A few days after the “change” it was rumored that we were going to be taken to another camp. It was a half-truth because only 80 of us were transferred. We called ourselves the “80 eight balls.” We walked to a train station and traveled westward. The next day we found a new home in Himeji on the Inland Sea, located about 90 miles west of Kobe.
Just by chance a large steel mill was situated about two miles away. The 80 of us seemed to be doing fairly well as the fate POWs in those days. We were put to work on ships bring in coal or limestone. We did as little as possible and had managed to fool the Japanese laborers (coolies, if you will) that it was not necessary to break your back to keep our keepers off our back. They could not understand how we could spend so much time getting so very little accomplished. They started to adopt our working methods to the disappoint their foreman. Little did we know that this “party” was to come to an early end; the Nips were building a larger camp at the other side of town. Soon we were moved into the new camp where we were joined by some 320 soldiers from the Corregidor-Philippine area. Our numbers consisted of over 400 U.S. sailors, marines, and army men.
Our guard force here was larger and took on a pattern. We were guarded by two groups – the good guys and the bad guys. They change with us on alternate days. The good guys were called names such as Fatso, Dopey, Kitten Texas Slim, etc. The bad guys had names such as The Bull, The Green Dragon, Whiskey, Syphilis, etc. The good guys had an attitude of live and let live; the bad guys spend their days trying to find a reason to whale the daylights out of someone.
During our time at the first camp at Himeji, we had the visit of a company clinic for medical care. Surprisingly, we received medical care during this period. The Japanese were keen on giving shots usually put the needle into our chests instead of our arms. During this period, except for the continual loss of weight, we remained as a group in pretty good health. Our food consisted of a thin slice of bread and a bowl of rice. We managed to swipe food aboard the ships to add to our diet almost on a daily basis. This too would come to an end.
Subsequent to our combining at the new camp the care at the company clinic ceased. With the big group was an Army doctor. The fact he was not a medical doctor did not matter; he performed an emergency appendectomy on an army man in the hull of a ship while en route Japan – the men had confidence in him. He was provided a two bed sickbay, but not much medicine was provided. When shot time came, the Japs brought in their own medical team for that purpose. When several of us suffered from beriberi it became mandatory to receive vitamin B-1. They insisted that if we were to be given this vitamin we had to take it in the spine and not the arm. The doctor strongly protested as he drained the spinal fluid and mixes it with the vitamin. I received about five such shots.
Even though we were forced to work in driving rain and freezing winter, we were permitted to wash in the cold water each night. The event of the winter was the occasional hot baths we could take. Not permitted much time in the water, a couple of minutes in hot water during a bitterly cold winter was a Godsend experience that was favorable to a man’s morale.
At the commencement of the war I weight 183 lbs., admittedly a little pudgy for me. I kept a chart of my weight until June of 1943 when I weighed 109 lbs. At the time the scales on which I weighed myself no longer was available to me. I do not know if I finally slipped below 100 lbs. or not, but I believe I did during the winter of 1943. At my first weighed in after the war I tipped the scales at 130 lbs, but this came several days after I gouged myself with food.
The remainder of the war was spent at this camp. Punishment by our captors was both individual and in mass. Nonetheless, I think they learned that it was a mistake to punish everyone for the wrong doing of an individual. That is, they held that mass punishment would result in someone informing on the culprit or that the wrongdoer would admit to the act to keep others from being punished. I clearly remember standing at attention from about 6:00 PM until 2:00 AM the following morning, dressed only in trousers and a tee shirt, the temperature in the 20’s on February 15. It was my birthday. Someone had stolen some food; the guards had shaken down the barracks twice and had no clues; they waited for someone to inform on the thief. The longer we stood out there in the cold, the closer bound the group became. Our attitude became very stubborn – “If those bastards think we can’t stand here all night like this, we will show them we can.” Unfortunately, about two o’clock they found evidence that pinned the offense on one fellow. They broke the ice in a large barrel which held water for the putting out of fires, stripped the man and dunked him in and out many times before they dispersed us and sent us into the barracks to sleep. What a night that was!
If you can call putting a garden hose in a man’s mouth and turning on the water torture, I have witnessed it. If hitting a man about the body with a baseball bat is torture, I have seen it. If stretching a man backwards on a ladder supported in the air by barrels with his legs bent back under a rung and beating the top of his thighs torture, I have witnessed this too. On each occasion the man treated was probably guilty of some offense, but was this type punishment necessary. A minor punishment was being socked in the face by the fists of one or several guards. While this treatment did not occur every day, it did happen all too often. On the other hand, it must be admitted that we did commit deeds that were not permitted.
It should be understood that too many American POWs committed offenses against another POW. The offense most often occurring was that of stealing. Food, soap, cigarettes were the items most taken. This was never reported to the Japanese because such an offense meant going before a military tribunal and execution was the penalty. Our senior enlisted man in response to the urging of the majority of POWs conducted a “Captain’s Mast,” so to speak, on those who felt it necessary to steel from their “shipmates.” Punishment was awarded in various ways – theses wrongdoings could not go unpunished – anything we would do would be better than letting the Japanese have jurisdiction.
In regards to our receiving news of the progress of the war. After our arrival in Japan the Japanese lost no time in letting us view motion pictures of the Pearl Harbor attack. Long before the American people witnessed authentic pictures we eye-balled action shots taken from the attacking planes – we realized they were not phony, contrived action shots for our benefit. For about nine months we were permitted to read the English version of the “Mainichi,” a Japanese daily newspaper. Although the reports were highly dramatized for the consumption of the homeland population, during these early months of the war, it wasn’t necessary to mislead the people. Let’s face it, they were doing great and so were the other members of the Axis. Nonetheless, it was difficult to believe that Japanese pilots were making “kills” on our planes by throwing their emergency rice balls at our pilots, hitting them and knocking them unconscious which resulted in our planes crashing. I am sure that elephants did not greet the Japanese soldiers on the sand of various islands by trumpeting and rolling with glee on the sands of the beaches. I am sure that the Japanese did not bomb our submarine base in Denver and sink our battleship Alaska. These things they reported to their people.