Local veteran, Korean War POW honored

Rocky Nimmons/Courier
Joined by Pickens County Veterans Affairs Officer Martha Dorset, Sen. Larry Martin presents Clemson resident William Herbert Funchess Jr. with the Korean Prisoner of War Medal on Monday.

By Jason Evans

Staff Reporter

PICKENS — A “true American hero” was recently recognized for his service and the hardships he endured while a prisoner of war during the Korean War.


Pickens County Veterans Affairs Officer Martha Dorset said Howard Metcalf, director of the South Carolina Division of Veterans’ Affairs, contacted VA offices around the state, asking that POWs be sought out so that they could be recognized.

Monday afternoon, Clemson resident William Herbert Funchess Jr. received the Korean Prisoner of War Medal from the State of South Carolina.

“He was so appreciative,” Dorset said. “He’s such a sweet guy.”

Funchess was a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry during the Korean War.

Funchess was captured on Nov. 4, 1950, and released on Sept. 6, 1953. Funchess spent 34 months as prisoner, first classified as a prisoner of war and then as a war criminal by his captors.

Funchess said he was falsely judged a war criminal after speaking out during a “Chinese political indoctrination” session. During that session, a mass grave was shown as “proof of the atrocities committed by the U.S. forces,” the men were told.

Funchess took action.

“I stood up and I yelled, ‘That’s a damn lie!’” he recalled. “’Those atrocities were committed by the North Koreans against the North Koreans.”

He was punished for speaking out.

“They grabbed me and took me out of camp,” Funchess said.

Funchess was forced to undress, then to stand at attention for several hours wearing nothing but a pair of shorts.

During that time, Chinese and North Korean officers went inside and held a show trial, declaring Funchess a war criminal.

Funchess and other POWs endured unimaginable hardships during their captivity.

“That first winter, we had no blankets,” he said. “We spent the winter in summer uniforms. There was no heat, no light, no warmth, no water.”

Funchess said 1,600 died that first winter in POW Camp Number Five.

“That number is almost unbelievable,” he said.

A further crime was committed against the dead — they were not buried, just placed on a hillside near the camp.

When Funchess was transferred to another camp, “the bodies were still there,” he said.

Sen. Larry Martin presented the medal to Funchess.

“It was both an honor and privilege for me to present the Prisoner of War medal to Mr. Funchess,” Martin said. “Mr. Funchess is a true American hero, having experienced the terrible conditions of 34 months of captivity during the Korean War.

“He embodies the highest ideals of bravery, sacrifice, and love of country. It meant a lot to me to have the opportunity to shake the hand of this fine man and to participate in this tribute.”