Ex Korean War POW William H. “Bill” Funchess, 1st Lt Infantry “B” & “C” Companies, 19th Infantry, 24th Division, US Army, was the guest speaker for the November 14, 2019 regular meeting of the KWVA Foothills Chapter #301.
Over the past several years, Lt. Funchess, Clemson, SC, has spoken to many local Veteran and civic groups telling his story as a Korean War POW. His family continually encouraged him to write his experience for others to read. 47 years after the Korean War Bill agreed and his story became the book entitled “A THOUSAND DAYS OF TORMENT. He did not have a diary or journal or any other written account but says most events are so vividly etched in his mind they will never be forgotten.
Bill Funchess’s military experience began in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at Clemson University where he graduated in 1948 with a diploma and commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. After a brief assignment at Ft. Jackson, Columbia, SC he was transferred to the 24th Infantry Division in Japan and assigned to the 19th Regiment at Beppu from where he directed training exercises all across Japan.
When word reached Japan that South Korea had been invaded by the Russian trained and equipped North Korean Peoples Army (NKPA) on June 25, 1950 Lt. Funchess and the 19th Regiment boarded two rusty LSTs and headed for South Korea. Their military equipment consisted of outdated leftover vehicles, tanks and other WW11 weapons. This put them in a desperate plight since South Korea had made no preparations to fight a war.
Their mission was to set up defensive fortifications in several areas across South Korea but soon proved to be no match for the T-34 Russian supplied tanks and mortar fire. After numerous encounters with the North Korean Army, the loss of most of his platoon and brave attempts to push forward Lt. Funchess was surrounded and wounded on November 5, 1950. He was soon captured by the Communist Chinese who had just come into the war to take prisoners.
For the next Thousand days, through the harsh winters of 1950-51-52, Bill Funchess would experience the worst inhumane atrocities imaginable as a Prisoner of War (POW).
The following is a newspaper article published in 2010 at the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the breakout of the war and as a tribute to all the Korean War POWs. Written from the personal interviews with Bill Funchess and other Korean War POWs.
The Plight of the Korean War POW
Korean War Anniversary
Here in the upstate, and all across the nation, Korean War Veterans will remember June 25th, 1950. Because the Korean War came about on the heels of WWII, and because we were not directly attacked, many people could not accept the need to go to war in Korea. For that reason, and for the 60 plus years that have followed, it has been regarded by most of the nation as the “Forgotten War” denying our Korean War Veterans the honor and respect they had earned.
The Korean War began at 4:00 am on June 25, 1950 when seven crack divisions, (135,000), of Russian trained and Russian equipped troops of the North Korean Peoples Army (NKPA) stormed across the 38th parallel, without warning, to invade the Republic of South Korea and overtake the capital city of Seoul. When the word reached Washington, President Truman and the UN declared “this is war against the United Nations”. The United States was asked to take the lead, along with 20 other allied nations, to stop the North Korean attack. Korea was a war that America did not want to fight, but it was a war we had to fight. The United States had accepted the role of leadership for the entire free world against Communism and the Soviet Union.
It was not just a CRISIS nor a POLICE ACTION, It was a WAR. The bulk of the UN forces to serve in Korea would be Americans, whose peak strength reached 348,000. Of the 5.7 million in uniform during the War, at least 1.5 million were rotated in and out of Korea. More than 37,000 Americans lost their lives (KIA), another 100,000 were wounded, 6,877 became Prisoners of War (POW). More than 8,000 remain unaccounted for today. The Republic of Korea’s army (ROK) reached a strength of 590,911 and suffered 272,975 casualties, wounded or killed in action. FREEDOM IS NOT FREE
The United States won the war in Korea, not with an unconditional surrender as in WWII, instead with an Armistice agreement, considered fragile even today, with increasing tensions from the North. We still have more than 40,000 troops in South Korea and are still guarding the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
Still fresh in their memories, Korean War veterans share stories of the Battle of Osan, Taejon, Battle of the Notch, Inchon Landing, Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, Operation Thunderbolt, Battle of Hill 440, Battle for the Punchbowl, Battle of Bloody Ridge, Heartbreak Ridge, Battle for Old Baldy, Bunker Hill, Battle of Porkchop Hill, Hill 148, Hill 851, Hill 812, Hill 101, Hill 355, Battle of the Hook, and T-Bone Hill.
Korean War veterans have formed more than 300 chapters across the country,
chartered by the National 16,000 member Korean War Veterans Association Inc.
KWVA. .Organized for the purposes of, supporting the needs of its surviving Veterans and their families, paying tribute to the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifices (KIA), (POW), and (MIA), and supporting the needs of present active duty military. Members use a “Tell America” program to go into the schools, and the community, as An Obligation, A Challenge and Opportunity, to tell students and adults the Korean War story and why FREEDOM IS NOT FREE. (KWVA). Membership includes Veterans, men and women, of all branches of the Armed Forces, who have seen honorable service, in Korea, from 1950 to the Present (or outside of Korea from June 25,1953 to Jan 31,1953).
In Greenville, we are the KWVA Foothills Chapter of SC # 301. We meet for lunch and meeting on the 2nd Thursday each month except July at the Golden Corral, 3240 N Pleasantburg Dr. Greenville, SC.
For further information call President Tom Comshaw (864) 472-4236
In honor of all who served so valiantly and in memory of all who made the ultimate sacrifice, the Foothills Chapter Of SC #301 has built a KOREAN WAR VETERAN MEMORIAL in Conestee Park 840 N Butler Rd. Greenville. The memorial includes several pieces of engraved and polished Georgia Granite with a Honors Walkway of engraved Memory Bricks and appropriate Flags. Donations to the Memorial Fund for an engraved brick are $50.00 for a single brick with three lines or $75.00 for a double brick with six lines. All lines are limited to15 characters per line. For information call Memorial Committee Chairman Lew Perry at (864)574-5569 or (864)363-6558.