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Interview with Donald M. Griffith [3/14/2003]

Andrew L. Fisher:

It's March 14th, 2003. I'm talking to Mr. Donald M. Griffith, 1954 Lear Drive, Northwood, Ohio, 43619. Mr. Griffith, let's begin with your preservice life, where you were born and where you went to school, and then take us through your boot camp and any other training, and where you then went. And so you begin. GRIFFITH: Okay. First off, I was born in East Toledo, Ohio, on August 31st, 1927, and I attended Ownley High school, Ownley school and Ownley High School which is now known as Northwood High School. The Second World War was going pretty hot and heavy, and at the age of 17 I was a junior in high school. I enlisted in the Marine Corps for four years. While in boot camp at Paris Island, I did my boot training there. And while being there, we dropped the atomic bomb. And because of the bomb, the atomic bomb being dropped, why, of course, the Japanese, they surrendered. Well, here I am, I'm in the Marine Corps for four years and the war is over, but I made the best out of it. I left from Paris Island, and I went to Norfolk, Virginia, to the naval operating base there. I was in a guard company, and mostly a sentry at the gates at the NOB.

Andrew L. Fisher:

NOB? Pardon me. NOB?

Donald M. Griffith:

Naval operating base is what NOB is. I was then transferred by troop train across the United States to California. And that was not the most pleasant trip I ever made on a train, because somewhere along the line the Chickanella Feathers in New Orleans got to our stomachs in the wrong way. Anyhow, after I arrived in California, I boarded a ship at San Francisco, and went underneath the Golden Gates, and headed for China, supposedly. Anyhow, we pulled into Hawaii, and they were leaving the reserves out, and also the people that had been drafted, and they were shorthanded there in the military police. So I was dropped off there, and in so doing, my first job that I had was guarding Japanese prisoners, because we still had them there. And after a while, why, I became a military policeman. And in Hawaii, Marine military police could arrest everyone, including civilians. And it was quite an experience, because we ran into everything that happens to a policeman, you know. From there, I returned to the states and went back to Norfolk, only I was a sergeant at this time, and this was in 1947 and '48, and '49. I was at the -- no, I was there at '48 and 49 in Norfolk at the retraining command. That's a naval prison, and I was a sergeant at guard there at the naval prison. And there again it was an experience, because we had people that had been murderers and service people. And we held a lot of people that had general court marshals. Come time for me to either take a discharge after four years or re-enlisting. Well, I kind of like the Marine Corps so I re-enlisted for two years, and as it happened I was allowed to request my station, my new station, and I elected to go to Philadelphia to a naval base there. And while there I got transferred to the Marine Corps depot quartermaster. And this was good duty, because it was -- I lived in an apartment and there was four sergeants and we all lived in an apartment, and we shared expenses, and we got commuted rations. The government paid for our food and also for subsidy quarters for our apartment, they paid for that. And we had civilians working for us as the depot quartermaster. Mostly was warehousing. And lo and behold, I got the mumps and I wound up in a Philadelphia naval hospital with the mumps. That was quite a deal. And one day a runner came to the hospital, and this runner said, The first sergeant wants to see you when you're released from the hospital. I said, Well, what's going on? And he said, Haven't you heard, there's going to be a war in Korea? I said, Where is Korea, I never heard of it before? He said, Well, you'll probably hear a lot about it. And I did. I heard a lot about it. Anyhow, we formed up again, and they emptied out most of the guard companies on the East Coast of the Marines, and we headed for the West Coast, and we were placed on APAs, assault personnel ships that later made landings, you know, they had landing crafts that came out of there. Anyhow, on our trip to Korea, the -- we hit a typhoon just outside of Japan. So we pulled into Japan. Our cargo had listed, had moved, and we had a 23 degree list on the ship, so they had to get in there and restack all the ammunition and all the rest of the cargo in there. And while there, why, my platoon leader he said, Hey, Griff, he said, If you want to take a detail out, he said, You can tell them at the gate there that you're going to go over and work on the pier where they've got all the damage over there. And he said, Make sure you guys get back by three o'clock in the morning. I said yes, sir. So I asked for volunteers, and I had about 30 Marines. And I said, Okay, let's lineup, and we'll march through the gate. And I go over to the gate, and the sentry says, Where are you going, Sergeant? And I said, Oh, we're supposed to go over here and work on this pier where all the damage is over there. And he said, Well, okay. So we went out. And this corporal said, Hey, Sergeant, I did duty here in Japan before, come with me, and I've been to Kobe here before. He said, You come with me. I said sure. So I went with him, and we got about two blocks away from the piers, and this Army MP jeep come up, and he said, What are you guys doing in dungarees here? He said, Get in the jeep. And they took us back to the ship. So we didn't get any liberty. And all the rest of the guys made it back by three o'clock in the morning. And we -- They had the ship all squared away, and we headed for Korea. And we landed in Pusan about two days later, and disembarked. And at that time I was assigned to go and help the Korean Marines on the rifle range. And at that point I went and worked with them for about two days. And they were allowed to shoot the rifle three times, and that's all the training they had. And if they had a stoppage or something, why, we had to make sure we got it cleared before somebody else got shot. But after -- after this I reported back -- we hit Seoul I think it was around May 28th or 29th. It was pretty close to my birthday, which was August 31st, and we were there about that time. And then we loaded up again, and went around -- this was fantastic -- we had been aboard ship for about four or five days. And this one time, why, we all went to sleep. And the next morning we woke up and all you could see was ships all around. I mean it was just -- I never seen so many ships at one time. And about this time, why, our airplane started rocketing. They had a concrete wall up at the shoreline, and our airplane started rocketing these walls to tear them down because we were going to go in and make the landing there.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Now, where is that?

