Dennis Pavlik was just out of high school when he was drafted into the Army. He was sworn in Oct. 14, 1952, and arrived in Inchon, Korea the day after Easter in 1953. He was assigned to C Battery of the 555th Field Artillery Battalion. The unit was known as the Triple Nickel and had been on the 38th parallel for nine months. His detail was to protect the artillery. During the next weeks, his detail moved about eight times. It was mid-June when his unit was engaged in a battle with fire missions that started in the early evening and lasted all night. Each day, when we came out of our bunker in the morning and looked over the valley, it looked like a heavy fog, from all the burned gun powder, Pavlik said. It was a July night when a self-propelled 155 mm howitzer, drove through their position, headlights bright. After they went through, it seemed that no incoming rounds landed out of our area. It came in very heavy and hard the rest of the night. Soldiers passed by while they lay in their foxholes. After talking with others later, we came to the idea that these latter troops were the Chinese. They walked right through us, and we did not even know it.
Pavlik received word in the middle of the night to leave his foxhole and meet at the mess tent nearby where the radio jeep sat. When he arrived, all he found was confusion. His sergeant had just returned from headquarters with the orders, stay at all costs; form a new line. After waiting for someone to give further orders, and failed attempts at fixing the radio, the mood changed. We went into look-out-for-yourself mode. I really don't remember any direct order to abandon position. As Pavlik headed up a mountain, he could hear the sound of Chinese bugles. It seemed that three of them communicated, and you were in the middle of the triangle, he said. You never did see them but they made some chills run up and down your back. I still can hear them. He and eight others made it to the top of the mountain together. It was there they would surrender to the Chinese. After attempts to hold their ground, the Chinese approached the men, motioning for them to raise their arms and surrender. Pavlik was crouched behind a rock with his gun aimed and ready to fire, a few feet away from a Chinese soldier. He heard another American yell, don't shoot, don't shoot, and he stood down. He said he believes now if he had shot the Chinese soldier, all eight of them would have been killed immediately. It was at this time that we had given up our freedom. We no longer had any control of what we did, but had to do as we were told. It seems funny how that rifle and bayonet along with burp guns could speak such plain English, he said. Pavlik estimated about 25 U.S. Soldiers were killed and 40 were captured that day.
He and the eight men joined other prisoners as they marched north toward the prison camp the Chinese called Camp Six. It also was referred to as Death Valley or the Mining Camp. After arrival, they were clothed in pajama-like blue pants and tops and kept in a room big enough for seven. The rooms had dirt floors. Each man was given a mat and a blanket. The food they ate included rice, millet and dried fish heads. On occasion, they would get steamed bread that was heavy and moist and tasted good comparatively, he said. Pavlik was interviewed once, for about two hours. He was asked questions about the structure of the American units and also about who he was and what his family did back home. He said he was careful not to give them any information they didn't already have. Pavlik spent approximately six weeks in the camp. It was Aug. 25, 1953, when he was a part of a prisoner exchange that would bring him home. As each name was called off the list, the man stepped forward and regained his freedom, no longer a prisoner of war. It felt like a big weight had been lifted off your shoulders. That is about as good as I can explain it.
Through the years, Pavlik reconnected with fellow Soldiers in an attempt to piece together what happened. It is like putting together pieces of a puzzle, and I can never find the last one, he said. He has dedicated time telling his story to media, at schools and worked to have a memorial built for Nebraska POWs at Memorial Park in Omaha. He believes the most important message he gives is about freedom. Freedom is something that touches you, but you cannot touch it, he said. Do not take it for granted, as a lot of good men have died so that we may have our freedom.
Dennis L. Pavlik (ASN: US-55277361), United States Army, was held as a Prisoner of War after he was captured during the Korean War on 14 July 1953 and was held until his release on 24 August 1953 after the signing of the Armistice.