Foreword by Kenneth Murphy
James T. Murphy was an eighteen year old lad from southeastern Texas when he completed training to earn his radio operator's license and subsequently enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. It was 1939 when he headed west to San Francisco, bound for a two-year duty assignment in the Philippine Islands.
This story is not a war story, though it takes place before and during World War II.
It is not a political story, though it is laced with political facts, deeds and decisions.
It is not a history tome, though it chronicles key historical events throughout one of the most important conflicts in the entire saga of mankind.
It is a story of one man's personal history that may even be construed as a morality tale- a transcription of events that may serve, for some, as a beacon of hope transcending generations, gender, and geography. It has been written about, with , and by James Thomas Murphy to chronicle in his own words- in personal and intimate detail- the tribulations, the tragedies and the triumphs he experienced in a world ridden with turmoil and devastation.
It has been written, in part, to help cement the true historical record regarding certain events and decisions by opposing military and political leaders during World War II.
And it has been written in the hope that it may ultimately serve this dual purpose- as a caution to societies, and as an inspiration to individuals.
From Chapter 2
“There are times when men must die.”
Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War in Franklin Roosevelt’s Administration, uttered those chilling words on a wintry day in the nation’s capital in January 1942 while contemplating America’s military strategy in the early stages of World War II.
He was not spouting hollow political rhetoric to bolster American sentiment against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Germany, or Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Italy, or Emperor Hirohito and his Imperial Japan.
Neither was he offering a calculated warning of America’s intention to wreak vengeance on those hostile nations following the recent onset of war.
Ironically, Stimson was instead presaging the fate of thousands upon thousands of his fellow Americans, those embattled troops who were at that moment stranded—some would later say abandoned—in the Philippine Islands since coming under siege in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s devastating, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The United States had been at war with the Japanese for a mere eight weeks…
At that very
moments, some twelve thousand miles away, a lanky, tanned and handsome
twenty-one year old Army Air Corps Sergeant from Livingston, Texas was engaged
in a vigorous and valiant battle on the jungle peninsula of Bataan on the island
of Luzon in the Philippines, doing everything in his might, and then some, to
stave off the relentless onslaught of the invading Japanese army, navy and air
April 17, 1942
Many POWs, as they reached the very end of their ability to survive due to exhaustion from sickness, starvation and dehydration, dropped back to the tail end of the column with the desperate notion that medical care, food, water and truck transportation would be available to save their lives. They knew that they were unable to continue this grueling experience.
I could hear the terrible commotion, the yelling, the beatings and the gunfire happening as many of the POWs dropped out at the end of the group of marchers.
I too began to realize that I could no longer endure the hardship of the march and slowly began dropping back in the rear of the formation. My hope was to find some rest and relief and possibly transportation on a truck to the unknown POW camp we must surely be headed toward.
When I got to the rear of the column and found myself bringing up the rear of the formation, instead of finding help in the form of food, water, medicine and transportation, I found brutality and barbarism of the worst kind.
Those POWs who were no longer able to keep pace with the main group were being beaten with clubs and rifle butts, and attacked in their helplessness by Japanese soldiers with bayonets and officer swords. If my fellow POWs were not able to muster enough strength and energy to stay with the main group, the Japanese goon squads, as we came to call them, would beat the POWs to death, bayonet them to death. Alternatively, a Japanese officer, if he happened by, would wildly brandish his gleaming steel sword with its diamond-and-gold encrusted handle over the victim’s head while screaming savagely, then summarily decapitate his helpless victim.
Often, the American had already been lying in the dust along the roadway and the Japanese officer would have to take several chops to achieve his despicable objective. A bloody mess ensued…
On seeing these atrocities unfold before my eyes, I tried to gather enough strength to rejoin my marching group, but weakness and exhaustion overcame me and I fell into the dusty ditch and was on the verge of giving up my will to live amid this swirling chaos of hopelessness.
I was immediately spotted by one of these Japanese goon squads, who quickly dashed over to me to finish me off. As I saw one of these assassins step forward toward me, I rose up to a kneeling position on one knee, ready to be exterminated. This soldier could have easily pressed his bayonet to my heart, merely applied his body pressure by leaning forward, and plunged his bayonet into my weakened heart—game over!
Instead, he let out the ritual Japanese scream, as if to say to the others,
“This one is mine”.
As he charged toward me with extended bayonet and rifle, I felt a sudden surge of strength from some unknown source.
I decided in that moment I was not ready to die!
As his rifle touched my body, I wriggled, rolled and knocked the bayonet away with my right hand. Instantly, I knew I had been cut and could feel warm blood running down my finger onto my arm.
