Lansing vet worked with POWs here, in Korea

2014-06-09T10:15:00Z 2014-06-10T01:12:22Z Lansing vet worked with POWs here, in KoreaTimes Staff
June 09, 2014 10:15 am  • 

Gerhard Henning worked in a Lansing onion field as a youngster, alongside German prisoners of war, during World War II. That set the stage for his service during the Korean War.

Henning, 84, of Lansing, said the POWs working at that farm were from Field Marshal Erwin "Desert Fox" Rommel's Afrika Corps. Some were carpenters and built a barn for the farmer, Henning recalled. Others worked in the fields with Henning.

They were housed near Thornton in a site that would later become a Girl Scout camp.

After World War II ended, the German POWs went home. A few years later, in 1951, Henning was drafted to serve in the U.S. armed forces.

He took his draft notice to Chicago, where all the men lined up. Every other man took a step forward; the others to a step backward.

"The front row ended up being Marines; the back row ended up being Army," Henning recalled. Thus he was assigned to the Army.

When the clerk typing the orders asked where Henning wanted to go, Henning was surprised. "We recognized him. He was Calvin from from Lansing, Ill., and eventually became a banker."

That's why Henning was sent to quartermaster school in Fort Lee, Va.

When he arrived in Korea, however, Henning didn't serve as a quartermaster. He was assigned to POW Camp No. 2, the largest on the Korean mainland. His first night there, he was assigned to guard duty.

"As an MP (military policeman), I was given a grease gun," Henning said. It was a stubby gun that fed ammo through it on a long strip. Each "tape" held 75 rounds.

And after that? The sergeant tried to reassure Henning.

"He says, 'We'll be right behind you.' My one question was, how far behind us?"

At the POW camp, "It was a lot of hollering and chanting." The guards had to stay alert.

About two weeks later, Henning was freed of guard duty, after he was asked about his typing and shorthand skills.

"Shorthand, I was spotty at best. Typing, I was about 40 words a minute, and they said, 'OK, that's good enough for us,'" Henning said.

While he was there, Henning witnessed everyday life, shooting hundreds of images on his slide film.

Among his photos were street sweepers locked up in a supply depot. That has puzzled him.

"Now you have to remember all the (streets in) Korea at that time were clay," he said, so why a street sweeper?

He also photographed the women washing clothes in the river. Henning used cigarettes to pay for his laundry to be cleaned.

"The clothing looked pretty decent, considering they had to beat it to pieces on the rocks."

When the war was almost over, the South Korean government freed 26,000 prisoners, and they just walked away. That was unnerving for the GIs who had been guarding them.

"Each of us had an M1 rifle with one round in the chamber," Henning recalled.

Henning never had to fire his .45, which he always had to carry. He was lucky.

"I had some friends that never made it back," he said. "They had family, they had friends, but they never it made it back."

These days, it's usually referred to as the Korean War, but Congress never declared war on Korea.

"They called it a police action," Henning said, "but there are a lot of dead policemen over there."

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