From the Editors 29 (2011)Engineer and Editor Juan Hart Moved El Paso Forward 29 (2011)Elizabeth Garrett: Songbird of the Southwest 29 (2011)A Passionate Life: Josephine Clardy Fox 29 (2011)Forgotten No More: Korean War POW Tells Story of Survival 29 (2011)Janice Woods Windle Treasures Family History 29 (2011)Andy and Syd Cohen: The Men Behind the Name 29 (2011)Leona Ford Washington Preserved Black History 29(2011)Ingeborg Heuser Brought Professional Ballet to City 29 (2011)Lee and Beulah Moor Left Legacy of Love 29 (2011)
From the Editors 28 (2010)Chasin’ Away the Blues: Texas Sunday Legislation 28 (2010)Simeon Hart Pioneered Local Industry 28 (2010)Felix Martinez: Southwestern Renaissance Man 28 (2010)Teresa Urrea: La Santa de Cabora Inspired Mexican Revolution 28 (2010)Utopia in Mesilla: The Shalam Colony 28 (2010)Stahmann Farms Produce Pecans on Two Hemispheres 28 (2010)Betty Mary Goetting Brought Birth Control to El Paso 28 (2010)Maud Sullivan Made El Paso Public Library a Cultural Center 28 (2010)Lucy Acosta’s Legacy Continues in LULAC 28 (2010)Belen Robles: Voice for the Latino Community 28 (2010)Toltec Club: Of Ghosts and Guests 28 (2010)
Strong Women Building a Strong City -- From the Editors 27(2008)Notable Women of El Paso 27(2009)The Chew Legacy: The Story of Herlinda Wong Chew 27(2009)Desert Nightingale: Louise Dietrich 27(2009)1909-2009: YWCA Celebrates 100 Years in El Paso 27(2009)Mabel Welch: El Paso’s First Female Architect 27(2009)Myrna Deckert Remains Modest About Achievements 27(2009)Suzie Azar Still Reaches for the Sky 27 (2009)The Moocher: Callie Fairley, First Woman Vice Detective in El Paso 27(2009)Alicia R. Chacón Came to Politics Naturally 27 (2009)Rosa Guerrero: Cultural Dynamo 27 (2009)
From the Past to the Present -- From the Editor 26 (2007/08)Yandell Boulevard Named for Prominent El Paso Physician 26 (2007/08)Japanese Immigrants Came Slowly to Borderland 26 (2007/08)World War II Affected Japanese Immigrants 26 (2007/08)Living, Breathing New Mexico Ghost Town: Hillsboro 26 (2007/08)Canutillo Developed from Land Grant 26 (2007/08)Rómulo Escobar Zerman: Juárez Agronomist and Teacher 26 (2007/08)El Paso Mayor: Tom Lea Jr. 26 (2007/08)Ted Karam: Lebanese Immigrant Lived American Dream 26 (2007/08)Publication Credits 26 (2007/08)
From the Director 25 (2006)First El Paso Protestant Church: St. Clement's 25 (2006)Bowie High School: Always a Bear 25 (2006)Golden Gloves Grew Out of El Paso's Love of Boxing 25 (2006)LULAC Fought Hard to Guarantee Rights 25 (2006)El Paso Women Gained Power in LULAC 25 (2006)McKelligon Canyon: From Cattle to Culture 25 (2006)Tortugas Celebrates Virgen de Guadalupe, San Juan 25 (2006)Bataan Death March and POW Camps 25 (2006)Bataan Survivors Recall Horrors 25 (2006)Anthony Family Had Five Sons in World War II 25 (2006)Sober on the Border 25 (2006)Clyde W. Tombaugh: Farm Boy Reached for the Stars 25 (2006)A Taste of Southwest Wine 25 (2006)
From the Director 24 (2005)From the Editors 24 (2005)Gypsie Davenport and May Palmer Ran Infamous Brothels 24 (2005)Pioneer Attorney William Burges Tackled Unpopular Issues 24 (2005)Richard Fenner Burges: Renaissance Man 24 (2005)Charles Kelly Wielded Power with Political 'Ring' 24 (2005)Tom Charles Wanted World to Know White Sands 24 (2005)Dripping Springs has Rich History 24 (2005)Thomas B. White Directed Innovative La Tuna for 19 Years 24 (2005)Cowboys on the Range --- Missile Range, That Is 24 (2005)Ranchers vs. the Feds: The McNew Saga 24 (2005)Mexican Repatriation in 1930s 24 (2005)White House Department Store 24 (2005)Thomason Hospital Celebrates 90 Years 24 (2005)R.E. Thomason Shaped City, State, Nation 24 (2005)
