The Richland Beacon printed the following account of Durham’s participation in the massacre. Written from Yokohama, Japan, Dec. 11, 1950. Letter from John Durham during Korea Sat, Dec 30, 1950 – · The Richland Beacon-News (Rayville, Louisiana)
RAYVILLE High School Graduate Writes Incredible Account to His Mother Describing Horrors of Battle of Chosin
Dearest Mama and Dad,
I guess you have received a telegram from the War Department by now letting you know that I was wounded in action and also was captured but escaped. Crawled on my hands and knees for 4 miles and finally met up with some Marines and was flown to the nearest hospital ship and was transferred to the ship I’m on now the General J. C. Breckinridge, AP-176.
We will be in Yokohama, Japan tomorrow and I will be transferred to the nearest Army hospital and treated for concussion wounds and frozen feet. Mom, I was very lucky. I killed my captor and escaped. He was a Chinese soldier and was very forgetful to not search me. I happen to have a .45 caliber pistol in my pocket and got him before he knew what was going on.
Mom, all the men in my company was killed except 15 and 11 of them were wounded and the rest of them were so starved out until they may recover and again they might not. Mom, I never prayed so much in all my life. My whole outfit was surrounded by 6 Divisions of Chinese. We did very good. We held them off for 8 days and out of the whole 31st Infantry there were about 200 men saved.
Mom, I saw my buddies dying and asking for help but there was nothing I could do because I didn’t have anything to do with. I covered them with blankets when I was wounded so bad I could not fire the machine gun. I killed over 250 Chinese in one night and 7 one day. They just kept coming and blowing whistles and screaming. They killed all of us because we were cut off from our supplies and didn’t have any ammunition left to fight them with. My Company Commander got it in the head. My platoon leader got it three times in the stomach. I saw them fall.
Mom, when I reached the Americans I had crawled over dead men and through blood until I had blood pouring out of my boots, in my hair and all over my clothes. I fought so hard and escaped. I was captured a few hours and was pushed around and when I got my chance, I let him have it right where they shot my Company Commander.
“Mom, I was in the battle of the Chosin Reservoir, a battle that no battle can never be any worse. I saw guys that were in the other war and they said it was not half as bad as that. The kids were dead all over the road, on the side of mountains and in the ditches. There were wounded around not even knowing what they were doing. Mom, oh God, it was horrible.”
Well Mom, I guess I will be a hero, but not because I wanted to be one, but because I was just fighting to save my life and my buddy’s. I’m partially paralyzed and I am improving and the doctor said I will be able to walk again in a short time. When I arrive at the hospital tomorrow I’m going to call Eikoe and the baby and tell them I’m O. K. and I want them to come to see me.
Well Mom, it hurt me so much to write this to you but you will know about it soon I’m quite sure, so now is as good as ever. I think my God that led me to safety will soon let me walk again and enjoy life like other people. I pray that He will.
Lots of luck,
SON JOHN R. DURHAM
Following Durham’s return in 1951, he added the following to his experiences.
Richland Soldier Tells of Korean Experiences
Sat, Dec 22, 1951 – 26 · The Richland Beacon-News
Sgt. John R. Durham arrived in Richland Parish on the morning of Tuesday, December 18th (1951) in time for Christmas, after an absence of about four years. He stated that this part of the world is really good to see after his years away, much of the time spent in bitter combat against the Communist enemy in Korea.
Sgt. Durham participated in the Inchon landing in Sept., 1950; the I won landing in Nov., 1950; and was captured by the enemy in December of that year. He stated that he suffered a back concussion at the time of his capture, and was subjected to “pretty rough” treatment by his Red Chinese captors.
He said he could not give any answer as to the fate of captured U. N. troops, much discussed in recent news releases, but that he could state for actual certainty that many of our prisoners are being killed by the Reds He said that he witnessed the killing of six captured prisoners by the Chinese, and saw countless others destroyed. He was a witness when trucks bearing wounded American prisoners were soaked with gasoline, then ignited by phosphorus grenades. Some of the wounded in trucks were machine-gunned.
The young man was very reluctant to discuss these grim memories, and described his escape briefly. He stated that he managed to get a gun and shoot one of the guards, escaping en route to a Red prison camp. He finally managed to join some American reinforcements, and was immediately taken to the hospital for treatment of his back concussion. Since that time he has been in Japan undergoing treatment. He is at home now on a 30-day furlough with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. John A. Durham at Zebedee. Accompanying him are his pretty little Japanese wife and small baby.
Sgt. Durham served in the Navy in World War II, and states that he encountered no action as bitter as the Korean fighting. He wears a whole chestful of ribbons, including the combat infantrymen’s badge, the American theatre ribbon, the Asiatic-Pacific ribbon, the Victory medal, the U. N. ribbon, the Korean campaign ribbon with three battle stars, the purple heart, and the South Korean Presidential unit citation. He states that he feels that people here probably don’t realize the importance and the fierceness of the conflict being waged in Korea. He says that soldiers over there don’t like it, of course, but that they feel that if the Communist aggression is not stopped in Korea that it would have to be stopped later, maybe in Japan, maybe nearer home. Many of the soldiers fighting in Korea are veterans of World War II, and all of those state that the Korean fighting is as bad, if not worse, than the worst of the last war’s battles.
John R. Durham was a graduate of Rayville High School, and moved to Pine Bluff Arkansas in 1965. He died there on June 22, 1998
“American military leaders, including General Douglas MacArthur, were caught off guard by the entrance of the People’s Republic of China, led by Mao Zedong, into the five-month-old Korean War.”
“Twelve thousand men of the First Marine Division, along with a few thousand Army soldiers, suddenly found themselves surrounded, outnumbered and at risk of annihilation at the Chosin Reservoir, high in the mountains of North Korea.”The Battle of Chosin, on American Experience, PBS
Categories: 1950's, 20th century, Christmas, HOLIDAYS, Korean War, Old News Clips, Rayville, VETERANS
Thank you for honoring my grandfather’s memory! He holds a special place in my heart and never let the horrors he suffered during the war affect the love and adoration he had for his grandchildren.
Thank you Mr. Letlow. My father was a good man who suffered enormous guilt for being a survivor of the disaster at the Chosin. I, his eldest son served 3 years in South Korea and my life mirrored the man. Thankfully I did not suffer through the horrors he went through. For that I am thankful. I thank you for your research and effort to highlight his heroic service.
It was my honor to help in telling his story. I know that he witnessed things no man should have to witness. We will never forget the sacrifices he and the soldiers who did not survive made.
Mr. Letlow, I really enjoyed this article . John Robert Durham was my Father, and it brought back a lot of Memories of him. The War had really affected him throughout the rest of his life. I am glad he is long last at peace He is greatly missed. Thank you very much for your research. Yours Sincerely David A. Durham
It was SO moving to hear or rather read about his accounts of the battle/war. I was t as educated as I should’ve been about Korean conflicts but your father made it real for me. I did not know him but I was awe struck by what he witnessed, and even more so for his ability to communicate it.
Thank you for honoring my father with this awesome account….I had no idea! from Linda Durham (Rosenblatt)
Thank you so much for honoring my cousin. Him and my brother, Jim Durham we’re both captured and escaped in different wars. Thank you.