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Ferdinand McG. Sedgwick, former Korean-era prisoner of war and Bethlehem Steel worker, dies

Ferdinand Sedgwick was held prisoner in North Korea for nearly three years.
Ferdinand Sedgwick was held prisoner in North Korea for nearly three years.(HANDOUT)

Ferdinand McGlovin Sedgwick, a retired Bethlehem Steel worker who spent nearly three years in a North Korean prisoner-of-war camp, died of pneumonia Feb. 12 at Seasons Hospice at Franklin Square Medical Center. The Turner Station resident was 91.

Born in Chase, he was one of six children born to William Sedgwick, a carpenter, and his wife, Mary Emma Pitts. He was known as Freddy.

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“He attended the Bengies School and church in Chase,” said his daughter, Cordelia Sedgwick-Waters. “My father, he developed a strong work ethic when he was young and began working little odd jobs. He began working with his dad, the carpenter, on building the Anthony Theater in Turners Station.”

The movie theater was a popular community gathering place in the segregated African American neighborhood adjacent to Sparrows Point.

She said her father had an urge to see the world and enlisted in the Navy at age 17 in 1945. He was honorably discharged a year later.

He then began work at Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point. He started in the coke oven division and then transferred to the steel mill.

In 1948 he left the mill and joined the Army. He was assigned to Fort Dix in New Jersey and then was transferred to the Seattle, Washington. He was later placed in the 37th Infantry Company and the 558th Infantry Rifle Company and was was stationed in Nuremberg, Germany.

In August 1950 he was assigned to duty in an infantry division in Korea after the start of the Korean War.

He was captured along other United Nations units on Nov. 30, 1950, during a counterattack and became a prisoner of war. His capture was reported in The Sun in a front-page article, “53 from State on Prisoner List.”

In a memoir, Mr. Stedgwick said, "When the Chinese intervened in Korea November 30, 1950, they ambushed my troop and many of the other United Nations units. We were completely overrun because there were so many Chinese and Korean troops that they surrounded us before they could react.

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“There were so many enemy soldiers, we could not shoot them all,” he wrote. "I will never forget that day of my life. I was captured in North Korea near the Yalu River. When we were captured, the first thing that the enemy did was to separate us by our races and ethnicity.

"The Greeks were separated from the Turks. The American soldiers were separated by race. We all were treated very badly as prisoners of war.

“There was always a need for food and water. We were never given enough food to eat. Many of the guys were skin and bones. The enemy would often kick us around and poke us with their bayonets and threaten us that we would be the next to be buried. The conditions were inhumane.”

He described his time in captivity as “unbelievable [the] hardest years of my life.” He also said that "any of us had strong desires to live and I thank God that I had the will to remain alive, and believe me, it was extremely hard to do so, especially in the winter season.

“The weather was extremely cold all winter long,” he wrote.

He said that in July 1953 he and his fellow prisoners were told the war was over.

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“We thought the enemy were lying to us and trying to break our spirit,” he wrote. “But we were finally released as prisoners of war. I remember seeing the enemy heading North when were headed South to freedom.”

He said that he was not sent back to the United States immediately because he had to remain in hospitals until he got his strength back.

Word of his release was also covered in The Sun. The family learned the news via television. The news story said he had written 12 letters home in which he described conditions in captivity as “fine,” a state he disputed when he was allowed to speak freely.

“When I landed in California, it was so good to breathe free air once more,” he wrote. “I was then sent to Fort Meade in Maryland where I was finally honorably discharged from the U.S. Army.”

He said that as a former prisoner of war, he was later invited to the White House and the Pentagon.

“My father served his country valiantly,” said his daughter. “When he spoke of his time captured, he said it was horrible.”

Upon his return, he met his future wife, Dorothy Clash. They married on Dec. 6, 1954.

Mr. Sedgwick returned to work at Bethlehem Steel and retired nearly 30 years ago.

He kept a 30-foot boat at a pier near Turner Station and was an avid fisherman and enthusiastic crabber. He also hunted.

He was a reader and a devoted Orioles and Ravens fan. He enjoyed broadcast sports on CNN.

“If you were around Freddy, you could really see how much he loved his family,” said his daughter. “He was a generous and fun-loving guy and was always willing to help people.”

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Stephen’s African Methodist Episcopal Church at 1601 Old Eastern Ave. in Essex.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include two sons, Andre Sedgwick and Aubrey Sedgwick of Baltimore County; a brother, Langdon Sedgwick of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; a sister, Arlene Pullum of Baltimore County; a cousin, Bessie Russell of Baltimore County; seven grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren. His wife of 22 years died in 1976.

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