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Interview with Paul A. Roach, Jr. [4/30/2008]

Louise S. Forshaw:

Today is April 30, 2008. This interview with Mr. Paul Roach is being conducted at the Institute of Historical Survey in Las Cruces. Mr. Roach was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico on July 1, 1927. He is now eighty years old. He lives at 4891 Quail Run Road in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He served in the United States Army during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The interviewer is Louise Forshaw. Would you like to start telling us how you got into the service?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, I was in the 9th grade in Court Junior High School here in Las Cruces. By the time I graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1945, Europe was over, but the Japanese war was still going on - the war in the Pacific. I graduated and on July 1, 1945, I turned eighteen and registered for the draft. Within a month, a little over a month, I was sworn into the Army out of Fort Bliss. At that time, I had an appointment to the United States Military Academy.

After I completed basic training in Texas, they sent me to Amherst, Massachusetts to the West Point School, the reason for that is to help us with the entrance examinations to the military academy. When I got there in about September 1945, and around March of 1946 we took the entrance examinations, which incidentally I passed okay. They sent us to Fort Benning, Georgia, to take a course very similar to the Officer Candidate School. I entered the military academy on my nineteenth birthday in 1946.

I graduated in June of 1950. I selected as my branch, the infantry. Primarily, I guess, because my father had served in the First World War in the infantry as a machine gunner. Incidentally he was seriously wounded in France and received a Purple Heart. My brother also graduated from the military academy in 1943 and he was also wounded in France and received the Purple Heart.

When I graduated, before I graduated from the military academy, it was a policy to send the graduates to their branch schools, if they had continued that process I would have been sent to Fort Benning for my basic officer training. However, for some reason the Army decided that we should get a couple of years of troop duty before we went to our branch. So when I was on leave in June and July, a funny thing happened, the North Koreans invaded South Korea.

My first assignment was to have been in the far East command. I expected to be in Japan on occupation duty for a couple of years, however, when my leave was over they sent me right to Korea.

I was assigned to the C Company of the 9th Infantry Regiment in the 2nd Division. 2nd Division had been in Korea for about one month at that time. They had received a lot of casualties when I was assigned to the company. Just prior to my assignment the company had been knocked off of the position and most of the people had either been casualties, or had spent several days behind the North Korean lines and had escaped. That was the case of my company commander, Captain Gibbons. When I arrived there was only one other officer in the company. The day after I arrived with the company, they loaded us on the trucks and moved us up toward the front lines. I had no idea where we were going.

The other officer, Lieutenant Beard(?), was in the first truck. I was in the cab of the second truck. All of a sudden the convoy stopped and I got out of my truck to go up and see what the problem was, and there was a bullet hole in the windshield of the first struck, and the bullet went right through Lieutenant Beard’s(?) head. So that made me the company commander the first day when I didn’t know anyone in the company.

I managed to get a hold of all the platoon sergeants, only they were corporals, because the company had received so many casualties there. There were three corporals commanding the platoons. After the Lieutenant was killed, I got in the truck in his place with the bullet hole in front of me and I asked the guy, "Where are we going?" He said, "Sir, I have no idea where we’re going." I said, "Well, we were going this way so let’s get going again."

We ran first into the battalion executive officer, and he asked where Lieutenant Beard(?) was, and I told him Lieutenant Beard(?) had been killed. He said, "Clear off the snipers in the rice paddy." So I got the platoon leaders together and was all set to do it and the battalion commander showed up and said, "What the hell are you doing here?" I explained it all the him and he said, "Get back in the trucks, go up the road to the next intersection, get off the trucks and take the road to the left, I’ll get someone else here to take over the company."

We did that and pretty soon one of my West Point classmates who had gotten there a week earlier got up there and he was company commander for a while. Then his legs gave out and I was company commander for the rest of the day. The job that day was to go up on a large hill, that the company had been knocked off of a few days before. Some of the men didn’t want to go up on that hill again, but fortunately, the corporals who were in charge of the platoons were very forceful and made sure everybody did what they were supposed to.

So we got up on top of the hill with a little bit of sniper fire, but the hill was not occupied by the North Koreans. We were digging in and someone came up and told me that we were to withdraw and go down to a village to meet some trucks there, so that’s what we did. Then the trucks took us back to where we started that day. By the next day, Gibbons, the company commander got back.

We participated in several skirmishes along the Naktong River. I might add that this time the Allied forces, the United Nations forces had been forced back to a perimeter right around Pusan. It was called the Pusan Perimeter or the Naktong River Perimeter. In September, the American forces landed on Inch’on in the vicinity of Seoul. That operation in effect cut off all of the North Korean Army down in the south. We broke out of the Naktong Perimeter and we were supposed to move up and join them. The day we crossed the river in a convoy, our convoy was ambushed. The front part of the convoy was ambushed, and in trying to extract people caught in the ambush, I was wounded, a machine gun bullet through my right calf.

