From a farm boy to a Marine
I was born in 1919 in a small town known as Bickleton, Washington, with a population of only 97. My father was a farmer and my mother a school teacher. They raised me on a dairy farm through the Great Depression until I graduated from high school in 1938. With an absolute contempt for dairy cows and no prospect of a job, I struck out on my own at the age of 19 by joining the U.S. Marine Corps in 1938. Military life had always appealed to me and the Marine Corps was the only one that had any vacancy.
I went to San Diego, California. After surviving the rigors of "Boot Camp," which for a hard working well-disciplined farm boy was not much of a tough time, I was assigned to duty with the 6th Marines. I was stationed at Marine Corps Base San Diego until early June of 1940.
One day, the 1st Sgt. came through the barracks
looking for "volunteers" for duty in the Asiatic station. Being eager for
adventure and travel, I was off my bunk like a shot from a cannon. So I
violated the rule, "Never volunteer for anything."
Becoming a POW of the Japanese
When I heard the news of the Pearl Harbor attack, I was in the hospital. I had yellow jaundice, a little liver disorder. But when the war started, that sort of cured it. I was assigned to machine gun at the Navy Yard in Cavite. On December 10, 1941, Japanese bombers hit and totally destroyed the Navy Yard. There was nothing left to guard there. From then it was a process of deploy from one position to another until we were on Bataan.
We spent Christmas on Bataan where we had Christmas dinner. Then around the 28th of December, we were going over to Corregidor for beach defense. Our Company was moved to Fort Hughes, an island a couple of miles from Corregidor. Next four months, we were receiving daily shelling and bombing. We stayed there till the end on May 6th when General Wainwright surrendered the Philippine Far East Forces. This was a day that defies explanation of emotions. Seeing the American flag come down and the white flag of surrender raised is beyond description.
The Japanese moved us from Hughes to the 92nd Garage area, then by ship to Manila to Bilibid Prison. We finally arrived at Cabanatuan by train on May 26, 1942. We did not work, but just wandered around the camp occasionally going on burial details.
October the 5th 1942, a contingent of 2,000 POWs was assembled for movement. On the 7th, we boarded the Tottori Maru and departed Manila along with 2,000 Japanese soldiers. We didn't know where we were going, but my personal opinion was that it was one of the better things that happened to us. It was better than staying in the Philippines or better than moving out later. Many ships were sunk by American planes in later years.
Finally, on November 8, we arrived at Pusan, Korea. We were issued winter clothing, which was better than we had expected. We boarded a regular passenger train where we were given regular passenger meals. Not too bad. On November 11, Armistice Day to us, we arrived in Mukden, Manchuria.
The afternoon was gray and dark. Leaving the train station, we headed for our new camp. It turned out to be an old Manchurian Army barracks. Wooden buildings sunk about three feet into the ground with thick walls using dirt for insulation. After putting our gear away we assembled and were issued a permanent POW number printed with paint on a bakelite tag (mine was #610). We were issued cloth mattress, which we stuffed with straw, and issued seven blankets.
Then came the food. A bowl of purple soup (it was awful) with some kind of seeds in it. And three buns per day. Morale plummeted. Many were very ill. More than 200 died within the next several months. Some probably did not want a chance and gave up. Many did not stand a chance. This was a time when dying would be very easy. Surviving took a lot of effort.
In mid January 1943, a factory detail was formed. Small at first. Rumors said it was a good deal. A few days later they called for more volunteers and I was there. We marched to the factory which was about five kilometers.
The average daily temperature was about minus 45 degrees. Most of our clothing was fairly good, but shoes and gloves were no good so our hands and feet took an awful beating in those temperatures. But the factory gave us extra food for working there. Therefore, we were willing to endure the trek to and from the factory morning and night. Surviving was our prime mover. More food meant a better chance of making it. Even though we had been surrendered, we were not defeated. Sabotage by us was a common occurrence.
Finally the spring of 1943 arrived, winter was past, and the days turned warm and mild. We buried our dead as the ground had thawed enough to dig graves for them. One of the most important events of this period was the food changed from whatever that horrible soup was to soy beans as our staple food. This was great. The better food, warm weather and the fact we were still alive after the hard winter gave us a feeling of comfort. We had made it so far. Morale began to improve by leaps and bounds.
Early in the summer of 1943, another enormous morale boost arrived after an absence of more than a year. Erections returned to us. The first few that arrived were shown off with great exuberance and soon I got one too was the common reply. These spiked our morale to an even greater extent. Now life was again going, considering where we were, just great.
But not knowing about our future was probably the hardest thing. Some of us even talked about that while we were there. If you committed a crime and they put you in jail, they would give you 90 days or a year or 5 years. And that's it. But we had no idea how long our captivity would last.
Most of the time, I tried to stay as up-beat as I could. Because if you don't, it will get you. No question about it. That will drive you over the edge.