Postcards from the Past Editor's Column 23 (2004)From the Editors 23 (2004)Solomon C. Schutz Helped Bring Law and Order to El Paso 23 (2004)James Gillett Showed Courage in El Paso 23 (2004)Jim White Explored Carlsbad Caverns for Years 23 (2004)Ben Lilly: Mountain Man of the Southwest 23 (2004)Aldo Leopold Proposed Land Ethics 23 (2004)Escontrias Ranch: A Link to Hueco Tanks Park 23 (2004)Hueco Tanks is Site of Controversy 23 (2004)Marcelino Serna Became World War I Hero 23 (2004)Sam Dreben Soldiered All Over the World 23 (2004)Kern Place Neighborhood: The Man Behind the Name 23 (2004)Farah Manufacturing Now Just a Memory 23 (2004)Texas Knights of Columbus Began in El Paso 23 (2004)
Look for Us on the Web - Editor's Column 22 (2003)From the Editors 22 (2003)Victorio Fought to the Death for Homeland 22 (2003)O. T. Bassett and Charles R. Morehead 22 (2003)S. H. Newman: Pioneer Newspaperman Fought Vice 22 (2003)Elfego Baca Lived More Than Nine Lives 22 (2003)Woman's Club Has Long Served City 22 (2003)Cathedral's Beauty Pleases 22 (2003)Albert J. Fountain's Achievements Eclipsed by Mysterious Death 22 (2003)Albert B. Fall's Career Ended in Disgrace 22 (2003)Cloudcroft Baby Sanatorium Saved Many 22 (2003)Dale Resler Worked Hard for El Paso 22 (2003)Price's Dairy Still Family Owned 22 (2003)Woodlawn Bottling Brought Pepsi to Town 22 (2003)Union Depot Witnessed Growth of El Paso 22 (2003)
We're Now on the Web --From the Editor 21(2002)From the Editors 21(2002)Downtown Opium Dens Attracted Many 21(2002)Juneteenth Celebrates Freedom for Texas Slaves 21(2002)Black Cowboys Rode the Trails, Too 21(2002)Ku Klux Klan Had Short Life in El Paso 21(2002)Mining Became Big Business in Southwest 21(2002)Smeltertown Still Exists in Memories 21 (2002)El Paso Played Important Role in the Mexican Revolution 21 (2002)Pancho Villa Led Northern Forces in Revolution 21 (2002)Soldaderas Played Important Roles in Revolution 21 (2002)Pershing, Villa Forever Linked to Columbus 21 (2002)Cristeros Became Mexican Martyrs 1926-1929 -- 21 (2002)Houchen Settlement House Helped New Arrivals 21 (2002)Otis A. Aultman Captured Border History in Pictures 21 (2002)
Hot Springs Have Long HistoryThe Building of a City -- From the Editor 20 (2001)From the Staff (Volume 20)Pat Garrett Enjoyed Controversy 20 (2001)Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire Terrorized Town 20 (2001)History Reveals Rivalry of Madams Etta Clark and Alice Abbott 20 (2001)Kohlberg, Krupp, Zielonka Became Business and Civic Leaders 20 (2001)Olga Kohlberg Pioneered Many Local Organizations 20 (2001)Henry Trost's Architectural Legacy Lives On 20 (2001)Sunset Heights Preserves History 20 (2001)Adolph Schwartz Built Local Retail Dynasty 20 (2001)Zach T. White Brought Progress to El Paso 20 (2001)Masons Became Leaders in Texas, El Paso 20 (2001)Smallpox Epidemic Showed Need for Hospitals20 (2001)El Paso High School Remains Classic 20 (2001)Bhutanese Architecture Distinguishes UTEP Campus 20 (2001)Elephant Butte Dam Solved Early Water Problems 20 (2001)
Pioneer Ranch became Concordia Cemetery 19 (2000)El Paso Grows Up 19 (2000)From the Staff 19 (2000)Chinese Immigrants Helped Build Railroad in El Paso 19 (2000)Volunteer Fire Department Grew into Professional Company 19 (2000)1880s Brought First Theaters to Town 19 (2000)Sisters of Charity Began Hotel Dieu Hospital 19 (2000)Tuberculosis Turned El Paso Into a Health Center 19 (2000)First Public School Built in 1884 19 (2000)Enigmatic Olivas Aoy Began School for Mexican Children 19 (2000)El Paso Public Library Began Modestly 19 (2000)Jesuits Continue to Influence Area 19 (2000)Sisters of Loretto Have Long Tradition in Southwest 19 (2000)Mormons Found Sanctuary in Mexico in 1880s 19 (2000)Mennonite Colonies in Mexico Accept Change Slowly 19 (2000)Flu Epidemic of 1918 Hit El Paso Hard 19 (2000)Early City Planners Saw Future in Scenic Drive 19 (2000)Prohibition Stimulated Economies of El Paso, Juárez 19 (2000)