I was evacuated that evening. The next day, I learned later, that the next day the company got into some trouble and the company commander, Gibbons, was killed. But I spent the next six or seven weeks in the hospital in Japan. Then they sent me back to Korea. This time I was assigned again to the 9th Infantry Division, but it was the 3rd Battalion, Company- K. I was assigned as a platoon leader in the second platoon. After about ten days, the United Nations forces, at that time we were up north of Kyonyang, about eighty miles from the Yalu River, the border between China and North Korea.

The North Korean forces had been effectively, pretty well abolished. However, the company had encountered a few Chinese before I reported to the company. The United Nations command at that time started what was to be the final offensive of the war, to go up to the Yalu River and end the war. General MacArthur invested our regiment, and although I didn’t see him, he told the people there he expected the war to be over by Christmas. This was around the 20th of November, Thanksgiving Day, the 23rd I believe it was. So, on the 25th of November, we started out on the final drive to the Yalu River.

My company was in the lead of the battalion, and my platoon was in the lead of the company. We encountered no resistance the first day. We reached our objective, and the battalion commander was there with us and he told the company commander to go onto the next days objective which was about two thousand yards in front of where we were, in front of our first days objective. Company-L established a perimeter at that location, so on the night of the 25th of November, my company was about two thousand yards in front of everybody else.

We had seen no resistance that day, although we did find some old trenches, and Chinese papers there, like a payroll or something, but that was the only indication we had that Chinese were around. There was, and I believe General MacArthur believed that the Chinese forces that we had encountered before were just a token force and that they were withdrawing back over the Yalu River, back into China. However, right after dark on the night of the 25th of November.

First let me explain the company’s disposition, the company command group and one platoon was up on top of this large hill. The other two platoons were down around the little village at the bottom of the hill. My platoon and the 1st and 2nd platoons were at the bottom of the hill in a little village, and I think it was very un-tactical, it was a terrible position to be in, but I think the company commander, since my platoon had been on an outpost for so long he thought we needed to get in so some of the people could get in and warm up.

It was bitter cold at that time. Unfortunately, the supply situation wasn’t very good. My entire platoon had overcoats, but they were not equipped for a winter in North Korea. We were rather short on ammunition, and the radios didn’t work at all. The battalion sent a team to K Company, my company, to lay wire for telephone communications, but they ran out of wire and gave up. Right after dark, the Chinese came marching down the road. They attacked in force most of the night, off and on. Later, I read a book by S.L.A. Marshal, called, "The River and The Gauntlet."

They estimated a regiment of Chinese people, "volunteers," as they called themselves, hit us that night, K Company. Just before dawn that night, I sent a letter up to contact the company commander and he came back right after it got light and told me, "Sir, there ain’t nobody on that hill but China-men." So I figured that was the time for us to get out of there. I told me platoon sergeant, Sergeant Joseph Coleman, to take half the platoon and go up on the high ground and cover us, and we would leap frog back to where we left L Company the night before, the day before. That’s the last I saw of that part of my platoon. My platoon was at very low strength, we had only about twenty-one people in the platoon.

About seven or eight of them were what we called Katuses(?), South Korean troops who didn’t speak English. They had been with the platoon for quite a while and we got along pretty well with them. The rest were black soldiers, my battalion, the 3rd battalion of the 9th Infantry was black at that time, before the Army got integrated. I was Caucasian, and I had one other soldier in my platoon that was Caucasian. When half of the platoon left, that left about six of us.

As soon as Sergeant Coleman and his half of the platoon left, the Chinese started attacking us in force again. We were mortared, they were in a little ravine, coming up at us and we held them off all morning until about noon. At that time, I was the only one firing. Everyone else was either killed or wounded. One of the Koreans was hiding behind a corn stack, and my assistant platoon sergeant was wounded in the foxhole next to me. I told him that I had ran out of ammunition. I had been wounded in the right shoulder.

Concussion grenades landed right near me and I was sort of dazed. I told the assistant platoon sergeant that it was time to give up because we didn’t have any ammunition left. He told me he was going to play dead. So I stood up with my carbine that I had to load single shot because it malfunctioned. I stood up and the machine gun on the hill behind me opened up on me so I got back down, and I didn’t know what to do then. So finally, I just threw my weapon out, and stood up again, and raised my hands. It seemed like a minute, nothing happened, and then finally all the Chinese came running out of this ravine.

They made me go back up in the hills with them. I did see my assistant platoon sergeant in POW camp about a week later I think, so he was captured. However, I don’t think he survived the three years we were in the POW camp. Thirty three months, actually. I wasn’t the only one who was a POW at that time. I did a little research; this is from a book called, "U.S. Prisoners of the Korean War." It was compiled and edited by a man by the name of Arden Rohny. "In the total Korean War there were 103,000 American wounded. 36,000 killed. 7,140 were Prisoners of War. There are still 8,100 missing in action."

Louise S. Forshaw:

What year was this book published?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

I don’t know.

Louise S. Forshaw:

Is it a fairly recent book?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

I’ve had it for several years. Of the prisoners of war that were captured July 1950 to December 1950, which included me, there were 4,134 captured. Of those 375 escaped before they were taken to a POW camp. That left 3,759 who had been moved to a POW camp. Because of the extreme cold, the wounds, and the lack of food and clothing, according to this 1,960 of those died. Which is about 52 percent, in my opinion and the opinion of some of the doctors who were with us, that figure is low. Probably, our doctors figured there were about 2,900 who died in our POW camps. The difference there is the 8,100 who are still missing in action in Korea. When I was captured, the front line troops were very lenient toward us. They were kind of friendly, actually. They moved me up to a ravine with some other prisoners.

