Bataan Death March survivor Glenn Frazier's testimony in the PBS documentary, The War, was watched by nearly 40 million Americans. Recently, he published a memoir, Hell's Guest, where he wrote about his POW story in detail.
Here are some excerpts from his book and our recent interview.
Near Execution in Osaka
One day I was marching with other prisoners through the streets of Osaka, returning form that day's work. It was bitterly cold and my hands became numb. I placed my lifeless hands into the pockets of my ragged pants. As I entered the camp gates, I noticed a Japanese guard pointing his finger at me, calling me to the attention of another guard. Later, in formation along with the other American POWs, I noticed the same guard pointing at me and walking in my direction. He instructed me to follow him. I really didn't think much about this at first.
I followed the guard into the camp commander's office with the interpreter walking beside me. I was ordered to come to attention and bow to the major, who was sitting at this desk. A few moments later, the interpreter came over to me and said, "You were marching down the road with your hands in your pockets, and that is not permitted for Japanese soldiers."
I replied, "I'm not a Japanese soldier. I'm a prisoner of war!" After hearing the major shout in Japanese to the interpreter, I was told in English by the interpreter, "The same rules apply to all POWs!" "I didn't know that," I answered. In a faint voice I told the interpreter, "Why don't they tell us their rules?" To myself I thought, if I knew al the rules I wouldn't break them.
The major screamed at the interpreter, who translated; "You are an American soldier and you do not march with hands in pockets!" I responded bluntly, "Let me know the regulations, and I will obey." The interpreter translated my answer for the major. With a shocked look on his face the major jumped out of his chair and whacked his clenched fist on top of the desk. I know now that I had really provoked him. By the manner in which he spoke to the translator, I could tell he wasn't thrilled by my attitude. He arose again quickly from his seat and walked toward me, and the guard made me bow once more.
The interpreter said, "The commander does not like your attitudes!" At that point, the major pulled his sword out and nicked my throat. I felt the blood streaming down my neck.
"Prisoner can be executed for disobeying orders!" the interpreter continued. All I could do was stand still with thoughts of terror running through my mind. I stared into the major's hateful eyes. I never took my eyes off him, not for a moment.
All of this, for just walking with my hands in my pockets. A strange feeling came over me, and I suddenly knew this was a very serious matter. The major yelled at the guard, "Take him outside! I do not want blood all over my floor!" I began walking out of the office, with the rifle point of the guard behind me pressing into my back.
He then ordered me to stop. I came to a complete halt, as instructed. I stood there waiting at attention for the next command, when I began thinking of and seeing myself buried in Japanese soil. My mind raced and I felt an imminent fear, but somehow I felt I had a fighting chance.
I heard the commander and interpreter coming out adjacent to where I was standing. As they were speaking back and forth in Japanese, all I could do was stand still. I was then ordered by the guard to bow one more time to the major.
"The major is going to execute you, so all of the men will know that breaking regulations won't be tolerated!" the interpreter announced. The major walked in front of me and pulled his sword out again and put it to my throat. They expected me to beg for mercy. The interpreter asked, "Do you have anything to say?"
"I guess," I told the interpreter, as I looked into the major's eyes. And then these words came to me, and to this day I have no idea where they came from.
"He can kill me, " I replied, "but he will not kill my spirit, and my spirit will lodge inside him and haunt him for the rest of his life!" I was asked by the translator to repeat what I had uttered. A terrifying feeling came over me instantly, and my blood flushed over my entire body, making me absolutely burn with horror.
I said, still staring into the major's eyes, "He can kill me but he will not kill my spirit and my spirit will lodge in his flesh for his entire life! The Americans are coming and any Japanese who kills an American without just cause will have their spirit haunt them forever!"
I did not grasp at first what I had actually said. I was prepared to dodge the sword if the major made a move to swing it at me. I watched his every move, never taking my eyes off of him. All of a sudden, a mysterious expression appeared on the major's face. Then, to my amazement, the major made three steps back and lowered his sword. I gazed up to the sky and said, "Thank you , Lord." This was the first time I had seen a Japanese soldier back off from an execution.
