For 40 years, Alvin Wyman never spoke to anyone about being a Korean War POW and having to kill three men to make his escape. The first to hear his account was former President George H.W. Bush at the groundbreaking of the Korean War Memorial on June 14, 1992. Bush put his arm across Wyman’s shoulders, and talked about his experience in World War II, and Wyman shared his.
Today, Wyman, now 74 and a Sterling resident, said it was easier to talk to someone who had been through a similar occurrence. “I don’t like telling a lot of people. It’s like discussing pregnancy with someone who isn’t pregnant,” he said. “We all had a job to do and I did it. Just like in Iraq, you have to clear out those terrorists before they come here (to America).”
Bush, a Naval aviator, was shot down in World War II.
Wyman, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, was shot down in the Korean War in 1952. He flew an F-86 Sabre jet, earning him the nickname “Bear.” “I was flying the big bad bear. I had sharp teeth and a big bite,” he said, with a smile.
He was flying low over Korea when the Chinese shot off a piece of the jet’s wing. “I was flying a 189th mission over northeast Korea when ground fire caused me to be an uninvited guest of the Chinese communist soldiers for 15 days,” he recalled.
Wyman, then 22, crawled out of the plane, and was shot in the shin. He shot back, killing a Chinese soldier, before his capture. He was stripped and thrown into a hole of human waste up to his chin.
“They wanted me to sign a confession that I had dropped canisters of germs on hospitals and schools, which is a bald-faced lie. We don’t do that,” he said. “I refused.”
With every refusal, the enemy immersed him in the waste. The torturers pulled out one of his toenails, kicked him in the teeth and made him dig his own grave.
ONE NIGHT, two guards were asleep and Wyman managed to free his wrists, which had wire tied around them. He grabbed the knife away from a third guard. “I used it on him,” he said. “Then the other two woke up.”
He slit one of their throats while the other one jumped on his back and shoved a gun to his head. “I pushed my head against the barrel of the pistol,” he said. “A lot of things you do instinctively. It slid, and the heat and flame from the bullet took out my right eye.”
Wyman knifed that guard and escaped. He evaded the enemy, eventually hooking up with two Army soldiers who had become lost. Having flown over the territory, he led them south. “We found some of our guys on the ground,” he said.
Still naked, covered with feces and suffering from dysentery, Wyman took one of the dead soldier’s uniforms and a pair of boots. “I’m a size 11 boot. I took his size 12 boot,” he said, remembering how elated he felt to finally be able to protect his feet. “I had to put something on. … We’re not made to walk barefoot.”
Five days later, they ran into a U.S. Marine Corps patrol. Wyman would never forget that encounter. “I’m Captain Wyman and my men and I haven’t eaten or slept in five days.”
The commanding officer, in a tone of machismo, responded, “We don’t take care of women.”
Wyman, whose appearance failed to reveal he outranked the officer, remembered his response, “Who do you think was covering your … up there?”
“Here’s the rub,” said Wyman. “I’m standing there, and the next thing I know I have a piece of shrapnel in my gut.”
To this day, he has no idea whether the mortar came from the enemy or if it was friendly fire.
WYMAN WENT HOME for “repairs,” he said. He underwent abdominal surgery and received an eye transplant from a 28-year-old woman. Twelve years ago, he had a right knee replacement, and four years later, a left knee replacement. This year, he needed another right knee. He walks with a cane.
He earned two master of science degrees and a doctorate in International Finance and served as a financial manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Before retirement, he oversaw construction of a military city for King Khalid in Saudi Arabia.
The F-86 Sabre jet and the MiG 15 aircraft, flown by the enemy, are on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum near Dulles Washington International Airport. Wyman said he shot down four MiG 15 planes. He was invited to view both of them before the museum opened to the public. He also was offered a job as a guide, but with a chuckle, he said his knees would not cooperate.
Every year, Wyman pays tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives by participating in the laying of a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. A lieutenant commander of the Kena Shrine International Association Legions of Honor, he attends an annual convention that culminates in the wreath ceremony. On Nov. 6, about 350 Shriners participated in the event. In January, he will be inducted as commander of the group.
“That’s hallowed ground,” he said. “There are so many markers out there. There are too many markers. We’ve lost a lot of good people for freedom. Freedom is not free.”
Bob Elliott, a World War II veteran in Woodbridge, is the current Kena Shrine commander. He attended the ceremony, which generated memories. “It is very impressive. It means a lot to me,” he said. “I lost a brother in World War II.
“Every veteran, every serviceman should be remembered. It was not the easiest thing to live through.”
Elliott said a lot of people forget that the Korean War, in which “Bear” served, was actually a war. “We lost 50,000 people in that war.”
Roger Waller, a World War II veteran in Falls Church, also participates in the annual ceremony. Placing the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns is a solemn occasion, he said. “You realize how great our country is … but there’s a sacrifice to it. You appreciate that our country still observes Veterans Day.”