Becoming a POW of the Japanese
I went on my honeymoon by myself. I got married in July 1941. Our regiment, the 200th Coast Artillery from New Mexico, was sent to the Philippines the very next month. We arrived in the Philippines in September 1941 and the war began on December 8. After fighting for 4 months with very little food, we were surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.
I walked the Bataan Death March for 7 days. When we reached San Fernando, the Japanese gave us our first meal. Everybody was hungry, but what a meal! The soupy rice they served didn't even cover the bottom of my mess kit. Then they herded us into a boxcar. We went all the way down to Capas. The car was packed so tightly that guys at the center couldn't breathe and they died standing.
From Capas, we marched again. We still didn't know where they were taking us to. We marched 6 miles from the train to Camp O'Donnell. It was an old and abandoned camp that had been built for the Filipinos as a training camp. There was only one spigot for almost 9,000 POWs arriving in this camp and the water was barely coming out. So we were standing in line with our canteens in the hot sun. Often, by the time I returned to my barracks, 5 or 6 guys had already died.
Later I became sick with
dysentery and malaria. Anybody who could not go to the chow line was taken
to the Zero Ward. It was so named because once you were in that ward you
had zero chance of survival. There were about 150 men lying there and they
left me there with them. I turned to my right and this guy was dying and
turned to my left and he died. And I said to myself, "Carlos, you must get
out from here." I started crawling and got out the door. An American guard
at the door said, "You can't get out from here." I said, "Everybody is
dying and I've got to get out from here." I crawled back to my barracks
and took five pills that Doc. Riley, an American doctor, gave me for my
dysentery. My friend
Sanchez kept bringing me burned rice from kitchen and tried to feed me. I
September of 1943, my name was on the list of those who were to be sent to Japan. They put us on the hold 3 stories down. We were all packed toe to toe. After stopping at Formosa for a few days, we arrived in Moji, Japan in early October.
We traveled 3 days on a train and arrived in Niigata. The barracks there were two-story buildings and it had boards about 14 feet high all the way around. On the front, there was nothing but sand. When we got there, there were already about 100 Canadian POWs.
morning, they got us all up and said, "Rinko will come and talk to you."
Then this Rinko man came in and we all lined up. He had a beard and this
was the first time I saw a bearded Japanese man. He said, "I understand
that you boys are brave men in Bataan." He kept stroking his beard as he
spoke. "I am going to find out how brave you are. You will be working for
me." He was the owner of Rinko's coal yard.
There was one civilian
guard at Rinko who particularly disliked me. It must have been
personality clash or something I did to him, I don't know. But he was very
mean and cruel to me constantly. One winter day we were so cold working at
the yard that some of us went into a latrine to hide. Then this guard
found us and only I was beaten. He was hitting me with a stick screaming,
"Bakaro, bakaro." I was bleeding all over. He reported my "crime" to the
military guard at the camp, so when we went back to our camp I was
punished and beaten again.
For the first 5 years after the war, I drank heavily. I was still very angry. I drank to get my memory out of me. I was in the army hospital for about 8 months trying to regain my health. And then they discharged me with disability. Before the war I was working for civil service and when I came back they asked me what department I wanted to go to. I picked Veteran's Administration. But I could only work for 5-6 hours a day. Then my mind would get tired. So I was just working half days.
After a year or so, I was not getting better, but getting worse. I was working for the office of GI Bills. All the veterans were going to school. I would sign them up to go whatever school they wanted to go and apportioned their wages. That was getting me down as well. So I told the chief, "I am sorry, I don't think I can function here any longer. I am getting worse instead of better."
Then a friend of mine in Albuquerque said to me, "Why don't you go into the restaurant business?" I found a small place and thought my wife and I, with 2-4 employees, could do it. I opened up a Mexican restaurant. I started recovering although I still had anger and hallucinations.
Whenever I felt anger, I could see anger coming in me. I would say to my wife, "Get out of the house. I feel my anger coming up." She would take off with two kids. When she came back she would find the house all torn up. Anything could trigger my anger. My wife said I was like an animal.
One time my wife was pregnant and I took her to our doctor whose office was on the third floor of a bank building. We were waiting for the elevator in the lobby on the first floor. The elevator door opened and out came a Japanese person. I jumped on him and got him by the throat. I put him on the floor and was kicking him and hitting him. People around us didn't know what was happening and called the police. The police came and asked what was wrong. So my wife told him that I was a prisoner of war in Japan. I was going to kill that Japanese. When the police found out what the fight was about he said to the poor Japanese to get going.
So I had to watch myself
that I wouldn't see a Japanese.
Going back to Niigata
In 1972, my wife and her friend were going to Japan and Korea, where our son was stationed at that time. They were also planning to go to the Sapporo Winter Olympic. At the last minute, the other lady said she could not go. So I said to my wife, "I will go with you if you will go with me to Niigata where I was a prisoner of war." She agreed and that was how I went to Japan for the first time since 1945.
