George Hook of Aiken was honored with a special cane honoring his service in the Korean War. (WRDW-TV / June 6, 2012
News 12 at First at Five / Wednesday, June 6, 2012
AIKEN, S.C. -- A cane presentation brought tears to George Hook's eyes. It's an eagle-head cane that was carved up by members of the Aiken Woodcarver's Club for a Purple Heart veteran.
"This is my pride and joy right here," said Hook, holding his ornately-carved cane.
It's an important memento to Hook, who's lived on his farm in Aiken his whole life. At 17 years old, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and then it was off to fight in the Korean War.
"It was a horrible thing, because everywhere you looked, it was dead people," he said of the war.
The most hellish scene was the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. As U.S. forces slowly defeated the North Koreans and pushed toward the Yalu River, a force of 150,000 Communist Chinese surprised them.
"It's just like stirring up a bunch of fire ants. That's just how the Chinese looked -- just like fire ants all over the hill," Hook said.
In the blistering below-zero temperatures, Hook suffered shrapnel to the leg. He found himself injured behind enemy lines as U.S. forces retreated, and he was captured by the enemy. The teenager was tortured, almost starved and infested with lice.
"They spit at us, they kicked us, they cussed us," he said.
Hook tried to escape three times but failed. Finally, almost three years after his capture, he was traded back to the United States.
"I woke up in Augusta, Ga. The next thing I know, my momma and dad and sister ... were there," said Hook, as he broke into tears. "I never thought I'd make it home. These tears come out of my eyes all the time."
Now, 80-year-old Hook has this cane to support him and the legacy of his service in the Korean War -- a war that's gone but never forgotten.
Hook was tortured repeatedly as a prisoner of war. His captors would stand him up straight with his nose to the wall for two days and two nights. If he moved at all, they'd stab his back with a bayonet.
He was tortured more than the others because the Koreans and Chinese wanted information from the Aiken man about an alleged atomic bomb plant in Aiken. Hook didn't know what they were talking about. He had no idea that the Savannah River Site was even being built back home in Aiken.