WATERLOO — More than 7,800 Americans are unaccounted for from the Korean War, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The Grout Museum recognized those service members who died in captivity and those who returned Friday during the Iowa Korean War POW commemoration.
Cecil Phipps, 88, was a POW during the Korean War for 33 months. He came from Fort Dodge to speak and recount his story to the crowd about his capture, time in captivity and eventual release.
On Nov. 28, 1950, he was captured during the Battle of Parmon Wyon. At the time he was taken, he weighed 195 pounds. When he was returned to U.S. forces, he weighed 75 pounds.
“All at once the war broke out around us,” Phipps said as he recounted his capture.
He and other soldiers were picked up by Chinese forces and led north.
Phipps recalled they moved primarily at night because the Chinese mobbing them were afraid of American planes.
“Every morning they brought us out and gave us a bowl of millet and then they would have a lecture,” Phipps said. “The company commander would speak to us for two hours out on a parade route.”
After the commander would finish his lecture, the interpreter would take another two hours to tell Phipps and the other captive soldiers what he said.
“A lot of the guys would actually pass out because they couldn’t stand that long,” Phipps said.
He recalled one winter as a POW when 1,500 men died.
“Every day the guard would come around, open the door to the building and say, ‘how many dead?’” Phipps said. “I believe that’s the only thing he could say in English, and there were always two or three that were dead.”
Cheryl Weber, daughter of the late Koran War POW Irv Weber, and John Lee, representative of the Korean-American Society of Iowa, spoke during the event as well.
Black Hawk County Veteran Affairs Executive Director Kevin Dill read the names of all 31 Iowans who died in captivity but have not had their remains returned. After the names were read, Allen Koeppel, of Sons of AMVETS, played Taps on a trumpet.
Grout content development specialist Pat Kinney introduced and helped organize the event.
“It’s one thing to be standing on an Olympic podium holding the gold medal when you’re listening to the national anthem, it’s quite another thing to be lying in the corner of a barracks with lice crawling all over you and dead people around you,” Kinney said. “These guys didn’t get any recognition for that and it’s about time for it.”