Korean War POW shares stories of service

STODDARD COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - James C. Barber fought in one bloodiest battles during the Korean War, and said he is the only former Prisoner of War still alive in the area that the Poplar Bluff VA hospital serves.

The 87 year old has lived in Stoddard County most of his life and was as an infantryman in the United States Army for 21 years, and did tours in Korea, Vietnam, France and Germany.

"Stay alive, protect yourself, protect your buddies and friends and unit and kill the enemy. That is what the infantry is about," Barber said. "We were fighting soldiers. We do PT and stay in good physical shape so we can walk 20 miles if we want to to a battle site."

Barber was on the front lines in the Korean War on November 30, 1950, when the U.S. Army suffered more battle deaths than in any one day in the nation's history.

Barber's unit was blocked in, so they split into small groups and tried to retreat, but he was captured the next day.

"We come to a clump of bushes, and one Chinese soldier ran out," Barber said. "And I just turned around and popped him with my M-1 rifle. Soon as that happened about two others walked out of the bushes with their weapons right at us. We didn't have no choice but to surrender."

That night Barber said he and other captured U.S. soldiers marched for hours toward a prisoner camp and he remembers a few GI's were complaining that they had to carry a wounded Chinese soldier they thought was dead.

"I had to be exhausted because I lost sleep two or three nights before, and that night it was no sleep. But I had other things on my mind," Barber said. "You're also thinking about what you can do, or is there a chance to get away from this, but it was no good."

For 999 days Barber said he slept on the floor of crowded huts, ate scraps of food and had to bury other POWs who died from illness or starvation.

"They jammed us in there as long as you could get a guy in there. They'd bring us a little dab of corn to eat in the morning and in the evenings," Barber said. "You had to preserve your strength, and I was told by a couple people, they thought I was going to die. I was very weak and sick at one point. But I lucked out. I made it."

Barber was awarded a Purple Heart for when he was shot in the shoulder during the Vietnam War.

"I'm thinking it [the bullet] hit a small tree before it got to me," Barber said. "If it would've been full power it would've went right on through me. That is the way .30 calibers are. They're powerful, bullets are moving fast."

Barber has six daughters and many grandchildren and said he is always grateful to be recognized for his service.

"It makes me feel good. At least somebody knows my name besides my family," he said with a smile.

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