Korean War veteran reflects on 555 days as a POW
By Richard Zowie— “It was a hell of an ordeal.”
Those succinct seven words are how Fredericksburg’s Jack Ledford described the 555 days when he was forced to move across the Korean Peninsula with North Korean and Chinese forces.
An Army Airborne paratrooper and veteran of six battles in the Korean War, including the Inchon invasion and the Chosin Reservoir, Ledford spent February 1951 until about summer 1952 as a prisoner of war.
“There were incidents that happened, incidents of unbelievable cruelty,” said Ledford, an Oklahoma native who grew up in Llano County and, after the war, worked in real estate and insurance in Fredericksburg. “Nobody would believe it. You adapted and as I told everybody, you just kept a low profile and remembered: don’t be argumentative and don’t threaten anybody. In time, we hoped maybe it would get better.”
Prior to being captured, Ledford trained with radar equipment and helped to put up radar stations on mountains.
Then, at the Chosin Reservoir, temperatures dipped to minus-40 degrees and made it difficult to evacuate.
“A lot of people died,” he said of the infamous battle, where many received Purple Hearts for frostbite. “In November, we got our Thanksgiving dinner, and the turkey was as frozen hard as a conference room table.”
In mid-February 1951, Sergeant Ledford and those with him were guarding rail cars containing equipment when they were attacked by larger forces of Chinese and North Korean troops.
In the skirmish, Ledford sustained shrapnel wounds to his back and arm and had also been shot in the leg.
“That’s when we were captured,” Ledford said of the skirmish.
They were forced to march, and there were no medical facilities. They spent the night in an old school house.
“There was nothing to eat and nothing to drink other than the water from the snow,” Ledford said. “There was snow everywhere and it was cold, so we’d eat snow.”
The next day, at another location, Ledford and the others finally received food, a softball-sized bowl of rice.
“It had bugs and other unmentionable things in it,” he recalled. “Most of us didn’t eat it the first time.”
But when hunger surmounted and the next day’s filthy rice arrived, they all ate it.
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