The “Forgotten War” had its roots in 1910 when Japan annexed Korea as part of its imperial plan to control all of Asia that ended with its surrender in 1945. Similar to what they had done in Germany, the allies (allies in name only) divided Korea in half at the 38th parallel with Russia controlling the north and the United States taking over the south.
After just 57 months of relative world peace following World War II, North Korea launched its army of over 75,000 men across the border into South Korea.
The Koreans tried to resist, but less than 30 days later, the US Army, at the direction of the United Nations, arrived to defend the South Koreans.
While the “Cold War” was, and perhaps still is, largely an ideological one, the military invasion laid open the differences between Russia, China and the United States.
As far as the American government was concerned, this was a war against the forces of international communism whose goal was the destruction of the American republic form of government.
After some back and forth movement across the 38th parallel, the war began to stall Americans were not anxious to start a third world war against Russia and China, and so began to try and find a way to resolve the conflict.
Finally, on July 27, 1953, after the death of some 5,000,000 soldiers and civilians, an armistice was signed. No peace treaty was ever agreed to and so some 67 years later the problem persists.
During the three years of battle, some 7,245 American soldiers were captured and held as prisoners of war. One was a local Jacksonville resident, James Raymond Wells. James was captured and held for 33 months in the notorious P.O.W. Camp No. 5.
While incarcerated, James and his friends wrote, on small scraps of paper, poems about their experiences.
When James finally made it back to Jacksonville, he published a booklet entitles, “Poems written in 1950-1953 in POW Camp No. 5, North Korea. Slipped by our captors on Freedom Day, August 12, 1953.”
He notes that the authors of the poems are unknown, for if their captors caught them, they would be punished or worse.
Following is one of these poems:
This is the story of many we tell
A truthful story of living in hell
Cut away from the world and the ones we love,
Our only hope is the great God above.
The Ten Commandments are our only guide,
To help control the trials we cannot hide;
Time is eternal between each meal
For we are hungry and most wounds don’t heal.
Pain and suffering abundant still,
And many of our buddies are buried on a lonely hill;
Days following in a mountains trend,
And we pray to Lord this will soon end.
We think of our loved ones, who are so far away,
And we pray we can join them again someday,
Our dreams and memories, our only bless,
As we pray to God to end all this;
This is a story of many we tell,
You can see why we call it living in Hell.
When James returned to Jacksonville, he began a career as a pressman for the Jacksonville Daily Progress. A photo of him working at his press, along with his booklet, and some photos of the Korean conflict are all on display in the museum.
The Progress continues to honor him by flying the P.O.W.-M.I.A. flag over their building.
Adjacent to your museum is the Cherokee County War Memorial to honor those who gave their lives to protect our community. Sadly, there is no flag to honor those who were held as Prisoners of War or those who remain Missing In Action.