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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 24, 2003

Former POW marks 50 years of freedom

By James Gonser
Advertiser Staff Writer

Fifty years ago, Army Cpl. Richard K. Makua was a prisoner in North Korea even though a July 27, 1953 armistice had declared a truce in the Korean War.

Richard Makua hugs his wife, Ann, on the 50th anniversary celebration of his release from a prisoner-of-war camp following the Korean War. Yesterday's surprise party was at the Mid-Pacific Country Club in Kailua.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Makua was held after the armistice because his Communist guards were punishing him for planning an escape. Makua, a former Waikiki beach boy, was forced to spend three months of his two years as a prisoner of war in a 5-foot-deep dirt hole covered by a metal grate. Makua said it was his stubbornness that helped him survive the ordeal.

"We got beaten," Makua said. "The North Koreans were smart. They hit me with bamboo sticks behind the legs where it wouldn't leave scars."

To celebrate Makua's 50 years of freedom, about 100 of his friends and family members and 14 other former prisoners of war threw him a surprise party at Mid-Pacific Country Club in Lanikai.

U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye also attended.

Now 73, Makua bears little resemblance to the underweight GI released from prison on Sept. 2, 1953. His white hair stands out against his dark Hawaiian complexion. Wearing white pants and shoes, an aloha shirt and maile lei, Makua was quick to tease the friends who tricked him into coming to the event.

Makua was told his h?nai son, Scott "Scotty" Clark, who is a major in the Marine Corps Reserve and an Aloha Airlines pilot, was being promoted to lieutenant colonel, and he was needed for the official ceremony.

Inside the clubhouse, seeing old newspaper stories about his safe return 50 years ago, Makua knew he had been tricked.

"He teases everyone all the time," said Jackie Young, who has been a neighbor for more than a decade. Young, who called Makua an "Archie Bunker" type with a gruff exterior and a heart of gold, said it was good to fool him for a change.

Makua and his wife, Ann, have been married 49 years. They bought their Lanikai home in 1958 for $13,500. They have four grown children and six grandchildren.

Every year, Makua and other former POWs get together to talk about their experiences, which he says is a special bond.

"When I first got back I was angry and I still have hatred for North Korea," Makua said. "You can't understand what is was like to be a POW if you didn't go through it."

Navy Capt. Dr. Mike Holtel lives nearby and said Makua adopts military people in the area, treating them like family and inviting them into his home.

"He looks after us and helps whoever he can," Holtel said. "My cousin was a POW, and they talked to each other for a long time. They understand."

Marine Lt. Col. Sean Killeen, who lived next to Makua when he was stationed in Hawai'i, flew in from California for the event. He remembers talking war stories all night long with the Korean War vet.

"The first thing he wanted when he was released was a gallon of ice cream and a steak," Killeen said. "The Red Cross brought it, but he couldn't eat it. He just cried. They started to take it away and he stopped them."

Yesterday Makua was served a steak and a gallon of chocolate ice cream again.

"This time I'm going to eat it," Makua said.

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.