Donald M. Griffith:

That's Inchon. And I went in on the second wave at Inchon, and they were shooting at us going in. And we got on the shoreline, and I was really upset because the first wave was supposed to get in and move out, and I started really losing my temper and swearing quite a bit. And I happened to look around, and here's a news reporter, Maggie Higgins. She was there. She said, You got a problem, Sergeant? I said, Well, we've got a problem. I said, These troops were supposed to move out of here. And about that time, they started dropping mortars in on us, and one of my kids, a black kid, got hit with a mortar. And, oh, what I forgot to tell you is when we were going in I went out first and I had my carbine up like this, and they shot the front handguard off my carbine. So when Baker, the black kid that got hit there from the mortar, when he got hit I picked up his M1 rifle, and I carried that until the firing pin broke on it when I got captured. But anyhow, this night, we went in about 1800, I guess it was, 1802, because we were the second wave, because the tide really come in fast, and they wanted us to go in when that tide was in fast.

Andrew L. Fisher:

In civilian time that's six o'clock, right?

Donald M. Griffith:

Yes.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Six p.m.?

Donald M. Griffith:

Yes.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Okay.

Donald M. Griffith:

So we're in there and finally we get within Inchon, inside the city, and troops are still coming in, landing craft are still coming in, and our planes had hit some of the warehouses, and they were burning, that's all the light that we had. And I said, Oh. I made it a policy to every night be in the fox hole with a different man in my squad. I was the squad leader there. And as it so happened, we had an experimental platoon. Our platoon was one of the first Marine platoons that had blacks, whites, Spanish, Indians, and even a polish DP was in my squad. And in case a lot of people don't know what DP means it was displaced person.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Yes.

Donald M. Griffith:

And so this night I had Maxwell. Maxwell was a black kid, and he always maintained and kept his grenade launcher. And most of the guys got rid of them because that's just added weight and we didn't use them that often. And I could always tell where Maxwell was because that grenade launcher would be sticking up in the air ahead of his rifle. Anyhow, I had Maxwell, and I says, Maxwell, let's dig in in this ditch here, I said, It's _____. I said, We'll dig in there. About two o'clock in the morning it starts raining, and guess what? That ditch started filling up with water. I learned a quick lesson there, never to dig in in a ditch. Okay. So the next morning things kind of quieted down. We had taken the city of Inchon. So we started marching, we were going to capture Kimpo airfield. So in so doing, all of a sudden a runner comes back, and he said, There's three Russian tanks coming in towards us. So they told us all to get on the high ground. So we got on top of these mountains and we're watching -- we're looking down, and sure enough, here comes the first tank around the corner there. And our bazooka man, he fires one round and, boom, he knocks the old tank out with one round. And the soldiers, we usually called them gooks, were bailing out of the tank. And when they did, why, our machine gunners had crossfire, and they annihilated them, you know. And here comes the second tank, and one round, boom. He missed. Second round, boom, he got it. And the same thing happened, they bailed out. And then the third tank came around and one round, he got it. So he got three tanks with four rounds. And he did a heck of a job. He got the Medal of Honor, and he went back to the states, and didn't have to finish the war out. But he was a good kid. I knew him, and I just couldn't believe that he did such a job like that. He did good. So then we headed for Kimpo airfield. And we arrived -- well, before that we got on tanks, and we started going toward Kimpo, and when we got just outside of Kimpo, we run into some fire. So -- I mean, weapons fire, not fire fire, you know.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Uh-huh.

Donald M. Griffith:

And while out there, I told my men drop their packs, because it was hot. It was in September, you know, and it was real warm over there. And so we dropped our packs, and we went into the attack. And when we arrived there, why, here's all these civilians, and they had the North Koreans behind them pushing them toward us yelling bonsai, bonsai, you know, and we didn't have any choice because we had to get at those North Korean soldiers. So we had to open fire, and it wasn't pleasant, you know. But that was war. And we took the airfield. And there was a Russian Yak plane there yet, they had the wheels blown off of it and it was just sitting there. I remember that -- And after we took Kimpo airfield, why, then we headed toward the city of Seoul. Seoul, a lot of people called it, but it was sool (phonetic) the way we called it. And we had to cross the Hahn River. So this one night we get right up to the Hahn River, and the company commander said, Dig in, we're going to be here a long time. Looks like we'll be here for three or four days. And boy, we made elaborate holes and everything, you know. About three o'clock in the morning he comes on and he says, we're moving out. So we went down and we got on these alligators, amtracks. They can go in water or on the land, you know. And we went across on the amtracks. And we went into the attack, on Hill 51. We hit the main line of resistance going into Seoul. And our platoon strength was -- we had 39 men, that includes the platoon leader, the platoon sergeant, and squad leaders and fire team leaders, and three Navy corpsmen. And when we hit that main line of resistance, when we come out of there, there was only ten of us left: The platoon leader, platoon sergeant, myself, and a couple corporals, fire team leaders. But that's all that was left out of the 39. And then we went back to Inchon from there. We secured Seoul. And a funny thing, we're up on this hill, and we're real -- well, right down to our right flank is the University of Seoul. And we're up on these hills kind of alongside of it. And I happened to look down, and here comes this guy out, I recognize him. He's a sergeant that I had been stationed with in Norfolk. And I said, Martino, what's going on? And he says, Not much. He said, I got hit in the shoulder. He said, But you know what? He says, I'm going to eat pork and beans the rest of my life. He reached in, you know, we had these jackets that had the slashes in them. And he reached in there and pulled out this can of pork and beans. A bullet had gone in and just started out, didn't come out all the way. He said, I'm going to eat pork and beans the rest of my life. I said, Are you okay? He said, Yeah, I'll make it back now. So that was --

Andrew L. Fisher:

That's a great story.

