This photo was secretly taken inside a North Korean POW camp by a Hungarian photographer who risked his life to take it. He had accompanied an Intl Red Cross inspector. The photo was sent to the US via the Swiss and published in an American newspaper where Marvin King was identified by the town Sheriff in Iowa. Soon they all were eventually identified. The photo was then published in LIFE magazine along with photos of the airmen's loved ones who were relieved to know the MIA's were still alive. Up until that point the fate of the captured B-29 fliers had not been released by the North Koreans. The men are L-R Marvin King, (Right Gunner), 1st Lt. Unknown (ECM Operator) George Millward* (Gunner) Bill Hanneman (Left Gunner) and Daniel Oldewage (Tail Gunner). The men marked with an * were from the same B-29, piloted by Capt. Jim "Champ" Chenault, shot down by Russian MIG 15's on April 12, 1951.
Newspaper Photographs Make Kin of GIs Happy (Nov 19, 1951 issue of LIFE Magazine)
Some photographs in newspapers throughout the U.S. last week brought unexpected happiness to the people on this page. The pictures were of U.N. prisoners of war, taken by a Hungarian correspondent at a North korean prisoner-of-war camp last month and handed to Allied newsmen at the Panmunjom truce negotiations. The photographs bore inaccurate captions - names were misspelled, home towns were located incorrectly - but the men in them were quickly identified by eager families who had been waiting for any word since they learned their loved ones were missing in action. The congratultions from friends and relatives pouring in, the prayers of thanks said and the really big worry over, the families could indulge in the luxury of smaller worries. Said one mother, dubiously studying a picture that appeared the the newspaper: "I only hope he's warm enough."
Dad was a gunner on a B-29 that was shot down on April 12, 1951 as part of a massive 3 Wing formation aimed at destroying railway bridges across the Yalu river at Sinuiju and Antung. This was a dangerous daylight mission that was so disasterous for the Air Force that on the following days the planes were painted black on the bottom and scheduled for safer nighttime raids.
19th BG (Bomb Group)
Dad's plane serial number was 44-62252, a WWII era B-29 of the 371st Bomb Squadron, 307th Bomb Group out of Kadena, Okinawa.
Their plane was acting as the Electronics Countermeasure Aircraft for that particular bombing mission. Its job was to confuse enemy ground radar through the use of electronic jamming equipment combined with the dropping of aluminum foil strips called chaff. It was in the slot (last) position of the 2nd group (of 3 groups) which put it in the middle of the 3 groups. There was some space between each group.
There were 3 fighter squadrons assigned to guard the B-29's but only two showed up, the "low cover" squadron failed to meet up for whatever reason leaving the planes open to attacks from below.
Top cover - 4th Fighter Group flying, F86 sabre jet
Screen - 27th Fighter Group, F-84
Bottom cover - never showed, F-80 shooting stars (weak and slow)
Dad's B-29 had some engine trouble (from age) causing it to slow down, so rather than force it's own group to slow down it dropped from the last spot of the 2nd group back to become the LEAD plane of the next group (the 22nd Bomber Squadron). It was during this brief unfortunate window that the Russian piloted MIG15's attacked, and finding a lone B-29 all by itself between two groups, hammered it from the sky.
The men in the front half of the plane stayed with the aircraft until got far enough south then bailed out and were all brought to safe lines by South Koreans or Turkish troops. The plane crashed in a placed called Suwan, in SoKorea.
Here are the guys from the back of the plane that bailed out that day.
The plane commander was Capt. James "Champ" Chenault who is alive and well on his farm in Nebraska. The radio operator James Q. Adams is also alive and well.
Dad's plane had a BOXED "Y" on the tail as well as yellow ID stripe markings on the tip of the tail and wings, as well as under the cockpit and the nose wheel cover.
Two soviet pilots from the 196th IAP, 324th IAD shared credit for knocking down the plane: Capt. Boris Abakumov and Capt. Boris Obratsov (possibly Obrastsov).
Actual Soviet gun-camera footage taken on April 12, 1951 by MIG-15 pilot Capt. Ivan Suckhov. Soviet Archives.
Soviet MIG-15 pilot Captain Boris Abakumov shares credit with another MIG-15 pilot, Capt. Boris Obratsov (possibly Obrastsov), for shooting down Dad's plane. Both pilots were with the Soviet 196th IAP, 324th IAD. I asked both Dad and Dan Oldewage about the encounter and they both agreed that, "I have no bad feelings toward the man, in fact, I'd love to meet him. He was doing his job for his country and we were just doing ours."
My Dad, Marvin King, is one of the 19 former Korean War POWs that attended the 4 day reunion event in San Diego. All but 2 of these men were reservists from WWII who were recalled when the Korean war broke out. Most were Air Force pilots or crewmen. My Dad was in the 307th Bomb Wing 371st Squadron, when his B-29 was shot down by Russian-piloted MIG-15's in a daylight mission April 12, 1951, to bomb the railway bridge over the Yalu river at Sinuiju. Seen in this photo are (L-R) Marvin King, and Dan Oldewage. They are the only 2 surviving POWs who were shot down together on the same plane and are still here. They survived the infamous "Caves," as described in the book Broken Soldiers by Raymon Lech, where in 6 weeks 65 out of 76 POWs died of starvation and disease at the hands of the North Koreans. The two men were repatriated together in "Operation Big Switch" September 1953. Side note: My Dad named me after Dan Oldewage.
There was a ceremony to remember the 1,500+ men that died in Camp2, along with a reading of the names of those who have died since repatriation. The group snapped to attention at the presentation of the colors at the chapel at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. There was not a dry eye when the group sang the "Battle Hymm of the Republic." These old veterans from WWII and Korea are what America is made of.
POWs and wives gathered at the house of Mike Howe to sing songs and skits from their days as POWs. Very "Norman Rockwell" indeed.
Group photo of ex-POWs from Camp 2.