Anthony "Tony" F. Jurek


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Photo 1: “Minnesotans in POW Camp.”
Image published in unidentified MN newspaper, date: May/June 1953. Image was published nationwide; Tony’s mother received copies of the image from people on both coasts and in the Midwest.

Caption reads:
“This group of American GIs at a Communist prison camp in Korea pose for a picture by Associated Press photographer Frank Noel, himself a POW. From left are Cpl. James E. Allred, Liberty, N.C.; Cpl. Anthony F. Jurek, Cloquet, Minn.; Cpl. Carlyn G. Tupper, from Minnesota but home town not listed; Pfc. James A. Chisholm, Yazoo City, Miss., and Pfc. Herman L. Aycoth, Walkertown, N.C. This picture was passed by both United Nations and Communist censors—AP photo.”

Tony noted: Cpl. Tupper was from Coleraine, MN.

Tony added: After negotiations to end the war began, Mr. Noel’s camera was returned to him by the Chinese, who provided him with film and allowed him to take photographs. This was done for the sake of propaganda; the Chinese wanted to show how well they were treating their POWs. At this point, for the same reason, the Chinese did not want any more POWs to die.

Photo 2: Camp 5, photo courtesy of Korean War

Photo 3: Tony and Marjorie Jurek.

Photo 4: Tony at opening of "Behind the Wire: Stories of a POW" exhibit by Veterans' Memorial Hall, in Duluth News Tribune, April 18, 2010.

Photo 5: Tony in uniform.

Mr. Jurek served in the Korean War.

He was a POW from December 1, 1950, until August 1953.

Mr. Jurek enlisted in the Army in August 1949 and was honorably discharged in November 1953.

He was part of the 2nd Division based in Ft. Lewis, Washington. and served in the 2nd Engineering Combat Battalion. He drove an M-4 tank. He trained in Ft. Riley, Kansas.

He was a Sergeant.

He was born on February 25, 1932, in Kettle River, Minnesota.

Source: Biographical Data Form, Library of Congress, Veterans History Project

Following is a Veterans' Memorial Hall interview with Mr. Jurek.

Date: March 30, 2009
Location: Cloquet, MN
Interviewed by Dan Hartman, Program Director, Veterans’ Memorial Hall
Transcribed by Patra Sevastiades, Program Assistant, Veterans’ Memorial Hall, on May 13, 2009

A History of American Ex-POWS in Minnesota

Tony mentioned a number of POWs in the area, members of local chapters of American Ex-POWs. In the Sturgeon Lake Chapter, Adam Klosowski, who was a WWII POW in Germany. He successfully managed to escape from the camp. In the Cloquet Chapter, Jim Arntson. He and Tony were captured in Korea at the same time.

There was a national reunion of American Ex-POWs in Rochester, MN, in 2000 or 2002 or thereabouts.

In the Lake Superior Chapter of American Ex-POWs, three veterans are left. Each has a taped interview, done about fifteen years ago. At its peak, it had forty members. Veterans and their wives were equal members, and the membership fee was $5.00 per member per year.

Other family members could also join the American Ex-POW groups. For instance, the current Minnesota Commander is the son of a POW in Europe, Adam Claypool.

The Lake Superior Chapter has been in existence about twenty years. Its creation was inspired in about 1987 by Eugene Shabatura; he and a number of people were involved in its founding. Eugene’s widow lives on Park Point, in Duluth. The first Commander of the Lake Superior Chapter was Eugene. Tony was the next Commander, followed by Al Agostino. Members rode in parades, attended MIA Remembrance Day at the Stockade (sponosored by the Vietnam Veterans of Northern Minnesota)—last year (2008) was the first time they’d missed it—and raised money selling daisies to help members who were facing financial difficulties. This chapter met in the VFW Post 137, Duluth.

An American Ex-POWs group was formed in the Twin Cities in the 1970s. Its purpose was for members to support one another and to educate the public. Earl Miller and his wife, Rene, started the chapter. They were from St. Paul. That chapter expanded into eight chapters in Minnesota. Tony was originally in the Hibbing Chapter, known as the Arrowhead Chapter, which began in 1982 or 1983; it lasted until about 2005. Tony was a charter member of both the Arrowhead and the Lake Superior Chapters. Bill Wanhala was the founder and original Commander of the Arrowhead Chapter. The Hibbing Chapter met in the Miners Memorial Building in Hibbing.