Donald M. Griffith:

That's the last time I seen him.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Uh-huh.

Donald M. Griffith:

So then we went back, and we had to go the nets on the ship, we had to crawl back up there. And we had to have work details load up the ships with ammo. And finally we left there, and we went around to the other side of Korea on the eastern side of Korea to Wonson, and we were waiting for them to clear the mines in the harbor there. And we were there about four or five days just going back and forth waiting for them to clear. And then Captain Peters came over and he says, Hey, Griff, he says, I want to you -- he said, We're going to have one of the landing craft come up, and he said, I want you to get on there and go in and find a billeting place for us. He said, You're going to be the billeting NCO. I said, Oh, okay. He said, Get your gear and everything. He said, That will be there. Well, it was rougher than hell, you know. The water was really rough in the sea. [INTERVIEW INTERRUPTED BY MUSIC].

Andrew L. Fisher:

Go ahead.

Donald M. Griffith:

Oh, then I boarded the landing craft, and the coxson that was taking me in, the Navy coxson, he said, Sir, who are you? And I said, Oh, I'm Sergeant Griffith. Who are you? He said, Well, how come I'm Taking just you in? I said, Well, because they told you to take me in. I said, I have to go in and find a place for the troops to billet. He said, Oh, okay. So I made it to the beach, and got out. And they were going over the beach checking for landmines buried in the sand, you know, in the beach there. And they finally give me a route to go through. And I started up this roadway, and I looked up, and I thought, gee, that can't be. And this guy comes over and he says, Hey, Marine, he says, Where's the rest of the Marines? I said, Are you Bob Hope? He said yeah. I said, They are not there yet. He says, You mean I beat the Marines in? He flew in in a helicopter.

Andrew L. Fisher:

You mean the Bob Hope we all know?

Donald M. Griffith:

Yes.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Oh, my goodness.

Donald M. Griffith:

And they were going to put on a show that night, but we didn't get to see it because we had to -- I got a real nice place for them, you know, and the whole company could really get in there and be nice, you know. And we get over there, and the company commander comes back and he says, I just got word from the battalion commander we've got to move out. So we moved out. And in the meantime we got a lot of replacements in, and these kids were -- didn't even go to boot camp or anything. And as it happened, they came in alphabetically, and as a result of that, I got brothers, I got twin brothers, and I got more brothers, you know. And as a result of that, I had kids in my squad that, two brothers died as POWs, the Dowling brothers, and -- well, I'm getting a little ahead of myself here. So I'll go back to the time that we're moving up. And then all of a sudden, in October the weather changes drastically, the temperature went down to ten below zero. And the next night -- all we had was our summer sleeping bags. We didn't have winter sleeping bags, we just had summer. And this one kid I had in my squad, and I don't know what happened, but he froze to death that one night. And that I -- oh, I never will forget that. After that, why, we were elected to set up this listening post. So I took my squad and we went up, up this valley, probably five or six miles, and there was a hut there. So we grabbed that hut, and I had a translator with me most of the time, and he come up and he says, Sergeant, you like duck? And I said, Well, yeah, I like duck, I guess. He said, You give me some won he said, I'll go get some duck. So in about an hour later he comes back and he's carrying this dog. And I said, What's that? He said, That's duck. I said, You're not going to eat that, are you? And he said, Ah, delicious, Sergeant, delicious. I said, I don't care for duck, you know. I said, You got an oink, oink? You got a pig? And he says, Yeah. He says, You give me some more won. So I give him some more won, and he come back with, must have been about a, oh, must have been a 25 or 30 pound piglet. So we rotated it and we cleaned it up and everything, and butchered it and I got -- we had field phones with our company commander at that time. So I called back the company commander and I said, Hey, we're having roast pork if you want to come up. So he come up and we shared our roast pork with him, you know. And he got dysentery from it, and I wasn't too popular with him because of that, you know. But he brought up some of the little bourbon bottles that they had, you know, that the corpsmen carried, and we had a couple of shots of booze, you know, and -- but it was pretty bad that he got sick because nobody else did, you know. He was the only one that got sick. From there we were going out on patrols, and boy, I was a hero for a while on a patrol. We were out there, and this -- by this time we're on the other side of the reservoir. And our patrols --

Andrew L. Fisher:

The reservoir?

Donald M. Griffith:

The Choson Reservoir.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Uh-huh.

Donald M. Griffith:

And after this one day the company commander said, Hey, Griff, he said, I want to go on a patrol and go alongside the reservoir over there and see what you can pick up. So our communications was terrible, you know, because of the mountains and everything and the radios that we had, communications weren't too great. Anyhow, while we're out there on patrol we pick up these six sick Chinese. I mean, they were pretty well done up, you know. They were sick. So I had my radio man radio back and tell them that we had picked up these six sick Chinese, you know. And boy, the company commander got real excited, the radio man said, and he said bring them in. So I said, Okay. Let's go back. And so we marched in with them. Company commander said, Where's the rest of them. I said, Sir? [END OF FILE sr0001001]

Donald M. Griffith:

-- radioed in and said you had 66 Chinese. I said, No, sir. Six sick Chinese. So I went -- we had met this Army squad. They were out on patrol, too. And I got to talk to this Army sergeant for quite a while. And I kind of liked him, you know. And the next time I seen him, we both were prisoners.

Andrew L. Fisher:

You were a --

Donald M. Griffith:

That was ironic.

Andrew L. Fisher:

It was at the Choson River reservoir that you were captured?

