Capturing the Truth about Our Prisoners of War

By Benson, Kevin C. M. | Army, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Capturing the Truth about Our Prisoners of War


Benson, Kevin C. M., Army


Capturing the Truth About Our Prisoners of War

Cold Days in Hell: American POWs in Korea. William Clark Latham Jr. Texas A&M University Press. 336 pages; appendix; bibliography; black-and-white photographs; index; maps; notes; $32. Publisher's website: www.tamupress.com.

William Clark Latham Jr.'s Cold Days in Hell made me shiver for three reasons. First, the word pictures he paints conjure images of the bleak, bitter cold that Americans faced in Korea. Second, the stories of the brutality endured by Americans and others at the hands of the North Koreans and Chinese made me wonder if I could do half as well as these men. Third, I shuddered at the willful ignorance of some senior American officers in the face of evidence of the Communist Chinese entering the war.

This book is a solid work of history that fills a gap in the historiography of the Korean War. Latham's quality research documents tales of shameful pandering on the part of certain Americans toward their captors and tells stories of epic courage in the face of brutality and death. The book is a recap of the history of the stages of the Korean War and the history of the men in the POW camps. When I finished the book, I found myself wishing for more.

Latham blends a history of the war with descriptions of American soldiers' actions on the ground and in the air. Eventually, their actions resulted in the North Koreans and Communist Chinese taking American prisoners. Latham mixes the broad actions of armies, corps and divisions with the details of life in temporary POW camps. The story moves at appropriate speed. Portions of the book possess a page-turning drama until the reader runs into a story of a group of prisoners (or a single prisoner) in which every word has meaning-for example, the long, cold forced marches of prisoners as the battle lines surged back and forth.

Two such stories about individual prisoners stand out. Chaplain (CPT) Emil Kapaun's story is a picture of a man of faith, resistance and enormous courage. Kapaun was recently invested with the Medal of Honor and is in the first stage of becoming a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. …

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