Saturday, October 26, 2019

Don Schmincke: Korean War POW

YouTube screen grab 
Don Schmincke joined the U.S. Army right out of high school.  He grew up in a working class neighborhood on Baltimore's Federal Hill, just a few blocks form the docks of the inner harbor. After basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Don reported to a billet with the 19th Infantry Regiment in December 1948.  That posting, at Camp Chuckamunga on Japan's Kyushu Island, gave him about 18 months to enjoy low-risk occupation duty. His paycheck easily afforded him a number of luxuries in nearby Beppu.  The advent of the Korean War changed all of that.

Within days of the North Korean invasion, U.S. Eighth Army headquarters in Yokohama began committing troops to the defense of South Korea in piecemeal fashion.  Because the scale of the North Korean threat was vastly underestimated, the first Army units committed to the war were woefully underprepared. Within days of his arrival in Korea, Don Schmincke, a rifleman, dug in on the banks of the Kum River on July 13, 1950 with the rest of the 19th.  Their mission was to defend the northern approaches to the city of Taejon from North Korean encroachment.  Because they were deployed too thinly, the 19th was quickly overrun.  A few men escaped on foot over hills; many more were killed or captured.  Among those captured was PFC Don Schmincke.

Don would somehow survive 37 months and 14 days in captivity.  Out of the approxiately 700 men captured with him, about 500 survived the march north to prison camps.  Of those, only 285 would live to be repatriated three years later. 

Don's family knew only that he was missing in action as of late September 1950.  They would not receive notice that he was alive and in captivity until December 1951. When interviewed then by the Baltimore Sun, his mother exclaimed, "I'm the happiest woman in Baltimore today, and I thank God in heaven for taking care of my boy (emphasis mine)."

I'll spare you the details here of the prison camp experience, but if you wish, you can see and hear then-Corporal Schmincke describe it in his own words to reporter Bill Downs in a 1953 video clip now on YouTube. (Warning: the opening segment of this clip is not pleasant; jump to 4:08 to see Don's interview at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC, shortly after his repatriation).  

Don may still be alive as of the date of this post; I'm not sure.  He would be 88 years old.

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