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Jills of K-8

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Thomas became delirious and near death. The Koreans came twice a day, before sunup and just after sunset. The Koreans fed him, bathed him, changed his bandages, and gave him a mysterious brown powder for his fever. After about a week the fever broke and Thomas began to recover, only to have a new problem appear.

The cave, that had been previously frozen, began to melt from Thomas' body heat. Chunks of dirt began to fall off the roof. All were concerned so Thomas was carried to a 2nd cave, actually a hole in the ground about the size of a grave, in the back yard of the Koreans home. The hole was covered with boards and camouflaged with oyster shells.

Once again Thomas is buried alive, but with the ability to see a patch of sky through a hole in the cover and listen to the activities about him. From time to time he heard shouts, heard the outhouse door bang shut, heard people walk through the yard and listened to the dog bark. Sometimes a bit of dirt fell through the hole.

Several days went by. Thomas was fed twice a day. Once he was surprised to get a side dish of meat, cut into half-inch squares and buried in gravy. He wondered where the Koreans would get beef. He enjoyed every bit of it. Then he became aware that he no longer heard the dog bark. Next the old Korean gave Thomas a wonderful present to keep him warm - a brand new dogskin coat.

Thomas' fever improved but he was nagged with a bad cough that he could not suppress. Fearful that he might be discovered, Thomas welcomed the move to a third cave about 200 yards from the house. Thomas struggled to walk but was half dragged to the 3rd cave that was much like the first.

Thomas stayed in the new cave for a week until he was advised that they were wearing an obvious path to the entrance and he must be moved to a 4th cave. This cave was farther away. Thomas was advised that the Communist troops were in the area searching for him.

All at once Thomas' health improved. When it became necessary to move him to a 5th cave he found he could walk unassisted. Thirty days had passed. Now Thomas began to press for the escape plan. The Korean presented an outlandish plan by which he would go to Pyongyang and get a truck and take him to the lines via roads - an obviously unfeasible plan.

Thomas believed they should escape by boat, but the boats were locked in the ice. Two more weeks passed. Could a boat be broken loose? No. Thomas pressed for a date and was given March 10th. It meant another three weeks in the cave. Another Korean who owned a suitable boat was introduced to Thomas. They needed to dig another cave - the 6th - this one closer to the beach. In the interim Thomas was moved back into the hole in the Korean's back yard.

The digging of the new cave went poorly. They hit water so had to dig the cave up higher on the beach. The cave was in the bank of the levee and the levee was heavily traveled with people. Early on the morning of February 24th Thomas was moved to the new cave. It was not good. It was very damp and Thomas was concerned about being made sick again. However, he had lived underground for 41 days so he told himself he could do it for 14 more.

He checked daily with his friends about the condition of the ice. Through the early part of his waiting he had avoided body lice. Now he came down with a major problem with vermin. He couldn't get up and clean himself or shake them out. March 10th drew near. Finally the old Korean told him the day had arrived. They would go tomorrow. Then on the afternoon preceding the departure the winds shifted, it became cold, and the next morning ice jammed the shore. The only good news was that Thomas was given a can of DDT powder to take care of his lice.

A new plan: The old Korean would get 50 men, try to break the boat free from the ice and slide it along the ice to clear water. The old Korean would take all his family on the boat. Thomas pledged that his "blood chit" had the value of 200,000 won, the equivalent of a year's earnings. Two days later they made the effort. While lying in his cave Thomas heard the sound of airplane engines and machine gun fire. The crew of the American aircraft had seen the group of men around the boat and attacked them. Though no one was killed the men would not gather near the boat again. A new departure date was set for March 22nd. Then the date was set for March 26th.

On the night of the 26th the Korean and his family gave Thomas the sign, "This is it." For the first time in 30 days Thomas stood up in the fresh night air. Other Koreans joined them. Two men took off all their clothes and, naked, carried Thomas on their backs the 75 yards out to the boat. Altogether, including Thomas, there were 13 people from two families on the leaky 30-foot sampan. They put out to sea.

The plan was to find a United Nations warship in the Yellow Sea to take them south. They sailed north to find the warship but could find nothing. Two days later they landed on an island off Sinanju to get more water and remained there for two days. The owner of the boat had had enough and wanted to return home. During this time two other boats arrived and anchored. Thomas' protector visited the larger of the boats and made a deal to take his family and Thomas aboard the new boat, that already had a family aboard, and head south.

Days passed while they searched for the Navy. After wandering aimlessly for a week, with food running low and needing water, Thomas insisted they head for Inchon. The owner of the boat refused. Thomas played his trump card. He showed his $10.46 and told the boat owner it was a very large sum of money that he would give him when they reached Inchon.

On April 6th the boat owner agreed. However, he needed to sail back to the island off Sinanju for water - a two-day journey in the wrong direction.

On the 7th came the big break. On the horizon was a destroyer - a British vessel - the HMS Cockade. Thomas and the Koreans were taken aboard the vessel almost exactly to the minute 83 days after his bailout from the B-26.

Donald Thomas Donald Thomas
"Thomas (L) upon rescue and (R) aboard the HMS Cockade"

With Thomas and all the Koreans aboard and the sampan in tow they sailed to Inchon. Thomas gave the "blood chit" to the Korean, and after some initial difficulty, the Koreans were evacuated to Pusan and awarded a sum of money equivalent to 24 years of pay.

When the Korean War was over Thomas learned that he had spent more time behind enemy lines, without being captured, than any other UN airman.



(Material is summarized from the book BEYOND COURAGE, by Clay Blair, Jr., copyright 1955 by David McKay Company, Inc. New York)

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