party with several Chinese Guards as escorts. The trip was rather uneventful until we
started to pass through a very small village made up of about 10 homes very close to the dirt road. As I passed one of the huts. I noted that the front door was open and I thought I glimpsed a Caucasian sitting inside looking out. This chance encounter bothered me all the way to the Yalu.
After unloading the barges, we were each given a large sack of flour to carry back on our shoulders. On the return, as I approached the hut in question, I stumbled and fell down, dropping my sack in front of the hut. Before the nearest guard arrived, I looked into the still open door and asked in a low voice, "Who is in there?" A rather firm voice responded "Canaan, what the hell are you doing in this Godforsaken place?" It turned out to be a great friend and squadronmate, Harry Ettinger, who was a member of a night-attack team on another carrier. What a chance encounter since we were never together in the same camp. As a matter of fact, that was the only time I saw Harry until after the war ended.
Of some 25 letters I was permitted to write home, only one arrived there. Luckily, it was the one that, by some careful wording, I was able to indicate that Harry was alive and well. I understand it was the only information his family received that he was probably a POW. Well, space precludes more stories. I hope I have been able to give the reader some idea of the diverse situations faced by a North Korean prisoner of war. Through them all, it is faith that keeps one going – faith in God and country.
CAPT Gerald C. Canaan was born in Kane, Pa. He attended the Johns Hopkins University and immediately thereafter, in 1948, began Navy flight training as a Holloway Aviator Midshipman. He received his Naval Aviator wings in April of 1950. After night-attack training at the Fleet All Weather Training Unit Pacific, he was assigned to VC-35 at NAS San Diego. Deployment followed in May of 1951 on board the USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) as a member of VC-35 Team Six. While serving therein he was shot down on a night mission and spent two years as a prisoner of war.
Upon repatriation, he served in FAWTUPAC as an instructor. This was followed by attendance at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He also attended the Naval War College. After several squadron tours, including XO, CO, and a tour as air group commander, he was selected for captain in 1970. He transferred to Washington, D. C, and was Special Assistant to the Chief of Naval Personnel for Prisoner of War Matters during a part of the Vietnamese conflict. He was closely involved in the formulation of "Operation Homecoming," the plan implemented for Americans returning from Vietnamese POW camps. He served tours of duty as C.O., NAS South Weymouth, Commander Oceanographic System, Atlantic and as Comman-der, Human Resource Management Center, Atlantic Fleet. He retired from active duty 1 June 1976.
After retirement from the Navy, he entered the financial programming business as a registered representative with USPA/IRA. He retired completely in June of 1991 and now resides with his wife Ruth in Williamsburg, Va
MY FIRST PRISONER IN ENEMY TERRITORY
It had taken a lot of cajoling, but Av'Mid'n John Reynolds (15-48) and myself, both Ensigns, had finally convinced the skipper, Lcdr Al Waldman, of our VC-35 night Attack Detachment, to let us fly a night mission together. After all, it was November 4, 1951; we had been deployed for six months and we had tons of experience in the Spad. And we were due to go home in two or three weeks. What better time!
John and I launched just prior to dark with me as flight leader. It was a cold, low overcast, snowy kind of night. We had been assigned a standard route package. I recognized that with the overcast at about 4000 feet, our work would be close to the coast and in the broader valleys. The weather wouldn't permit much productive work in the mountains. We went "feet dry" into the Wonsan, North Korea area and I immediately headed for an area southwest of Wonsan where the main supply road and the main rail line paralleled each other. This gave us a good chance to check both arteries for traffic. As we proceeded southwest, a small flicker of light caught my eye and I came around and dropped a flare for a look. As was standard practice, John immediately made a run to check our target. He announced one of the largest truck convoys he had ever seen. By this time, we were beginning to pick up rather heavy ground fire. I was in position for my run and my intention was to drop a napalm on the head of the column, get it stopped and burning; then we could take our time on cleaning up the rest of the convoy. Everything was going fine. John Reynolds had dropped another flare and I was into my run. I leveled off at about 300 feet headed up the line of trucks and just as I dropped my napalm, I felt a tremendous thump under my engine. I felt sure I had been hit. I immediately started a climbing turn to both gain altitude and head for the coast. As I arrived at the base of the clouds, all hell broke loose in my engine. Sparks were coming from all cowls for a few seconds and then zero oil pressure and absolute quiet. The quietness was so severe, it was deafening. I knew I couldn't afford to lose much altitude, so I gave a quick call to John (don't know if he received it), unplugged all fittings, gave a quick check of things, opened the canopy and crouched in the seat to dive over the side. Only problem was I couldn't get out of the plane. I sat back down, quickly rechecked all attachments, trimmed a bit nose up and tried again. This time I had a text book exit. It was just like we had practiced on mattresses in pre-flight. Out I went, did a half roll, landed on the trailing edge of the wing on my back and slipped off the wing into a jet black, snowy night. The chute opened fine. During my rather quick descent, I encountered two potential difficulties … shortly after bailing out, my "nose-up" trimmed Spad stalled and came rather close to hitting me as it spun by, still loaded with flares/ammo. It struck the ground with a rather large fireball not too far from me. Second, I was oscillating rather dramatically under my canopy. I attempted to work opposite risers, but shortly the wind died
down as did the oscillations. Even though it was pitch black, I saw the ground in sufficient time to relax, hit on the balls of my feet, and sort of collapse to the ground. I arrived in good shape, i.e. no injuries. I was wearing the old rubber poopy suit (no long johns), skivvies, heavy socks, boots and a flight jacket. There were about five inches of snow on the ground and a light snow continued. My quickly formulated plan was to gather up my chute and other belongings and try to hide them some place. And then I wanted to head out of the valley to the foothills and make my way towards the northeast and Wonsan Harbor. We had many friendlies in that area since we occupied Yo Do Island at the mouth of Wonsan Harbor. However, the first part of my plan went out the window when my wingman started dropping flares. He had my general area pretty well marked, and since I was in a rice-paddy area, cover was non-existent. I decided to high tail it out of there before the locals arrived.