The Editor's Column : The Building of a City 18 (1999)From the Editors 18 (1999)Magoffinsville Had Lasting Influence on El Paso 18 (1999)Town of El Paso Grew from Pioneer Settlements 18 (1999)Downtown El Paso Is Monument to Anson Mills 18 (1999)1848 War With Mexico Created Southwest 18 (1999)Colonel Doniphan and Volunteers Won Battle of Brazito 18 (1999)Gadsden Purchase Clarified U.S. Boundaries 18 (1999)Early Fort Bliss Occupied Pioneer Sites 18 (1999)Henry O. Flipper Paved Way for Integration of Military 18 (1999)Buffalo Soldiers Defended Western Frontier 18 (1999)El Paso Was Midpoint of Overland Mail Service 18 (1999)Salt War of 1877 Divided Southwest Residents 18 (1999)Geronimo Led Final Fight 18 (1999)Apache Indians Defended Homelands in Southwest 18 (1999)Texas Rangers Helped Keep Order on Frontier 18 (1999)Sarah Bowman and Tillie Howard: Madams of the 1800s 18 (1999)El Paso Grew Up with Arrival of Railroad 18 (1999)
Aztecs Ruled Complex, Rich Society 17 (1998)From the Editor 17 (1998)Aztec Beliefs Helped Conquer Mexico 17 (1998)Cortés Created New Order in Mexico 17 (1998)La Malinche Remains Controversial 17 (1998)Cabeza de Vaca: Travels in Texas 17 (1998)Estebán Furthered Legend of Cíbola 17 (1998)Coronado Searched for Cities of Gold 17 (1998)Oñate Conquered Desert to Explore Southwest 17 (1998)Festival Celebrates Oñate's Historic Arrival 17 (1998)Fray Garcia Left Great Legacy 17 (1998)Franciscans Brought Catholicism to Area 17 (1998)America's First Highway: El Camino Real 17 (1998)Pueblo Revolt Brought Tiguas South 17 (1998)Tigua Indians Survive 300 Years of Ordeals 17 (1998)Area Missions are Part of Living History 17 (1998)San Elizario Presidio Protected Settlers 17 (1998)Ethnic Terms Can Cause Confusion 17 (1998)
Oasis Restaurants Symbolized ‘50s Teen Scene 13 (1995)‘50s Cars Changed American Lifestyle And Image 13 (1995)Chevy Bel Air Charmed 1950 Car Buyers 13 (1995)San Jacinto Plaza Remains Heart Of Downtown El Paso 13 (1995)Smokey Bear: A Legend Is Made 13 (1995)El Paso's Company E Survivors Remember Rapido River Assaults 13 (1995)Company E Survivor Recalls Days As Prisoner Of War 13 (1995)El Paso Red Cross Essential to War Effort 13 (1995)World War II Took its Toll On The Home Front 13 (1995)Civil Air Patrol Protected Border During World War II -- 13 (1995)Quickie Divorces Granted in Juárez 13 (1995)Atomic Bomb Developed In Southwest 13 (1995)Former Crew Members On B-17s Remember Tough Times 13 (1995)Vintage Warplanes Keep Past Alive 13 (1995)The Cavalry Bugler: Essential To Horse and Man 13 (1995)Sun Carnival 1936 Style 13 (1995)H. Arthur Brown: El Paso Symphony Guru Of The ‘30s -- 13 (1995)Swing Music Helped Dispel The Blues Of The ‘30s and ‘40s -- 13 (1995)The General Store: A Hidden Treasure Of The Past 13 (1995)
Change on the Border 15 (1997)From the Editor 15 (1997)Latinos Work To Change Stereotypes In Hollywood 15 (1997)Cesar Chávez: Simple Man, People’s Hero 15 (1997)Shelter For Farm Workers Becomes Reality 15 (1997)Women’s Shelter Helps To Heal The Pain 15 (1997)Home Schools Become Popular Alternative 15 (1997)Renovation May Revive Downtown El Paso 15 (1997)Title IX Changed Women's Sports 15 (1997)Special Olympics Shine In El Paso 15 (1997)La Fe Clinic Serves South El Paso 15 (1997)ASARCO Works To Clean Up Its Act 15 (1997)A Growing Phenomenon: Single Fathers 15 (1997)Stepfamilies Become More Numerous 15 (1997)Teens Rebel Against Authority 15 (1997)Comics Retain Popularity 15 (1997)Tom Moore And Archie Have Timeless Appeal 15 (1997)
