U.S. Army 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 during the Korean War, KTLA sister station WTTV in Indianapolis reported.
“The pain was so intense that I couldn’t speak for several days,” said Layton, reading from a book he wrote about his experience. “I wish I could rip it from my memory out of my head, but even with shoes on I can still feel the pain."
Those memories haunt the 88-year-old Indiana man still.
“They were butchers,” Layton told WTTV. “They would slap you. They would hit you. They would punch you. They would kick you.”
He thought he was going to die. There was only one option for Layton and his co-prisoners to escape, he said.
“I had no alternative but to kill the guards," he said, reading from his book.
He survived, and so did dozens of others because of his heroism. He led a group of POWs into the fight for their lives; they got out and walked for some five hours before a plane spotted them and friendly forces picked them up.
“Taking somebody’s life is not a happy memory, and I felt tremendously guilty and carried that guilt a long, long, long time,” he told WTTV.
It took more than 60 years for Layton to share his story. No one knew, including his wife and children, until he wrote the book, "Escaped With Honor."
Today, the Purple Heart recipient lives in Noblesville, Indiana. He's been trying to 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. Everyone was bearded, filthy, so he never really saw there faces.
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.
WTTV has asked for help from the Department of Veterans Affairs and a Korean War veterans nonprofit, and is seeking to help spread Layton's story. If you'd like to help, share this story on social media.