It is hard to imagine the difficulty one encounters when trying to evade on a black night in snowy and frozen terrain further complicated by completely unknown territory. Going was slow to say the least. Frequent rest stops were required. One such stop was of significance. I was dog tired and came to a small creek with a footbridge over it. I sat down right next to one of the concrete pillars of the bridge and almost fell asleep. Suddenly, I heard a slight noise and was instantly on guard with my .38 in my hand, as it continued to be thereafter. Shortly, a long work party started passing me close enough so I could see them plainly. My heart was pounding so loud, I thought they would hear it. But would you believe they all (maybe 25) continued on without seeing me. After waiting a few minutes following their passing, I got up and continued my journey with renewed vigor.
Later in the evening, I became concerned since I had seen precious little ground cover adequate for hiding during the coming daylight. Eventually, I came to the main railway which made its way through this valley in a southwestern direction towards the frontlines. At this particular point, the railway was elevated; that is, it was built on a rather high berm. I had to climb up the berm on all fours. When I arrived on the tracks, I was a bit winded so I paused to catch my breath and take stock of my situation. It was still very dark out and snowing lightly. Down the track a considerable distance, I could hear what sounded like a work party chanting and repairing track from the day's strikes. And all of a sudden, just
like snapping your fingers, a Korean stood in front of me. I poked my .38 in his gut. He immediately threw up his hands and started talking frantically in Korean. Of course, I couldn't understand a word he said and he couldn't understand me. Here was my dilemma – I was deep in enemy territory with no hope of rescue in sight, an inexperienced Ensign without much craftiness in my arsenal and I had MY first prisoner. Now, what to do with him? Three courses of action passed rather quickly through my mind:
A. Take him with me
B. Kill him
C. Let him go
What would you have done??
RAMBLING TO THE YALU
As usual, it sounded like a Chinese fire drill. It was 0530 and time for Reveille. Bells, whistles and shouts, all coming from the Chinese guards, announced that it was time to hit the deck and face another day in Camp Two, P'yaktong, North Korea. The year was 1952 and it seemed like I had been incarcerated forever. However, I only needed to look around at some of my friends to find those who had been imprisoned much longer than I had. Inter-estingly, at this point in the war, our camp had been "sealed off." We had not received any new prisoners of war for some time and, as it turned out, were not to receive any more by war's end. In view of this feeling of complete isolation, it was almost always a treat to be taken outside the camp on a work party, even though much of the work was hard and/or unpleasant.
Well, it was my lucky day. My name was called out to be a member of a work party going to the Yalu River (three to four miles) to unload supply barges and bring supplies back to our camp. We left camp about 0900. There were about 20 of us in the work party with several Chinese guards as escorts. The trip was rather uneventful until we started through a very small Korean Village made up of about ten huts for homes. As I passed one of the huts, I noted that the front door was open and I could have sworn I saw, very briefly, a Caucasian. This chance encounter bothered me all the way to the Yalu and while we were unloading barges. After completing our work, we were each given a large sack of flour to carry back to camp on our shoulders. It was then that I formulated my plan. I had to find out if we had a fellow American in that hut! Later, as we approached the same village, I was ready. Upon arriving in front of the small house, I pretended to stumble under my load and fell down. Before the nearest guard arrived on the scene, I looked into the still-open door and said in a low voice, "Who is in there"? A rather firm voice emanated from the house and said, "Canaan, what the hell are you doing here"? It just goes to prove the old adage, "Watch yourself … you never know who you will meet". As it turned out, the face in the door was my squadron mate, NAVCAD Harry Ettinger. We were both from VC-35, but serving in Night Attack Teams on different ships. What a chance encounter!
Gerald C. "Jerry" Canaan
Pre-Flight Class 15-48
letter to Lou Ives
What a pleasant surprise to hear from you! Many thanks for your letter of October 4, 1990. It certainly has caused me to pause from my busy life of today (Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Board – a retired Vice-Admiral you may know, George C. Talley, Jr.) and hark back to those days almost 40 years ago. I do have a story or two that I'll enclose herewith for possible interest.
I certainly enjoyed my 30 year Naval career and would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I owe most of what I have today to my time in the Navy. And although I've had a magnificent fifteen year civilian career in financial planning, the people I met and served with in the good ole U. S. Navy were "heads and shoulders" as the saying goes.
Lou, it's especially meaningful to hear from you, since we were shipmates on the Bonnie Dick. I remember your squadron as being the most gung-ho of 'em all. I also remember a few other things such as the entire Air Group being restricted to the ship after a "showing" in Sasebo. And I seem to remember a pilot in VA-923 named Carpenter who had "trouble" written all over him. Of course, the ship's Air Intelligence Officer, LCDR Kelley, was also a good guy to avoid on liberty which was hard to do if you visited any bistros at all. My only regret is that I missed the TransPac back home!
I've enclosed a couple of short stories from my POW experiences. I hope they are of interest. If so, I might even have a few more. Incidentally, I "ultimately" retire next July 1st. Ruth and I are building our retirement home in Williamsburg. Hopefully, we can visit this next year.
/s/ G. C. Canaan