Life on the Border: 1950s & 1960s --14 (1996)From The Editors 14 (1996)A Baseball Team By Any Other Name 14 (1996)Drive-In Theaters Appealed to all Ages 14 (1996)El Paso Trolley First to Connect Two Nations 14 (1996)Barbie Doll Revolutionized Toy Industry 14 (1996)Rabies Took Bite of Sun City 14 (1996)Rabies: A Deadly Virus 14 (1996)Border Patrol Used Variety of Methods to Control Immigration 14 (1996)L. A. Nixon Fought Texas Voting Law 14 (1996)Douglass School Served Black Community Well 14 (1996)Thelma White Case Forced College Integration 14 (1996)Steve Crosno: An El Paso Original 14 (1996)Rock 'N' Roll Defined Teen Culture 14 (1996)A Shopping Mall by the People for the People 14 (1996)Chamizal Dispute Settled Peacefully 14 (1996)Turney Mansion Becomes Work of Art 14 (1996)First Hispanic Mayor Elected in 1957 -- 14 (1996)Flower Children Chose Alternative Lifestyle 14 (1996)
Three Decades of History 12 (1994)From the Editors 12 (1994)The Plaza Theater…Here to Stay!? 12 (1994)El Paso Broadcasting: The Stories Behind the Call Letters 12 (1994)Alphabet Agencies: FDR's Brainstorm 12 (1994)Chihuahuita in the 1930s: Tough Times in the Barrio 12 (1994)Hobo Sign Language Targeted El Paso 12 (1994)Self- Sufficiency Key to Farmers' Survival During Depression 12 (1994)Hanna's Story A Holocaust Survivor Remembers 12 (1994)Former Members Recall Life in Hitler Youth 12 (1994)German Prisoners of War Interned at Fort Bliss During World War II -- 12 (1994)German POWs Remembered at Fort Bliss 12 (1994)One German POW's Story 12 (1994)Ration Books and Victory Gardens: Coping with Shortages 12 (1994)Women Changed Wartime Work Patterns 12 (1994)Bracero Program Hurt Domestic Farm Workers 12 (1994)San Pedro Pharmacy Retains Look of the Past 12 (1994)Teenage Fashions of the Nifty Fifties 12 (1994)Rebel Image of Motorcyclists Set in 1950s -- 12 (1994)
Border Customs and Crafts From the Editor 10 (1992)From the Editors 10 (1992)King on the Mountain 10 (1992)Piñatas! 10 (1992)How to Play the Piñata Game 10 (1992)Out of a Cotton Boll Bloom Beautiful Crafts 10 (1992)Cotton Boll Entertains Too 10 (1992)Hands That Create Art and Soul 10 (1992)La Charreada - Mexican Horsemanship 10 (1992)Boots - A Family Tradition 10 (1992)Some Boys Still Grow Up to be Cowboys 10 (1992)Boot Capital of the World 10 (1992)The Magic of Mariachis 10 (1992)Ballet Folklorico - High School Style 10 (1992)New Generation of Mariachis 10 (1992)The Lady is a Bullfighter 10 (1992)The Midwife: Choices for Border Women 10 (1992)Retablos: Echoes of Faith 10 (1992)Tigua Indians: Dancing for St. Anthony 10 (1992)The Aztec and the Miracle 10 (1992)A Hispanic Girl's Coming of Age 10 (1992)Art - Low and Slow 10 (1992)Wedding Traditions on the Border 10 (1992)
Border Food Folkways From the Editor 9 (1991)From the Staff 9 (1991)Tortillas: Border Staff of Life 9 (1991)The Booming Tortilla Industry in Mexico 9 (1991)Where's The Beef? In El Paso! 9 (1991)How Do I Love Thee, Piggy? Let Me Count the Ways! 9 (1991)Tamales By Any Other Name Remain The Same 9 (1991)Rio Grande Thanksgiving 9 (1991)The Tigua Indians: Food for Thought 9 (1991)Corn: The Golden Gift from Our Ancestors 9 (1991)Border Pottery - Function and Beauty 9 (1991)Holy Hot Mole! 9 (1991)Looking Back at the Chile Pepper 9 (1991)Men Behind the Chile Pepper 9 (1991)Hot Peppers : They're Not Just for Eating 9 (1991)Food, Spices Double as Folk Cures 9 (1991)Weeds or Edible Desert Plants? 9 (1991)Cactus: It's Good for You! 9 (1991)Day of the Dead Celebrates Spiritual Tradition 9 (1991)Nutricious, Delicious Beans 9 (1991)Menudo Makes The Big Time 9 (1991)Mediterranean Cuisine: Old Tradition, Fresh Idea 9 (1991)Lenten Foods: From Fasting to Fabulous 9 (1991)Tarahumaras Rely on Nature for Food 9 (1991)Tempting Sweet Breads : Pan de Dulce 9 (1991)
