By 1950, Air Force pilot David MacGhee had already provided service "above and beyond the call" to his nation during 25 bomber runs in WWII. But like many veterans during that era, he returned to combat in the Korean War.
Captured in the early months of the conflict, MacGhee would spend almost three years in the prison system run by China and North Korea with assistance from their Soviet patrons.
What MacGhee and his fellow Americans endured is almost unthinkable: The guards "use(d) a pair of needle-nose pliers to curl my fingernails back in the manner similar to the opening of a can of sardines;" hung him from the rafters; squeezed his testicles until he passed out; pistol-whipped him; set his clothing on fire while he was tied down; and jammed him into into various icy holes.
Perhaps even worse, he witnessed the wide-spread death of his fellow Americans from torture, mistreatment and disease.
But throughout, MacGhee continued to resist to the best of his abilities. Along with the worst of human nature and the communist system, he saw the best in the bravery and sacrifice of his fellow American and Allied POWs (a number of other nations fought with America under the United Nations banner in Korea; for example, a British officer endured horrendous torture to cover for an escape attempt by MacGhee.)
The following statement by MacGhee to US officials after his return is among thousands of records we've reviewed in our investigation of Americans captured but never returned during the Korean War. On this Veterans Day, we thought we'd take a minute to honor those who did make it back and recognize the sacrifices they made, all through the eyes of David F. MacGhee.
After returning from Korea, MacGhee continued his service in the Air Force, retiring as a Colonel with decorations including the Distinguished Flying Cross. [We haven't been able to confirm it by press time, but it also appears he had a son who went on to become an Air Force general.] As this 1992 obituary describes, Col. MacGhee threw himself into volunteer work after his retirement. We wonder if the kids at his Little League games, or the networkers at the Kiwanis Club, had any idea that the nice older veteran in their group had prevailed against the circumstances below...