When asked if there are any POWs from the Iraq War who are involved in any of the local chapters, Tony responded that there are few POWs from the Iraq War; most soldiers who are captured, are killed.

Tony Joins the Army

Tony was born in 1932. In 1949, he enlisted in the Army because he needed a job. The pay was $67 a month, which was not great, but all right. Good wages at the time, like those at a mill, were between $1.25 and $1.50 an hour.

He chose the Army because his buddies were joining. He and five friends enlisted together in 1949 and went to basic training together. One of them became ill; four were assigned to service in Japan—one of these was Jim Arntson; and Tony was assigned to Ft. Lewis, WA.

On the first Sunday of July 1950, Tony woke up to learn that his division, the 2nd Division, had been alerted for service in Korea. Up until that point, all he knew about Korea was from a Jack London book about the Sino-Japanese War; he knew it was a beautiful country. It would be his first time overseas. He had been in the Army for ten months.

His division prepared to ship out. They did things the Army considered important, like giving their equipment a fresh coat of paint!

He was in the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, which had five tank ’dozers, and he drove an M-4 tank. These had blades on them and were used for bridge building. These were painted, too.

They crossed the Pacific and landed at Pusan. The Army was holding only the southern tip of the island. There was a 23-mile perimeter around the tip, and the 2nd Division was there to help reinforce it. Tony’s battalion built the first pontoon bridge across the Naktong River on August 14 or 15, 1950.

The Army held the perimeter. The 1st Cavalry was there, the 24th and 25th Divisions were there, and the 2nd Division was there. The need for manpower was so great that even soldiers from the stockade were brought into the regular ranks.

In September, the Marines landed at Inchon. This took the backbone out of the North Korean army. The Marines cut off the North Korean supply lines, and the North Koreans fled north, with the Americans in pursuit. Tony’s Engineering Battalion built a bridge across the Han River, near Seoul. The Americans kept pushing north and crossed the 38th Parallel.

Tony didn’t help build the bridge: He was behind the lines nursing the sick tanks. The tanks were falling apart and couldn’t keep up. It was World War II equipment and in serious need of repair. The tanks limped along until Tony’s unit was near Seoul, then three or four broke down in quick succession.

General MacArthur decided he would drive the North Koreans north and off the peninsula, but this turned to be a poor decision. He was convinced that the Americans would be home by Christmas. That’s why the Americans were only issued summer uniforms. The Americans kept pushing north.

In October, the Chinese came into Korea and pushed back. MacArthur didn’t believe it! The Chinese entered the war in October 1950, not in full force, but in small groups, at night. They hid in the hills in “pseudo-caves,” gullies hidden by brush. The Chinese were more experienced soldiers than the Koreans. They’d fought in Chiang Kai-shek’s Army—and now they were fighting in the Red Army—and, Tony adds, they were better trained and disciplined than MacArthur gave them credit for being. By now, Tony and his platoon were without tanks—they had been abandoned, broken and useless, in the freezing, mountainous terrain—so all they could do was reconnaissance.

Near the very end of November, the Chinese launched a full invasion. Tony and his platoon were in the village of Kunrii near the Chongchon River, still on the peninsula but far north of the 38th Parallel, when a massive force of Chinese arrived. The Americans were hit by the onslaught. There were no decent roads. The 38th Field Artillery Battalion and the 2nd Engineer Corps were supposed to be the rear guard for Tony’s 2nd Division, but they couldn’t defend well because their equipment couldn’t get through the narrow mountain roads. The fighting was fierce. The Americans were hit hard by the Chinese. The Chinese cut off the American 2nd, 24th, and 25th Divisions from the rest of the peninsula, because the Republic of Korea (ROK) troops had fled.

