From the Stars and Stripes archives
'It seems like a dream,' happy Dean says
General worked math problems as diversion
FREEDOM VILLAGE, Sept. 5 — The Communists' prize prisoner returned to freedom yesterday in a tailor-made suit and a dream.
Ruddy, white-haired Maj. Gen. William F. Dean rumbled through freedom's portals gawking wistfully at the first Americans he had seen in more than three years.
"It seems like a dream," he told jammed-up batches of newsmen who pressed hard under blazing floodlights to hear and relay his story to an anxious world.
"IT IS GOOD to see so many fellow citizens." the returnee said, his voice crackling with good humor. "You all look better to me than I do to you I am sure."
Beads of sweat popped out on his dusty face as the Medal of Honor winner told a story which began with a bloody battle and ended in a peaceful villa in North Korea.
His 24th Division was splintered at Taejon in July, 1950, by a dozen North Korean divisions. On the 21st he was separated from his unit "on the wrong side of the line." After more than a month of frantic cat-and-mouse episodes the general, wounded and weak, fell into Communist hands.
"I WAS TAKEN to a local jail about the size of a kitchen table and that's where I made my most terrible mistake." he continued. "I took my boots off because of a foot infection." That apparently gave the Red "home guards" ideas as they stole the shoes end replaced them with paper-soled Korean sneakers.
"I had to tie a rope around my instep to keep them on, it was then I lost my two big toes and toenails," Dean said.
Clutching a blue prison cap in one hand and a direct hookup mike to his home state of California with the other, Dean spun a tale of relentless interrogation and threats during the early days of captivity.
"AT PYONGYANG they questioned me at great length. The big thing they wanted: What U.S. long-range aims were in the Far East. They also asked me about secret weapons and plans of maneuver but I was never beaten."
For 68 hours without a break the two-star general was grilled by rotating platoons of interpreters. "At the time," he said, "it hurt me to sit down. I was very thin and had to sit on top of my hands until they just puffed up."
Dean suffered through 44 sleepless hours of interrogation and accusation the second go-around and 32 hours the third and last time. "They were going to punish me as a war criminal for my activities as military governor of South Korea," he said.
CHARGED WITH interference of Korean elections and suppression of activities on Chejudo before the war, the officer stated that it was not until October, 1950, that the questioning ceased. After that his treatment ranged from indifference to respectful attention.
"I was in custody of the Koreans the entire time." he chortled. "From three to nine guards with rank equivalent to a master sergeant were on me all the time. I was addressed for the last three years with only one command — an outspoken 'You' — in a very loud tone of voice."
DEAN SAID his guards were "very friendly. They were a nice bunch of boys." He shared his food with them which was sumptuous compared to what the Communists themselves received. "In June of 1952 a Korean officer who visited me regularly told me that Kim II Sung had agreed with all the camp commanders to make a study to see how they could better conditions for PWs."
The husky-voiced repatriate said he ate meat and butter and cookies from Rumania. But the other PWs did not fare as well. "They wanted me to be well-fed," he smiled. "I split it with the guards because when you get to be a grandfather you do not need as much."
ASKED WHAT he did to keep himself busy during the long, weary months and years the freed hero replied, "I worked out small math problems in my mind — just to keep from going nuts."
He explained that the guards could not understand the necessity for exercise — either physical or mental. He was forced to sit most of the day in his cell and solve some problems without benefit of a pencil. "It was then, too, that I thought "about all the errors I made at Taejon."
Dean became adept at squaring numbers in his head for mental stimulation. "Each day I would square about 500 figures between 1 and 1,000. I can do it much better now than on paper," he added.
"I am also pretty well read on communism," he said jokingly, having had access to nothing but Marx, Engels, Lenin and talk of Communist newsmen. The journalists briefed him on the truce talks and furnished him with cheese and "excellent beer."
Dean also paid tribute to U.S. news agencies who got letters and photos of his wife and children through to him.