Samuel Lawrence Heisinger
Born: Selma, CA

- US Army, Judge Advocate General
Davao Penal Colony, Oryoku Maru, Enoura Maru

Father Found-a son's search for his dead father

Duane Heisinger

I know my father from childhood memories. I was ten when he left for a one-year volunteer Army service in the Philippines. My research, travel and old family pictures have added to my early memories. All of this helped me to better know my father—and what took place in his life during those days in World War II before his death while a Japanese prisoner of war.

I started my journey of research in 1992, after my three daughters were married and I had retired from my professional life. As I look back I had many questions to answer. I wanted to know why my father left California where he was a successful lawyer and where he had a loving wife and family of three young sons, leaving to serve our country overseas in the spring of 1941—eight months before war with Japan in December.

I wanted to know the person my father was, his character, his dreams and visions. He was not a young man, yet he went. I sought details of his wartime involvements while on Bataan and Corregidor in 1942. Who were his friends and how critical was that during the day-to-day events of over three years a Japanese prisoner? I wanted to know what really took place on his final and horrific ship journey north towards Japan in December 1944 and January 1945—onboard one of the Hell Ships as they were called. I later discovered that almost 4,000 Americans died on these transporting ships stuffed into the holds with many dying from these conditions, but also from American submarine attacks and aircraft of these unmarked ships late in the war.

I wanted to know the circumstances of the sinking of the ship he was on, the Oryoku Maru in Philippine waters and the later transfer to a second ship. I desired information about friends who were near him as he lingered and then died, ill with severe dysentery, hunger, thirst and cerebral malaria, but with no relief and medications. Death came to my father within the upper hold of the Enoura Maru four days after the bombing in Takao Harbor. His body was removed along with approximately 400 others and they were placed in large holes within the southern spit of land in Takao Harbor before the departure the next day of the Brazil Maru for Moji, Japan with the survivors.

It was difficult for me as I prepared for what amplified details I might find within my search. I found myself wondering if I would be able to handle the answers to the questions I was seeking and asking—but I wanted to know more.

I found most of the answers I sought. I also met several former POWs, men who had known my father, who were in the same camps, others on the same ship when he died. Other men I know only through the notes and diaries and scraps of paper they left in the camps, notes often left in bottles and cans, buried, or given to another, later found and read. These men desperately wanted to leave a final message to their family. I hoped to find something my father might have left, but I found his words only through words of others.

I met two men who had been with my father over several years in a Japanese POW camp in the southern Philippines, a camp known as the Davao Penal Colony. One survivor told me, “Your father was like a father to me, the father I never had.” I was pleased that my father could be the family substitute to this younger man.

Pursuing this information meant accepting the pain and sadness within the knowledge I found. But I also understood that my pain was similar to many others on both sides of the Pacific. We share an equal pain when death comes to a loved one

I read of hunger, thirst and lack of medical assistance so needed by these men in the camps and in the hard labor many of them were required to do. The results were increasing loss of life [38% of these POWs did not return] especially from those early days in the crowded POW camps north of Bataan and Manila and later in Japan for many. Why did this happen? I was torn by the many accounts of food deprivation and seeming indifference by those Japanese who controlled the lives resulting in death of so many. I was puzzled by the differences in my understandings of compassion and the handling of these prisoners. Was it the wartime culture or something else which so strongly affected these men from Japan and America? Was it guidance they were provided from Tokyo? I wanted to know more. So I read more. I tried to understand the difficult words I was reading.

My travel, my three years of Navy assignment in Japan in the 1960s and my continuing study helped me understand more clearly the details I later gained in my research. I was able to better understand that we often view what we hear and see filtered through our personal perspective, our environment or the culture within which we are comfortable or within which we were raised. I knew that we each sometimes understand that which we want to hear, that which we want to believe. I tried to get beyond this, to understand Japanese viewpoints, American viewpoints. Were they different? Were they the same some of the time? And what did this mean during those war years? Was it different then? How about now? What does all of this or any of this mean to us now?

Much of what I understood of those war years is still troubling and heavy upon my heart. I know my story of a son without a father is but part of another story, another is that of a widow, one who raised three sons, guiding them on her own.

I was concerned that my thoughts and my feelings would fade and be lost with time.  So I wrote. I hoped that one of my grand children, when I am gone, would pick up my book, read and understand more of our family. If I wrote with integrity and honesty and from my heart then perhaps there would be value in what I leave for my family, perhaps others.

I know these same thoughts exist in Japan. I feel that the sharing in the events of the WWII can help our two countries to better understand each other. I would like to think so.

While on my research and writing journey, I met other sons and daughters of these POWs. We all want to know more. My book has been a bridge for some, but this journey is a personal one—for each of us. I believe that knowing can broaden our lives in unanticipated manners. There are lessons here for all of us.

