Korean War Legacy Project

Ruth Powell (Wife of John Powell)


Ruth Powell was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1933. She is the wife of Korean War veteran and POW, John Powell, who served in the US Army in Korea from 1949-1953. She describes his struggles with PTSD, having experienced life in the Korean War as a POW. She explains that he received electric shock therapy as a means of treatment for his condition. She shares that his memory has become compromised and affected by the treatments he received.

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Dealing with PTSD after the War

Ruth Powell introduces herself as the wife of veteran, John Powell. She describes her husband's struggles with PTSD after returning from Korea. She comments on John Powell's experiences as a prisoner of war (POW), its effects on him, and the treatments he endured to aid and better his psychological state.

Tags: Chinese,Communists,Depression,Fear,Front lines,Personal Loss

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Electric Shock Therapy

Ruth Powell shares how her husband, John Powell, received electric shock therapy as a means of aiding his PTSD. She provides details regarding electric shock therapy, the process, and its intended purpose. She recalls the effects it had upon John Powell.

Tags: Depression,Home front,POW

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Forgotten Memories

Ruth Powell, wife of Korean War POW, John Powell, talks about the things that he remembers from the war. She explains that he has forgotten many experiences from his time spent in Korea. She shares that her husband's memory has been compromised as a result of his electric shock therapy.

Tags: Cold winters,Depression,Home front,Personal Loss,POW

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Video Transcript

Ruth Powell 4/24/33

Born in Boston, Mass.

I: And why are you here in Kentucky now?

Well, I am here because I am with the American Ex-Prisoners of War.

And my husband was a Korean POW, and so he does not travel. And I belong to the…I have three positions in the organization.

I: What organization?

American Ex-Prisoners of War.

So, I am the NSO Director-

I:  Director?


I: You’re in charge of everything?

Of all NSOs throughout the country. And then I have a position at, um, in the VA in Bedford Mass, and I am a Social Worker and I am the POW Coordinator

I: In the VA?

In the VA.

I:  Wow.

Every VA has a POW Coordinator and I am the one in Bedford, because I work there as a Social Worker.

I: Uh huh. And another position?

And in the American Ex-Prisoners of War I have a position as the Med Cert. Med. Cert.

I: What is that?

What we do is we look at all the problems of the POWs. And all of the presumptives.

Like PTSD and like ischemic heart disease.  There’s about 13 presumptives.  And so we look at each, we research to find out exactly what our POWs have suffered from. And so we do articles on them.  And that’s what I do.

I: Wow, this is very interesting. What is your husband’s name?

John Powell.

I: John Powell?


I: And could you tell me a little bit about him? When did he go to Korea and when was he captured?

He went to Korea in 49 was captured in 50 and got out in 56.

I: Wow.  Do you know where he was captured?

He was captured by the Chinese-

I: Chinese?

Yeah, Chinese in North Korea that’s when they came over the border

Surrounded the Americans and he was captured. It seems like Kunuri, that name seems to come into mind.  But, uh, anyway he was captured and he was in camp 3 and 5 in North

He was with the 2ndInfantry Division 82ndAA they call it the-

I: Armor Artillery?

82ndAir AC (anti-aircraft?), you know division

I: So can you explain about how he was captured and how he went through all these things.Do you know about the story?

Well, you’ve got to understand one thing with him, well, First of all when he came out of Korea he was suffering from PTSD. He was very depressed, very depressed.  He was young.

We got married and I used to take him to the VA. They had him on medication for depression.

I: When did you marry him?


I: Huh, so after he came out or then released as POW you married hm.

Yeah, I knew him.

I: Oh, you knew him before?

Yeah, he was, there was a crowd of us. We all hung together, and we all lived in the same neighborhood and so I knew him. And so when he came home, you know, he’d come over to visit my family and, you know, we started dating and he came out either September or October I think it was September and we were married in December.

I: Hmm.

Um, it was not, it was not easy.

I: From the beginning?

From the very beginning.  Up to a certain point when he threw away the medication and said “I’m fine,” and he’s been fine, well, he’s been fine ever since.  What I did was I took him to a private psychiatrist and he had 20 shock treatments.  Because the doctor said if he ever relives his experience in that prison camp he’s going to completely have a nervous breakdown and we don’t know what we can do for him.  So, they said the best thing to do it try to erase that from his mind and they gave him 20 shock treatments.  Well, that was fine. The shock treatments were great.  But, um, it made him forget all of his friends

I: Oh.

…that he was in the camp with.  He can’t remember one friend.

I: What kind of, what do you mean by “shock treatment”?

ECT.  You know what ECT is?

I:  I don’t know

Electric Shock Therapy. And it’s funny you don’t know what ECT is.


ECT.  Electric Shock Therapy. They do it, and they’re doing it today. They still do. They do it for schizophrenia, they do it for all kinds of mental illnesses. Yeah, most of your hospitals, the VAs do it. It’s, um, what they do is, they never, if I understand it, and I’ve never had it, but as I understand, they put electrodes on your head and they shock you.

I: Hm. Physically?

Yes. They shock you.

I:  Is it painful?

Some convulse but they never know it, because they knock them out basically.  And when they come out of it they can’t remember their address, their telephone numbers or anything.  That goes away very shortly after this.  And they might have headaches right after the therapy, um, and that goes away.  And then they seem to do much better.  They do a lot better after the therapy.

I: Better from PTSD?

Yeah, yeah.  He still has it.

I: Did he forget all the memories about his POW camp?

Just about.  He can remember little, little bits, little things.  He remembers marching. He remembers someone saving his life.  He remembers in the camp itself he remembers how cold it was. He remembers burying people.  He remembers uh, working in the, going to the Yalu River –

I:  Uh huh

And, uh, working there and he got water in his ears and they sent him to a “hospital,” sort of

and they ran wires into his ears and what they did was broke his ear drums so he still gets a certain percentage for that, and, um, but his ears are still bad.  He can’t fly.

I: But, so he remembered the fragments, but –

He does.

I: But what do you mean by “he forgot everything?”

He forgot his friends.  There’s a man that called us that saw his name in our bulletin and he called the house and he said “I’ve been looking for him.”  And I said, “Well, he’s in bed. You know, I’ll tell him when he gets up tomorrow morning that you were looking for him.”

And, um, he, um, said is it all right if I call him?

And I said “fine.”

So the next morning I told him that so and so had called him.  Al Conners was this man’s name.

And he said, “Well, who is he?”

And I said, “He was a friend of yours in the camp. You were very close.”

He said “I don’t know anyone by that name.’

I: So he remembers all this camp experience, how he was treated, what the weather was likeand he has some chronological memory, but he forgot only the names?

He forgot his friends.

I: Only friends?


I: But he remembers everything else?

He can’t tell you, he can’t tell you what the whole thing was.