19th MP Battalion Finds Another Private Ryan – Frederick M. Ryan
Forty-nine years ago, Private Frederick M. Ryan and 41 other American prisoners of war were gunned down on a Korean hillside, their hands tied behind their back, and left for dead.
A priest with the American unit that found the men kissed the wounded Ryan’s forehead, administered the last rites, and draped a cross and a Purple Heart around his neck. Even though five bullets had shattered Ryan’s side, he was one of five soldiers who miraculously survived the 17 August 1950 massacre, their bodies shielded by those of their dead buddies.
Recently, Ryan returned to Hill 303 to find the massacre site and say goodbye to the ghosts of the past. On the 49th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korea War, Ryan and his fellow soldiers from a mortar platoon of the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division were recognized for their sacrifice–half a century late–thanks to an amateur military historian from New Hampshire.
The Korean conflict is often called the “forgotten war,” and the massacre of American POWs at Hill 303 is one of the many largely forgotten incidents from the chaotic early months when communist troops pushed South Korean and United Nations forces into a 100-mile-by-50-mile tip of the peninsula.
There never was a full accounting of what happened or recognition of all the POWs. And, all these years, the five survivors themselves did not know how many had made it out alive. The massacre had prompted General Douglas MacArthur to drop leaflets over North Korean territory warning that soldiers would be held accountable for war crimes. But later, it was all forgotten.
Captain David Kangas of Greenville, New Hampshire, heard about the mass execution when he was posted at Camp Carroll, Korea, near Hill 303 in 1985. Kangas asked around the base, and then at the Korean War Museum in town, and found that no one knew anything about it. The few historical accounts were sketchy. He began a “needle-in-a-haystack” search through historical accounts, contemporary news reports, and the National Archives, hoping to find clues. “When I finally found the area of the execution site, I said, `someday, I will find the survivors–someday.’ It was an act of faith,” recalled Kangas. Official records of the massacre were incomplete.
Ryan, for one, was declared dead at the hill, and those accounts were never corrected when the 18-year-old recruit recovered. A government documents building in St. Louis, Missouri, burned down in the 1970s, destroying the records of many World War II and Korean War veterans. The survivors never knew how to correct the record or even that they could. Once Kangas found the men, he was determined to launch a campaign to get them recognized for POW benefits and medals. But first, he had to find them.
Nearly a decade after Kangas began his search, another war history enthusiast read Kangas’ interview in a New Jersey newspaper and linked him up with Ryan and the two other remaining survivors, reuniting the men for the first time.
“They told me Fred was dead. They told me I was the sole survivor,” said former Private First Class Roy Manring, 67, a retired maintenance worker from New Albany, Indiana. Manring was shot 13 times and spent 18 months in hospitals in Korea, Japan, and the United States. “I tried to forget about it … I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it except my wife. My kids knew I was a POW, but they didn’t know what I had been through.”
The time for forgetting ended when Manring met up again with Ryan and former Private James M. Rudd of Salyerville, Kentucky. First, the men were awarded the POW medal and other honors. This year, they were invited and sponsored by South Korean veterans and U.S. soldiers at Camp Carroll to come back to identify the massacre site for a memorial. Rudd was too ill to make the journey. Ryan, who fears flying, had vowed never to board a plane again after leaving Korea–except if it were to come back. Ryan and Manring spent the day trudging around the forgotten hillside, now covered with vineyards and partly dug up for a tunnel under construction. After hours in the sun comparing the much-changed terrain to their memories of mortar emplacements and lookout points, Manring froze, fell to his knees on a rock, and said he knew this was it.
“I was lying right here after they shot me,” he said with a shudder. His grandfather appeared to him and put his arm on my shoulder and said, “They’re coming back, get out of here.” When Manring struggled up, he was shot five more times by an approaching American unit that couldn’t identify his ragged uniform.
The victims had been 15 minutes shy of being saved. The massacre was the culmination of three days of captivity for 67 Americans, Manring and Ryan said. The North Koreans tied them together and moved them constantly. The first night, 10 of the POWs were taken away with shovels–presumably to dig their own graves–and never returned. A few escaped overnight, but the second day, when one soldier slipped on the hillside and briefly separated from the others, the angry captors decapitated him with a trench-digging tool.
After taking some minutes by himself in the gully, Manring whispered, “I talked to the boys. I hope I’m at peace now. I begged their forgiveness. I have dreams about them all the time.” Ryan, trying to locate the spot where he was shot, recalled being shielded by the body of a 6-foot-3, 280-pound fellow soldier.
“As soon as the North Koreans turned around, I shook the guy on top of me, but he didn’t respond. Then I got up and lifted my friend Hernandez. He told me to get down; they were coming back. I didn’t talk to him 30 seconds before he died in my arms, and I started crying,” he said. Ryan said he stayed alive by thinking of his mother, his girlfriend, and the chocolate malts at his favorite soda shop in his hometown of Dayton, Kentucky.
The emotion of being in the spot where he almost died finally overtook Manring. “I’m going to tell you something I’ve hardly told anyone,” he began softly. “I shot a little Korean girl. She was maybe eight or 10 years old.” Manring recounted that his platoon was approached one day by a group of refugees, but when he took out his binoculars, he saw a girl holding a grenade in her hands, with no pin in it, headed their way. Before she had a chance to throw it, “I put a bullet in between her eyes,” he said, sobbing. “She bothers me to this day. I don’t know who that little girl was or who put a grenade in her hands, but the communists will do anything. That’s why if I had to fight all over again, I’d do it.”
This article is reprinted from the CID Shield, 7 February 2001.
COPYRIGHT 2001 U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group