People, who have read my book, sometimes say to me, “Aren’t you angry?” My answer is always the same, “No, I am not angry. I am greatly saddened by the loss of these men—and my father—but I can not harbor anger or hate; I can not live my life in anger or hate. My Mother did not, nor can I.”

After my book was published in 2003 I asked a Japanese friend if she would help me meet a Japanese man whose father was lost in World War II, for I felt we might be able to share on a personal basis. It was not my desire to revisit the painful events of my father’s circumstances neither in the POW camps nor in the specific events which caused so many fathers and young men of both of our countries, and of the many civilians of Japan to be killed. I was interested in sharing the events under which we each lost our fathers only within our personal feelings and the manner in which it affected each of us and our families. By such sharing I hoped that we could each strengthen mutual relationships developed.

My time with my Japanese friend has been very special to me.  We share of our families and of our early father losses and we can as family, American and Japanese, understand much between us. I would hope that others of our country irrespective of the events of the past which so dramatically affected our peoples can come to similar peaceful understandings.                       

That is the way I “found” my father. It was necessary for me to write, to tell the facts as I knew them, as I understood them and, it was necessary for me to live out my years in knowing that I had done my best to know more of my father and of his last years. It has also been important to me to share beyond myself my personal understandings.

We can each be stronger in our lives if we understand the past for in doing so each of us can better ourselves.

*captain Heisinger passed away on May 1, 2006.

From a Japanese friend who also lost his father during WWII

Dear Duane,

I received your first e-mail on September 03, 2003, which was the start of our communication and friendship. I then received your book "Father Found" one week later. When I read your book, tears came to my eyes. Your detailed description of the suffering of so many POWs made me mourn and I was saddened. I did not have any words to utter for awhile. I was crushed with such a deep feeling of POWs. What a human tragedy it was! I also cried when I saw the picture of your family on page 73. It is the picture of your family on the day of your father's departure from San Francisco for Philippines. The date was April 21, 1941. I understand that the picture is your last one taken with your father. You were 10 years old then. I instantly remembered my last picture with my father, which was taken at Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, in August 1943. I was a little over 2 years old and after that picture taking, my father left for Penang and never came back. He died at the age of 38 in the Straits of Malacca aboard a Japanese Imperial Navy submarine I-166 on July 17, 1944. I was 3 years old then.

Mr. Tsurukame (lower right) with father (top right)

Your e-mails and your book continued to encourage me all through my journey - research of my father's life and his submarine. From Japan to Malaysia to the Netherlands to Ireland to UK, I carried your book with me. Your continuous encouragement and advice were my guiding light in my journey. Your book was a kind of my bible for the research. Thanks to the help of so many people like you, I accomplished a great result. I now know my father's 38 years - his childhood life to his first love, his meeting with my mother, his 19 years Navy life, and the final day. I-166 sank the Dutch submarine, K-16 in the north sea of Borneo on December 25, 1941. I met a daughter of the Dutch officer on that submarine and became a very close friend, just like a sister and a brother. I found the commander of the British submarine, Telemachus, which sank my father's submarine, and became good friends too. He is 94 years old and lives in a 15th century castle in Ireland. August of this year, the three generations of the three families of the three submarines of the three countries got together in Ireland and planted a tree of peace and friendship in the castle's ground.

In the course of my research, I met a retired British Navy officer who was a Japanese POW in Singapore. He was visiting Japan as a member of Reconciliation and Friendship Tour. He helped me to find out the commander of Telemachus. While I was visiting the Netherlands, I also met a Dutch gentleman whose father was a POW in the forced labor camp in Kamaishi, Japan. His mother died in a civilian camp in Indonesia. He told me a very moving story. He was a small boy when his mother died. He promised to his dying mother that he would take revenge on Japanese when he grew up. His mother said to him, "Nothing good will come out from hatred. Forgive." It was very difficult for him to follow his mother's teaching until recently. The several children of former POWs in UK whom I met at the above Reconciliation and Friendship Tour in Tokyo are now my good friends. In your e-mail you said to me "As a Christian I must seek reconciliation in my relationships, wherever they are." I know it is most noble action, but at the same time I know it is the most difficult thing to do for people who have suffered so much. 

August 15, 2005, is the sixtieth anniversary of the day world war two ended. Some scholars say over 50 million people died in the war. I sincerely hope this newly created website dedicated to the POWs will guide us toward the direction of reconciliation, friendship and world peace.

With love and friendship,

Aki Tsurukame


April 21, 1941 departure from San Francisco (From left) Mrs. Heisinger senior,
son Douglas, Lawrence Heisinger, son Gary, Grace Heisinger, son Duane
                                                                                             -- posted Nov. 2004
For more about Father Found please visit:
Read also Captain Heisinger' letter to Mr. Osamu Komai
*Captain Heisinger passed away on May 1, 2006.