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“72 Hours in Pyongyang: How We Exited Gulag”
US Veteran of Korean War Tells of Own Experience
Special Contribution
By Don E. Porter
N. Korean Gulag — A female North Korean soldier guards its notorious gulags of labour prison camp. Currently, an estimation of between 150,000 and 200,000 prisoners are detailed in numerous concentration camps scattered around the Communist country.

The story begins in 1994, when myself and trusty coaching partner Mickey D, got an invite to visit North Korea by their Softball Association.

The difficulties in just getting to North Korea almost gave us second thoughts but, nevertheless we made the journey, of course with stopover in Beijing, to secure the entry visa and at the time the only way to access North Korea.

Our arrival in Pyongyang was interesting to say the least, as on entry we were required to leave our cell phones and lap tops with the custom authorities and to be returned on exit?

We were met by our host and for the next 72 hours we were hosted and toasted and thought all was well, until we learned of a startling discovery which gave us slivers.

More of 72 Hours in Pyongyang coming!

Next: KIM IL Sung’s memorial — And concerns about exit.
The hotel we were taken to appeared to be a modern hotel but, there was no one in it except, several other guests and the rest were mostly security types, even at the breakfast the next morning, there were only several others aside from Mickey D and me and again, others mostly security types.

Oh, forgot, when got to my room and tried to call from house phone, I was told I was only allowed one outside call, that went to my wife, that so far, so good.

Plans had been made to visit the sports complex outside the city the second day but, we were told before that happened, we were invited to the memorial being held for the Dear Father, Kim Il Sung, who passed away several months prior to our arrival.

We were picked up at the hotel and as we proceeded to the memorial site, we noted there were very few private cars on the road aside for a few buses, very little traffic.

At the memorial site, as we drove up in the car we noted a very long line of people waiting outside, four abreast for almost several blocks or more.

We were ushered in immediately, taken to an upper level where we entered the rotunda and saw the Dear Leader lying in state, as we moved around to view him, my thoughts returned to who he actually was and what he had done to this country.

He of course masterminded the invasion of Southern Korea on June 26, 1950 (the local US time) with the direct help and support of the then Soviet Union. At that time they were main supplier of equipment and technical support in order to start the war.

As we finished the viewing, we were ushered in to another room where there was a desk and chair, I was asked to express my thoughts in writing of the Dear Leader, I did, being careful of what I put down.

As we exited, there were still people as far as we could see coming to the memorial. On the way back to the hotel, our interpreter had asked if I had been to his country before and told him no, I’m sure they knew I was there in 1952 but, there was no further discussion on that point.

Later in the day we were taken to the Sports Complex, where Coach Mickey D was to give a lecture and conduct clinics for the national Softball team and others. I was shown a Softball complex that was being built and was asked technical questions.

That evening there was a dinner held at the hotel hosted by the President of the National Olympic Committee, following a short reception and introductions, the dinner commenced, and during that time I asked my interpreter about our plans for departing the next day, he came back to me after conferring with someone and said that there were no seats on the flight, even though we had confirmed reservations.

I told the Olympic President that it was imperative that we return as scheduled, he said he would look in to it. He came back to me later in the evening and said there were no seats.

I became very concerned as to what was going on and told the President, that I had important commitments back home and had to leave as scheduled. If not, I told him, I would seek transportation by car and drive to the militarized zone. He was very uptight and advised that was not possible.

The next morning our interpreter told me that they had somehow found seats on our confirmed flight. I later asked him how that happened and he said in confidence, they removed several people from the flight.

Prior to leaving, we were taken on a short tour outside the city to the site of the original birthplace of the Dear Leader.

Afterwards we were then taken to the airport where we received our cell phones and lap tops. As we departed I said to Coach Mickey D, well so far, so good. Not so fast, in Beijing for a connecting flight, customs agents asked for our visas, we gave what had taken us to Pyongyang but, we were told that they were one-way visas, we had no way to confirm that as was Saturday and we could not contact the U.S. Embassy.

We said “need to catch connection”, nothing doing said the custom agent, I then asked “how much”, he said “US$500,” well with no alternative, my last five one hundred dollar bills were given up and we boarded our connection. Postscript on that, I complained later to the Chinese Olympic Committee, and received the five hundred dollars back.

We both finally returned home, and with the arbitrarily removal of persons from our flight, we might have ended up in their non-hospitable “gulag?”

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The above writer, Don E. Porter, the Korean War's American veteran, serves as contributing writer for The Seoul Times. He has been serving as president of the International Softball Federation (ISF) since 1987. He can be reached at






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