Utica resident, Korean War POW shares his experience

By: Alex Szwarc, Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published October 7, 2019

 Raymond Shepherd, a Korean War veteran and 34-month prisoner of war who has lived in Utica since 1962, was a sergeant in the 2nd Infantry Division. He enlisted when he was 18 and wanted to enlist in World War II when he was 14 years old.

Raymond Shepherd, a Korean War veteran and 34-month prisoner of war who has lived in Utica since 1962, was a sergeant in the 2nd Infantry Division. He enlisted when he was 18 and wanted to enlist in World War II when he was 14 years old.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Raymond Shepherd was at a press conference after his release. He had not even had a chance to change his clothes or take a shower.

Raymond Shepherd was at a press conference after his release. He had not even had a chance to change his clothes or take a shower.

Photo provided by Raymond Shepherd

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UTICA — The Korean War lasted just over three years.

Raymond Shepherd spent all but a couple of months of the conflict as a prisoner of war, or POW.

The 89-year-old Kentucky native, who moved to Michigan in 1954 and Utica in 1962, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1948. He was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, 38th Field Artillery, and in July 1950, just weeks after the war began, was sent into combat.

As part of the 2nd Infantry, Shepherd served as a motor sergeant. By Nov. 26, 1950, the division was set up near the Chongchon River in North Korea, with orders to protect the bridge over the river.

The troops had Thanksgiving dinner, and the next day, “All hell broke loose,” Shepherd said.

“Chinese came in. We had no information they were in the area. In fact, we had no information who we were fighting,” he added.

Chinese mortar fire continued for the next couple of days.

“They had enough troops to completely surround us,” Shepherd said.

American troops traveled 5 miles by vehicle until running into a roadblock, where they were greatly outnumbered by Chinese forces.

Shepherd and fellow soldiers then traveled by foot for three days and three nights through mountains. In an effort to retreat from the barrage of artillery, Shepherd came across a military officer and three men.

He devised a plan to retreat, but was captured by the Chinese, along with four others, on Nov. 30, 1950, roughly one hour north of Pyongyang, North Korea.

“I suggested we go the rough way, over the top of the ridge, not on it,” he said.

Another soldier suggested to go through the valley and come up on the other side of the ridge.

“That was a bad mistake,” Shepherd said. “We ran right into them and that was it.”  

Nov. 30, 1950, marked the beginning of Shepherd’s 34 months in captivity, most of that time at Camp 5 POW Camp Pyoktong, near the China-North Korea border.

“The orders we got was every man for themselves,” he said when asked if he thought capture was unavoidable. “Most of the officers and people in charge were killed.”

Upon capture, Shepherd was taken to a hut in a valley near the front line.

He soon headed north, always during the night, for a series of marches. During the day, he was housed in huts with 30-40 prisoners.

Early on in his captivity, Shepherd believed he wouldn’t survive.

“They killed an awful lot of prisoners,” he recalled. “We got with around 100 other prisoners and marched a death march. If you couldn’t make it, they’d shoot you. We started marching when it got dark and marched all night, without food or water.”

The prisoners briefly stayed in caves prior to arriving at Camp 5, also known as Death Valley, on Christmas Eve 1950.

Having never received word that their son was taken prisoner, Shepherd’s parents believed him to have been killed in action.

When he was able to, Shepherd would eat animal feed made of grain.

“I don’t recall drinking water on those death marches,” he said.  

At the time of his capture, Shepherd weighed 190 pounds. When he was released, he weighed around 100 pounds.

“I think the main thing I was concerned about was to stay alive. We were all at death’s door,” he said.

After the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953, many prisoner exchanges took place between American, Korean and Chinese forces.

“We had an awful lot of their prisoners and they had to get their prisoners back,” Shepherd said. “That’s the only reason I was released.”

He said that as soon as he got back to the United States, he had an interview with the secretary of state that was televised all over the country.

“They asked me if I wanted an interview with John Foster Dulles,” he said.

When Shepherd returned home, he said, his family knew he was coming and they held a parade for him and gave him some new clothes. That homecoming also was televised, he said.

Shepherd was discharged in September of 1953. In 1954, he moved to Michigan, where he met his wife, Aileen. They had five boys and one girl.

In 1958, Shepherd started working for the post office in Birmingham. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 30 years and retired in 1988.

Shepherd said he has never returned to Korea, but he knows POWs who have.

Shepherd’s daughter, Rae Konen, shared her thoughts on her father’s war experience.

“I would have to say I’m very proud of my dad’s service. He is one of the strongest men I know and is very driven and determined. He taught his children to always work hard and only count on yourself. I’m sorry for the horrific experience he had as a POW.  … It’s difficult to think of what he had to endure. I’m grateful he was able to overcome his situation and become the strong man he is today,” Konen said in an email.

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