FOREST CITY | Jerry Abrahamson was a POW for seven months in 1953 after his plane was shot down during the Korean War.
Although conditions in North Korean prison camps were not as brutal as they were earlier in the war, seven months was "long enough," said the 1950 Forest City High School graduate who now lives in California.
Abrahamson weighed around 150 pounds when he was taken prisoner. When he was released, he weighed just 118 pounds.
Abrahamson, 84, enlisted in the Air Force in 1951. After basic training in San Antonio, he was sent to Okinawa, Japan, in late 1952.
Abrahamson was the radio operator for a bomber crew that flew over North Korea.
On the very first mission he was on, the plane was shot down.
Except for a few bumps and bruises, Abrahamson was not hurt in the crash. However, it was late January and very cold.
"We weren't really properly dressed for it," he said.
The plane was shot down at 1 or 2 a.m. Abrahamson was captured in the afternoon of the following day.
After the crash he tried to walk either south or east toward the coast, but he knew the chances of getting out of North Korea without being captured were slim.
He said the area he was in was heavily populated and as a tall white man, "I stuck out like a sore thumb."
If you are going to be captured, you want it to be by a wealthy society because "poor people don't have enough for themselves, let alone prisoners," Abrahamson said.
He remembers eating a lot of rice. Sanitary conditions were poor and a lot of prisoners became ill.
"You just got well or you didn't," he said.
No one was shot or beaten in the camps he was in, but when POWs were transported from one prison to another, "we were in danger of being bombed by our own folks," Abrahamson said.
The POWs were released on Aug. 30, 1953.
Abrahamson said the release felt "outstanding."
They had a chance to finally get clean, change into decent clothes and eat the kind of food they were used to before being taken prisoner.
"We were all excited about that," he said.
When Abrahamson returned to the U.S., he went to Iowa State University. He graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.
After about a year and a half in Milwaukee, Abrahamson and his wife, Ella, moved to California in 1959. They have been there ever since.
Over the years Abrahamson, who lives in Glendale, has worked in the aerospace industry as well as for commercial electric companies.
The Abrahamsons have two children, one grandchild and one great-grandchild.
Abrahamson said serving in the Korean War was "a crash course in humanity."
When you grow up in a small town you don't "rub elbows" with a lot of different kinds of people like you do in the military, he said.
Being a POW exposed him to an entirely different culture, according to Abrahamson.
"I learned a lot about the world and the people in it," he said.