Border Customs and Crafts II From the Editor -- 11 (1993)From the Editors 11 (1993)The Best Little Asaderos in Texas 11 (1993)Glass Work Disappearing on Border 11 (1993)Cockfights Legal in Surrounding Areas 11 (1993)Local Craftsmen Keep Art of Saddlery Alive 11 (1993)James and Joseph Magoffin: El Paso Pioneers 11 (1993)Chile Ristras Brighten Border Homes 11 (1993)Magoffin Home Preserves El Paso's Past 11 (1993)Bavarian Custom Celebrated in El Paso: Oktoberfest 11 (1993)Munich on the Border 11 (1993)Santo Niño de Atocha Called Miracle Worker 11 (1993)Lenten Customs Vary 11 (1993)To Ask is to Receive 11 (1993)Border Maintains Tradition of Posadas 11 (1993)A Visit from Three Kings 11 (1993)Matachines: Soldiers of the Virgin 11 (1993)Dichos Are an Intricate Part of Mexican Culture 11 (1993)Cultural Superstitions Affect Behavior 11 (1993)Que Onda Homeboy! Why Do We Talk Like This? 11 (1993)Traditional Hispanic Children's Games Disappear 11 (1993)
El Paso Women to ResearchEl Paso Women to Research (by name)El Paso Men to ResearchEl Paso Men to Research (by name)
From the Editors 30 (2012)From the Editor, Credits and Contents 30 (2012)Jessie Hawkins and Jenna Welch: Love, Loss and Laughter 30 (2012)Woodrow Wilson Bean: One in a Million 30 (2012)David L. Carrasco Gave Back to Hometown 30 (2012)Cleofas Calleros Made Local History Important 30 (2012)Robert E. McKee: From Rags to Riches to Philanthropy 30 (2012)Kate Moore Brown: A Woman of Many Firsts 30 (2012)Fun in the 1890s: The McGinty Club 30 (2012)
Borderlands Web Issue From the Editor 31(2013/14)Acknowledgements 31(2013/14)Mother Praxedes Carty: Serving God by Serving Others 31(2013/14)Carrie Tingley Hospital and the Couple Behind It 31 (2013/14)Harvey Girls Changed the West 31(2013/14)Jake Erlich: A Big Man in Many Ways 31(2013/14)Vernus Carey: Mr. YMCA 31(2013/14)
Borderlands 32 Tolerance. From the Editors and Acknowledgements 32(2014/15)Henry Kellen Created El Paso Holocaust Museum 32(2014/15)Bicycle Padre Still Working 32(2014/15)El Paso Connections: Ambrose Bierce: writer 32(2014/15)Mysterious Deaths: Bobby Fuller, Rock Icon 32(2014/15)Mysterious Deaths: Tom Ogle, Inventor 32(2014/15)Jake Erlich: A Big Man in Many Ways 32(2014)Harvey Girls Changed the West 32(2014)
Borderlands 33 Service. From the Editors and Acknowledgements 33(2015)Nothing Is Impossible: Major General Heidi V. Brown 33 (2015)Local Latino Soldiers Receive Medal of Honor Decades after Heroism 33 (2015)Vernus Carey: Mr. YMCA 33 (2015)Will the Real Leon Blevins Please stand up? 33 (2015)Carrie Tingley Hospital and the Couple Behind It 33 (2015)Mother Praxedes Carty: Serving God by Serving Others 33 (2015)
Borderlands 34 Inspiration. From the Editors and Acknowledgements 34(2016/17)Building Bridges Instead of Walls: Temple Mount Sinai 34 (2016/17)Ruben Salazar: A Bridge Between Two Societies 34 (2016/17)Luis Jimenez: Art Creates Dialogue 34 (2016/17)Richard "Tuff" Hedeman: The Michael Jordan of Professional Bull Riding 34 (2016/17)Rescue Mission of El Paso Provides Food and Opportunity 34 (2016/17)
35 From the EditorsArea Missions Are Part of Living History (with 2017 update)Downtown El Paso is Monument to Anson Mills (with 2017 update)Chihuahuita in the 1930s: Tough Times in the Barrio (with 2017 update)The Magic of Mariachis (with 2017 update)New Generation of Mariachis (with 2017 update)Looking Back at the Chile PepperMen Behind the Chile Pepper (with 2017 update)Hot Peppers: They're Not Just for EatingEl Paso Trolley First to Connect Two Nations (with 2017 update)Centro De Salud Familiar La Fe Serves El Paso County (with 2017 update)Tuberculosis Turned El Paso into a Health Center (with 2017 update)El Paso's Company E Survivors Remember Rapido River Assault (with 2017 update)Company E Survivor Recalls Days as Prisoner of War (with 2017 update)James and Joseph Magoffin: El Paso Pioneers (with 2017 update)
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Forgotten No More: Korean War POW Tells Story of Survival

