Every day for the past 61 years Gerald Anderson has been grateful for the actions of a Chinese general and a lieutenant who saved his life, and the lives of 14 fellow GI's in Korea.
Anderson, 82, of Marshalltown, was a member of the 81 mm mortar platoon of Co. M, 5th Calvary Regiment, 1st Calvary Division.
These days he uses a walker to get around due to troublesome knees, he said. He wears a ready smile and has a hearty laugh that could easily light up the darkest room.
T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY
Gerald Anderson is shown holding a case of Korean War-related medals and honors at his Marshalltown home recently. Anderson, a Boone native, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1948. He originally was a member of the famed 82nd Airborne. He was released from service in February, 1950, and then recalled as a reserve Sept. 18, 1950. He saw extensive combat in Korea and was taken as a POW.
Gerald Anderson of Marshalltown — second row, far right — is shown from this May 8, 1951 photo with 14 fellow GI’s who made a perilous trek to freedom during the Korean War. The group had been taken prisoner-of-war and were later released at front lines. The group eventually found their way to safety in trying conditions and unfamiliar territory.
And it was a dark night in Korea in April, 1951, that provided the backdrop to his unique war experience.
Wounded, playing possum and taken prisoner three times, were all part of it.
War was raging intensely in Korea, as the U.S., South Korean, and United Nations troops were fighting combined Chinese-North Korean forces.
At one point the U.S. and allies were advancing on North Korea, pushing the communist forces back to the China-North Korean border.
However, China came to its neighbor's aid sending thousands of its troops in to fight. The joint forces successfully repelled the allies advance and threw them back to the south.
It was one particular offense in the conflict that Anderson and fellow GI's were ordered to stop.
Anderson was a forward observer in his unit, meaning he and comrades were perilously close to the enemy.
They would spot the enemy, and with a radio, call in mortar rounds.
However, actions by the captain of Anderson's company put them in harm's way.
The unit would be overrun by North Korean troops on April 29, 1951 and that was when Anderson's surreal adventure began.
During an attack, several members in Anderson's unit were killed. Wounded from a grenade blast, Anderson played possum while North Korean troops milled about.
"I could see boots approaching me," Anderson said. "A voice said 'hands up' a couple of times. I didn't respond, but Sam Lionti of Cleveland, got up with his hands raised.
The boots moved closer to my head and the voice said 'hands up.' Since they didn't shoot Lionti, I got up with my hands raised."
Eventually, he and other soldiers, some severely wounded, were taken prisoner and marched to a North Korean camp.
A wounded North Korean soldier was incensed at one of the GIs and threatened him with a knife. But a guard intervened. It would be one of several instances when others intervened to protect the American POWs from North Korean soldiers.
An artillery attack on the camp by U.S. forces caused the North Koreans to withdraw.
Sadly, the attack killed several GIs and wounded Anderson with shrapnel.
"They lined us up in a column of twos and tied us together with telephone wire. One wire ran the length of the column between ranks," Anderson said. "Our lieutenant and another GI could not walk due to wounds. They were shot and killed by the North Koreans."
A U.S. and U.N. counterattack forced the North Koreans to march the GIs many miles north to a train station. From there, they would be sent to a prison camp in Pyongyang, North Korea.
An attack by B-29 bombers destroyed the train station and tracks, meaning more walking for the GIs.
"After the attack we were interviewed by a Chinese general, whose name, I think was Choi," Anderson said. "He asked us if we wanted to go home. We naturally said yes. He said he might be able to arrange it."
The general gave each GI a safe conduct order through the front lines. It was written in Chinese on one side and Korean on the other, with the general's signature on both sides.
They were placed in a truck, and driven south all night.
A guard marched the men to the front lines, when artillery fire caused the guard to flee.
As the GIs marched down the road, they were again captured by North Koreans, but released when shown the safe conduct passes.
As the group marched on, it encountered another group of North Korean soldiers who took them prisoner and ignored the passes.
The soldiers said they would be marched again to Pyongyang.
A Chinese lieutenant later was shown the passes and intervened.
"I think he telephoned Gen. Choi, or another official, to confirm the pass," Anderson said.
They were released, and again, had to find their way south.
The group eventually met up with U.S. and South Korean troops.
"We were loaded on a truck and taken to an aid station about a mile to the rear," Anderson said. "We received penicillin shots, uniforms, food and briefed U.S. command on enemy placements."
Anderson's mother had received word at work that her son was "Missing in Action."
Then, MIA in Korea most probably meant the one missing was dead," Anderson said. "My mother fainted, but was caught by someone nearby, so she didn't get hurt."
His mother and other family eventually received word Anderson was safe.
It was while playing possum before capture that Anderson feared for the worst. It led to thoughts of others.
"I had remembered that an uncle had received an insurance payment when his son was killed in World War II," Anderson said. "I thought my mother might be able to finally get a house of her own with my insurance money because I had accepted the fact I was nearly extinct. I was regretting that there would be no descendants to say 'that was my dad.'"
Anderson received two Purple Hearts for his combat.
One was awarded many years later through the efforts of U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who had learned from Anderson that records had been lost, preventing the award.
After the war, Anderson entered Iowa State University under the GI Bill and earned a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering, and later a Master's degree.
Fisher Controls offered him a position after he received his B.A. He enjoyed a successful career there for many years and after retirement, ran a successful consulting business.
"I am forever grateful for the GI Bill," he said. "Because of my war wounds, I received a higher allotment, which helped me pay for most of my schooling, including books. Lois worked as a telephone operator for Northwestern Bell, but we needed about every dollar for rent and groceries."
After moving to Marshalltown, the couple raised a family of four.
"I believe Gen. Choi's and lieutenant's actions saved our lives," Anderson said. "The North Koreans had a reputation for killing prisoners, and I think that is what would have eventually happened to us."