Wings Clipped: A Redhawk Captured in Korea

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., USAF (Retired)
  • 142nd Wing/Historian's Office

Seventy years ago this summer, the guns went silent on the Korean Peninsula after three years of intense fighting as the Armistice took effect on July 27, 1953.   Although combat had ceased, a number of actions resulted from this - one of which was the repatriation of prisoners of war.  Of the 7, 140 American POWs held captive in northern Korea was an Oregon Air National Guard 123rd Fighter Squadron Redhawk pilot, 1st Lt. Orval H. Tandy.

Today, September 15, 2023 is National Prisoner of War / Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Recognition Day.  On this day, the 142nd Wing remembers and salutes 35 unit-related personnel who were POWs or MIAs in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.  This year we will examine the experience of this Redhawk pilot whose wings were clipped in Korea.


Orval H. Tandy was born in Eugene, Oregon on August 11, 1921, grew up in the Camas-Washougal, Washington area, and then was a resident of Multnomah County, Oregon.  A high school graduate, by the time World War II came he was married and a carpenter, when he first entered military service on November 4, 1942.  He later requested to become a pilot, and earned his wings and commission as an officer in 1944.  He did not serve overseas before the war ended.

After the war he was discharged and in 1946 joined the Oregon Air National Guard, which operated the famous North American P-51D Mustang fighter plane (redesignated as F-51D in 1948).  His home of record was then Camas, WA.


The outbreak of the Korean War surprised many, including Air National Guard members called up in the first true test of the capability of the enhanced force structure of this reserve component.  After the Chinese communist intervention in November, 1950, more help was needed and the Air National Guard answered the call.  Lt. Tandy entered active duty again when he and his squadron were called up on February 1, 1951.  The fighter pilots of the squadron internally “racked and stacked” their time in the service and experience to determine which ones would see combat over in Korea, and nine men were eventually sent overseas to augment existing USAF units.  See “They Waived Everything but Goodbye: Oregon Air National Guard in the Korean War” for an overview of how the Korean War affected the Oregon Air National Guard, here.

For Tandy and some others, that meant assignment to the 39th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, the “Cobra-in-the Clouds” squadron attached to the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing.  Although an air defense outfit by designation and pulled from occupation duty in Japan, the squadron flew the F-51D in combat in Korea, in a predominantly air-to ground role.  Coming from the 123rd Fighter Squadron which served mostly in air defense of the Pacific Northwest, Tandy and the others had to adapt to the war situation.  Most of the Oregon Air Guardsmen sent ultimately completed 100 combat missions and returned home.   More details of their experience in Korea are recounted in “Remembering Redhawk Fighter Pilots who sacrificed during the Forgotten Korean War” here.

Wings Clipped

But unlike his fellow Redhawks who reached the century mark, Tandy completed 56 and a half.  His final combat mission in Korea took place on September 5, 1951, an interdiction mission up near the Yalu River and the border with China.  He flew F-51D-30-NA serial number 44-74794 that fateful day.  On return to home base from the assigned target, his flight attacked a target of opportunity, a train, and unfortunately his aircraft was hit in the engine by enemy fire which forced him to bail out at only 1,000 feet in altitude.  Wounded by shrapnel (which later caused a leg infection), he landed on a small hill, with enemy troops in the area.

Tandy wore a summer flight suit and flying boots and only had his sidearm and a knife.  A Korean civilian happened along and took his parachute and some survival gear while he hid in a nearby ditch.  The rest of his flight overhead kept the enemy at bay for about 15 to 20 minutes before they had to leave due to low fuel.

Other United Nations pilots rallied to defend him in hopes of a rescue.  The South African Air Force’s Flying Cheetahs of No. 2 Squadron helped provide a rescue combat air patrol.  One of their pilots, Lieutenant Willem van den Bos, took a hit in the engine of his F-51D, serial number 44-74570, from enemy ground fire which emptied the coolant for the liquid-cooled engine, the bane of the Mustang in this kind of situation.

LT van den Bos’ engine eventually seized up and quit, and he was forced to crash-land in a stream bed in a lonely place about 75 miles west of Wonsan.  A successful search and rescue mission by a Navy helicopter based on a Japanese LST in Wonsan Harbor retrieved the South African pilot before the enemy could capture him. His and Tandy’s were two of five F-51Ds lost in Korean operations on September 5, 1951. 

But Tandy was out of luck in his individual circumstances and Chinese communist troops soon captured him.  He was force-marched for four days to the north Korean capital, Pyongyang, and a POW camp known as the Brickyard, where he was detained for over two months. 

Around Thanksgiving time, he was force marched again, this time for 14 days, up north to a POW camp up near the border with China.  For rations they had a watery cup of rice twice a day, and a baseball-sized ball of millet to eat while walking during the day.  Three prisoners died on the way, and the snow of the ground chilled the prisoners.  Tandy only had his summer flight suit and boots, but he was luckier than some who had no shoes although none of them had jackets.  They marched to a place up near the Yalu River.

Camp 2 – Pyoktong

A declassified Central Intelligence Agency information report titled “The Pyoktong POW Camp” described the camp as it was in February, 1953:  “…comprised of a United Nations POW camp in 20 grass-roofed houses and 10 stone houses…and a ROK army POW camp in 30 grass-roofed houses, 15 stone houses, and 5 Korean tile-roofed houses…” near Pyoktong (N 40-38, E 125-26, YF-0600).  About 1,000 prisoners were in the UN camp, mostly Americans, and about 2,000 in the ROK camp (200 officers, 1,600 enlisted men and 200 civilians).

