Published January 14, 2015
Col. Harold E. Fischer, an ace fighter pilot whose high-profile captivity became a symbol of heightened tensions between the U.S. and China at the end of the Korean War, has died. He was 83.
Fischer died April 30 after suffering complications from back surgery, his companion Tsai Lan Gerth said.
As a captain in the Air Force in April 1953, Fischer had shot down 10 MiGs in just 47 missions, making him an ace. He shot his eleventh on the day he crashed his Sabre Jet north of the Yalu River in enemy territory, The New York Times reported.
Fischer was discovered by Chinese soldiers and taken to a prison outside Mukden in Manchuria. He was kept in a solitary, stark cell at times and ordered not to move for long periods. In recounting his conditions, Fischer said he knew it could have been worse.
"I feel I was lucky to be a prisoner of the Chinese," he told Military History magazine. "They treat their prisoners the way they treat their troops, in the way they feed and house them. It was not the way the North Koreans did it."
With the exception of a brief escape, Fischer spent nearly two years in the prison before he and four other pilots were put on trial in Beijing on May 24, 1955, more than a year after the cease-fire had ended the war. They were found guilty of violating Chinese territory, and Fischer falsely confessed to participating in germ warfare.
The men were set free a week later. The release was seen as an attempt to easy tension between Communist China and the United States.
Fischer said he long regretted his false confession under the pressure of interrogation.
"I will regret what I did in that cell the rest of my life," he told Life magazine shortly after his release. "But let me say this: it was not really me — not Harold E. Fischer Jr. — who signed that paper. It was a mentality reduced to putty."
He received the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Cross, among many other decorations
Fischer was born in 1925 on a farm outside Lone Rock, Iowa. He is survived by three sons and a daughter.