Carlos: A Tale of Survival
by J. L. Kunkle

Mr. J. L. Kunkle, nephew of Mr. Carlos Montoya who survived the Bataan Death March and forced labor at Niigata POW Camp 5-B, has just published a book on his uncle's life.

It chronicles not only what Mr. Montoya's endured as a POW during the war but also his long post-war struggle to come to terms with that painful experience. 

It took Mr. Kunkle four years to interview Mr. Montoya and then to do the necessary research. He spent another year to actually write the book. He wrote of Mr. Montoya,  "He is a living monument , not just of the war, and not just of the Bataan Death March, but a living monument to all of us."

from chapter XXIII, Paddlefoot and the Fall

(On one cold day in 1945, Carlos was severely beaten by "Paddlefoot," a sadistic Japanese guard, for failing to go back to work promptly after using the toilet.)

Whack! He splits Carlos' eyebrow open. Whack! He splits his ear. Whack! The stick comes down on the back of hid head, again creating a massive electric blue flash behind his eyes. The blows keep falling hard on his head and shoulders, and with growing panic. Carlos begins to realize why the guard isn't stopping: He's not stopping, because he's just getting started! This guard means to beat me to death!

from chapter XXVIII, Searching for Closure

Paddlefoot, his nation, had stolen Carlos' health, it had stolen his youth, it had stolen too many years of his life, and worse than that, it had stolen his dignity as a human being. As a POW back then, everything the Rising Sun did to him was through time coalesced in his mind into the image of one man-- Paddlefoot.

He had given his hatred a face.

from chapter XXX, The Past is gone

(Mr. Montoya went back to Niigata in 1972 determined to kill Paddlefoot. He stood on the Pier where he had been forced to work for the Rinko coal yard. )

I can still remember the absolute contempt in his eyes as he brought his stick around for another crack behind my ear. We were less than animals to him, you could tell. How many times did that bastard try to kill me?

But I survived anyway, and rhetorically speaking, how many times has he tried to kill me after the time when we won the war?


Even if he still lived, I could see that there would be absolutely no point in killing him now except for revenge. He was no longer a direct threat to me, and he hadnít been a threat to me since 1945.

It was important for me to hate him back then, the hate is what kept me alive.

But hate like that becomes so firmly embedded in your soul! How can I exorcise it if not by killing him?

Then again, is that hate so embedded as I think?

Perhaps Iíve come here to kill something else.

Some other part of my past, some other part of myself.

Since the end of the war, Iíve traveled and become successful. Iíve become a success in business, Iíve lived much longer than anyone thought was possible, and my mind has become much stronger through all my life experiences. I have conquered illness, I have conquered fear, I have mastered my life.

With all that, do I still need this hatred to sustain me? Why would I want to throw it all away now, washing it away with cold blood?

I donít have to do this, the search could stop here: the decision is up to me.

The decision is up to me.

A shift came over me then, and standing on that battered concrete pier, I suddenly realized, like a light dawning in the darkest place, like a revelation, that I could no longer have any satisfaction from killing Paddlefoot. Death and life are not so different sometimes, and I finally understood that there would be no satisfaction from the act nor purpose in it.
The past was done with me, I had moved on and shifted into the present.

And the future.                                                                         Rinko coal yard in the 30s
                                                                                                                    (photo courtesy: Gregory Hadley)

I could look forward to the future without being burdened with the past. It was suddenly obvious to me that I had banished the hatred of my old enemy a long time ago, but I had not taken the time to notice it. The burden of this vow to kill Paddlefoot was a burden that I could have shed at any time since the end of the war, but like a millstone, I had laboriously carried the hatred and its poisoning influence of my own free will. This man, this Paddlefoot, had long since become a symbol for all of my hatred of the Jap guards who had hurt me over three years and ten months during World War II. By killing one man, I had hoped to avenge the years of my torment; an accounting for the lost years that no amount of vengeance could ever return to me.

I believed that I could erase the past with a pistol shot, but the past never had any hold on me other than what I allowed it to. I had spent the years wallowing in hatred, but there was a better way all along. I needed only to choose to live my own life.

After all those years of anger, I had won through. I knew I was finally a free man.

Out on the jetty with tears in my eyes, nobody saw me as I threw the pistol into the bay. I did it because I was a free man; I wouldnít be needing it anymore.

Nodding to the crane operator as I walked out through the gate of the Rinko coal yard, I was feeling cleansed of a burden that up to that time I had not even known that I had carried. Free at last, I drove back to the hotel, back to Ophelia, back to life.  

Mr. Carlos Montoya (92) and Mr. Kunkle

Carlos: A Tale of Survival is available for purchase at:
To learn more about Mr. Montoya's POW experience:  Montoya

* Mr. Montoya passed away on August 24, 2010.