Louise S. Forshaw:

Were these Chinese or Korean troops?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

These were Chinese troops. I was, of course, dazed, and cold and shivering. This Chinese older man showed up, who I believe was probably the company commander, and he told one of his fellow Chinese to go get something and pretty soon the kid came back with a Chinese poncho. The officer, I assume he was an officer, gave the poncho to me. Then they moved myself and about six other people, we started moving south. I figured they were going to release us, because they had released some people previously.

But they interrogated me in an old farm house, by myself. I didn’t see the rest of them after that, who were with me in that little group. They wanted to know what unit I was with. At that time, I was authorized to tell them only my name, rank, and serial number. That’s all I told them, but they wanted to know what unit I was with. They got pretty mean at that place. I didn’t tell them.

Then they moved me by myself further south, and put me up in a house in a small Chinese village. At that place, there was a man there who spoke a little bit of English, he asked me what unit I was in, but I didn’t tell him. He had my ID card and he said, "Second Lieutenant Paul Roach. This means you’re in the 2nd Division." And I said, "No, that means I am a Second Lieutenant, my rank."

Although some of the people I was captured with had the big 2nd Division patch on them. But anyway, they fed me my first meal I had had for a couple of days, some soupy rice in a gourd. I took about two bites of that, and I couldn’t eat it. They sat me in a room by myself, and pretty soon a squad of Chinese came in, and they all sat down, and we had a little orientation session. They wanted to know again, what unit I was in. They said, "Did you know that Truman was a war monger?" I said, "No, I didn’t know that." They said, "Did you know MacArthur was a war monger?" I said, "No."

That surprised me, because I thought the Chinese would appreciate MacArthur, because he defeated the Japanese and liberated China during the Second World War. They thought MacArthur and Truman were war mongers. They said, "Did you know that South Korea invaded North Korea to start this war?" I said, "No, no, that’s wrong. North Korea..."

We argued for a while and I realized I wasn’t going to convince them. The truth was, they weren’t going to convince me of what they thought was the truth. Finally, I was so exhausted I just passed out on them, and fell asleep. About three o’clock the next morning, some more POWs came in, and one was a Lieutenant Harris, a big, tall Lieutenant. He was from the 25th Division, I think it was, which was adjacent to us on the west side. I asked him if he had told them what unit he was in, and he said, "Well they knew."

The enlisted men who were with him had told them. They had division patches on also. I decided at that time, if things got a little rough I would tell them I was in the 25th Division and the same regiment as Lieutenant Harris. They took me out, while we were there, several times. We were there about two or three days, I think. They took me out and interrogated me several times. Finally, during one of the interrogations, an officer put a pistol on the table, and said, "If you don’t tell us what unit you were in, I have to punish you by our military justice."

I stared at that pistol and said, "Give me a minute or two, let me think about it." So I thought about it, and I said, "I was in C-Company of such and such regiment of the 25th Division." He said, "Very good." He picked up the pistol and put it in and said, "You can go now." I went back to the other group and didn’t interrogate me again for months.

We marched south and spent about a week or ten days in some caves near where I first joined the K Company of the 9th Infantry. Then they moved us to the north and west of that location, to an old mining village where there were some broken down houses, they put us up there and kept us there - we arrived at the place on the 24th of December, 1950. Christmas Eve, and we left there the 1st of February. That place became known as Death Valley. It was in a valley, and the sun shined in there, when it was not snowing, for about two hours a day.

Louise S. Forshaw:

How many of you were in the POW group?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

I think at that time, in Death Valley, there were about 1,100 of us. Mostly everybody, all of them were from the 2nd Infantry Division. It took me quite a while to realize the Chinese were really in there in force. Right after we left the first village, where I lied to them about my organization; between there and when we hit the caves, we came upon the Ch’ongch’on River.

They moved aside the road and told us to sit down there. The Chinese started coming down the road, and they were four abreast double timing. It was thousands and thousands of them. I thought at the time, boy, if we had a bomb that would be the time to hit it because it would have wiped a whole bunch of them out.

Among the group of Chinese, there was one, apparently, that spoke English. He recognized us, it was night time, but he recognized us as Americans. He said, as he ran by, "I’m Chinese, but I’m no F-ing volunteer!" He used the expletive. We all thought that was sort of funny. That was the time that my morale really hit the bottom, because I realized the Americans had really withdrawn from there. At that time, also, some of the people from my battalion, battalion headquarters, and an executive officer had showed up in our group, and I asked them if Sergeant Coleman had made it back. They told me, "Yes, he made it back." So that relieved my conscience.

Years later, after I got out of the POW camp, I got a hold of a book that was the casualties of the 2nd Infantry Division in the Korean War. It’s a book about two inches thick, thousands of casualties. I looked Sergeant Coleman up, and he was still Missing In Action. So that group, never made it back. They are still over there as far as I know.

