Larry Casilac, a 90-year-old Korean War vet and longtime Pacifica resident, passed away in January. I did a feature story for the Pacifica Tribune back in 2006. I thought his story of surviving a POW camp is worth a second visit to honor this fine patriot.
He was a 17-year-old kid when he entered the Army back in 1946. Casilac had left an abusive father to enter the armed services in hopes of a better life. Little did he know that the United States would enter into a “police action” in Korea to stop Communist aggression by North Korea into South Korea. In November of 1950, his Second Infantry Division found itself chasing what it thought were remnants of the North Korean Army back across the 38th Parallel.
He was assigned to a four-man bazooka team to hunt out Russian T34 tanks. On one patrol, Larry recalls his team set up an ambush in the bend in the road. The tank fired back with its machine gun and killed three of Casilac’s fellow soldiers.
At this point of the war, Communist Red China started sending masses of troops across the Yalu River bordering China and Korea. In Larry's final patrol, they were sent out on a night recon mission to detect enemy troop strength. Their unit was overrun causing mass casualties and disorientation. Casilac was shot in the leg and was by himself. He felt arms grab him, and he passed out from pain in his leg. When he awoke, he saw, to his horror, that the troops who grabbed him were Chinese Communists. He and his fellow captives were being marched into the cold mountains of North Korea. For the next three years, Casilac endured brutal torture, brainwashing, mock executions and bitter cold. He lived in a pit in the ground with steel bars covering the opening.
Finally, he was released in a prisoner exchange in 1953. Basically, the enemy had given up trying to extract information from him. Shortly thereafter Larry returned stateside, got a job and tried to become a productive member of society.
Unfortunately, post-traumatic stress syndrome was not recognized in those days. Casilac was subject to electroshock therapy in the 1950s with the hope that it would end his horrible nightmares. Fortunately, he met his wife, Kathy, who got him checked into Letterman Hospital in San Francisco. While there, he got beneficial therapy that he so badly needed. Still, after 50 years, he had his episodes.
In his older age, Casilac and his wife were regulars at Fog City cafe where he was known as “Colonel.” Larry always wore his old Army jacket with too many citations to count.