Lt. Tandy and the other UN prisoners were guarded by 80 Chinese communist troops armed with automatic rifles, PPSh’s and older Imperial Japanese Army rifles.  Of note, the camp was not enclosed in barbed wire.  Instead, 17 guard posts surrounded it spaced 50 meters apart.  Thirty guards were present for duty and a three-man security team patrolled the camp twice in the day and hourly at night.  In the event of trouble, three rifle shots signaled for all guards to respond.

Around the time that Lt Tandy arrived in late-November, 1951, food conditions improved slightly.  UN POWs changed from 300 grams of soybeans and 300 grams of corn per day (ROK prisoners received 300 grams of millet and 300 of corn) to 700 grams of grain; wheat flour replaced the corn for UN POWs due to their poor digestion and malnutrition.  Every 15 days allotments of salt, turnips, radishes and dried vegetables were issued. 

Once a week, the prisoners gathered their own firewood for cooking from the surrounding mountainsides.  Their waking hours were mostly consumed with communist indoctrination, though every other day music and stag dancing parties were allowed.

At the time of the source’s report on the camp, no medical facilities were noted (Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Warrant Officer (WO) Ronald Guthrie reported that although there were some doctors were amongst the UN POWs, they had no equipment or medical supplies to treat anyone with).  On average, 130 prisoners became ill each day (50 UN and 80 ROK).  About four prisoners died each day, and the death rate for UN prisoners was about two-percent higher than the ROK POWs.  For UN prisoners, five percent suffered from typhoid, 80 percent had diarrhea and 15 percent some other ailment.  In comparison, ROK POWs had 10 percent typhoid, 70 percent diarrhea and 20 percent with other diseases.

Lt. Tandy was one of the 40 percent of POWs who still wore the clothing they were captured in.  The rest were given khaki-colored Chinese-made cotton clothes.  Straw sandals were the footwear for all.  The Chinese communists prohibited any contact between the UN and ROK prisoners.  Rapport between the Chinese guards and Korean POWs was rated as “good.”  However, UN captives and Chinese guards reportedly looked down on one another.

Lt Tandy endured this daily routine in the camp which was as follows:

0600 – reveille

0630 – roll call

0700 – breakfast

0800-1200 – indoctrination lessons

1200 – Lunch

1400-1500 – indoctrination lessons

1500-1700 – recreation

1700-1800 – free hour

1800 – dinner

1900 – self-criticism

2000-2200 – free hours

2200 – taps

The Chinese communists’ frequent indoctrination and self-criticism efforts paid them little dividend.  The report estimated that two-percent of UN POWs became communists, and from five-to-ten percent of ROK prisoners did so.

Lt. Tandy was not one to be converted.  In fact, he was singled out during one indoctrination session, as described by fellow UN POW, Royal Australian Air Force No. 77 Squadron Mustang pilot Warrant Officer Ronald D. Guthrie:

“The political Commissar was a fanatical Marxist who spoke reasonable English.  This young Chinese, intense of manner and small of stature, was Comrade Sun.  Typically, with the prisoners assembled in the lecture room, Sun would make his entrance, gazed disdainfully on the unruly student body and voice his high-pitched order “Keep silence!”  The boring routine would commence.  In spite of the most diligent effort of Ding, Sun, Wong and all of the Honshos, the daily dose of compulsory political lectures did not seem to be having the desired effect on the prisoners, many of whom liked to ‘play up’ during these sessions.  Guards were stationed around the room in an effort to maintain control but disruption was usually the order of the day.  An American officer named Orville (sic – Orval) Tandy, of “You on the end of the pipe fame’ fame, was arrested.  Orville had been carving chess pieces while sitting on the floor of the lecture room, hiding his activities behind the man in front.  He was marched off for “Dirtying the Peoples’ floor and not paying attention.”  The punishment for infractions was typically some time in solitary confinement in even more primitive conditions.  (Colin G.  King, Historical Anecdotes 77 Squadron RAAF In Korea 1950-1953)

His personal freedom wasn’t the only thing the Chinese communists deprived him of.  Connection to home and family was also denied.  During his first year in captivity, no letters from home made it in or out of the camp.  Back at home in Camas, Wash., Mrs. Dolores (Anderson) Tandy with her three small children knew that Lt. Tandy was alive as his picture was featured in a French communist newspaper.  Tandy eventually received seven or eight letters from home during his two years of confinement.  He sent six letters home, cut up badly by censors.


Tandy survived this run-in with camp authorities and slim connection home to be repatriated during Operation Big Switch on September 10, 1953.  He went into captivity weighing a healthy 170 pounds, and came out of it at 128 pounds, after some pre-armistice ‘plumping-up’ by the Chinese communists. 

The POW experience didn’t daunt him from continuing his military service, and he remained on active duty until he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel on June 30, 1972.  He passed away in Lakewood, WA on September 26, 2004 at the age of 83. 

On this National POW/MIA Recognition Day 2023, we remember former-POW Orval H. Tandy, and the other 142nd Wing-related POWs (22 from WWII and one from Vietnam) and MIAs (11, all from World War II).  May we remember and honor their service and sacrifice, and continue to seek an accounting for our missing.