Hell Week Begins
by Stu Russell
Several days had passed since room 13 had been first singled out because of the room photo. We secretly hoped with each passing day that it was over, but that was for naught. The axe was poised and we knew it. Our roon's turn came after lunch on December 12, 1968. Many of our trips to see the Robot (our room daddy) came as surprises, but this one wasn't. We filed in and stood at attention before our regular seats, waiting for Robot to tell us to sit. As soon as he entered the room, he launched into it. He warned us that others had been insincere and even now were being punished. It was time for us to have a frank discussion concerning our crimes.
One crime that he was very concerned about consisted of signals that had been put into the photographs they had taken of us. The North Koreans had been nice enough to give the photos to us so they could go in our letters home to show our families we were being treated humanly. Other crew members were guilty of giving the finger had already confessed. He asked us to stand if we had put the finger in any of our pictures. When Shingleton, Hayes, Schilling, Crowe, and myself stood up, the expression on his face was a victory for passive aggressive behavior. It was obvious that we had just lost our favored room status.
He glared at us and then he turned to me and quietly asked why I, a well educated young man had given the finger in my pictures. I thought I should tell him that it was an old habit from my college days, but I was sure that would just anger him more than he was. I tried one of the less brilliant lines of my life and told him I did it in order to let my mother know that I was ok.. He got really hot anyway and stood to deliver this one. "You mean you signal to your own mother that you are well by telling her, "Fuck you!?"" I mumbled that it seemed like a good idea at the time. He ignored that and asked me who had organized this gesture of defiance. I told him no one had, it was just something that happened. He couldn't accept that, someone had to be responsible.
He turned to Doc and asked him why he hadn't given the finger in his pictures. Doc told him that he thought that it would just ruin the picture and he couldn't see any reason for it. Doc was then questioned if this was an organized act of resistance. Doc told him no. Shingleton was then asked who organized this defiance, John also told the truth, no one. The Robot was having a real problem, since their culture did not permit spontaneous behavior, someone had to be in charge. The Robot drew the line with John. He had heard enough. He called for a guard. The Bear entered the room. He motioned to John to follow him and together they left.
The Robot took the opportunity to drill into us how serious was our situation.. (It wasn't necessary, seeing that Bear was back said it all). He rambled on for some time. We were still standing, I didn't know about the others but my legs had turned to rubber and I think sweat was dripping off my finger tips. For ten months things had gone from bad to rotten and now it all seemed like a vacation???. There was no cavalry coming from over the hill this time. We were on our own and this was as alone as it gets.
The door opened, the Bear shoved Shingleton back into the room. He stumbled to his position before the Robot. From the corner of my eye I could see his face. He looked like he had a bad sunburn from the beating he just received. His face was starting to swell. The Robot let this visual presentation sink in then turned to Hayes. He too was given one last chance to tell the truth about who had organized the finger gesture. Hayes told the truth, no one. The Robot signaled to the Bear. Hayes and the Bear started to leave the room. Before he left, Hayes has had the presence of mind to hand his glasses to someone else.
Robot said we had one more chance to be sincere. I was thinking how do you fake the truth, of all the crap we had done and said, they were after us to lie about the one thing that was correct, this wasn't organized. That's when it happened, the event we had long anticipated took place, the one guy we thought would break did. He stepped forward and told Robot that it was organized and he tried to stop it. As number two man in the room he had ordered us not to give the finger, but we had defied him.
The fat was in the fire now, Robot thought he had the truth and was yelling at us at the top of his lungs, flecks of sputum flew from his lips as he shouted that now we would all be punished. The door opened and Hayes staggered into the room. Later we would learn that the Bear had broken his jaw and several ribs. Robot tore into Hayes and told him that at least one of us had been sincere and that he had told the truth. The gesture giving had been organized and we had defied this one's orders not to give the finger.
Robot motioned to the Bear to take Hayes across the hall again. The Bear grabbed Hayes and started to escort him from the room. Hayes tore his arm loose from the Bear's grasp and turned to face Robot. Hayes told Robot, "You can have me taken across the hall and beat the me all you want. Eventually I will tell you what ever you want to know. If you want me to say it was organized, I will. But it will all be bullshit. This one is lying to you to save his own skin. From the corner of my eye I could see him shake like an epileptic. Robot asked him if he was lying. At first he denied it, but then admitted that he had lied. He had done so because he was afraid. (Welcome to the club).
Although we were Americans and his sworn enemy, I always felt that Robot had respect for some of us as military personnel. Regardless of your politics, no one has any respect for a traitor. And the old be-my-brother-I-have-so-much-to-live-for-trick wasn't going over too well. Robot went berserk, he was screaming so loud you couldn't understand his interpreter, who finally gave up and just stood there. The gist of this was that this person was worse than a nothing, he was a negative. Robot got himself under control. After chewing out our Judas, indirectly because he could not bring himself to talk to him; he told us once again that we were insincere and that we would all be punished. We were to return to our room and to wait.
We were a pretty shaken group when we got to the room. We had known that we were in for a rough time, but now we had to deal with this new problem. He knew too much, since he listened to every thing we said each day. Hayes, I, Schilling and Crowe decided that we had to kill him. In order to protect ourselves from any repercussions, we would have to make it look like a suicide. The North Koreans wouldn't have that much problem in accepting that.
We thought we could throw him out the window onto the concrete drive way below our window, but we weren't sure that that would kill him. One of us offered that we could smother him with a pillow and then toss him out. It was suggested that we give him one more chance. This was done because with everything else, we didn't want to be facing a murder charge when we got home, if we ever got out. We drew straws to see who would inform him of the fact that his future would be very short if he couldn't keep his mouth shut. I got the short straw.
I took him aside and told him that if he screwed up like that again that we would have to kill him to protect ourselves. He still was a belligerent little snot and said that if we laid a hand on him he would write us up when we got back. He still didn't understand. I then told him that we weren't talking about beating him up. We were going to actually kill him dead. We would strangle him and toss his worthless body out the window and the North Koreans probably wouldn't give a damn because they had no use for him either. It started to dawn on him that he was alone. In the whole world, he was alone. I almost felt sorry for him, but I didn't. He withdrew from the group and sat by himself for the rest of our time with the People.
Later that afternoon the guards came and took our furniture. Moving day revisited. With one exception. This time they told us what was going on. We were being sent to other rooms so that they would have more rooms to interrogate us in. Once the furniture was moved, the eight of us were split up. Schilling, Crowe, Ellis and myself were moved to Room 1 on the second floor. They managed to get twelve of us into one room. It was wall to wall beds on each side of the room. We were told to sit in our chair at the end of the bed with our heads down, our hands on our knees, elbows pressed to our sides, our feet together and our calves against the rung of the chair. We were not to move or talk. A guard was stationed in the doorway to insure that no one move. Punishment was quick and freely dispensed with.
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