Donald M. Griffith:

Yes. After Thanksgiving, and we had turkey and all the trimmings for that, and even had a chance to write home. And I wrote home, I told mom, I said, Mom, don't worry about me. We're busy right now. We've got a lot of things going on. I said, The only time to worry is if you get a telegram. And, man, that wore on me. I knew she was getting telegrams, you know, after I was captured. Anyhow, after Thanksgiving, we moved from the eastern side of the Choson reservoir over to the western side, and we went into the attack immediately because the Chinese had moved in. And I remember this day vividly because it was cold. The temperatures had gone down as low as 30 and 40 below zero, and that's not chill factor. They didn't even know about chill factors back then. And so this night, or this day, we went into the attack, and we had to jury rig all our equipment. We used a lot of the C-ration wire that they wired up these cases of C-rations. And I had my sleeping bag wired on behind my -- underneath my pack, you know. And when we went into the attack, why, of course the Chinese are shooting at us, and we're running up this mountainside, you know, and doing that, and that wire is going back and forth, back and forth. And finally one side broke loose and then the other side broke loose and there goes my sleeping bag down the hill. I said oh, no. And I wasn't about to go down there because they were shooting at us down there. So we finally took the hill. There was a pill box there, and we cleaned that out, and went on up. And we could see the Chinese coming in. I mean, there was boucous of them, you know. So that night I nearly froze to death, because I didn't have a sleeping bag and that temperature must have got down to 40 below. Now, all of us had a wool blanket that we put in the bottom of our sleeping bag when we had it rolled out, you know. And guys out of my squad gave me those wool blankets, but that cold just penetrated right through there, and I shook, shook, shook, all the time, you know. So finally, well, the Chinese hit that night and they got down in with our headquarters, and we couldn't shoot down there because we were afraid of shooting our own people. But they broke through on, well, beyond our flank, you know. And they had quite a battle down there. And that's when cooks found out that they were riflemen down there.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Uh-huh.

Donald M. Griffith:

And that's why the Marine Corp says no matter who you are, you're a rifleman in the Marine Corp. You've got to be a rifleman first. And that's one of the reasons why, because you never know when you're going to get in a situation like that. Well, then the next day I was called down to go to a meeting with the company commander. And I went down, and he's telling us that things are bad, and we're going to be fighting in a different direction. He said, We're not retreating, he said, Some people will say we're retreating but we're not. He said, We're just fighting in a different direction. I said, Sir, I said, You know, our rations are getting kind of low, and our ammo is getting kind of low. I said, When will we have some airdrops? You know, we were getting airdrops during all the time that we were up there. He said, Sergeant, I want to tell you something. He said, We're 24th on the priority list for an airdrop. I said, excuse me? And he said, We're 24th on the priority list for an airdrop. I said, Now wait a minute. I said, We're the 5th regiment, we're up here and the 7th regiment Marines are up here. You mean that they've got all of us surrounded? He said, We're not the only ones surrounded, he said, They've got 23 other outfits that are surrounded.

Andrew L. Fisher:

By the Chinese?

Donald M. Griffith:

By the Chinese. Of course, they had, we were -- our numbers were about 11,000; their numbers were 110,000. So we started moving back. And our platoon was the last platoon; we were the ones that stayed last. And everybody was going through us back, leapfrogging back, you know. And on this particular night we were supposed to move out at nine o'clock at night. Well, the order didn't come down, we're still there. Ten o'clock it didn't come down, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock. One o'clock in the morning, bugles started blowing, whistles started -- they started yelling and screaming, and they hit us. I mean they hit us hard, too. And I had two grenades, and I threw them, and I started firing my M1 and the firing pin broke. It was so cold, you know, the firing pin broke. So I took the trigger housing out and threw that away, and threw the rest of the rifle away. And I had -- Romero was an Indian boy in my fox hole with me. And the grenade went off in front, and it hit me in the eye, and cut my nose down here, and my lip, and I got a chunk in my muscle, my calf, you know. And I told him, I said, Romero, you go back to tell the company commander what's happening here. So he made it back, but he had this finger and thumb shot off, and he was bayonetted in the neck, but he made it back. And one of the few times that they called in an airstrike at night they called it in on that mountain there. It was 1176, or 17 -- I can't think of the number of it now. But they numbered them by meters, how high in meters they were, and that's how we knew where we were at by them.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Could I interrupt you here? We're talking about the Chinese now that you're fighting?

Donald M. Griffith:

Yes.

Andrew L. Fisher:

When did they come into this Korean war? Originally you were fighting the Koreans?

Donald M. Griffith:

North Koreans.

Andrew L. Fisher:

North Koreans, yes. Now you're fighting the Chinese in far greater numbers. When did they --

Donald M. Griffith:

November. That's with when they started coming across the Yalu River in November. And, of course, their transportation was -- they had these small horses and mules. The horses were like our ponies, you know, and oxcarts, wooden carts. That was their transportation for their supplies and things.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Uh-huh.

Donald M. Griffith:

And they came in in November. That's when they first hit us was in November. On December the 1st, I'm on this -- out -- out here on this ledge. I've got my squad around here like this. And that's one of the few nights we didn't have any machine guns attached to us because we were supposed to move out and they had already moved out. But they hit. And when they threw that grenade and got me, it kind of dazed me, and I had my fur-lined parka on with a hood, and I had my metal helmet on, and I had the hood up over my helmet. And this chinaman that came in first, he hit me in the head with the stock of his rifle. And thank God I had that helmet on, because he really rung my bell even though I had the, had the hood and the helmet on, you know. And then he took off. And I'm laying there, and I'm bleeding, but the blood is starting to freeze on my face, you know. So I'm thinking, boy, what if the next one jumps down in and sticks me with his bayonet, you know. So the next guy, he jumped down in the hole, and when he jumped down I jumped up and I scared the hell out of him. But they -- he let out a yell and about ten of them came over, and the first thing they did was take my fur-lined parka away from me. And man, I was cold. In the meantime, our airplanes started coming in strafing and dropping 500 pound bombs, and rocketing, and I myself and the two brothers, the two Dowling brothers started -- they took us down the mountain. They marched us for two days and three nights without any food, no water, or nothing, getting us out of there. And we would fall down and grab a handful of snow and put that in our mouth for moisture, you know. And if they caught us they would knock it out of our hands, you know.

