Mike Dowe

U.S. POW during the Korean War

Mike Dowe graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1950 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He entered the Korean War at the age of 22 as an infantry platoon leader in the 19th Regiment in the U.S. Army’s 24th Division.

Dowe: The Korean War broke out while I was on my graduation trip. I went directly from graduation to the war.

On Nov. 2 of that year, the platoon he was leading advanced to the Yalu River in North Korea’s Sinuiju area bordering China. However, the platoon was forced to retreat to the Anju area of North Pyongan province in the face of an influx of Chinese troops.

Dowe: On the night of November 2 (1950), we received orders to take a forced march. We pushed north to a point to cover for a Republic of Korea division and were hit by the Chinese Communists over on the right side of the cave. So we were on the coast, and then the first cave was hit at Unsan.

Dowe, who became a prisoner of the Chinese Communist army, was transferred to a prisoner of war camp in Pyoktong, North Pyongan province, after a ‘death march.’

Dowe: It was very important to transport the wounded to the prisoner of war camp. Because whether it was a wounded person or someone else who fell behind, the Chinese Communist army would shoot that person in the back, and that would be the end of that person.

The prisoner of war camp where Dowe was imprisoned was a place where he lost his humanity, he said. He watched 400 of his fellow prisoners of war succumb to malnutrition or freeze to death that winter.

Dowe: The most painful thing was moving the dead out of the camp so that the corpses would not infect others. What was even worse was that the more people died, the more space there was in the camp. Previously, the space was so cramped that when one person turned over while laying down, everyone had to turn together. That was no longer necessary.”

Fortunately, he saw an opportunity to escape one day.

Dowe: There was a small hole at the edge of the camp where manure could be scooped up. This manure could be used as fertilizer. I went into it to escape. I rolled my body up as round as possible to fit through the hole. A few hundred meters from the camp, there was a group awaiting a prisoner exchange. So, I joined that group.

Dowe still retains the bowl and cup he took when he escaped from the camp. Even though 70 years have passed, he prays every night for his countrymen who did not return.

Dowe: I still pray every night for the comrades, troops and soldiers who fought alongside me. They’re in my prayers every night.

He is also working hard to let the world know about the good deeds of Father Emil Kapaun, the “Jesus of the Korean War.” Father Emil Kapaun served as a U.S. Army chaplain during the Korean War. While interned as a prisoner of war, he died while caring for allies and enemies alike in the camp.

Dowe: Everywhere Father Kapaun went, he showed everyone the spirit of cooperation and caring and shared his food. Father Kapaun influenced many people and played a big role in leading and sustaining people's lives.