Louise S. Forshaw:

During these years that you were a POW, obviously, the cold was a problem. How about the food, did they feed you?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

They fed us, but not sufficiently. The food usually, when we were on the road sometimes we would get boiled whole kernel corn, a small bowl of it - one meal, usually. At first they would march us at night... and we’d come up to the village, and on the outskirts of the village they would set us down. By that time there were hundreds of POWs. About four or five o’clock in the morning, they would sit us down near this village. Then they’d get the North Koreans out of their houses and pack us in like sardines. About thirty of us in a room about twelve feet by twelve feet. We were so crowded not all of us could sit down, so we took turns standing the rest of the day. Then, at night, they would form us up again.

Louise S. Forshaw:

Were they all Americans?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

They were all Americans at that time, yes. I never will forget the company commander of L Company, of our battalion, was with us. Right now his name escapes me, but his company first sergeant was with him also. The Captain had been shot in the hand and also through the nose, and he was blinded. His first sergeant, led him for many days on the road, on the trails at night. One day, we were all cramped up in a room, and this Captain became very ill. He was having pains, we figured it was appendicitis. He was just in agony. Before the day was over... when it began to get dark, we tried to get the Chinese to do something, but they didn’t have any thing to take care of him, and when we got ready to move they rounded us all out. We didn’t move. We told them, "This man can’t move, we need something to carry him with." So they finally came up with a stretcher.

His name was Captain Vales, by the way, and Captain Vales weighed at that time about two hundred pounds, about six four. We were all so weak by that time it took about eight of us to lift that stretcher. By that time they had the officers segregated from the enlisted people. They wouldn’t let any of the enlisted men carry him, so there were about twenty officers. We carried Captain Vales all night long, and about three o’clock in the morning we pulled up to the next village, and put Captain Vales in a little room.

During the day, he died. So we took him out and buried him, I have no idea where he was buried. He was the first man to die in our group. But when we got to Death Valley, people were dying like flies. The food, you mentioned, we’d get corn, we’d get millet, which is like birdseed, all of it boiled. Occasionally we would get Kyonyang which was a sort of a barley grain. When we were on the move, one bowl a day. When we got to Death Valley they started giving us two meals a day.

But the conditions were very unsanitary. They would take us out on a wood run, for example, and by that time I was so weak, we’d go out, and I would get a stick of wood maybe three foot long and three inches in diameter. That was all I could carry. At that time, some Turkish troops came into Death Valley, and the commander was a Turkish Lieutenant by the name of Fosibay (?).

He and I struck up a conversation one time, he spoke English. We struck up a conversation on one of our wood runs, and when we got to the place we were supposed to get on the mountain, he said, "You stay here." He sent his men up and they brought a stick down for me to carry. Most of us were very weak by then, and one day we went on a wood run up stream from this little stream that ran through our camp.

We found out about this dried up stream, they had a bunch of South Korean Prisoners of war, hundreds of them. All of these people were defecating in the little stream that went through our camp. It was the only water available for most people and they were getting dysentery and dying like flies. I found a little spring near our camp, and the people in my little house got all our water from there, and we faired pretty well. Only a couple of people out of about twenty died at Death Valley.

Louise S. Forshaw:

What was the wood used for?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

For heating. The heating systems in the rooms were deteriorated, but to cook food. There was not enough wood to heat the rooms anyway, pretty soon we were running out of fuel. We would go further and further on our wood runs. One the first day of March we left Death Valley and marched up to the Yalu River, maybe a forty mile march. Where I was captured was about eighty miles from the Yalu River. There, they had established a POW camp called Camp Five at Pyoctong, North Korea.

Louise S. Forshaw:

I’m going to ask you to spell it.

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

P-Y-O-C-T-O-N-G. This was in a town that had been bombed out pretty well. There were some fairly decent huts that we stayed in. This was on a reservoir on the Yalu River, we could look across and see China. We stayed there until from about March of 1951 to August of 1951. That winter, about half of the people that were in my group died.

We would have to - what we did was, there was a little shack out there and several of the officers were in these little rooms, and if a person died, outside there was a little shack and we would put the body out there and not tell the Chinese. Because, as soon as they found out a person had died they cut our rations. So, as much as possible we didn’t tell the Chinese when somebody died, and when they found out of course we would have a detail and we would have to carry the body across an inlet on this reservoir to a hill, across the ice, the reservoir was frozen solid.

There we would try to bury them. The ground was frozen and we were so weak at the time, we couldn’t dig a hole. We would scrape the ground off as well as we could and then put rocks on top of the body. When the springtime came, the animals took the bodies and they were washed into the reservoir I’m sure. That was the worst winter I ever spent, and ever will I’m sure. Then at that time they started indoctrination for us. Some people call it "brainwashing."

The daily routine was, they’d get us up in the morning, take roll call, and then feed us breakfast, which would be a bowl of Kyonyang, usually. Then, we would go to a lecture by Chinese. The Chinaman would talk in Chinese would talk for about fifteen minutes and then the interpreter would tell us what he said in about five minutes, and all day we would do that until, well not all day, usually all morning. At noon they would give us a bowl of soup, some made out of either cabbage sometimes or seaweed soup. Then in the evening we would have Kyonyang again.