During the first three or four days of the Chinese invasion, Tony and the twenty-five other tank drivers were without an assignment. No one knew what to do with them. All of their equipment was broken. The gun mounted on his tank was useless. There was a pile of M-1’s but they were mostly broken. Tony picked one up and carried it as a single shot. Other than that, he only had a .45-calibre military pistol. They ran out of food after a couple of days’ worth of fighting. Tony was lucky if he could find a can of C-ration.

Tony’s battalion had scattered. The Chinese controlled the territory, and a lot of Americans now found themselves behind enemy lines. Everyone tried to go south.

The mountain pass was blocked, the tanks abandoned. Tony knew that many American soldiers had tried to go further south, traveling at night. As he found out later, a lot of them made it. Tony started to follow a bunch of American soldiers who were heading up a hill. A war-seasoned soldier grabbed him and warned him not to go up there because the enemy was sure to have targeted the hilltop. Tony went with him instead, and soon after, the hill he’d avoided was pounded by mortar fire.

Tony, the soldier who’d stopped him, and a few others went in a different direction in search of cover. That night, they all stopped to rest. Tony asked them to make sure not to leave him when they left. He didn’t mean to, but he fell asleep, exhausted. When he woke up, he was alone. But then he heard the Chinese moving around him. And he smelled garlic. He kept quiet. He had learned that, because the Red Army’s diet included garlic, he could detect the smell of garlic when the Chinese troops were near. The Chinese didn’t spot him.

Tony and other Americans ran all night, looking for their buddies and trying to find safety. He headed to the highest point he could find, a hill, so that he could figure out which way was south. He was relieved to find a lot of other American GIs there. They all stayed there until dawn. But they were still behind enemy lines, and in the morning, U.S. Navy Corsairs strafed them, not knowing they were Americans! Some Americans were hit and died. Tony and the others couldn’t use the Army color system to protect themselves: They had panels of different colors to lay out for the pilots to see, and each day, the color changed. But since they didn’t have a radio, they didn’t know which color to put out each day.

Somehow, the American pilots finally realized that there were American soldiers down there. So they began to attack the Chinese positions around the hill in an attempt to help the Americans on the ground fight their way out. But it was too little, too late.

By now, Tony had had nothing to eat for about three days. His group spotted an American first aid station in the valley below the hill. It was a collection of huts and a few buildings, and a handful of Korean families also lived there. Tony and the others stayed on the hill until afternoon. Then they started carrying the wounded who were on the hill down to the aid station. Altogether, there were about fifty wounded men there. The Americans had no ammo or food left. It was freezing. The aid station, sitting in the valley, was completely surrounded by the Chinese. There was only one doctor at the aid station, and he was a senior officer.

On December 1, on the same afternoon that Tony and the others arrived at the aid station, the doctor went out with a white flag and surrendered to the Chinese. He did it in order to save the wounded. Most of the men didn’t agree with his decision, but he was the senior officer so they didn’t argue.

Everyone in the aid station, including Tony, was captured by the Chinese.

Marching to the Camp

After the Americans had surrendered, the Chinese were all smiles as they came down the hill. Many Chinese soldiers liked America because the Americans had supported Chiang Kai-shek and his army, in which many of them had served during the war between the Communists and the Nationalists. In Tony’s view, it was also fortunate that the Americans were captured by the Chinese rather than the North Koreans, because the North Koreans had a reputation for being more vicious.

The Chinese made sure the Americans had no weapons, then ordered all those who were able to start walking down the road. The rest of the wounded remained at the aid station under the watch of the Chinese.

One of the men who had served on the same tank as Tony had been shot in both legs and was among the wounded at the aid station. When the Chinese ordered all able-bodied Americans to walk, he forced himself to go, because he had a feeling that the people left behind wouldn’t make it; he figured the Chinese did not want to carry wounded Americans. As he and the other POWs marched down the road, they heard gunfire coming from the direction of the aid station.

Tony and the others may have walked half a mile, it may have been five miles—Tony’s perception of time and distance were altered by his experience.
Snipers took pot shots at the American prisoners, and some were hit. One of the men near Tony was shot in the back seven times and fell to his knees. The wounds were superficial, so Tony and others dug the bullets out of his back, and he was able to keep going. Most of the Americans who had left the aid station reached a village, where the Chinese put them in a schoolhouse for one to two days. They were not given anything to eat.