The major then ordered the guard to take me to the pit in the earth that was used for solitary confinement. The guard, with his weapon shoved into my back, thrust me towards the 5'x5'x5' hole in the ground. As the Japanese guard lifted the cover to the hole, I wasn't sure that this ordeal was finished. He motioned for me to get down inside. Looking down into the depths of that dark place, I tried to get in. I landed head first, face down, after being pushed or kicked by the guard. My face and neck were hurting badly as I wiped the tears from my eyes.
episode can be seen in the PBS documentary, "The War"
It was great being home, but everything that had happened to me was still roiling around inside me. It was like two people came home. One of them was the boy I had been and the one my family saw when hugged me and talked to me. The other was the man I had become, full of memories and feelings that I could not deal with. Things had happened so fast, and I had not been able to overcome the fear, the suffering, and the rage and pure hatred that I had inside me. When the war with Japan ended on September 2, 1945, I was a Japanese prisoner of war in a slave labor camp on the western coast of Japan about 500 miles by train from Tokyo.
That was just a few weeks ago. Now I was supposed to try to adjust to a life that for four years I never thought I would never live again. To my family and friends I was plain old Glenn Dowling Frazier, the soldier that was home again. But I knew I was no longer that person. My thoughts were often full, not of the freedom and love that surrounded me, but of the Bataan Death March, of the times that my body was so badly beaten and sick that I feared I would not live another night...
The horrors of the war were with me every day and night for the next twenty-nine to thirty years. At times, I wished I had never come home. I imagined how peaceful it would be to lie down in a quiet place and find the peace that only comes with death...
At times I would resort to drinking to try to forget my problem. It became impossible to tell anyone that my experiences in a war over 30 years ago were still haunting me. My body was telling me that something had to be done to end my problem, but when thoughts of resolving it came into my mind, I found it so strongly embedded in my beliefs that it was impossible to do anything about it. I was reaching the end of the rope.
Early one morning, about 2 a.m., I awoke from sleep, and before I really knew what was happening, I was kneeling by my bed praying to God. It was like an uncontrollable force working inside me, even giving me the words to say. In that prayer, I asked God to help me shake the curse that was controlling me.
I had asked my preacher at times about ways to get help and solve my problem, only to be told that I must forgive the Japanese. I said, "Oh no, I can't do that. They have never apologized to all of us, how can I do that?" And I continued to suffer.
But the force within me this night brought the tears. I cried my eyes out. Every thought that passed through my mind was like a voice inside me saying, "You must forgive everyone and everything that has hurt you. You must forgive the Japanese and forgive yourself for harboring this hate for so long. "
... I suffered many years of hatred for the Japanese as a whole, the Japan whole country, not realizing, taking the time to realize, that there were thousands of families, Japanese families and people like me, common people, that had nothing to do with the war, except to follow the instructions of the leaders at that time.
So I had hatred in my heart for the people that I didn't even know.
... I expressed some of these things to Ken Burns in person and
his representatives when they were talking about doing a documentary on World
War II. They wanted somebody that was in the Far East and the Philippines
in particular that was captured. I just happened to be at the right place
to meet the right people to be able to be selected to be interviewed. And
once they interviewed me and talked to me, Ken Burns said, "That's what we
... The treatment that we received was terrible, but can be understood now that I look back....
I walked six days and
seven nights without any water, without any food, without any sleep... I only
got a little bit of water on the fifth night by rain I caught in my hands...
I said in the documentary, "The Japanese have never apologized." Now, I did something to the Japanese people, soldiers, that I am not proud of during the war and while I was in their prison camps. And I would confess and ask them to forgive me. I have already asked God to forgive me.
All I would like to say is that I think it would involve a change in the way we look at each other if we could have some understanding. Let's put the war aside and say, "America, you made some mistakes, Japan you made some mistakes. Let's get together and say, 'we are sorry.'" And when it's done, I think we will get along a lot better. I think we will make a lot more progress and live better together.
... when he (An American soldier) was hurt and if he had any time to say
anything before he died, he retuned to family and God. He said, "Would you please
pray for me? Would you please tell my family what happened to me? Would you
please please find my son, my daughter, and then see they are all right? Please
do that for me? Would you pray for me?" They didn't die cussing.