December 7, 1968
Prelude to Hell Week
by Stu Russell
As October turned into November the chill was in more than just in the air. The General's prediction of our repatriation occurring in October had fallen flat. He had laid a lot on the line, and as a result had lost much face. Something had gone wrong. The relationship between the guards and ourselves had fallen flat. You could tell something was not right. It was as if they were ready to take back all the kindliness of October and return to their true selves. To hell with public relations. It was the calm before the storm.
The duty officers we asking about the finger gesture, what did it mean? What did it really mean. We stuck to our cover story, it was the Hawaiian Good Luck sign. This was buying time and we knew it, but not much. The treatment worsened and Vic Escamilla and Bob Hill were severely beaten for what had been a minor infraction of the Rules of Life. Unlike Easter, there was no Thanksgiving observance, it was just another day. The KORCOMs were trying to ferret out the truth. The Robot began asking questions.
Bucher passed on to Charlie Law that they were on to us. We had been victorious, we had ruined their propaganda efforts. The only problem was that they figured it out before we left town. Bucher warned the crew to prepare for the worst. Our treatment and food continued its down hill slide. We knew that if we weren't out before winter hit, many of us would not be around for spring. Along with the fear of torture and pain was a very real fear of death. Then to wrap the whole thing up, the Bear was back. He had been absent for some time and his return was a portent of things to come. The Bear strode the halls to make sure that everyone knew he was back. The first shoe fell on December 7.
Room 13, the guys in that famous room photo with four out of eight guys giving the finger, were summoned before the Robot. After being questioned they were returned to their room. Shortly after a guard came and called out Berens, Bland, Layton and Goldman. Bland was the first to return. The Bear had beaten him, his face was red and swollen, one eye was nearly shut. Jim Layton returned next. Berens returned next, he too had been savaged by the Bear. Goldman was the last to return. A veteran of the Korean War whose service record listed service on a minesweeper that had mined Wonsan harbor, received extra attention, he had been beaten by the Possum. His face was bleeding, his lip was split and his ear was badly torn.
All was quiet until Saturday afternoon, the General called and all hands meeting. We had not been sincere, we would be punished. The gloves were off.
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