A number of days before, the Americans had captured a bunch of North Koreans and turned them over to the ROK. Tony had watched the ROK march their prisoners over a hill, stand them at the edge of a gully, and shoot them. Now, Tony and the other Americans found themselves being led from the schoolhouse to a gully.

As Tony stood at the gully’s edge he was not afraid. He was tired, sick, and hungry. None of the Americans ran or screamed. The Chinese soldiers stood ready to fire.

Then, abruptly, a Chinese officer yelled and ordered his men to stop.

The Americans were led back to the schoolhouse. They were fed maybe half a cup of cracked corn—chickenfeed. The next night they were let out of the schoolhouse and forced to march. They traveled to a pseudo-cave, where they stopped and were hidden before it got light. Forty or fifty people could be hidden in each pseudo-cave.

For twenty days, the POWs traveled by night under guard. They were sometimes beaten, although Tony did not see anyone killed during the marches. They slept during the daytime. Tony remembers that time as almost a complete blank.

When they moved at night, they would sometimes enter a village. The Korean villagers would already have been cleared out of their mud-straw huts by the time the POWs arrived. The Chinese would billet the POWs there for a day. The Americans were packed in so tightly that when they lay down to sleep, in order for one man to turn over, everyone had to turn over.

One time, the Americans were being packed in so tightly that the rear wall of the hut fell down without the Chinese noticing. The Americans walked out the back of the hut, circled around, and came in through the door again--until the Chinese figured out what they were doing!

Life in the POW Camps

On December 24, Christmas Eve 1950, they reached a camp that Tony calls the “mining camp.” It looked like a workers’ camp of some sort. The POWs stayed there approximately thirty days. People had been dying off along the way, but now that everyone was in one place, they could see just how many had died.

In the camp, it was not unusual for POWs to wake up and see that the person beside them was dead. Most died of dysentery or gangrene from wounds. The POWs were required to stack up the dead bodies in piles. It was so cold that the bodies did not decompose.

The mining camp had several rows of buildings. Each building was made up of a series of connected small rooms, each only perhaps 8’x10’ or 12’x10’. The building had a partly heated mud floor; there was an underground fireplace under the kitchen, and a heat vent carried the heat under a portion of the building, heating some of the rooms. The Chinese kept twenty to thirty POWs in each room, packed like sardines. The POWs’ rooms were unheated.

Eight days after they reached the mining camp, Tony tried to escape. It was New Year’s Day, 1951. Tony and a bunch of other POWs volunteered for wood detail. Tony and his three friends hoped that they might be able to slip away. Unlike a lot of the POWs, these four men had brought winter clothes with them when they had shipped out from the United States, and now they were wearing them. Tony had also grabbed some warm clothes from the Army supply dump a few days before he was captured (although this was against regulations).

The wood detail left the mining camp under the supervision of Chinese soldiers, and the POWs were sent out to gather material to burn. There were no trees, only brush. Tony and his three friends were gathering brush and talking as they went up a gully. They looked back and realized that they were hidden by brush. They slipped away.

It was very cold. They kept going until they came to a small village. They figured they needed food and matches. They stopped near a hut and, keeping themselves hidden, observed it for a while. They didn’t see any movement, so they busted in, using both doors. They surprised a man inside. Another man apparently slipped out, but they didn’t notice. A little old woman was also in the house. The Koreans were upset when the Americans came in, but once they understood that the POWs just wanted supplies, they calmed down. One of the POWs spoke some Japanese, which the Koreans also spoke (because of the previous Japanese occupation of Korea). The Americans asked for some food, and the mama-san agreed to feed them. The Americans also negotiated for some tobacco. Tony had a fountain pen. He gave it to the papa-san and showed him how to use it, and the man gave him a bag of dried tobacco leaves the size of a loaf of bread.

They had been in the hut about thirty minutes when the door flew open. Members of the North Korean militia walked in. One of the North Korean officers spoke some English, and he spoke with the POWs. The North Koreans did not beat the Americans, but they started to lead them out of the hut. The mama-san stopped them: she yelled at the militiamen for taking the Americans before they had eaten. The North Korean officers relented and let the POWs stay long enough to eat. One of the North Koreans even gave one of the POWs a cigarette. The mama-san brought the POWs cooked cracked corn.

