On July 4, 1950, Andy Shaw, Spirit Lake Nation, and his U.S. Army Third Battalion, 21st Regiment, 24th Infantry Division rushed from Japan to the Korean Peninsula after North Korea launched an invasion of the South. They were detailed with doing anything they could to slow the North Korean advance while allied forces could establish defensive positions.
"We were the closest to Korea," Shaw recently told USA Today. "They loaded us up, and we landed in Korea on the Fourth of July. And it was hot. We didn't have no backing or nothing. The South didn't have any army."
Days later, in the the Battle of Chochiwon, Shaw's battalion engaged the North Korean People's Army. During three days of intense fighting, the communist forces were hammered by the understrength U.S. units, slowing the invasion, but the overwhelming size of the North's infantry allowed them to capture the battle. They also captured some 200 hundred American soldiers from Shaw's regiment, he included.
The U.S. prisoners of war were brutally treated–and then it got worse. On October 31, a North Korean major nicknamed "the Tiger" took command of the camp. This officer took the POWs on a forced march over mountains and through the bitter winter conditions without rest, beating them regularly. If a soldier couldn't continue on, he was shot.
"It was just horrendous," said Lynnita Jean Brown, founder of the Korean War Educator, a website dedicated to American veterans who served Korea. "The Tiger had no humanity about him. He just killed to kill."
Of the approximately 850 POWs who were forced along the Tiger Death March, Shaw was one of only about 260 still alive when they were repatriated in 1953, an "independence day" of new significance.
According to USA Today, Shaw left Japan in 1948 weighing 155 pounds. He left prison weighing less than 90. One thing that strikes him today is how different the Chinese and North Korean prisoners looked when released. "They were all nice and fat. They got three meals a day."
Today, Shaw is one of the many Native American veterans who have honorably and heroically served a country that has not always treated them so well–to say the least.
USA Today's reporting on Shaw is part of their ongoing series Korean War 60 Years Later. From the ICTMN archives, read about another American Indian veteran of the Korean War: From Oklahoma to Korea: A Kiowa Story
“There is a camaraderie that transcends ethnicity when you serve your country overseas in wartime.” —Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne, Korean War Veteran