George Francis
(1919--1999)
Born: Los Angeles, CA

- US Marine Corp, 4th Marines Band
- Corregidor, Camp Cabanatuan,  Taga Maru
Niigata 5-B camp



First Lieutenant George Francis was a prisoner of war of the Japanese during World War II. After being stationed in China as a member of the Marines Band, he arrived in the Philippines in early December of 1941, just days before the war broke out. In May 1942, Mr. Francis was among 13,000 American and Filipino soldiers who were surrendered to the Japanese on Corregidor. In the fall of 1943, he was sent to Niigata camp 5-B where he would be forced to work for the remainder of the war.

Although interned at one of the worst POW camps in Japan (101 out of some 800 POWs died in Niigata camp 5-B), Mr. Francis did not lose his love for music and literature. Some of his diary entries during his captivity in Niigata survived the war. He also wrote many poems during and after the war. In 1997, his son, Robert Francis, helped him publish those writings.  The Edge: http://www.fourthmarinesband.com/francis.htm)

Mr. George Francis passed away in 1999.




4th Marines Band - Shanghai, 1941  (Mr. Francis fifth from right)
 

Mr. Robert Francis on his POW father  

What kind of a father was he?   

He was strict, a very strong personality. He use to say that our relationship was like a two way street.  We found out that he owned both sides.              

Did he talk about his POW experience with his children?  

Yes he did.  Usually we were present when he talked to other adults about the war.       

How did you observe your father dealing with the memories of his POW years?   

Usually with alcohol.  He was proud to have been a Marine.  He could cry when talking about dead comrades.  My Mom, when she was first married to Dad, said that when they were stationed in Quantico they would meet up with the other ex-POWs.  And as they were drinking, laughed at how they would eat frogs that were around the latrines.  My Mom could not understand this sense of humor.  I told Mom that if they did not make a joke of those experiences that they would cry.  It was the only way that they could deal with the horrors.

You commissioned that your father’s wartime letters, diary entries, poems and recollections on his POW years to be compiled into a book.   Why did you want to do that?  

I heard these stories all my life that Dad had written several stories of his experiences from China to the Philippines to Japan. I felt that Dad needed to put these stories together not only for himself, but for family and friends.  Dad had an experience with adventure and history that we should know about. 

What did your father think about your effort to record his POW experience and the book that resulted from it?   

He was happy that I was interested enough to finance it.  But thought that I pushed him too hard in getting all the info out of him. 


From the Diary of George Francis

April 26, 1945

“I cannot call this small book a diary. I have no desire to record dismal events in their passage during the week, rather, I would like to make this a record of my mental progressions, my reactions to the matters that seriously take hold of and involve my thinking. Moreover, I hope through these jottings to learn more of myself - of both the good things and the bad - and to profit by what I have learned."

May 2, 1945


“Problem: How many times I have formed an idea to completion in my mind warmly imbued with its possibilities. Only to "step-down" to work on it finding myself with the hard realism of technique and approach -- my pen paralyzed and the ink frozen in the well."

"I find myself captivated more everyday in my study of words. To me a fascinating employment from other things and which gives me endless hours of pleasure."

"I do not believe I have any right to condemn my fellow man for any of his actions or opinions without full knowledge of him, his environment, his influences -- without compassion for these mortals that surround me."

"I am ambitious to perfect myself in whatever way I can but mostly to live in peace with my fellow man."

"I believe most of the things I treasure are those which I have stored up in my mind -- the art, the strains of music that have so stirred me in the past -- the beauty I have found."

"First I believe sincerity closely bound with truth must be the basic essentials upon which all things of value are built. It is important to develop moral courage that will survive even the sternest test."


May 17, 1945


"I haven't been in the mood to write for the last few days. Prison camp life is prone to produce a mental lethargy that at times is extremely difficult to shake. Everything becomes a cycle of endless repetition. All the books are read. All the arguments proved and disproved -- many times. The news - what we get of it - is the only salvation, especially now when freedom seems so close."
 

                                                                                  Niigata camp 5-B (after liberation)

"I turn toward home, toward my mother and my sister even though they just seem a part of a dim and distant past. I really long just for the freedom to walk alone, to lie down and look at the great, glorious sun, to know I am absolutely free. Then to make my mind work to absorb the knowledge. I want to gather around me the things I value most -- I guess it's the eternal quest for happiness."

"I would like to take a moment to think about the many friends I have made here -- the wise, the lovely, the noble minded. These memories can never be taken from me. They are a possession for all time. They have made my life so much richer."

May 23, 1945

"Good manners is such an important thing. Certainly without them we are crude, boorish. I have never been more conscious of them than here in prison camp. They mark the individual so definitely. Politeness alone doesn't stand for good manners. Rather it goes into tact, gentleness, understanding. Most of the people I value most have these qualities to a marked degree."

June 12, 1945

"After nearly seven years away from home I have come to regard America in an entirely different light. The things that represent America now seem synthetic, devoid of real value. The entire materialistic social structure seems to be plunging toward a vain, foolhardy goal. It seems to be a huge structure built on greed and personal selfishness. Wealth as symbolized by a new car, a refrigerator and such is the last of my desires. I have no desire to return to the small circle of thought that seems so typical."

June 16, 1945

"I posed an interesting question to myself the other day. I think it is a question each of us should ask ourselves at least once a year; "Are you a prisoner?" Realizing, of course, that each of us is always a 'prisoner' within a certain circle of thought. The question certainly is the first step toward drawing up list of things we consider of primary value."