In the afternoon we would usually go back to our squads and we were supposed to have a squad discussion about what the indoctrination had been, and we had to write down what everybody said. I was selected - and I don’t know why - I was selected to be a squad monitor. So I had to write down what everybody said. We took turns doing this, and during these sessions, we would talk about food, that was all we could talk about. Everybody would describe the first meal we were going to have when we got home. Some of the dishes were outlandish, but they sure sounded good at that time.

Right outside of our camp there’s a barbwire fence, and right outside of the fence was an old mill, a North Korean mill, that processed rice. The rice hulls they would compress into a cylinder about three inches thick, and about maybe twelve inches in circumference. It was the hulls of the rice. Somebody snuck over there one night and brought one of these back, and we broke it up and ate it. It would taste like peanut butter, or one time I could swear it tasted like Thanksgiving dinner, with the dressing and everything. But that’s the way our minds were.

People were dying all the time. I remember there was one lieutenant who joined us a little later, and he was in good shape because he had just been captured and had ridden up in a truck. He would go out on water runs, and he could carry a whole bucket of water, the rest of us could carry only half or a third of a bucket. He was very vigorous, and in good shape. One day he was carrying water from the tap, ice cold water, and he was very thirsty, so he drank a lot of it. That made him constipated, of all things, the rest of us had the runs. He was constipated, and then he got the runs, and he went downhill in a hurry. He slept right next to me, on the floor, in the squad room, and one night he said, "Don’t bother waking me up, because I won’t be alive." About midnight I bumped into him, and he was dead. So that’s the way the conditions were at that time. We were living like animals.

Louise S. Forshaw:

Did you have much hope you would be rescued?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

All the time. There were rumors flying, there was a hospital ship right on the outlet where the Yalu River goes into the Chinese sea, that hospital ship was there for months and months, and we never got it. There were all kinds of rumors like that. We heard rumbling, probably American planes bombing to the south of us. "Oh, those are American tanks coming, they’ll be here tomorrow." Just rumors, going like that like crazy.

Louise S. Forshaw:

Do you know what kept people optimistic about...?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

I certainly don’t, there was a lot of so called, "give-up-itis." All of a sudden, they would quit eating, stay on the floor in the corner of the room and just clam up, and when they started doing that we knew that they would die. It would take about a week or two and they would die. Looking back on it, it was not because of any weakness on the will of the people, I don’t believe. But the diet was such that the brain wasn’t getting the vitamins and the minerals you would normally use. Mental conditions now they treat with zinc or some medicines, and we didn’t have that. We had nothing. There were several doctors that were captured, that were with us. The Chinese put them in what they called a hospital. It was more or less a place for people to go to die. The American doctors had no medicine at all. Sometimes they would beg the Chinese. The Chinese had some medicines, and sometimes they would beg them and they would get some penicillin or something, or quinine. They used it as best as they could, but they were in a hopeless condition too. We had one American priest, Father Capone, who was really a hero. He would give up his food for sick people. He would go to the hospital everyday and counsel people, people who were dying there. He was busy all the time. He’d come to our squadrons’ everyday and try to give us courage. The Chinese allowed him. They were afraid, I think, of him. They allowed him some freedom within our camp. Then he got sick and died in a hospital. Now they are trying to make him a saint. The Catholic Church is trying to make him a saint. There’s also a big push to give him a Medal of Honor from the military. He’s from a small church in Kansas. He really encouraged and I’m sure he saved a lot of lives by giving his own food away, and also by encouraging people to keep up their hopes. When it started getting warm, the deaths in Camp Five stopped. After about May or June, I’d say, of 1951, the food got a little bit better. They brought more medicines in, and they gave us new clothes. We all had lice, we threw our old clothes away, they whitewashed all the rooms and we pretty all got rid of the lice. To me that was the most demoralizing thing, to have lice. When we first discovered we had lice, we were in Death Valley. We were out on a wood run and we came through the Korean Camp, and there were always Korean POWs out on the porch. It was a fairly warm day. They were doing something with their clothes and someone asked, "What are they doing?" and they said, "They’re picking lice." Lice sounded disgusting to us. We went back to the camp, and pretty soon we were scratching. We never took our clothes off because it was too damn cold. But I took my coat off and we were just loaded with lice, everybody was until the following spring. Occasionally somebody would get lice, but we kept it under control pretty well. In the springtime, we had the culmination of our indoctrination. They wanted everybody to sign a peace treaty stating that the South Koreans and the Americans invaded North Korea and all this propaganda that they had been giving. We had big arguments over it. We all realized that the Chinese had control of us, and things would get better if we would go along with it. Some of us held off on signing this peace treaty for a long time. Finally, I think 99 percent of the prisoners did. So they were going to have a big peace rally down in the village. They issued us all a stick with a little paper pennant on it, that said, "Peace." We were supposed to march through the village into a big school yard, the whole camp, enlisted and officers. In the march we were supposed to shout slogans, "Hooray for Mao Tse-Tung!" and so on. Well, the officers marched down and we drug our pennants in the dirt, we all sat down and for about three hours we listened to Chinese lectures and some enlisted men that had supposedly cooperated with the Chinese made speeches. Then we had our march back, and the Chinese had prepared a sumptuous meal for us. Fish, some beef, some pork, vegetables, and we were marching back, they had a big camera and they were filming all of this. Here come the officers dragging their peace pennants and not shouting their slogans. The Chinese commander was up there with the camera and said something to one of his men, and they took away all the goodies we were supposed to eat. So we had Kyonyang for the next four months - more than that, until we left that camp. The Kyonyang would come in these 100 pound gunny sack bags, and they would stack it up by the cook shack, and it would take us two days to go through one of those bags. They kept going down, and down, and down, and we knew they were going to have to feed us something else. The next day they had a new shipment of Kyonyang and it was all the way up to the ceiling. Then in August of 1951, they moved the officers into another camp, Camp Number Two, which was about ten miles away, and that’s where we spent the rest of the time we were POWs. Things were improving then. I’m not going to go into details anymore. At any rate, conditions got pretty well and nobody was dying, that was the main thing. In fact, with all the Kyonyang, it made us fat. When I got captured I weighed about one hundred and seventy pounds. I had been in Japan on R&R and I had fattened up. At one time, after things got a little better, we got a Chinese scale, and I weighed ninety pounds. That was after things had gotten a little better, so I was less than that I think. The rest of us were in the same condition. But, when the peace talk started in 1951, in July I think, and they went on and on for two years; we would get our hopes up and then something would happen and they would go on talking. We knew that they were about to sign an armistice. One day in late July of 1953, they got us all together, and they had their cameras and everything, so we all knew the armistice had been signed. They expected us to cheer and so forth, well, they had the cameras on us and the camp commander had a speech, and the interpreter said, "The war is over and you’ll be going home." We just stood there. They did break out a lot of food they had saved. Canned meat from Argentina, cigarettes, candy, they really fed us up with all this stuff. It took about three weeks, after the armistice was signed, before they got some trucks. We all loaded on the trucks, and we waited, and waited and waited. They said, "The road is washed out." So we all went back in. Then they had repaired the roads and we got in the trucks and went up to Manpojin, which is a real...