After they had eaten, the POWs were taken to a police station. Five other American POWs were already there! They had been on the same wood detail and had had the same idea. They were all held overnight.

The next day, the nine Americans started walking back to the POW camp with an armed escort. Their hands were tied behind their backs. Two North Korean men with rifles walked behind them and three with long poles walked ahead of them. They were all walking uphill. There was a fork in the road, and the two men with rifles turned off at the fork, leaving the POWs unguarded in the rear. The Americans realized this, and as they walked, they managed to untie their hands. The men with poles hadn’t noticed. The Americans held their hands behind their backs as if they were still tied and called out for a cigarette break. The three North Koreans rolled them cigarettes and put them in their mouths; the one with matches lit them. Then the Americans brought their arms around. Seeing this, the North Korean with the matches started to laugh. One of the POWs grabbed his matches. The three North Koreans talked quickly and took off running down the hill. A POW—the one who had been shot in the back seven times on the march from the aid station—threw a rock at them and hit one of the fleeing North Koreans in the head. He fell and tumbled down the hill. The Americans ran, trying to reach the top of the ridge.

Word of their escape spread fast, and the Americans were re-apprehended. They were brought back to the police station and kept another night. The North Koreans were angry about the rock throwing and asked who did it. The Americans all denied it. A North Korean officer who spoke some English brought in the man who had been hit by the rock. He had a bump on his head the size of a baseball! The officer pointed a gun at the POWs and again asked who threw the rock. Everyone denied it. Then he asked the injured man who had thrown the rock at him. He had no idea.

Four of the Americans were about the same height, and one was over six feet. One wore glasses, so he looked different. The injured man pointed at him. The North Korean officer aimed his gun at the American in the glasses. The POW’s eyes grew as big as coffee cups. Everyone thought they were going to shoot him; but for some reason, he didn’t. Later, the POW with glasses recalled that “the barrel of that gun looked as big as a washtub.”

The Americans were marched back to the mining camp. There the Chinese officers introduced the POWs to their “lenient policy.” The temperature was now below zero. The nine men were placed in a small, unheated hut that did not even have paper to cover the windows or door. They were left there for about two days so they could “think about what you’ve done.” The POWs managed to avoid freezing by arranging to have four men lie on the floor with the other five on top of them, like a blanket. They rotated one position every fifteen minutes. After this punishment, they were put back with the other POWs.

In late January 1951, they left the mining camp and marched three to four more days. They came to Pyoktong, a little town right on the Yalu River. Camp 5 was there. They stayed there from January until September or October, 1951. They were fed half a cup of millet or cracked corn one or two times a day. Sometimes, later, they had rice. The Chinese used to boast that they fed the Americans 700 calories a day. The food was always full of worms, which were dead but provided protein. The corn was sour; sometimes it was half raw. The POWs could always count on the worms. At first, the men tried to pick them out. Then, they got used to it.

In Camp 5, sickness was widespread, and POWs died regularly. The Chinese did a daily head count by knocking on the door of each room and asking, “How many dead?” Six or seven, and sometimes as many as eighteen or twenty, died daily. There was a POW funeral detail. That winter was the coldest in recent history. It was like winter in Duluth. The dead were “buried” by scratching a hole in the ground and breaking up ice chunks and mud chunks to cover the bodies.

When the weather got better, most of the POWs felt better.

There was a “hospital,” loosely called, there at the camp, a Dr. Shaddish ran it, but the Chinese didn’t make much medicine available to him, so he couldn’t do much. Other than Dr. Shaddish, POWs who were doctors were not allowed to treat other POWs. The Chinese told the POWs, “You go to the hospital the day before you die.”

There were about 3,500-5,000 prisoners in the camp. POW officers were housed in a separate part of the camp. The Chinese gave propaganda lectures to the POWs about Communism. They had English-speaking interpreters who had studied in the United States. They sometimes talked to the POWs about American things, like the World Series.