July 5, 1945

"To my mother and my sister I wish to express the deep wealth of love I hold for both of them. Never could I write of all the things I have come to know of and beauty, of the wealth of richness I would like to share with them."

August 17, 1945

"These are glorious days. The war is over and I should be tremendously happy. This is the goal of three of the hardest years I have spent or ever hope to spend. Yet, I have a sense of complete loss -- a vacant empty feeling as if I were a child in a deep and unknown forest. The return to normal life faces me and some of it I have no desire to return to."

"My hope is to eliminate some of those things I find so intolerable. I look forward now only to a few friends, the books to read, the music to hear, to the intellectual advancement I desire so much. In those I hope to find happiness. I quest only to live peacefully. I want nothing of rashness or violence. Maybe I am growing old. I have seen so much in these three years."

"I believe I have learned much of my fellow man and much more importantly, a great deal about myself. I do not believe life can ever again be drab or dull. There is so much of the world and of other minds to explore. There is no hard, fast rule, no set axioms for living."

"To sum up: I look forward to living but with my gentleness where loyalty, courage, sincerity, tolerance would govern life."

August 18, 1945

"What have I evolved to in three years of prison life? In three years of misery and hardship? I know what it means to be hungry, to be thirsty, to be cold, to be sick without medicine, to face death without the hand of a friend. I know my fellow man stripped of his veneer, naked with his emotions, his greed, his lusts. I know that this animal has only a thin skin and that underneath he can be as cruel and vicious as any primordial animal."

"I believe now that I possess true tolerance; that knowing my fellow man I can make allowances and see the mirror of him in myself. I know now that I do possess loyalty, some courage, and that I have endeavored to be sincere. Although, I also know I have fallen short in other things. I find myself wanting to direct my life to a better purpose. And, I hope even in a small way to make a contribution to those things of lasting prominence -- of true prominence."
 


This poem was inspired by a remark the late Lt. General Lewis A. (Chesty) Puller of the USMC made to me during my visit to the Amphibious Training Center in Imperial Beach, California.

General Puller was one of the most highly-decorated officers in Marine Corp history. I took offense at the General’s suggestion that my service with the 4th Marines on Bataan and Corregidor during WWII was all rest and no fight. This angered me and despite the difference in our ranks, I informed him of the fate of the China Marines during the dark days of war. I survived 40 months as a POW to tell my story to the general.


"The Edge"

Dedicated to the late Lt. General Lewis A. (Chesty) Puller, USMC

I wondered when I saw him,
if the legend befit this smallish man,
if his balding pate and graying hair
matched the ribbons and hid a lion’s heart.

He spoke softly, welcoming me
and offered me a seat
and then, with just the flicker
of a smile across those acrid lips,
asked me where I’d served before.

I answered quickly, with just the slightest
quiver in my voice, Fourth Marines, sir
Bataan and Corregidor

His eyes lit up as he swung
his swivel chair around.
“Fourth Marines, you say?
You rested son.
There was no war for you.”

My eyes flushed red, I felt the surge
of anger fill my throat and gut
and weaken my knees.

I guess I should have hesitated
and stopped the rush of words —
stopped and hid the hurt in me,
and look away and say, “Yes, sir.”

“General,” I said instead,
“I know your record, bravery too,
some of your ribbons and battle stars
may be happenstance,
but there are too many there for
none to tell the truth.”

The Fourth Marines has its story too,
of bravery and the will to fight.
Your hymn and mine play just the same.
But one thing, sir, we did not know then
the fleet was gone, and hope its vantage perch.

Those days were cruel, all sun and sweat
and short supply.
The edge of death and us upon its brink
in battles fought against overwhelming odds,
and the delirium of dengue fever
and malaria
and crippling jungle rot.

And then the agony of hell itself
with bayonets and hard forced marches,
for men already sick and close to death.
“March on, march on,” they said,
The graves are empty yet.”

The world became a barbed wire fence,
bamboo towers, sticks and bayonets.
Cramped bowels and dirty pants,
and cold, cold corpses dead of dysentery.
A chaplain there would prove to no avail.

And when we thought we could accommodate,
we found our bodies swollen with Beri-Beri,
our mouths burned raw with Mariner’s Disease
while Pellagra scorched our arms and legs

Forty long months, sir, and no rest camps
along the way.
No tears for thousands dead nor
whimpering
along the road.
We came closer then, learned to help
each other and ourselves, as well.
We thought God’s face shone among us
and it would always be that way.

The death ships came and we sailed away
listening hard for sonar pings from
holds of iron and bamboo mats.
We held our breath and waited for that
thundering crash to come.
We knew we stood up on the edge,
the only edge that mattered, sir,
the edge of death, of course.

In the prison camps of old Japan
the rains and snows came first.
Just cold, no heat, no food.
“Chisai Hako,” small boxes, sir,
for those ashes no one would ever see.

It was no honor to hurt their cause.
Accidents that should never happen,
railroad cars that lost their wheels
and guards who slipped and fell from
trestles.

Those of us who come home from war
are full of memories.
I can’t count myself among the brave
but where I was not, braver men endured.
To leave our dead was the hardest task of all.

“I like to think, sir, that all of us have
somewhere a most sacred shrine
where we
break the bread and proffer wine
for those of us we left behind.”

The old man, his ribbons and battle stars
glistening on his pouter chest,
rose from his chair and with
measured gait moved from his desk
and grasped my hand and said,
“Son, I apologize. I didn’t mean
what I said before and promise you
I’ll never say it again.”

 



First Lieutenant George Francis was honored on Veteran's Day, 1995