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Jills of K-8

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Donald Thomas

"Donald Thomas"

The date was January 14, 1951. The time about 8:30 in the morning. The 13th crew consisted of Captain Fred Rountree, Pilot, Lt. Donald Thomas, Navigator, and Sgt. Bernard Mitchell, gunner. The aircraft was #44-34351, Easy tail.

The crew had just made a low-level pass at about 300 feet over the airport in Pyongyang to check out the activity after an evening working the route between Sinanju and Pyongyang. The North Korean defenders at the airport were ready for them. Thomas said the bullets hitting the airplane sounded like someone had thrown a handful of gravel against the fuselage. Gunner Mitchell immediately reported the aircraft on fire.

Fred Rountree climbed the airplane to 700 feet and opened the bomb bay doors, advising Mitchell that he could bail out. There was no response from the gunner. Rountree prepared to bail out also but Thomas persuaded him to stay with the airplane until they were at least beyond the city, suggesting they try to make the coast beyond Chinampo where Thomas had heard there were Christians.

Rountree went with the plan. They were about a mile from the coast but they had stayed with the plane too long. The control cables burned through, he airplane went out of control and the gunner was advised to jump. He did not respond so he may have bailed back when the plane was over Pyongyang. The hatch was jettisoned, which brought a whoosh of flame into the cockpit from the nose tunnel, burning Thomas' helmet, hair and one glove. Rountree left the plane but Thomas, initially caught in his seat in the fire, began to pray. Then he was thrown from the cockpit, brushing the vertical fin as he went by.

Thomas' chute opened and he floated to the ground. He tried to relax for contact with the ground but the chute caught in a tree. Loosening the harness, he felt to the ground. He took inventory of what he had. He was well dressed with seven layers of clothing, including two sets of underwear, wool shirt and trousers, a wool flying suit, an electric flying suit, a bird cloth flying suit, and a great fleece-lined jacket and winter flying trousers. His feet were covered by two pairs of socks, GI shoes, wraparound electric boots, and finally large fleece-lined winter boots. Assessing his condition, he found his hair was burned, his right wrist evidently broken, and the skin on his left hand in shreds from the burns.

He had his "Blood Chit" - consisting of an Escape and Evasion kit - that contained a waterproof aerial map of Korea, a "pointee-talkie", consisting of phrases written in Korean with the English translation, and for trading: a watch, ball point pen, trinkets, and his own $10.46.

He could see his burning plane not far away but no sign of the pilot or gunner. He began to move westward keeping out of sight in a drainage ditch. He had not gone far when he saw two children staring down at him. They fled in opposite directions. He hurried on to the end of his drainage ditch, climbed out of it and found himself surrounded by about 15 Koreans. They pointed toward the burning plane and Thomas acknowledged it was his. Thomas proceeded on and one of the Koreans placed a fur cap on his burned bald head, which Thomas took as a gesture of friendship.

He approached a hut and learned that the Koreans were apprehensive but friendly. One of them bandaged his burned hands with a penicillin salve but the Koreans were very nervous. One of them said, "Kyongsong" (Seoul), Thomas acknowledged yes, and the Koreans took him out the door and pointed south. Fearful of being turned in, Thomas walked hurriedly west.

Reaching the coast Thomas found a levee and headed south, zigzagging through the rice paddies below the levee. About 1:00 PM he came upon a small village and gave it a wide berth as he moved around it. About half way around, a man, maybe a policeman, left one of the huts, aimed a rifle at Thomas from about 300 yards, and fired. Thomas continued south without acknowledging the bullet and the man, evidently satisfied that he had protected the village, went back into the hut.

Approaching evening he came upon a small cluster of huts. After observing it for a while he decided to make contact and knocked on the door. An old lady opened the door and Thomas held up his hands in a show of friendship. He showed her on his pointee-talkie the phrase; "I am a Christian". The woman indicated she could not read and called to another hut nearby. A boy of about 14 came.

Thomas showed the boy a 3 x 5 card with an American flag on the top from his E & E kit that said, "I am an American Aviator. Please help me and I will help you." The boy became very excited and ran back toward his house. While Thomas waited the woman served him a bowl of water. The boy returned with a half dozen other Koreans of all ages and in forceful terms indicated to Thomas that he was not welcome and pointed to the south.

Thomas was very frightened now because he saw they were evidently Communists and he headed rapidly south along the levee. After proceeding about a mile he heard a shout but didn't see anyone on the levee. Proceeding further, he heard more shouts and saw a man below the levee waving a black & white jacket and evidently pursuing him. Thomas waited and the man made a gesture of friendship. The Korean brought Thomas down below the levee and made a cross in the sand.

The Korean made Thomas walk back on the beach below the levee in the direction they had come while the Korean walked along the top. The ice was frozen about a mile out from the shore. They came upon a small sampan frozen in the ice and the Korean placed Thomas in the small cabin and left him for several hours.

After dark the Korean returned, and going via a roundabout way, took Thomas to his house where he met the Korean's family: wife, two sons and mother-in-law. Thomas was made welcome and fed a sumptuous - for the Koreans - feast. With difficulty, through some Japanese and sign language, Thomas and the family communicated an understanding that Thomas wanted to return to the south. The old Korean promised that he would help Thomas return to his side. As the evening wore on Thomas began to feel dizzy and feverish, and was made to understand that with his injuries and fever he was in no condition to travel, and there was danger of his being discovered by the military.

Thomas was given bedding and all the family went to sleep on the dirt floor, warmed by the chimney flue beneath the floor. Before dawn Thomas was awakened, given some medication for his fever, and being almost too ill to walk, was helped to a cave dug into the bank of the rice paddy about a half-mile from the house.

The cave, made by the Korean and his son while Thomas was on the boat, was about 6 1/2 feet in depth and three feet in diameter. Thomas was given a kerosene lamp, a blanket, a straw mat for the floor, a bowl of apples, a spoon and a bowl of rice. Thomas was made to understand he should not leave the cave and that the Korean would return that night.

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