Cover

‘Shot down by my own guys’

JULIAN BELTRAME July 21 2003
Cover

‘Shot down by my own guys’

JULIAN BELTRAME July 21 2003

‘Shot down by my own guys’

Cover

Andy Mackenzie can mark to the hour when the Korean War ended for him—more than 16 months after it did for everyone else. A Second World War pilot who flew Spitfires over Europe—and was credited with 8½ kills— Mackenzie volunteered for Korea just for the experience of flying F-86 fighter jets. He did-

n’t get much. His exploits came to a quick end, during one of his first live-fire sorties over North Korea. “I spotted two MiGs and radioed, ‘Boss, I see something at five o’clock. Cover me.’ ” Unfortunately, the message was never received. “So when I went back to rejoin the squadron, they mistook me for a MiG and shot me down,” recalls Mackenzie, now 82. “I didn’t expect to be shot down by my own guys.”

Actually, it shouldn’t have come as too much of a shock to Mackenzie, who retired from the armed forces in 1966 and settled near Ottawa to farm. The only other time he was shot down was over France, seven days into the D-Day Allied invasion, when an American mistook him

and was captured by a squad of Korean and Chinese soldiers. It was 1 p.m. on Dec. 5,1952.

Mackenzie spent most of the next two years in solitary confinement in a Chinese prison. The experience was more harrowing than any he had encountered in combat. His captors interrogated him three times a day and repeatedly threatened his life. He was not physically beaten, but the meagre rations of cabbage soup and steamed rice took their toll. He went from 204 to 122 lb. The hardest part, he says, was the constant fear he would be killed. “You just sit there 24 hours a day and every time the door opens, you think that’s it.” He kept his sanity by reading Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables

and the entire works of Charles Dickens. “The Chinese liked writers who were critical of social conditions in the West,” he explains.

When the fighting formally stopped in July 1953, Mackenzie could see no end to his confinement. It was only through the intervention of Canadian diplomat Chester Ronning-who doggedly kept asking Chinese officials about the whereabouts of the only Canadian air force pilot shot down during the conflict-that he was eventually freed, Mackenzie says he was forced to sign a declaration that he had been shot down over Chinese territory. “It was a lie, but I’m sure I’d been shot if I didn’t sign.” Soon afterwards, he was released-on Dec. 5,1954, at ex-

actly 1 p.m. His captors may not have cared much about the truth, but they had an unerring sense of timing,

JULIAN BELTRAME