NOBLESVILLE, Ind.-- Sgt. Charles Layton was 6,000 miles from home and 21 years old when he became a prisoner of war.
In the early 1950s, he spent four months in captivity in the bitter cold, suffering daily beatings.
“The pain was so intense,” said Layton. “I couldn’t speak for several days. I wish I could rip it from my memory out of my head. Even with shoes on I can still feel the pain."
The memories, now 65 years old, haunt him still.
“I knew I had to do it for us to escape. I had no alternative but to kill the guards," he said. “Taking somebody’s life is not a happy memory, and I felt tremendously guilty and carried that guilt a long, long, long time.”
He thought he was going to die.
“They were butchers,” Layton told CBS4. “They would slap you. They would hit you. They would punch you. They would kick you.”
He survived and so did dozens of others, because of his heroism. He led a group of POWs into the fight for their lives.
“When the guards came on duty and got warm and they were intoxicated we made a noise at the back guard. And he came in and we took him down,” said Layton.
It took more than 60 years for the hero to share the story. No one knew, including his wife and children, until he wrote it in his book.
Today, the Purple Heart recipient lives in Noblesville. Unfortunately, he can't find the heroes he helped escape captivity.
“My goal has been to try to find somebody that was with me, and I have been unsuccessful,” he said.
He knows there were 36 others. Two of them were French, but he didn't know anyone's names.
“The guys that I was with, I never saw a face because we were bearded, dirty, filthy,” he said.
He’s worried this mission to find his friends could fail.
“I want to hug ‘em. I would be pleased as punch to find one. I’m 88. What are my chances?” he asked.
Layton’s wife and friends are concerned they’re running out of time.
CBS4 hasn't found a lot of help for situations like this. We’ve called the V.A. and a Korean War veterans non-profit to put out word for his compatriots with no luck.
Here are some essential components of the story:
- Layton was captured early November 1951 and held until late February 1952
- He was approximately 12 miles north of the 38th Parallel
- Layton served with the 22nd Ranger Battalion and was with both the 2nd Infantry Division and 7th Division
- Friendly forces picked up Layton and the others after an L-19 airplane spotted them; he doesn't know how far they walked but said the walk lasted about five hours
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