- Associated Press - Monday, March 20, 2017

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Cletys Nordin turned 18 in the midst of World War II and registered for the draft. He wanted to join the war like every other guy he knew, but they wouldn’t take him then.

“They said I had a bad stomach, and I couldn’t survive on army food,” Nordin said. “I was kind of a real skinny kid.”

In 1948, a year into the Cold War with Soviet operations escalating in the Korean Peninsula, they changed their mind.

Nordin’s military career took him to Texas, Arkansas, California and then, finally, the Korean War, the Tulsa World (https://bit.ly/2mO9qQf ) reported. There, he remembers facing near-constant firefights, the last of which landed him in a Chinese POW camp.

He spent 966 days in the camp, living in a small shack, subsisting on boiled millet and surviving sub-zero temperatures. All the while, he was running secret counterintelligence missions against Chinese attempts to indoctrinate prisoners with communist philosophies.

It seems he had the stomach for the Army after all.

Muskogee farm boy turns G.I.

Nordin grew up on a farm in Muskogee. His dad was an alcoholic, riddled with crippling arthritis. Nordin had to leave school early to help on the farm. He left for good in ninth grade.

But by 15, he’d had enough of working for 75 cents a day and decided to go to California for better work.

To pay for the trip, Nordin’s dad sold a family calf.

He arrived in California with $1.67 and no clue what to do next. He remembers sitting, mulling his circumstances in front of a grocery store near Weedpatch, California.

“About this time, I’m sitting there sweating it out, and I have a little suitcase with me with clean underwear and all that stuff, and a big old Greyhound bus pulled up.”

The driver said they were looking for firefighters to battle a big forest fire. They paid $24 a day. Nordin got on the bus and spent 21 days and nights fighting the fire.

“I had more money than I’d every seen in my life,” he said.

Nordin spent a few more months in California, working the harvests. He eventually went back to Oklahoma, but would return once a year to pick fruit, he said.

That’s how life went until 1943 when Nordin turned 18 and registered for the draft.

The draft board never called, and, anxious to join, Nordin went to the local board to ask what he needed to do for them to take him. Their answer: Learn to weld.

He did, and they still didn’t want him.

In 1948, they finally called and asked him to come to Oklahoma City for a physical.

“So I went and passed like a light,” he said.

He went through basic training and leadership school and after about two years, with fewer stripes on his sleeves than he thought he deserved, he transferred into the reserves and moved back to Oklahoma, where he worked for Skelly Oil Co.

In 1950, Nordin was reactivated for service and took another physical. Officials told him not to worry about being sent overseas. If he was called, which they said wasn’t likely, he’d have at least three weeks to organize his affairs.

“Two days later I got another set of orders special delivery. I had to be on the train that night at 10 o’clock for Fort Hood, Texas,” Nordin said. “Thirty days later I was in Anchi, South Korea, fighting the North Koreans.”

Nearly seven decades later, Nordin can still feel the night he was captured: The hiss of shrapnel landing inches from him and melting the snow as he and others, forgotten on a mountainside after the rest of their outfit had gotten orders to retreat, ran for their lives.

The clank of his metal helmet bouncing on ice when he slipped and fell on a frozen rice paddy at the bottom of the mountain he and his men had just descended, as they scrambling from the Chinese forces, who were mounting a New Year’s Eve attack.

The deafening cacophony of tracer bullets passing near his ears as he and his combat buddy, then 16-year-old Sgt. Lloyd Pate, carried a wounded G.I., burned from the recent mortar attack, across yet another rice paddy.

The feeling of wonderment as he, aware he may soon die or be captured, pulled the pin on an incendiary grenade and watched as his recoilless rifle melted into a pool in the snow.

Better that way than in enemy hands.

The words an English-speaking Chinese officer, who appeared, as Nordin remembers it, from the bushes and told them they were prisoners of war: “The war’s over for you.”

Nordin and 1,000 others marched nearly the length of North Korea to reach Camp Pyoktong, situated near the Yalu River that divides North Korea and China.

There, Nordin slept in a small, square shack with about 30 other men. Temperatures often dropped below zero.

“You couldn’t lay on your back. You had to lay on your side like this all the way around, with your feet in the middle,” Nordin said. “Then you wake up every morning, and you have a dead guy on each side of you.”

Nordin learned a few tricks during his days as a POW. Among them, it’s better to deflate the reported number of dead from your shack each morning. That way you get their chow.

While the first months of Nordin’s stay in the camp were characterized by regular beatings and burying dozens of dead G.I.s, in the summer of 1951 conditions changed as military officials began peace talks.

The prisoners began to receive more “lenient” treatment, and opposing forces began attempts to indoctrinate the American soldiers with communist philosophy.

As part of those efforts, Chinese officials would allow soldiers to write so-called atrocity articles in exchange for extra food. The articles typically consisted of a soldier’s graphic account of a war crime and were sent to communist newspapers in the United States, Nordin said.

Pate and Nordin decided that needed to stop.

Nordin acted as a “progressive,” someone sympathetic to the communist philosophies, to gain the Chinese official’s trust and entrance to headquarters.

It worked.

“They brought me books that Lenin had written on the subject, and I studied them, and to tell you the truth, the way it’s written, it’s a beautiful form of government, but logically it just flat won’t work,” Nordin said. “But I never did tell the instructor that.”

After the war ended, many in the camp suspected Nordin of collaborating with the enemy, and they turned him in to military officials. If Pate hadn’t survived to corroborate Nordin’s story, the officials might have believed them, Nordin said.

In 1955 the truth was revealed inside a courtroom in Brooklyn, New York, where Sgt. James C. Gallagher was on trial for murdering other captives at the POW camp and collaborating. Nordin was brought in to testify for the prosecution.

Nordin estimates his testimony totaled 40 hours. He was in Brooklyn for a month, outlining his and Pate’s secret plan to upset the indoctrination program and other intelligence he gathered inside Chinese military headquarters, including the extent to which American G.I.s colluded with enemy officials.

Soon, Nordin’s story was in the news. “Local G.I. acts as counterspy at a POW camp,” he said.

His cover was blown.

In his retelling of the day in an issue of Cavalier magazine, Nordin said an ex-prisoner of war came up to him after the trial and apologized for turning him in.

“I’d waited a long time to hear those sweet words from my buddies,” Nordin wrote.

Nordin now lives in Tulsa with his wife, Linda. The two met at the urging of Nordin’s mother soon after he returned from North Korea.


Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com

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