Andrew L. Fisher:

What about your wounds?

Donald M. Griffith:

My wounds, I still had my wounds. They never did a thing for my wounds in all the time that I was a POW. I was blind in the right eye, and the scabs would fall off. Well, we never even got to wash. We never washed until we could get into the river, I think it was in April sometime when they allowed us to go over there after they took us to a regular POW camp. They took us to this village, which we called Death Valley. And while there I was -- they kept me there because I was wounded, and not too good a condition. And they marched the two Dowling brothers on to another camp, you know, where they had other POWs. And I escaped from there. One night I -- the body lice got to be so bad, you know, soon as a guy would die, the body lice would leave him, leave his body when the body got cold, and they would come over on us, you know. And right around where your belt was, your beltline, and around where your ankles, the socks were tight, and they would just have them gnawed raw, you know. People don't realize how terrible body lice was. And we couldn't do anything to get rid of them, you know. One of the things when I escaped, if you had to go to the bathroom you yelled ?to bien?. And apparently you have to yell it a couple of times. Finally the guard out there, he would go, yeah, and that meant you could go, you know. And this one night, man, I was really fed up. I thought, hell, if they shoot me, might be better off if they go ahead and shoot me. So I said ?to bien?, and nobody answered. And I yelled again. I yelled it three times and nobody answered, so I just went out the door and started walking. And I walked for about three or four miles, and there was a Korean house there, and he had a shed. And I went in that shed, and there was some wheat, or rice sacks in there, and I covered up with them rice sacks, and I fell asleep. Next morning, I was hungrier than hell. So I went up and knocked on the door, and this Korean, oh, he welcomed me in and he started feeding me, and he rolled me a Korean cigarette. And what I didn't realize was he sent his son back for the soldiers. They got -- they got paid for turning us in, you know. So, oh, probably an hour later, why, I hear a grenade go off outside the house. They wanted me to know that they were out there. So I went out. And they took my boots away from me, my snowpacks. All I had was my socks, you know, my ski socks on. And they marched me back. And they got me back there, and they made sure that the other POWs in the Death Valley seen that they recaptured me. So he -- this North Korean kid, he couldn't have been more than 17, but he was a big deal. He had a German machine pistol, you know. And the wooden stock made into -- you probably seen it if you were over in Germany.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Right.

Donald M. Griffith:

And he motioned me up the side of the hill. And when I went up there, why, he fired over my head, you know. And he motioned me back down. He did this three times. And the third time I thought, what in the hell does he want, you know. So he motioned me back, and I went all the way back, and he had a stick. And he hit me in the face and all my wounds started bleeding again. And I thought, well, maybe if I yell or something, that will make him happy, you know, he can degrade me a little bit. So I yelled out a little bit, and pretty soon he was happy. And then he threw me in the pig pen. I was in the pig pen for about 33 days and there was a GI in there, a guy from the Army, and he went insane. He kept saying that the pig manure was steak, and he was eating that he was so hungry. And I woke up one morning and rigor mortis had set in, he had died during the night. So they came and got him. And eventually after a while I -- after 33 days they put me back in with the rest of the guys. Meantime, the guys are dying. Boy, three or four a night were dying, you know. And we had -- they had a big hole dug, and it was a mass grave really. And so we would take the guys and lower them down into this big hole. We never covered it up because there was more guys dying, you know. Finally in April, why, they moved us out. And the one other Marine that was with me, he was in the 11th Marines, in the artillery, and he started what we call give-upitis. They refused to eat, and mostly it was the younger guys. They just wouldn't eat anymore and they would give up. And I tried to get him to eat and he wouldn't. So they loaded him on a cart, and he was so weak he fell off the cart and hit his head against the wheel, and I think he had probably a fractured skull, but he died that night. And he was just a young guy, you know, just a young kid. And from there, why, we went to Ch'onson, and that was the first, I guess, organized POW camp they had. And while in Ch'onson they separated the sergeants and the officers away from the other enlisted men. And while we were there, our own planes bombed us and killed some of the guys. But they had no way of knowing, because the Chinese wouldn't mark the POW camps. And every night this, we called it Bed-Check Charlie, this plane would fly over and circle, and then leave, you know. But this one night he flew over and he circled and he came back around. And I said, huh-oh, and I ran out the door. And the Chinese had dug a trench for them, you know. But us POWs were all in that trench and the Chinese couldn't get in. They were upset with us, you know. And they dropped antipersonnel, a rack -- they are 25 pounds, and they are in one big bomb, but then they separate and they filter down, and that's what they dropped there. And some of them didn't explode and we had to go in and take them out, and bury them, you know. They didn't -- they wouldn't do that, but they made us do it. Thank God we didn't have any accidents. But during that time an English major was killed. How are you doing on time?

Andrew L. Fisher:

Go ahead.