Louise S. Forshaw:

I’m going to ask you to spell that.

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

Manpojin. That’s my spelling. There, we got on trains, in boxcars, and they had an engine on the rear, and they pushed us out on this bridge over a river. It had been raining, and the river was in the flood stage. They stopped the train, and we were in open box cars, so we could look over into this roaring river. We all knew that that bridge was going to go at any minute, and we wouldn’t get liberated. But anyway, the bridge was too weak for the locomotive to get across, so they hooked it to the other side and we went on down. We got all the way to Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea, and I had passed through there on the way up in 1950, it was a bustling city, not much war damage or anything. In 1953 there was nothing there except a chimney. You could tell where the houses had been, but there were crops there by then. In the streets, you could tell where they were. But all the people were camped out in little shacks on the high ground. They unloaded us from the train there and put us on trucks, and we drove across the bridge there and got back on trains and they took us on down to Panmunjon, where we were released. All of this good food they had given us, we had too much really, so we would throw it out on the way to the kids that were, the North Korean kids that were on the side of the railroad. When we got down, they put us in a tent city, and the food there was terrible, we almost starved to death while we were there for two weeks, before I was released. They would call out names and take people everyday, and then finally they released me on the 30th of August, 1953. First thing I did when I got off the ambulance, to get across what they called, "Freedom Bridge," was have some ice cream. It was really nice to see an Army WAC. The first female Caucasian we had seen in three years. But anyway, they processed us, put us on a boat and it took seventeen days to get to Oakland. My mother was waiting there. I would like to tell about the mail situation. Right after I was captured in January of 1951, they gave me a little slip of rice paper, and I had a little stub of a pencil, and they said you can write a letter home so I wrote to my mother, I wasn’t married at that time. I told her I was a prisoner of war in North Korea, and I was getting along alright, and then in February they allowed us to write another letter. My mother had received word in December of 1950 that I was missing in action. On the 19th of July of 1951, my Aunt, who lived in Las Cruces, several blocks from my mother, got a phone call. It was on a Sunday. It was a postmaster from Las Cruces, and he said, "Grace, doesn’t Esther have a son over in China someplace?" She said, "Well, we don’t know where he is." He said, "Well, I’ve got two letters here addressed to Esther here." My mother. "I don’t know what to do with them." Grace said, "Just hang on, I’ll be there." This was a Sunday morning and the postmaster himself was working at that time. So Grace didn’t even put her teeth in, she had been drinking coffee; she was in her night gown with a robe on. She got in her car and went and picked up these letters, and drove to my mothers’ house. She came up the drive way honking the horn. My mother said she thought she was crazy, without any teeth or anything. Anyway, they sat there and reread those letters. Finally, they called everybody, all the family. That’s how my mother found out I was still alive.