Article first published in Vol. 29, 2011.

By Heather Coons

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Jerry Sperbeck, Korean War POW from El Paso

In 1945, World War II came to an end, and Western Europe started to rebuild. With Japan’s surrender, reconstruction began there. American soldiers returned home and the nation was “booming,” in economics as well as in babies. It was time to enjoy the good life.

Jerry Sperbeck, Korean War POW
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Video History interview

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Sperbeck survived more than two years in a North Korean POW camp. (Photo courtesy of El Paso Community College Northwest Campus)

Not so elsewhere.  In Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, under Joseph Stalin’s command, began its domination of smaller adjacent states. China was in the hands of the communists. The Cold War had begun. Its first battleground: Korea.

At the end of World War II, Korea had been divided along the 38th Parallel, with the Soviets in control of the North and America in control of the South. Both the Soviets and Americans were supposed to play a temporary role in the development of the newly divided country, leaving the two states to form their own governments. In the South, the Republic of Korea (ROK) was born under pro-West leader Syngman Rhee. In the North, communism reigned under the leadership of Kim Il Sung.

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On June 25, 1950, with aid from the Soviets, the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) descended upon South Korea, intent on reuniting the country by force. The nations of the world were outraged. President Harry S. Truman feared that if Korea were taken by the communists, much of Asia would soon fall. The UN Security Council unanimously passed resolutions calling for international assistance for South Korea.

The majority of the dispatched UN troops were American. More than half a world away, US soldiers battled not only the North Koreans, but extreme temperatures and impassable mountain ranges. Unexpectedly, 100,000 Chinese troops dug into those mountains and turned Korea from a policing action into a bloodbath as UN troops valiantly struggled to hold defense lines.

Heartbreak Ridge, Bloody Ridge, Porkchop Hill: those are just a few of the most horrific battles of the Korean War, but they weren’t the only battles for survival being waged. At the same time, in the mountains to the north, UN prisoners of war were being held in concentration-style camps. Their enemies were not only the communists, but starvation, dysentery, dehydration and torture.

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Clarence Jerry Sperbeck stated during an April 2011 telephone interview with Borderlands student editor Heather Coons that POW Camp #1 almost broke him many times. “How did I survive? By the grace of God and the skin of my teeth,” he said.

Sperbeck was born Nov. 27, 1931, in Clark Mills, NY, and like that of many of his generation, his childhood was dominated by the Great Depression and then World War II. His family moved about once every year in order for his parents to find work to support nine boys and three girls, which made making friends quite difficult. Although he rather would have been playing soccer, Sperbeck would join his family working in the fields during summer breaks; then half-way through the seventh grade, he quit school and worked in a bowling alley picking up pins.

Finding himself unemployed, Sperbeck joined the Army and took his oath of enlistment on July 26, 1949. After 14 weeks of basic training at Fort Dix, NJ, he went to Fort Benning, GA, assigned to the Fire Department. In early 1951, Sperbeck reenlisted on a “short” (voluntary early reenlistment) and headed to his new assignment: Korea.

In February 1951, Sperbeck departed from Seattle, WA. More than 3,500 soldiers were aboard his troopship crossing the Pacific that winter. After two weeks of freezing cold temperatures, no duties and no entertainment (not even cards), Sperbeck arrived in Japan. Two days after that, he landed in Pusan, South Korea.

During the first week of March, then Pfc. Sperbeck took a train to Seoul, where he boarded a truck headed for the 35th Regiment located south of the Imjin River. As an ammo bearer for a 57mm recoilless rifle squad, Sperbeck joined the 25th Infantry Division, 2nd Battalion, F Company Weapons Platoon.

After launching a spring offensive, the communists attacked the 35th on April 24. Sperbeck and his platoon were positioned on a hillside, silently watching the Chinese descend into the valley below. On June 12, 2008, he told the Fort Bliss newspaper, The Monitor, that the start of that fateful battle looked like the beginning of a rainstorm. “You see a plop and the dust falls up and down, and you see (another) plop … plop … plop as they registered their guns. Then all hell broke loose.”

In his documented debriefing conducted by the US Army, Sperbeck went into detail about that battle and his ensuing capture. After being ordered to withdraw and rendezvous 15 miles to the south, Sperbeck and 15 others got lost behind enemy lines. Marching during the night, they avoided detection. When they spied US vehicles, they descended the mountains in the morning, only to come upon the Chinese. After being hit in the back by the force of a concussion grenade, Sperbeck was captured by communist forces.

In the debriefing document, Sperbeck described the march north. He stated that POWs were “humping and pushing it,” marching for 90 minutes at the Chinese pace (30 or 40 steps a minute faster than the American pace), followed by 15 minute breaks. Exhausted, POWs would collapse. Suffering from the cold and covered with frost when they got up, many of the POWs were without shoes, socks or winter uniforms, which were confiscated by the Chinese. By the time they were able to bathe at natural springs, men with boots who had not taken care of their feet easily succumbed to trench foot and gangrene, rotted toes coming off in their socks.

“You didn’t have any food. You didn’t have anything to drink. You didn’t have anything,” Sperbeck stated in his debriefing. “What happened if you were marching and fell out? ... They shot you.”

After more than three months of marching over mountains at night and hiding from American planes during the day, Sperbeck and the other POWs arrived at Camp #1 in Changsong, North Korea.