Donald M. Griffith:

Okay. During the time when I was in the POW camp, a lot of things happened. For one thing, not many people realize that the Chinese had experimented on with us different medical things. And I was totally blind in both eyes for about six weeks. And during that time I was in what they called the sickroom. It was a hut that just had us guys in it. Some of the guys had lost their feet and their fingers and their hands because of frostbite. And this one kid, he asked me to help him. He was only 15 years old. And I had told him, I said, You've got to take them snowpacks off and rub your feet. And he said, My feet are fine, my feet are fine. Then one day he said, Sarge, he said, Would you help me take off my boots? And I said, Yeah. And when I did I pulled his feet right off. Gangrene had set in. It was a horrible odor, you know. And I just pulled his foot right off, both of them. And he -- he made it. He survived. I don't know how, because we never had any medicine or anything. And getting back to their experiments. They gave us shots for bubonic plague. And, you know, we couldn't afford to miss a meal or anything, but we got so sick that for three days we never ate anything because we were so sick. And a buddy of mine, they implanted a monkey gland underneath his arm. And eventually it rotted and went away. But I ran into him and his wife, and my wife was with me, at a reunion that we had out in Las Vegas. And I was kidding, and I told his wife, I said, Has he climbed any trees for you lately? And she said, Why, no, why? I said, Well, he had a monkey gland put in, I said, It's supposed to make him climb trees better. And he said, You remember that? I said, Yeah, I remember that.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Well, how long were you a prisoner?

Donald M. Griffith:

Thirty-three months.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Thirty-three months?

Donald M. Griffith:

Yeah.

Andrew L. Fisher:

And the mortality rate was horrible?

Donald M. Griffith:

We lost 51 percent of our prisoners that were over there. Now, the Marines fared better. We only lost 21 percent, I think, of the Marines that were captured. And I think it's because of our training. We had real tough training. And I told you that I wrote a letter at Thanksgivingtime in 1950 telling my mom not to worry. Well, that was on my mind. I said, I got to make it through, because mom will have received a telegram and I know she's going to be worried. Well, she didn't know that I was a prisoner of war for 16 months after I was captured. They were carrying me as missing in action, because the Chinese never reported, they didn't report who was POWs. And then when they did report it, they didn't know if we had died during that time or not, you know. So it was -- it was really tough on the people that had people over there that were POWs.

Andrew L. Fisher:

It sounds like there was no Geneva Convention --

Donald M. Griffith:

Oh, no.

Andrew L. Fisher:

-- at all.

Donald M. Griffith:

No. No. Nothing. No way.

Andrew L. Fisher:

You never got your wounds tended to?

Donald M. Griffith:

No. No.

Andrew L. Fisher:

You never got to communicate back home?

Donald M. Griffith:

No. Well, later on they were going to allow us to write home. But we refused to write home because they wanted us to use this return address In Care of the People's Volunteer -- In Care of the Chinese Volunteers of the People's Republic Against American Aggression, and we refused to use that return address.

Andrew L. Fisher:

You were one of the volunteers? They wanted you to be considered --

Donald M. Griffith:

No. No. No. No. No. No. The Chinese people's volunteers wanted us to use that address--

Andrew L. Fisher:

Right.

Donald M. Griffith:

-- claiming that it was against American aggression, see?

Andrew L. Fisher:

Yes.

Donald M. Griffith:

And because of that we refused to use it because of the American aggression there.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Now, did you ever receive any Red Cross packages?

Donald M. Griffith:

Well, when we -- after they decided to have the POW exchange in Panmunjom we got cigarettes, and I think I got a razor there. But up until that time, why, we never had anything to shave with, we never had toothpaste or toothbrushes, we never had any soap. One thing that we got, once in a while we would get about three teaspoons of sugar. We never had any salt, no pepper, nothing. If we seen any dried up old hot peppers in the field we would dive down and get them and use them for seasoning, you know.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Now, in the 33 months that you were a prisoner, you went through all the seasons. How do you make it through the winter?

Donald M. Griffith:

Well, they gave us uniforms. They were padded, padded uniforms for the winter, but it wasn't easy, because we -- at Weewon camp, at the sergeant's camp up there, we were kept in a school room there. And we built a stove out of mud blocks, you know. But there wasn't any blower or anything. Unless you were right up against it you didn't get warm, you know. And all they gave us was one wool blanket and a comforter, and what we did is sewed the ends together and made a sleeping bag out of it. And then we were on straw racks, you know. The beds were just platforms, and they had these rice straw sacks on there and that was it. I mean, you had to spoon with the guy next to you --

Andrew L. Fisher:

Yes.

Donald M. Griffith:

-- in order to stay warm.

Andrew L. Fisher:

And how about, were you tortured?

Donald M. Griffith:

Only the time when I escaped. And one time the Mongolians, which are -- these guys are all over six foot tall. They came in and they thought that we were just, you know, soldiers there. And, man, they started pulling us around. Well, none us could walk because our feet was froze. As a matter of fact, we called our feet radar feet because even if somebody walked past it and create a breeze, it hurt your feet, you know. And they were dragging us out and everything. And finally the North Koreans woke up to what was happening and they come out there and they made signs and let them know that we were already prisoners, you know. There was so many things that went on, you know. I went down to about 85 pounds. I was just -- it hurt to sit down because I didn't have any butt, you know.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Yeah.

Donald M. Griffith:

There wasn't any meat there.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Yeah.

Donald M. Griffith:

You've seen these guys that were POWs in Japan and that, and how skinny they were. That's the way we were. None of the food that we got had any nourishment in it, you know. We got -- I can't think of the name. It's purple. Sorghum. Sorghum grain. And they would -- they -- they would cook it like rice, you know. And it's purple and there's no taste to it at all, but it did fill you up. When I was first captured and placed in Death Valley we got one cup of soupy rice in the morning, and we got a cup of soupy rice at night, and that was it. I mean, we got no meat, no vegetables, just rice and water. That's all it was. There wasn't any salt in it, no sugar in it, you know, anything. And after a while you look forward to that, because it did warm up your insides a little bit.

Andrew L. Fisher:

How did you get released?

Donald M. Griffith:

Well, you know, they had the sick and wounded release in April 1953. That was before the armistice, you know.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Uh-huh.

