On the long march north to Pyoktong, Ed Smith ate one meal a day: whole-kernel corn, boiled. “We went by a big pot on the road, and whatever you had to put it in, that’s what you got,” he recalls. “I had an old pilot’s hat, so I turned it inside out.”

In camp, Smith heard some men say, “I can’t do this, I can’t eat this food.” They got weaker and skinnier by the day. But very few just gave up.

“The whole time I was a prisoner, what I feared more than anything was being liberated,” he says. “I’d seen those World War II movies where the Japanese shot everybody first.”

Instead, his release came with an ambulance ride across the line, a trip through a delousing tent, and a fresh set of khakis.

Smith stayed in the Army, retiring after 21 years. He served in France and Germany, and did a second tour in Korea in 1961. “Everybody said, ‘You don’t have to go,’ but I said, ‘I don’t care. An assignment is an assignment.’

“I’ve never had anything bad to say about the military. I always thought it treated me pretty damn good.”

View more Korean War POW stories