I wanted to kill the guard
who tortured me while I was a POW. I wanted to get even. I did not tell my
wife and so she did not know. But I went with the full intention of
killing that man. I carried my pistol. Looking back now, I was still
mentally sick at that time. I had a lot of anger.
So I entered the coal yard but the trestle was no longer there. It was gone. There were no coals, only minerals and oil tanks. It was a completely different set up from what I had remembered. All those years, I remembered the coal yard and now I saw that it did not exist anymore. When I realized that I could not find the guard, everything started changing. I started recovering. I felt something changing in my body.
Then I went to where the camp was. I found the place right away. But there was no camp. There was a paved street and a two-story building. A completely different place. That made me feel even better. All those images that I had had of Niigata slowly disappeared.
I don't know why I started feeling better. Maybe it was because I was able to visit and see Niigata as a free man. I wasn't scared and I wasn't afraid. I could say anything I wanted to. When I was a POW, I had to suppress all those feelings.
The Japanese people I met during this trip were also different from those I had known while I was a POW. They were kinder. I met three Japanese gentlemen on a ship from Hokkaido to the main island. When I told them that I had been a POW, they brought another Japanese gentleman on the ship who had been a POW of the Americans. He said to me that he had been treated nicely by the Americans. All the gentlemen knew about the Bataan Death March and POW abuse by the Japanese and they apologized to me. When I explained that I was a forced laborer in Niigata they said to me, "It must have been very cold to work outside."
I now think that the
Japanese during the war were different type of people. Apparently, the
government had indoctrinated everybody to hate Americans. I could see they
had hatred for Americans from the way they tortured us. But in 1972, I met
a different and changed Japan. I guess we Americans changed after the war
as well. We became more educated, better understanding the Japanese and
other people. They are not any different than we are.
For a long time, I had
sworn that I would never go back to the Philippines. There were so many
painful memories. But last year, I decided to go back to participate in
the groundbreaking ceremony for the Hellships Memorial that was to be
built at Subic Bay. (For more information visit
http://www.hellshipsmemorial.org/index.htm). The Memorial would be a
permanent tribute to many POWs who died on Japanese POW transporting ships
and those who survived the horrific experience on those ships.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the Hellships Memorial was beautiful.
Many people attended and the person in charge brought a marching band in
full regalia. We broke the ground to mark the beginning of the
construction of the memorial. It will be dedicated in January of 2006.
Montoya’s Legacy Endures in Niigata
I have been living in Niigata City for nearly 15 years, and I have spent several years researching the history of the POW camps of Niigata Prefecture, especially Camp 5B. The importation of Allied POWs as slave laborers was the first major arrival of Western foreigners to Niigata since it opened up to the West in the 1850s. (The second major influx of Westerners took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s, of which I am a member).
During my research, I had heard the story from other former POWs of the man who had returned to Niigata with a gun, and who was bent upon avenging the cruelty that he had suffered at the remorseless hands of the POW guards. I heard with wonder about how his heart was strangely warmed by the gentle kindness of the Japanese that he had met during his unexpected pilgrimage. It wasn’t until I read Mr. Montoya’s story today that I was able to learn the name of that man – and to thank him.
Over the years in Niigata, I have met my share of people here who were extremely unkind, as well as many who were gentle and loving. Maybe when one becomes a foreigner, one becomes more sensitive to these things, but there was an earlier time in my life here when it seemed that I could only remember my daily experiences with the incredibly rude people, who were mostly middle-aged men that I encountered at work or in public places. Nothing I went through could ever even come close to comparing with what Mr. Montoya experienced, but after years of having to suppress my outrage for fear of what they might do to me, like Mr. Montoya, I too found myself in that terrible downward spiral of quiet anger, exhaustion, depression and then more rage.
Frederick Buechner once defined hatred as a feast – the skeleton at the table, however, is you. I think Mr. Montoya, as well as other foreigners living in Niigata and abroad, would agree with me that this is an apt description of what was happening to us on the inside. To put it another way, many of us have been prisoners of our own hate.
My own journey was also similar to Mr. Montoya’s in that I too finally met a few Japanese men my own age with whom I could have a friendship based on who we were, not what I could do for them. I felt as if I was understood, and accepted. Years of anger began to evaporate, and the burden of all that rage was lifted off my shoulders. Like the days following the war in Niigata, when hundreds of POWs shared food, fellowship and laughter with each other, so I too began to get my life back. I was finally liberated, and Niigata had become my home.
I want to thank Mr. Montoya
for his courage to share the story of how he was delivered from hatred.
POW stories still have great power among the Western foreign community
here, and sometimes I have shared stories that I have learned which speak
peace and reconciliation that have taken place after the war.
There are times when I have told these stories to foreigners who, recently
arrived in Niigata, are going through the same cycle of anger and quiet