Donald M. Griffith:

And one thing we did, we had gone on wood details and we had see where they had these ammo dumps up these valleys, you know. So some of the guys that were in our camp were released with the sick and wounded. [END OF FILE sr0001002] Well, we went back to them and we said, Okay, now, we drew you a map from our camp. This is where the ammo dumps are. Now, can you memorize that? They said, Well, yeah. So a couple weeks after they were released our planes came in, and they circled around the camp, and they went up this valley, and they found those ammo -- oh, were the Chinese upset. Wow. We were on their list, you know.

Andrew L. Fisher:

The release --

Donald M. Griffith:

Okay.

Andrew L. Fisher:

-- of the prisoners?

Donald M. Griffith:

Okay. On July 27th, that's when the truce was called, and the cease fire. And during the period of time after that they had agreed to release the POWs, exchange POWs with what our side had captured and what their side had captured. So I -- we were made to walk from Weewon to a railhead, which was about 20 miles from where our camp was in Weewon. And we got on these boxcars, or in these boxcars, and they transported to us to Panmunjom. And when we got to Panmunjom, we got our first Red Cross kits with cigarettes and, I think razors, and, of course, all of us had beards and everything. We were, we were scrouges, you know.

Andrew L. Fisher:

You were able to make the 20-mile march?

Donald M. Griffith:

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Andrew L. Fisher:

I mean, most of the prisoners were?

Donald M. Griffith:

Yeah. Yeah, we made it. See, they had released most of the guys that couldn't walk or anything --

Andrew L. Fisher:

Yeah.

Donald M. Griffith:

-- with the sick group --

Andrew L. Fisher:

Yeah.

Donald M. Griffith:

-- that they released. Most of us all had frozen feet and that, but we were able to still walk and everything while we went on wood details and everything. Anyhow, we got back there, and I was released on my birthday. On August 31st, 1953, I was released. And in so doing they brought us back in ambulances, you know. And on our trip back across the demarcation line, the North Korean and Chinese POWs that were being released the other way, they were taking off their uniforms and their good shoes and everything and throwing them away because they received them from the Americans, you know. I thought, them idiots. I would have give anything to have that. So when I got back, why, I started off of the ambulance, and this Marine lieutenant colonel was standing there, he said, Hey, Marine, you're out of uniform. So he came over and put a Marine Corps dungaree hat on my head. And he said, What do you want to eat? I said, I would like to have some tomato juice and some ice cream, and I said, Some kind of meat. I said, I think my stomach could take some meat now. He said, Goddamn, he said, You really like a menu, don't you? He said, Tomato juice and ice cream. Well, I had worked as a youngster at this Hirzel's Canning Company right over here, you know.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Oh, yeah.

Donald M. Griffith:

And got a lot of tomato juice, and theirs is good. Anyhow, then they took us in and they deloused us and gave us showers, and we were able to shave and they gave us haircuts, and it just -- everything from then on was really neat, you know. And we were able to send telegrams home. And I got a letter from a Corporal James Griffith, USMC, my young brother. And I had not known that he went in the Marine Corp. And, by golly, I was sure proud of him, you now. And when I got home, why, I called his commanding officer, he was at Cherry Point, and I asked him if he could send him home, and he said, He's on his way. So he came home, and we had 30 days together. And then he had to report back. And I thought, well, he's back there, you know. And I had duty station assigned to back to Philadelphia. But I had requested 30 more days' leave and they had extended that to me. So -- and I'm laying there one morning, and, boy, something tickling my nose. My brother is standing there and he's got a feather and he's tickling me. I said, What are you doing home? I said, You didn't go over the hill, did you? He said, No. He said, Guess where I'm going? I said, Where are you going? He said, I'm on a furlough transfer, I'm heading for Korea. So he went over to Korea, too. He spent I think two years over there, or a year and a half, I guess it was.

Andrew L. Fisher:

But the fighting was over?

Donald M. Griffith:

The fighting was over, but still it was mean over there, you know.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Yeah. I'm wondering what your mother felt when she found out you weren't missing in action but had been a prisoner and were now --

Donald M. Griffith:

Well, when the Toledo Blade called her when they had found out, it was on the wire, you know, and they said that I had been released. And my mother, all she could say, and it's birthday, and it's his birthday. That's been a very significant day for me, my birthday has been. Not only being born, but I was released out of POW camp, and also I retired on that date from Nationwide Insurance.

Andrew L. Fisher:

So you came home and were, and were still in the service?

Donald M. Griffith:

Oh, yeah. I was -- well, I reported to Philadelphia Naval Hospital when I came home, and they did plastic surgery on my nose. They recut it and took real tiny stitches in it. And they tried beta rays on my eye to take care of all the scar tissue and that, but nothing helped on that.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Uh-huh.

Donald M. Griffith:

And during the time that -- let's see, they were -- when they did the nose job, they gave me sodium pentathol, you know, and I reacted to the sodium pentathol, and it took about five of them to hold me down, I was back in combat and everything. And then I had to go talk to the psychiatrist about three times a week, you know, and get settled back down. But while I was there, why, there was a whole bunch of guys that had been in Korea that had been wounded, that mines, from mines, they lost their legs, and fire, a lot of them were really burnt terrible, you know, aboard ships and that, they had fires. And you realize that, you know, no matter how bad you feel, there's always somebody worse off than you are, you know.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Uh-huh.

Donald M. Griffith:

And it made me -- I -- when I came back, one of the things that I tried to instill upon people was the fact that we just always take too much for granted, you know. We don't realize what we have. And in business, the people that worked for me, I told them, look, protect what you got. You don't realize just how great of a country we've got here, and how things are so wonderful here compared to other countries and other people, you know.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Uh-huh.

Donald M. Griffith:

Those things I think are important.

Andrew L. Fisher:

I would like to ask you about the picture I saw on your wall of you at the White House.