Louise S. Forshaw:

How did she know where to reach you when you were in California?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

Well, when they released us, the Army notified them I was on the ship, but the day they released us they had telephone service and I called her and talked to her. She wrote to me and I got a lot of her letters, and she got quite a few of mine. There was a girl I dated a few times in Las Cruces, and she wrote me some letters. One of my friends in POW camp made a bet with me. He said, "I bet within six months of you getting back you marry that girl." I had no intention of marrying anyone, but I got back on the 17th of September 1953, and Virginia had got a job up in Magdalena. We got married on the 28th of November of 1953. So I owed that guy a fifth of whiskey. I held that over Virginia’s head almost ever since.

Louise S. Forshaw:

That’s a very romantic story.

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

So we’ve been married fifty five years, in November.

Louise S. Forshaw:

That is a wonderful love story, I’m sure she’d have some interesting things to say.

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

Should I go on?

Louise S. Forshaw:

Yeah, if you don’t mind.

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

I’ll try to skip over some of this stuff. It’s not as detailed. When I got back, I got married in November and I had a leave that would be over between Christmas and New Years. I didn’t want to miss New Years. We had just gotten married, had our honeymoon and everything. I went down to William Beaumont, the hospital in El Paso. I told them I was an ex-POW, and my teeth were bad, and I’d like for them to me in the hospital for about three weeks so that I wouldn’t have to leave before New Years. So they did that, they extracted one of my teeth that had been giving me trouble. Then Virginia and I reported to Fort Benning where I got my basic combat training. Then we were stationed at Fort Ord, California, where I was in a training division there. We moved back to Fort Benning in about 1957. I went to school there in advanced infantry school, and then they kept me on as an instructor in the weapons department. Then we went to Berlin. By that time we had Martha, my oldest child, who was born in Fort Ord, California. My youngest, Kathy, was born in 1959 in Fort Benning. We all moved to Berlin.

Louise S. Forshaw:

What year was that?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

That was in 1960. In 1960, I was the headquarters commandant of the Berlin brigade at the Berlin Command Headquarters in Berlin. Then, I was assigned to one of the battle groups as the assistant S-4. I was scheduled to go to Wildflicken, where we had some troops from the 6th Infantry, 3rd Battalion of the 6th Infantry. The day before I was to leave, which was a Sunday, the East Germans put up the Berlin Wall. Of course, they alerted the whole American compound, the British compound, the French compound, but they sent me out anyway. I was in Wildflicken for about a month with my family. We didn’t know what was going to happen. The Russians didn’t try anything other than blockading and we made it okay. In 1963 we came back, and I was a Professor of Military Science in Fort Kunyon(?) Military Academy in Virginia for a couple of years. Then I went to Vietnam as an advisor to the Vietnamese training. I was stationed right outside of Saigon for about four months. My boss finally took pity on me and assigned me to the Vietnamese Infantry School at Thuduc. That was a very satisfying - I was a tactical director, advisor for the tactics department of the Vietnamese Infantry School. Then I came back, and we were assigned to Fort Hood, Texas. First, my assignment there was a Brigade Executive Officer; I was a Lieutenant Colonel at that time. I had that job for a couple of months, and then I finally became a Battalion Commander, of a battalion that was just finishing their advanced individual training. We went through the unit training and the department of the Army assigned that brigade there at Fort Hood to go back to Vietnam. So I was able to command the Brigade and finish up advanced individual training, go through unit basic training, unit advanced training and ship them over to Vietnam. I commanded them there for about seven months. We got there in October of 1967, and in April I relinquished the command and became the brigade Executive Officer of the 198th Infantry Brigade. I came back and was assigned at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, in the combat development command. Then I was selected to be in the Command General Staff College in Belvoir. I completed that and they kept me on as a faculty - on the faculty there. Then in 1973, I got a phone call from a department in the Army, and they said we are going to assign you as a military attache in Caracas, Venezuela. I said, "Why did you select me for that assignment?" They said, "Because you speak Spanish." I had had Spanish in my freshman year of high school and sophomore year in high school. The only "F" I ever made in school was in Spanish. Coreen Amador was the instructor. I had two years of Spanish at the military academy, my first year and second year there. I hadn’t touched Spanish since, and that was twenty-four years later. They told me I could speak Spanish, and I said, "I need some refresher training." They said, "Okay, we’ll schedule you for the State Department Language School in Virginia." Right out side of Washington. So Virginia and I moved to Springfield, Virginia, and both of us went to Spanish school for about six weeks. At the end of six weeks, I told them, "I still don’t understand Spanish." I don’t feel fluent enough. So they sent me to the Defense Language School for a couple of weeks. There, I was the only member of my class, one on one. All day long, and I was tired of Spanish. At noontime, we’d take a break for lunch, I’d go to the canteen there and think, "Boy, I’m going to have a vacation from Spanish." Here’d come my instructor and he’d sit down with and speak Spanish at the noon hour. I got fairly fluent. They also sent me to the attache school where I learned to do all the things that an Army attache does. We spent three years in Venezuela, very enjoyable assignment in some aspects, and in others it was not so good.