One POW, a 17-year-old soldier, made the Chinese angry. The Chinese strapped a heavy log to his shoulders and hands and had him stand bearing its weight for as long as he could. When he collapsed, they picked him up and had him stand again. He kept collapsing.

Those POWs who kept their mouths shut when they heard the propaganda lectures stayed in Camp 5. Those who complained about them were sent to Camp 3. In September or October, 1951, Tony and 150-200 other POWs were taken by barge down river to Camp 3 in Changsong. The conditions there were similar to the conditions in Camp 5. When negotiations improved, the Chinese improved conditions for the POWs, again for the sake of propaganda.

Tony stayed in Camp 5 for nearly two years, until the Armistice was signed, on July 27, 1953. In the meantime, new POWs were being brought into the camps all the time.


Negotiations began in the summer of 1951. In Camp 5, things began to improve. After negotiations began, the POWs were each given a new issue of summer and winter clothes. They were given tennis shoes. When negotiations were going well, the POWs were fed better.

The Armistice process involved arguing over a lot of little details having nothing to do with the war. For instance, there was a lot of discussion over the size of the furniture in the negotiating room: The shorter Koreans did not want to be towered over by taller Westerners! One of the main sticking points in negotiations centered around the fact that the United Nations didn’t want to forcibly repatriate Chinese and North Korean POWs who did not want to go home. The Chinese and North Koreans insisted on this.

At the same time, in the camp, the Chinese kept threatening the American POWs, “We don’t have to turn you over” in order to frighten them. They kept up their propaganda lectures concerning Communism. Of the 7,000 American POWs in Korea, 3,700 died or were kept against their will; twenty-one did choose to stay; and approximately 3,300 came back.

The day the Armistice was signed, July 27, 1953, no one told the POWs, but they could tell from the Chinese soldiers’ behavior. They were excited.

The Road to Freedom

Tony recalls that, after being a prisoner for thirty-three months, it was surreal to be released from the POW camp. He was one of a group of POWs sent in two open trucks from Camp 5 to a Korean village. The village was in a beautiful valley. The POWs stayed there three to four days. They received their first Red Cross package only then; previously, the Chinese had refused to let them receive Red Cross packages, based on the argument that the POWs were well fed and didn’t need such supplies! The package contained some essentials such as shaving gear, soap, a washcloth, cigarettes, and a toothbrush. Then the POWs were loaded into boxcars and shipped to the 38th Parallel by train. It took three days by rail to get there.

Freedom Village was the name of the place where prisoner exchanges occurred after the Armistice was signed. Freedom Village is located within the village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone.

Once the POWs reached the 38th Parallel, Tony recalls, it was unreal. They stayed near Freedom Village in a tent city, under guard. They had to wait there three to four more days; the Chinese took only so many prisoners to exchange at a time. The U.N. had 200,000 prisoners. A trainload of North Korean and Chinese were traded for two truckloads of Americans. Most of the North Korean and Chinese POWs did not want to be repatriated. The Chinese held back some American POWs for this reason, as bargaining chips.

Tony and others were loaded into trucks and taken to the prisoner exchange site. They crossed some sort of line or bridge, and were met by American officers, who shook their hands and welcomed them. They were taken to another tent city or barracks, put through a delousing procedure, given showers, and given new clothes. They had a medical check-up. Those who were sick were sent to a hospital in Japan.

When Tony reached the American camp, there were mess tents as far as he could see, tables and tables full of food! They had steak, hamburgers, fish, lobster. The POWs were warned to go easy at first. Tony ate three bites and he was full. The food was good.

Tony and the others were not there long, just a few days. They were debriefed and then put on helicopters and flown to a Korean port city. There they were given money and access to a PX. Tony bought a nice camera, which he later gave to his son.

He boarded a ship bound for San Francisco. While on board, the POWs were debriefed more thoroughly. It was nighttime when they passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, and it was so foggy that they couldn’t see it. When they docked in San Francisco, Tony’s brother, Stanley, met him.

On September 17, 1953, Tony weighed only 108 lbs., and that was after three weeks on the American boat. He had weighed 140 lbs. when he was captured on December 1, 1950. Mr. Jurek served in the Korean War.

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