Korean Prisoner of War Relates to Captured Soldiers in Iraq




Korean Prisoner of War Relates to Iraqi POW's
By: Kate Scott

(Essex, MO)--The reality of war is starting to sink in, as American soldiers are being killed or captured in Iraq. 

Now many Americans are wondering how U.S. prisoners of war will be treated in captivity.  To help answer that question, Heartland News talked to one man who may have a little insight into their situation.

Jay Barber, of Essex, was a 19-year old soldier when he became a P.O.W. during the Korean War.  “I pretty much feel that I know what they're going through,” he tells Heartland News.  “But I really don't. These people may be altogether different.” 

After all, Barber was captured by Chinese troops in Korea more than fifty years ago, not Saddam Hussein's soldiers in Iraq. But war is war.  Even if it's a different enemy this time, Barber imagines that the American soldiers' reactions are much the same.  “I know those guys are scared,” he says.  “They're concerned about how the Iraqis are going to treat them, I imagine. That's the big thing.”

Barber remembers facing those same worries as he spent 999 days in two different Korean P.O.W. camps. For him, torture came in the form of starvation and horrible living conditions.  Prisoners weren’t allowed to shower or change their clothes for months at a time.  They were forced to live on kernels of corn.  And the open latrines in the middle of camp circulated diseases among the prisoners, not to mention the sickening stench. 

It was not what most people would call humane treatment. Barber says he worried about dying, but never about being executed.  “The American side had my name, which had been exchanged in an exchange of P.O.W. names. They knew I was there, and once that happened, my family knew I was there,” he recalls.  “I didn't feel they would arbitrarily execute a person at that time. However, they would punish you if they wanted something and you didn't do it.”

Barber points out that all warring nations are supposed to adhere to the 1949 Geneva Convention, which set humanitarian standards for prisoners in armed conflict. That convention specifically prohibits cruelty or humiliation. U.S. officials say Iraq has already violated those standards by televising degrading pictures of the American P.O.W.S. 

That makes Barber wonder what else Iraqi soldiers would be willing to do.  “The realization is always there that they're the boss,” he tells Heartland News.  “They can do what they want with you.”  His advice for Americans at home?   “Keep faith in the American cause and in our troops,” he says.  “Because sooner or later, the troops will liberate them.”

Barber was finally released from his captivity when the Korean War ended in 1953.  He received a P.O.W. medal for enduring that hardship, and then went on to earn a Purple Heart in Vietnam.