Louise S. Forshaw:

Did you have much chance while you were in Venezuela to meet regular people, or were you only dealing with officials?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

Pretty much, mostly with officials, I guess, but... I made several trips to see the interior of the country, and that was very enjoyable. The people in the interior, outside of Caracas, I can understand a lot better than the people in Caracas. Like a big city, they slur their words, and it was hard for me to understand them there. When we would get out in the hinterlands I could understand. We took a trip through the jungle to the diamond mines, and we took a trip all the way down to Brazil one time, by vehicle. While we were there, we took several trips to Panama and Columbia. We took one trip down to Peru. Then they told me I had to get out of the Army after being in the Army for 32 years. They said, "Where would you like to go on your last assignment?" I told them, "Either Fort Bliss, Texas, or White Sands Missile Range." So they sent me to Fort Bliss. I was headquarters commander at Fort Bliss for one year before I retired and then we moved to Hillsboro, New Mexico.

Louise S. Forshaw:

What year did you return to Las Cruces?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

1999. We were back down to Las Cruces.

Louise S. Forshaw:

Do you belong to any Veterans groups?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

I belong to the DOV, but I’m not really an active member.

Louise S. Forshaw:

Were you able to keep in touch with any of the people you had served with?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

Oh yes, a few. I’ll tell you one more incident that happened to me in Vietnam when I was a Battalion Commander. I went over about a month before my troops went over. We were the advanced party and we went out with other units to see how they operated and everything. When the troops came over, we met the ship. There was a fellow there that was in the artillery that came over on the same ship who was part of our brigade. He was assigned as my artillery advisor, liaison officer. He never met me, I’d never seen him before. In fact, he thought he was going to have another job and when he got there his commander said, "You’re going to Colonel Roach’s Battalion." About the second day we were here we were at a little town called Duc Fo (?) and I had patrols out, and one of the patrols got in contact with the VC. They killed one of the VC that night. So we decided we’d have a combat assault, to reinforce that platoon that was out there because they were holed up. That night we had all kinds of support. One of these gunships that flew over - the C – 47 with a mini-gun on it that fired thousands of rounds a minute. It flew over and circled this little platoon out there, and it was really a good show, streaks of firing down there. They all survived that, and come to find out those rounds are landing a hundred yards from our friendly troops, but they appreciated it. Anyway, the next day we were going to land early in the morning. We went out, and my liaison officer, I found out later – I didn’t get a chance to talk to him, really – he knew what he was supposed to do, and I briefed him and everything. He was from El Paso. His name was A.C. Sanders. There was an old family here in Las Cruces, "Sad Sanders," and that was his cousin. So we got along – boy we’re really going through here.

Louise S. Forshaw:

That’s alright; you have some wonderful stories to tell. Let me just make sure this thing operates. Alright, you were telling us about Sanders.

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

A.C. Sanders. When you have a combat assault the usual procedure was, the battalion commander and the battalion s-3 and the artillery liaison officer fly in the helicopter, and they would circle counter clockwise first over the landing zone, and the artillery liaison officer would call in artillery around the landing zone. Then, after the artillery came in we would have to mark the landing zone with a smoke grenade. Then we would circle around clockwise so that I could see what was going on with the troops landing and so forth. A.C., this was the first time he had ever been in a helicopter. He’s a writer down in El Paso, and he wrote a story about his first experience in combat, and he said that he got up early in the morning, and we were going over to where the helicopter was, and he looked over to the battalion commander and he was really calm. He said, "I was scared to death. I was getting nausea. And I looked at the battalion sergeant, and he was calm, I looked at the S-3, and he was calm. Here I was, didn’t know whether we were going to get killed or what. He said, "We got in and the helicopters don’t have any doors so you can see better. We came down to mark the landing zone. I knew what I was supposed to do. I got the artillery fires in there perfectly." My part of it, I was worried about the landing zone because it was a rice paddy and I didn’t know if it was flooded or not, so I was concentrating on looking at that. We went in to mark the landing zone, and A.C.’s version was, "All of a sudden tracers of bullets came past, and I looked down and all I could see was the muzzle of a machine gun firing at us." And he said, "I looked over at the battalion commander and he was just as nonchalant as could be. This guy was crazy." And he said, "We survived fortunately, but I still thought I had a crazy battalion commander." About two weeks after that they came to me and said, "Here’s your combat infantry badge." That would be the second one that I’d won. I said, "What do you mean, I’m not eligible for that. You have to be shot at." I had no idea that they were shooting at us. Anyway, that’s how I got my second combat infantry badge, but A.C. tells the story great. I have lunch with him every once in awhile. His wife Mary and Virginia got to know each other very well while we were over there.

Louise S. Forshaw:

Now, Mr. Roach you have had a long and sometimes harrowing experience in the military, your story is going to be read or listened to by people who weren’t even alive in those days. Do you have anything to say to them?

Paul A. Roach, Jr.:

Well, the best thing they can do is stay out of these wars. War is the last resort and it’s really not nice at all. So try to keep future Americans from having to go through the experiences I had in the wars. Thank you.

Louise S. Forshaw:

This completes our interview with Paul Roach who served in the U.S. Army. Thank you very much.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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