Donald M. Griffith:

Oh, that was one of the greatest honors I have had. I was working part-time. I had retired from Nationwide, and I was working for the City of Northwood. I was a zoning inspector. And I was in my office and my wife called and she said, Guess what? I said, What? She said, We got an invitation to go to the White House. I said, What for? She said, It's for the -- it's when they first gave out the POW medals. And she said, We're going to go to the White House. President Reagan and Nancy invited us there. I said, Gosh, I can't believe that. And I came home, and she said, We'll take the kids, we'll take the grandkids. I said, How are we going to do that? She said, We'll mortgage the house. And she said, Let's call Marcy Captor and see if we can get the kids into the program. But they didn't have clearance enough to get into the program, but they got to the White House, and seen -- or to Washington and seen everything. And that was quite a deal, because all services were represented there. And as it happened, why, this, Gasco was his name, him and I were POWs. He was a Marine, too. And him and his wife were invited. He's dead now. He died about three years ago. And General Gray was the commandant of the Marine Corp, and he did a pinning on me and we had a picture. Well, that was the picture of General Gray. And he was here at one of the Marine Corp balls, and I wasn't able to go, but one of my buddies went there. And I asked him if he would sign that picture for me. And he misspelled my last name, but I didn't mind that. And then General Davis, Medal of Honor winner, he sent me a telegram congratulating me. And I met him at one of the reunions. I spoke down at Greenleaf in Florida. It's a golf area, you know. They've got condos down there. And we had our reunion down there. And General Gray and myself were on the program. And I never will forget, he was talking about the 45 automatic. He said, That was one of the best weapons. And he said, They wanted me to turn them in. He said, I hid them all. He said, They'll never find them. He said, We're going to use them again. And he was supposed to talk for I think 45 minutes, and he was still talking after a hour, you know. He says, I'm running a little over, he says, Who the hell is going to say something to me.

Andrew L. Fisher:

I want to ask you another question. I've got a card in my hand that says that you're a member of the Exclusive Fraternity of Honor, the Choson Few, November, 1950. Tell me what that means.

Donald M. Griffith:

That means that those of us that were in the battle, the epic battle of the Choson Reservoir, we formed up this fraternity of honor. And our creed -- I can read our creed.

Andrew L. Fisher:

The crux of your creed is --

Donald M. Griffith:

The crux of our creed is that duty and honor and being there, you could join the Choson Few, but you had to be there, and nobody else could get into this fraternity of honor.

Andrew L. Fisher:

So it's a very small but very honorable fraternity?

Donald M. Griffith:

It sure is. And it's getting smaller all the time.

Andrew L. Fisher:

And you're going to give me this card?

Donald M. Griffith:

Pardon?

Andrew L. Fisher:

You're going to give me this card?

Donald M. Griffith:

Yes, you can have it.

Andrew L. Fisher:

I'll include this with the submittal I'll be sending to Washington, D.C.

Donald M. Griffith:

Yeah. You're entitled to that.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Not to be a member, but just to get the card.

Donald M. Griffith:

Right.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Well, this has been a remarkable interview. What you've said about being a prisoner of war is just unbelievable. I have interviewed other prisoners of war, always European prisoners of war, and the treatment in Europe was certainly different than the treatment you received.

Donald M. Griffith:

Oh, yeah.

Andrew L. Fisher:

They did attempt to adhere to the Geneva Convention, and from what you said, there was no Geneva Convention present in anything. I think it's remarkable, your story, and I think it's even more remarkable that you're here to tell the story.

Donald M. Griffith:

Well, I've told my wife this, and she's terminal with cancer. And I've told her, I said, Hey, every day that we have together now is a bonus day, and I've had many, many bonus days because I should have died probably ten times while I was in Korea.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Yes.

Donald M. Griffith:

And I, I appreciate every day, and I treat it as a bonus day.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Wonderful. Yes.

Donald M. Griffith:

And I want her to do that, too. And she will. I mean, she's a fantastic woman. She's fought with this for seven years, going on eight years now. And she can always find some good in somebody, you know. She hasn't met somebody that she has disliked.

Andrew L. Fisher:

Well, this has been a wonderful interview, and I certainly appreciate it. I certainly appreciate you taking the time, and I certainly appreciate your bringing back all of these memories, not all of which have been pleasant.

Donald M. Griffith:

Well, that's true. That's true. But if we don't tell our story, then nobody will know what transpired. Now, you mentioned -- is this on yet?

Andrew L. Fisher:

Yes.

Donald M. Griffith:

You mentioned what my views would be regarding our present circumstances in the world. And quite frankly, I can appreciate what those young people are doing over in Iraq, but what I don't understand is why we're waiting and waiting and waiting. That's got to really try on these guys. I mean, they -- I can remember being aboard a ship and wanting to go. Of course, when you're 17, 18, you don't know any better. But -- and this situation with North Korea, I don't trust those people. I don't trust the Chinese, I don't trust them and we shouldn't trust them because they'll take advantage of us. Anymore, I get so disgusted, because everything you buy is made in China. And I'm wondering, they can't buy -- they can't afford to buy any of our goods, so there's got to be imbalance there, a tremendous imbalance, and I don't think it's right. I don't think it's right. And probably it's our own corporations that are over there, and they're taking advantage of the cheap labor. But we're paying the top prices here for it, you know. And I don't know what we can do, but we've got to do something here pretty soon. Things are not good. They are not good. The stock market bounced up yesterday over 300 points, and I thought that was great. But I bet you any money it's down today.

Andrew L. Fisher:

And it may well be. Well, Mr. Griffith, thanks again. I appreciate it. It's been a wonderful story. It's been a very poignant story.

Donald M. Griffith:

Yeah.

Andrew L. Fisher:

And I'm glad you took the time to do it. Thank you.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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