Even after they discontinued the English version of the paper, we were able to glean information of the war from the Japanese editions. They included many maps and we could figure out the Katakana place names throughout the world and get an idea of what they were telling their population.
It was necessary for us to head for the bomb shelter very often; they (the Americans) burned down a town near us and ship arrivals were fewer and fewer – you know the war was not going in their favor. After about three years, the average Japanese was not eating much better than we – certainly they were not on a self programmed diet. It was just a case of how long and how it was to be accomplished. Would the Nips capitulate, or would our forces have to land and take over?
The answer to whether our treatment was conditional on the progress of the war must be answered Yes and No. I honestly believe that our treatment was based on the physical, emotional, and physiological condition of our Japanese camp Commander. I don’t believe that Tokyo had too much to say about it, although they undoubtedly laid down certain rules, they never checked out if they were being obeyed. The yearly inspections by the International Red Cross were laughable. The Red Cross was not to blame – we had great respect for that white-haired Swiss Rid Cross official who tried hard to do it right. I don’t really believe the Nips fooled him, nor do I know what he reported. In reality the Red Cross cannot dictate to a nation on a wartime footing as to how an inspection will be conducted. They see exactly what they are permitted to see. In our case, they did not see many of the POWs, as most of us were away from the camp during the inspections. They looked at our barracks, the freshly provisioned kitchens, the sickbay, etc. but did not see the prisoners or talk privately with them.
On the day the Emperor spoke to the nation we were hurried from work back to camp and we worked not no more. We were not told the war was over and it was several days before Gen. MacArthur spoke over the radio. I did not hear his address. The guards just disappeared one day and our senior man told us that it was over. He had heard MacArthur and warned us that we were to remain calm and not cause incidents. We remained at our camp until we were orderly put aboard trains and taken to Tokyo.
To digress for a moment, I think it was noon, 1 August 1945 when the Great One spoke to his nation and informed them of the outcome of the war effort. A few days later MacArthur’s talk was heard. On 9 September we were visited by an Army (U.S.) car which brought about 4 or 5 person who took all our names, numbers and addresses and told us to sit tight. A few days later U.S. transportation dropped food to us and we gorged ourselves despite the written warnings which were included with the food. A few days later we boarded a train to Tokyo, but before we did, we gave the medicine which was dropped with the food to the local doctor for use on the population. He was very appreciative.
Our arrival in Tokyo was a tremendous experience. We were placed in U.S. Army trucks, each truck had a beautiful American nurse aboard. If holes could pierce, she was no better off than a sieve. We were taken to the docks where warehouses had been readied for our arrival. We stripped off our clothing and walked through halls fashioned with canvas from one room to another. We were soaped, weighed, examined, questioned and provided articles of clothing. We went immediately to the mess hall and provided a feast. The ship’s crew just stood around and gasped at our accomplishments. It was understood that they had not eat butter and meat for days, on a voluntarily basis, just to make sure there was enough for us. They could not believe what they were seeing – that a man could eat so much at a single seating. It was a great night for all, but especially for we POWs.
We were told we would fly back to the U.S. The weather was not altogether cooperative. In my case, as with many others, we were shifted to the U.S.S. West Virginia in Tokyo Bay. After a day or two, we were put aboard a transport the U.S.S. Hyde which indicated that we were to stay aboard it and steam home. The men on the West Virginia thought it was a good omen for us to be aboard – that it meant they would head for home. Now the men of the Hyde thought the same. However, after two days aboard the Hyde, the weather cleared and many of us were taken ashore, placed aboard Navy transport planes and flown to Guam. Another examination and soon we took off for Honolulu where we were again examined at Tripler Hospital. A day or so later we took off and arrived in the United States at Oak Knoll in Oakland, Calif. It had been early in December, 1939 when I had departed the United States on the U.S.S. Henderson. I left San Francisco steaming under the Golden Gate Bridge – this time October, 1945 I returned flying over it and landed at Alameda Naval Air Station at the edge of San Francisco Bay.
