'You Are about to Die a Horrible Death'

By Van Zandt, James E. | VFW Magazine, February 2003 | Go to article overview

'You Are about to Die a Horrible Death'


Van Zandt, James E., VFW Magazine


Long buried in the bowels of the bureaucracy, the little-known report produced by the 1953 Potter hearings pertaining to Communist atrocities in Korea deserves to see light. Fortunately, its key findings were revealed and preserved in VFW magazine. Here is a recap presented by then-- Pennsylvania Rep. James E. Van Zandt.

(Senate Report 848, 83rd Congress, 2nd session, Jan. 11, 1954.)

Sgt. Berry F. Rhoden was handed a card before being shot in the back. The legend on the card said: "You are about to die the most horrible kind of death." Rhoden barely survived, but many Americans did not make it through the North Korean atrocity mill.

"The Communist enemy committed a series of war crimes against American and U.N. personnel which constituted one of the most heinous and barbaric epochs in recorded history," so concluded the Potter report.

Sen. Charles E. Potter, of Michigan, who lost both legs in WWII, made a determined and persistent inquiry into Communist atrocities. More than 200 pages of testimony were recorded during his hearings in December 1953.

On Jan. 11, 1954, came the formal report, documenting murder, starvation, torture, experimental medical operations and many other crimes against humanity.

"Virtually every provision of the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of prisoners of war was purposely violated or ignored by the North Korean and Chinese forces," the Potter report declared. "More than 5,000 American prisoners of war died because of Communist war atrocities and more than a thousand who survived were victims of war crimes."

According to Potter's report, "Approximately two-thirds of all American prisoners of war in Korea died due to war crimes.' The Potter report also documented 35,459 war crimes against civilian victims in Korea, plus a total of 20,785 war crimes against military personnel in all the United Nations forces combined, including U.S. troops.

War Crimes Division

During three days of hearings, the Potter committee took the testimony of 29 witnesses, 23 of whom were American military personnel who were either survivors or eyewitnesses of Communist atrocities. The other witnesses were former Army field commanders in Korea, and officers of the War Crimes Division (WCD). Hundreds of photographs were presented in evidence from the files of the WCD in Korea.

First reports of atrocities committed by the Communists in Korea against captured Americans began to trickle into Gen. Douglas MacArthur's headquarters in July 1950, before North Korean aggression had been under way two weeks. MacArthur at once set up the WCD in the Korean Command, with a view to preparing on-the-spot evidence for presentation to the U. N.

With the signing of the Korean War armistice in July 1953, the WCD in Korea did not terminate operations. It continued to pile up new evidence of Communist brutalities.

Stated the findings: "The evidence before the subcommittee conclusively proves that American prisoners of war who were not deliberately murdered at the time of capture or shortly after capture, were beaten, wounded, starved, and tortured; molested, displayed, and humiliated before the civilian populace and/or forced to march long distances without benefit of adequate food, water, shelter, clothing or medical care to Communist prison camps, and there to experience further acts of human indignities.

"Communist massacres, and the wholesale extermination of their victims, is a calculated part of Communist psychological warfare. The atrocities perpetrated in Korea against the United Nations troops by Chinese and North Korean Communists are not unique in Communist history."

Potter emphasized that several blood-- chilling methods discovered in the Korean atrocities were exactly those used by Russian forces against the Poles in the notorious Katyn Forest Massacre, which had been investigated earlier by another committee of Congress. …

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