In July of 1943, they built a new camp and barracks
for us since the Japanese told us the war would last 100 years. These were
two story cement block buildings. There were a hospital, bath house and
latrines (still oriental style squatters) in a wing of the barracks. And
these new barracks were only about 1,000 yards from the factory. Our bunks
were double decked with two large Russian petchkas in each squad
bay. There were two tables with benches. These were vast improvements
over the old camp. Here we settled into the routine of work at MKK (the
machine tool factory near the camp). Three satellite camps were also
established and permanent work details were sent to them as residents.
War brings out things you don't expect
I was severely beaten by the "Bull" (Japanese Captain) one time. I could not hear him well and did not follow his order. He beat me using the sword in the scabbard. He knocked me down four times. I forced myself to stand up each time but at the fifth time I decided to stay down. I had been kicked, slapped and pushed by rifle butt before and they had annoyed me. But this time, I was severely beaten and injured. I still remember it.
The "Bull" beat many men. I don't know if it was just his
nature, or the culture of the Japanese military. We might have acted the
same way if that was the way we disciplined our people. Also, the Japanese
culture regarding surrender made us really low in their estimation. We
were worthless people. That was another part of their culture we did not
know at that time.
But a war is an interesting thing in a lot of ways.
It brings out things you don't expect. I and 4 or 5 others worked for a
little Japanese civilian guy in the last two yeas. The last day we worked
before Christmas he brought in a bottle of scotch for us to share, which
he purchased with his own money. It was Japanese imitation scotch, but
hey, who cared, and his heart was in a good place.
Another winter past and spring arrived again. As July arrived, changes were beginning to show in small ways. None seemed to be a good omen. It seemed a move of all in camp was afoot. Air raids were becoming more frequent. At this time none of this gave us a good feeling. The summer months brought on what seemed to be epidemic proportions of fleas, the worst since we had been there.
August 16th 1945, we saw a B-24 fly low over Mukden and a number of colored parachutes come from it. That evening from our bath house we could see into the Camp Commandant's office. And there was a white man in uniform sitting on his desk. None of us slept that night. The next morning General Parker, the senior officer on our side, assembled us telling us the war was over. But we had to wait for the invading Russian army to arrive. They did on August 20th and they came into camp to declared us free men. After three years and three months, the elation is unbelievable. But it was still until September 12, 1945 before we got out of there.
I was assigned to a duty in Japan after the war. The war had been over and I did not harbor any bitterness that I knew of. It was war time and war is a dreadful business. However, when I received my order to report for movement to Japan it was then I knew I had to face my personal feelings. As the ship neared Japan I had some thought and feelings of how I was going to react to being in Japan and seeing the people some of whom had caused me a great deal of misery.
Then I recalled the first seven years of my schooling in Wapato, WA where about 35% of the school population was Japanese, many of whom were my friends. After actually arriving in Japan any thoughts of bad time seemed to melt away and my love of travel and seeing new places overcame any possible resistance I had. The regiment I was assigned to was stationed at Camp Fuji, at the base of Mount Fuji. Further exploration took me into Tokyo and Yokohama on liberties as well as other small towns in our local area. I always stayed in a yadoya, Japanese style hotel. I made a trip to Kamakura to see the Great Buddha and also found Atami a great little playground city. In summing up, I felt no ill will toward the Japanese people while stationed there. In fact, I fully enjoyed my stay there of almost two years, which was in 1953 and 1954.
I am now taking a college writing course in order to write a memoir on my POW experience. It is something that has been in the back of my mind for many years. Yet I have never acted upon it. Time is running out for me. At age 86 one must be realistic. But probably more important is that I do not believe the people or children today are getting any of “Our” history in WWII. Having spoken at several schools and with many teachers I realize that they are sadly lacking any knowledge on this subject. If I can reach just a few of them I will feel that I have accomplished much.
I have read several stories written by POWs. In these presentations I have read some rather wild exaggerations. Living through the experience of being a POW of the Japanese was truly traumatic to all of the POWs. The facts speak for themselves. Nearly 40% did not survive to the end. This as compared to the German camps where only 1% did not survive. We should tell our story as it was, with the traumatic times and the lighter times. In spite of everything there were moments of humor and of thwarting the Japanese war effort with our dirty little tricks. Compassion was shown by some Japanese. All these make up the whole story, the story as I want to tell it. In other words life and death as it happened.
Realizing that Mr. Weaver did not write anything critical about Japan, I wrote him, "If there is anything you would like to say about how the issue of POW abuse has been treated, you are welcome to write about it." I did not want him to hold anything back because I am Japanese. He wrote me back:
Harboring bitterness or hatred throughout my life will only harm me. It will not hurt those such as the “Bull” who beat me. So keeping these hates within myself is a waste. It was war, and a clash of two diametric cultures. The Japanese government did make a very ambiguous apology. Yes I would like for them to say “We are sorry for the way we treated you POWs during WWII.” Our own government in the treaty took away any chances for reparations for us from Japan. So again, why let this thought eat me up?
“I had no shoes and I was sad, till I met a man
who had no feet.” This helped keep me going.