David Mills remembers little of his captivity during the Korean War. Most of the horrific experience blends together, he said. But a couple of things stand out: Living in a cramped dungeon without enough room to stand or fully extend his legs.
Scarce rations, which sometimes were chicken feed or dog meat.
Struggling to survive the marauding lice that, Mills says, ate better than he did.
The 70-year-old Scottsdale resident was among dozens of former prisoners of war who gathered Friday at the Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix to reflect on their experiences behind enemy lines.
Friday was POW/MIA Recognition Day, established in 2001 to honor U.S. military personnel who were taken as prisoners of war, and those who remain missing in action. Each year on Sept. 15, a blackand-white flag flies over the White House and U.S. State Department in their honor.
That flag flies every day at Veterans Affairs hospitals throughout the country.
Victor Miller, an 85-year-old Chandler resident, said he hoped all POWs — regardless of whose side they were on — would receive the same kind of humane treatment he experienced as a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II.
Miller said he was concerned about reports that the U.S. has abused suspected terrorists held as prisoners in the war on terrorism.
“I’d like to have them treated like we were treated — under the Geneva Convention,” Miller said.
Friday, President Bush continued to pressure lawmakers after a Republican-led Senate committee defied the White House on Thursday and approved legislation that would prohibit abusive treatment of detainees. The bill also would revise Bush’s rules of evidence for trials of terrorism suspects.
Miller said his German captors used psychological pressure during his interrogations, but they never resorted to physical torture. The retired Arizona State University horticulture professor said that once during his captivity, he had to eat dandelions to avoid starvation.
“But I was thinking about peaches and strawberries at the time,” he said.
Miller was released in 1945 after two months of captivity.
Mills was less humorous as he spoke of his experiences. Tears filled his eyes at times when he talked about the war. Mills remembers being so eager to join the army that he signed up on his 17th birthday.
But his outpost was overrun by Chinese soldiers within a month of arriving in Korea. Mills said he was the only survivor of the attack, and was wounded nine times.
Mills said that for a while he was listed in army records as deceased. He still hasn’t received a Purple Heart.
“It was a little bit of a shock to read your own obituary,” he said.
Then he pulled off his thick glasses to wipe away the tears.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the war,” he said.
By the numbers
POW/MIA by conflict: World War I: 3,350 World War II: 78,777 Korean War: 7,190 Vietnam War: 2,459 Desert Storm: 1 Operation Iraqi Freedom: 1
Source: U.S. Department of Defense