No crowds met us; no microphones were pushed into our faces to speak to the nation; no photographers were there to catch us kissing the earth as we left the aircraft. We did have the ever loving care of the U.S. Navy transporting us to the hospital and seeing after our every wish. The Red Cross was there to get us to a phone so that we could call long distance to our love ones. No fanfare – just earnest assistance given to us by people with wet eyes. They were as happy as we – all along the line from Tokyo to Oakland.
A quick transfer to my hometown San Diego, a leisurely 3-4 weeks in the hospital with daily liberty, then 90 days rehabilitation leave after which I returned to active duty.
Well Pat, the foregoing is a thumbnail sketch. I’ll read it over and make a few scratches here and there. Actually each paragraph could be sketched into many chapters. If all of the POWs had the capability to adequately express themselves each could write a lengthy book and not all would be the same. They would all conclude and say, “I wouldn’t do it again for a million bucks, but I wouldn’t take a million for the experience either.”
A few years have passed and there has been many hundreds of Americans POWs in Korea and Vietnam. In WWII there were POWs in Europe. Although many of the experiences were similar, there were many, many differences. My worst days and experiences may not have been as rough as those of others in their best days. Who is to say? It depends on the individual and his makeup. I witnessed men cry out during a certain punishment when others did not utter a sound in a like experience. I witnessed those who would not fall while still conscious and other fall after the first blow was struck. A man not ten feet from me said after a day of work, “I could just roll over and die” – then did just that.
The Japanese were not bent on changing our ideology. Never did they try to school us into accepting their beliefs. They did try to make us believe that the war could last ten to one hundred years. They did say that if we remained in Japan more than seven years and became good citizens we could marry a Japanese girl and settle down to a good life there. There were opportunities to become an informer, to work in their behalf during the war and for doing so one could be provided better food, quarters and female companionship. But I know of no one who was coerced into such endeavors and I know of no one who took them up on their offers.
Immediately after the war I harbored no ill feeling toward the Japanese people. As a matter-of-fact I had to admire and respect the individual. I never felt that the Emperor was a wicked man. It was my feeling that certain high-ranking persons in the government and military became the real ruling faction and eased Hirohito into a position from which he could not retreat.
When one takes time to consider that he is a POW; that his people are killing the kin of those who guard you; that your people just burned down the city adjacent to the locale where you are being held, yet the treatment remains as it had been (rough it may be, but it can always get worse) can be believe that his captors are fanatic, inhuman beings? Yes, there were times that our treatment changed for the worse, but not always because the war was going badly. We had two very bad weeks as a result of our letting our captors know that we felt they were liars and thieves. We thought they were and we let them know it. I still believe those particular individual were liars and they were stealing from us. It just was not and intelligent move on our part to let them know how we felt if we were concerned about their treatment of us. It helped our morale to let them know and hurt our morale to experience the result. If they respected us more because of it, it was worth it!
When we departed our barracks for Tokyo at wars end, we carried a dozen or so white boxes containing the ashes of POWs who died that last year. Many thought that when Spring arrived 6 to 8 months hence, that many more boxes would be carried home. Three years and nine months is a long, long time under such conditions and the health and wellbeing of many was showing wear and decline.
I am sorry Pat that I can’t spend more time and be more detailed. I have an examination coming up on Saturday for Clerk on the Superior Court and I must study. I don’t feel I can let this letter wait because with every passing day I am sure your deadline nears and your fuse gets shorter. I hope this material gives you something to work with in preparation for your discussion.
When you see your Dad and Mom, please don’t tell them how badly my typewriter operates or how monotonously I rambled on – just give them my very best regards. I often wonder if I ever sent them a card of thanks for being good hosts when I last visited Pensacola.
Good luck to you in your endeavors.
10 December 2021 at 16:02
A very interesting account from the POW aspect and experience. Thank you Mario for providing this to us!.
13 December 2021 at 22:07
Very interesting account. Thank you for making this available, Mario!