While Sperbeck and the other POWs marched north, the tide had turned in America’s favor with the 1951 May Massacre, in which more than 65,000 Chinese troops were killed by American artillery.

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At the beginning of the war, UN soldiers had attempted to advance towards Seoul from Osan only to be driven down to the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. Forming a defense line known as the Pusan Perimeter, Gen. Johnny Walker ordered troops to “stand or die” and began the largest military mobilization in history. UN troops landed at Inchon on Sept. 15, 1950, and began advancing into the mainland. On Sept. 16, soldiers began advancing out of Pusan, intent on uniting with the other UN troops to form a defense line in an effort to push the communist forces out of South Korea.

On Sept. 19, UN troops liberated Seoul and then pursued the NKPA north of the 38th Parallel. In early October, UN soldiers were once again pushed back into South Korea by unforeseen Chinese soldiers. By December 1950, UN troops were in a full retreat, and Seoul was once again occupied by the communists.

That same month, Walker was killed in an unfortunate jeep accident and replaced by Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgeway. Declaring that there would be no more retreats, Ridgeway began to restore soldiers’ confidence and brought in fresh troops and supplies. By March 1951, when Sperbeck arrived in Seoul, the city was once again under UN control.

UN casualties were becoming unacceptable, and military leaders were no longer allowed to launch an offensive with more than a platoon. The Chinese took advantage, sending large numbers of troops to one point along defense lines. The results were bloody hand-tohand battles which continued until the end of the war while defense lines remained virtually unchanged.

Truce talks began on July 10, 1951, and, thanks to the communists’ stalling tactics, continued for two years. Knowing the United Nations’ distaste for casualties, the Chinese figured that allied troops would eventually pull out of Korea if the battles continued. The primary obstacle to the talks, however, was the concept of “voluntary repatriation.” Many of the Chinese and NKPA POWs had no desire to return to their communist homelands.

While truce talks stalled, the UN POWs held in the five camps in North Korea suffered. Upon arrival, POWs were interrogated on everything from military information to details about family and friends, where they lived and how much property they owned. They were threatened, beaten and tortured.

Many POWs died during their first few weeks of captivity. Those who lived faced a constant struggle for survival. Sperbeck shared a 10 feet by14 feet room with nine other POWs. Food consisted of small portions of rice mixed with sorghum and cracked corn. There was no medical care.

Daily activities in POW camps included attendance at political indoctrination classes on the benefits of communism, about which the POWs had to write reports. They also had to haul firewood and water into the camp and clean latrines and food bowls, which doubled as wash basins. When they could, prisoners went swimming or played volley ball, cards or chess.

For the “reactionary,” or uncooperative POW, like Sperbeck, punishments included loss of privileges (like receiving letters from home), isolation and beatings. Captors also tried to turn fellow POWs against troublemakers by singling them out to appear as snitches. But according to Sperbeck’s debriefing document, the number one form of punishment was starvation. “When they got mad at you, … they played games with your food.” Many POWs suffered from dysentery, dehydration and blindness caused by malnutrition. Sperbeck, down to about 80 pounds, almost died several times.

In The Monitor, Sperbeck described the treatment he and 49 others received when put on sick leave. After being taken to a run-down Buddhist temple, a communist political commissar, whose duties were to ensure military loyalty and party principles, surgically inserted animal organs into the POWs’ bodies, a crude form of the “monkey gland operations” conducted by the Russian doctor Serge Voronoff in France in the 1920s and 1930s. According to a 1954 Senate Report on Korean War Atrocities, the communists believed the operation could supposedly heal and rebuild a man. Left there to rot, the soldiers squeezed the putrid incision sites until all the animal tissue was removed.

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Some POWs cracked under communist pressure. In an effort to gain special privileges and better food rations, they turned on their fellow soldiers. In another Monitor article entitled “POW/MIA Honored,” Sperbeck told Michael Garrett that those instances were the exception, not the rule. “I have never heard any POW claim to be a hero, but when I was captured, I was surrounded by them. Many of them saved my life several times,” Sperbeck stated.

In the spring of 1953, several factors changed the course of the truce talks. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star general and World War II hero, was the new president, America had developed the atomic cannon and Stalin had died. The new leaders of the Soviets wanted their Asian allies to wrap things up. On July 27, 1953, at 10 a.m., the war officially ended with a cease fire.

Jerry Sperbeck, Korean War POW, reunites with familyAccording to his debriefing, Sperbeck stated that the news about the armistice agreement was met with disbelief by POWs, but hope bloomed when they began to receive more food, and in celebration, they made cookies. On Aug. 19, 1953, after 27 months and three weeks, Sperbeck was going home, ironically, on the same troopship he had arrived on.

Image caption:  Sperbeck was reunited with family after the Korean War.  Photo courtesy of Jerry Sperbeck.

Not all were so lucky, as 389 known US POWs never returned. “They marched them into China. I saw them. They tried to keep me,” Sperbeck stated in his debriefing.

