New Hope UMC

funchess

When communist North Korea crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950, the 24th Infantry Division was stationed in Japan as a post-WWII occupying force. Due to their proximity, the 24th were among the first troops deployed to slow down the fast advancing North Korean army. Among their ranks was SC native 1st Lt. William “Bill” Funchess

In a matter of weeks, the North Koreans occupied almost the entire South with the exception of a small defensive position known as the Pusan Perimeter.  There, hastily assembled and primarily American troops – under the UN banner – stubbornly stood their ground.

By late September, the tide had turned.  Other UN forces, commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, mounted a daring amphibious invasion behind enemy lines.  Coupled with a successful breakout from Pusan, the overextended North Koreans were pushed back across the 38th parallel and as far as the Yalu River, its border with China. 

1st Lt. Bill Funchess was among the American and UN forces now rapidly moving north.  After fighting in Pyongyang, Funchess and his unit were ordered to set up defensive positions along the Chongchon River in the North Korean city of Anju.  What happened next was the beginning of a long, arduous, and personal nightmare.

On the morning of 4 November 1950, Funchess and approximately 25 other soldiers shockingly watched thousands of Chinese infantry cross the river. Unbeknownst to them, China had become spooked by the UN advance and consequently launched a surprise and massive counterattack 

Although specifically ordered not to engage, the Chinese left Funchess with little alternative. A bloody firefight ensued and the 1st Lt. was shot in the foot by machine gun fire. When the dust cleared, numerous Americans were dead and a badly wounded Funchess was a Chinese prisoner of war.

Over the next three years, Bill Funchess “lived” in a crowded muddy hut where he was subjected to subzero temperatures, severe physical and emotional abuse, sleep deprivation, rampant disease, and at times only snow for water.  Yet thanks to his strong faith, Funchess continued to endure.  He even helped comfort future Medal of Honor recipient Father Emil Kapaun, an ailing Army Chaplain who later died in a hospital prisoners called the “death house”.

After an armistice was signed in September of 1953, Bill Funchess was eventually released.  But only after a long and painful period of time wondering if he’d ever make it home.  Freedom from captivity, however, was not freedom from the emotional scars it left behind.  Indeed, it wasn’t until later in life – when Funchess wrote down his story and later penned a book – that he truly reconciled with his experience and found peace.  This book is an incredible journey of  the unbelievable horrors of a prison camp and the even more incredible strength and fortitude of the young man who survived it. 

Bill Funchess is a native Rowesvillian. He grew up in the house that still stands on Funchess road.  He graduated Clemson College in 1948, at which time he received a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the infantry. In 2002, he was awarded the Palmetto Cross, the highest award given by the South Carolina Military Department.  On April 18, 2016, he was awarded the South Carolina Prisoner of War Medal, presented by  the SC Governor's Office. 

You may order the book for $10, postage paid, from: Lt. Col. E. G. Sturgis South Carolina Military Department 1 National Guard Road TAG-DSO-Stop 42 Columbia, SC 29201-4766