Twenty-one POWs chose to not repatriate.According to Remembered Prisoners of a Forgotten War by Lewis H. Carlson, their decision set off a tidal wave of communist brainwashing propaganda. In American popular culture, movies like “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Citizen Cane” vilified returning Korean POWs. They were viewed as the new communist threat to America.

“I was investigated by everybody. The FBI, Central Intelligence, everybody,” Sperbeck told El Paso Community College library employee, David Flores, in an interview conducted at EPCC’s TV studio. “They could have cared less if I was a serial killer. They wanted to know if I was a communist.”

Despite the treatment Sperbeck received, he continued in his military career, working as a drill sergeant and then as a recruiter. After seven years without a promotion, due mostly, in Sperbeck’s opinion, to his inaccurate war records and the overwhelming fear of communism, he transferred from Infantry to Air Defense in 1956, where he worked as an Ajax Section Chief, Hawk Missile Launcher/Mechanic, Hawk School Instructor and a Hawk Battery Missile Maintenance Chief. In April 1958, his work in Air Defense brought Sperbeck to El Paso.

In 1967, Sperbeck returned to South Korea, this time not for combat, but to ensure that defense missiles were operational. Although he could have gotten out of the assignment, his new wife, Maria Estella, was adamant that being sent to Korea was better than Vietnam. “I was angry, just pissed at being there,” Sperbeck told Borderlands. “But you know who won that argument.”

Although Sperbeck had only completed elementary school, he earned his GED in 1954 and had two years of college completed by the end of his service in February 1970 when he retired as a Battalion Missile Maintenance Chief. Three days after his retirement, Sperbeck enrolled at the University of Texas at El Paso, where he earned two teaching degrees.

After retirement, Sperbeck joined the US Army Civilian Service in July 1971. He served as an instructor; Arts and Crafts Director; Morale Support Officer at William Beaumont Army Medical Center; Fort Bliss Youth Services Director; and Fort Bliss Marketing, Advertising and Sponsorship Director before recently retiring.

Sperbeck has also served his community as Fort Bliss Non-Appropriated Fund Sponsorship Director, and as Operation Santa Claus Marketing Director. He has served as the President of the Fort Bliss General of the Army (GOA) Omar Bradley Chapter, Vice-president of the Association of the US Army Corporate Membership, (civil service positions) and to this day is still an active spokesman for POWs and the military, as well as a grant writer for Creative Grants.

On Nov.10, 1997, during a Veteran’s Day celebration at Fort Bliss, Sperbeck was finally awarded the Purple Heart. After numerous attempts, Sperbeck’s inaccurate war records were officially amended in August 1998.

Regardless of all his struggles, when asked by The Monitor if he would go back and do it all again, Sperbeck replied in the affirmative, “because that’s what soldiers do.”

Although there are some very good books, like March to Calumny, by Albert Biderman, documentaries, like “Freedom is not Free: The History of the Korean War,” and material produced by the US military available on the Web, such as Graybeards, the official publication of the Korean War Veterans Association, according to Sperbeck, much of the information printed about Korea’s wartime history and its troops is slanted and inaccurate. Because of this, Korean veterans have termed themselves “forgotten.”

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Although today soldiers are provided with help for post-traumatic stress disorder, Korean War POWs and veterans were not provided with any type of support. “We had to fight our own demons,” Sperbeck told Borderlands. “You didn’t want them [the military] to know you had trouble. You’d be out of a job.”

While Sperbeck attributes much of his emotional healing to the support of his wife, many POWs found their experiences too difficult to even speak about, especially to those who had no understanding of what they had been through. In response, POWs formed their own support groups. Locally, an informal POW support group meets the second Saturday of every month at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church at 7000 Edgemere in the Community Room. For more information on official groups, readers may contact Roy Aldridge, president of both the El Paso chapter and Texas Korean War Veterans Association at 915-494-0411.

Department of Defense figures say that 33,742 Americans died in Korea; 92,134 were seriously wounded; 7,245 were taken as POWs; 2,847 died in camps and on marches; and 389 known POWs disappeared. Official reports estimated the Korean POWs’ death rate to be about 40 percent, comparable to other wars, but, according to Carlson, most experts disagree. The total listed as missing in action and declared dead is 4,821, many of whom are believed to have perished in death marches and camps, placing the death rate closer to 67 percent.

While the fate of every MIA will probably never be known, according to Sperbeck and other survivors, many were buried on a hill in North Korea. In a poem, almost considered an anthem among POWs, an unknown author (most likely a POW who later died) described the final resting place of more than 1,000 “American braves” in a “forgotten war:”

Six foot by two foot by one foot
deep, in a Korean hill they sleep
Young and old, all wondering why
sixteen hundred had to die―
We go home to enjoy our fill
they are still there on that lonely hill.

Tags: Biography


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