Infuriated by his ineptness, the Japanese soldier ran back away from me about the same distance as before, got set against for his well-practiced charge, and came yelling toward me one more time. By this time, I was lying on my back, and just before his bayonet touched me, I kicked it away. The bayonet cut the inside of my left leg just above my ankle, and the rifle hit the same area causing a severe bruise. Once again, I could feel the warm blood flowing from this cut, now running up along my lower leg.
More infuriated than ever, and now confronted with a complete loss of face with his fellow Japanese soldiers, who had been gleefully watching my struggle as if it were sport, he was all the more determined to quickly get rid of this obstinate American who was fending off his futile attempts at murder.
Fortunately for me, a three star Japanese guard arrived on a bicycle and started screaming orders to all the phalanx of guards around our column of marchers. The body language said, “This column is moving too slowly—move them out immediately!”
At this moment, I immediately took full advantage of the mass confusion, got to my feet, and fell forward into the main body of the other POWs as they continued to move onward. Two other fellow POWs grabbed me, one on each side, and even in their weakened condition were able to balance and support me and get me walking again. Soon, another surge of energy came upon me and I was able to slowly, steadily work my way back up toward the front of the group, where I was hidden from my irate would-be killer.
It wasn’t too long before I regained a reasonable measure of strength and was able to get my wounds wrapped with some tattered, dirty rags given to me by my fellow POWs, and was somehow able to maintain the grueling pace of the march for the remainder of the day until we stopped to spend the night in another open field. Once again, this overnight stop offered no sanitation, no food and no water.
Needless to say, I felt a huge relief when, during the afternoon of my near-death encounter, my adversary was relieved of his guard duties as a new crew of guards took over.
That night, our group fell exhausted and welcomed the long- awaited rest. But we were lined up early the next morning, given a spoonful of uncooked rice, and were then marched northward to suffer another harrowing day of the same kind of treatment.
Tragically, I learned that within two days after my horrifying ordeal both of the American soldiers who had grabbed me and shoved me back into the marching column had themselves fallen to the rear of the group from sheer exhaustion and were brutally murdered by another band of Japanese guards.
In all the chaos and confusion of the march, I had never learned the names of these two brave souls who saved my life.
I found out later that they were brothers from New Mexico who had been assigned to the newly arrived 200th Coast Artillery (Anti Aircraft defense) which so heroically provided protection to the American defenders of Bataan as we withdrew from all parts of Luzon into the Bataan Peninsula to establish our defense position there.
For me, I will always remember that these two men lived as heroes and died as heroes.
(Mr. Murphy was later sent to Hanawa in Northern Japan where he was forced to work for Mitsubishi Osarizawa Copper mine until the end of the war. More about his forced labor.)
Interview with Mr. James Murphy
In your acknowledgement you wrote:
Special thanks to my wife, Nancy, for her encouragement, help and writing experience in helping me get my story told for our descendants and for future family generations. Without her persistence and patience listening to my tales of horror of my POW days, there would be no record of what I endured. Thanks also to our three sons, Tom, Ken and Brian, for understanding my silence to protect them in their early years against any adverse feelings toward the present day Japanese people.
As a member of the present day Japanese people, I was so moved by your effort, and I am sure your wife’s too, not to instill in your three sons any adverse feelings toward us when they grew up.
When did you start telling them about your POW experience?
With the above philosophy established I did go on with my life but it was difficult to forget past experiences. Occasionally I was able to share some of the events with others but was never comfortable doing so. First I did not want to recall the unpleasant events and I did not feel that the English vocabulary provided adequate words to express my POW experiences and even if it did, no one would believe what I was describing. Only when talking to other POWs who had similar experiences was I content with relating events because I knew they understood.
After marriage and beginning to rear a family, I only talked or told experiences which might be related to present day living. My wife knew of my experiences but I saw no point in going into relating graphic details. Later as my three children grew up I did not hide the fact that I had been a Prisoner of War but I told them none of the graphic details. I knew that the despotic leaders of the Axis forces had committed inhumane treatment of peoples they had conquered, but I also knew that the present day inhabitants of Axis countries could not be blamed for their leaders' actions.
Nancy and Jim Murphy with Japanese college student Gaku
Bearing these thoughts in mind, I protected my children from prejudicial feelings toward any race of people. I knew that when the children reached an age of understanding I could inform them of my past experiences without prejudicial influence. I set the age on the high side by deciding that graduating from high school they would know at least some of the facts of my past experiences. I followed these plans through all of the children and grandchildren. Some of the more graphic experiences I have not shared with anyone but through the Internet and other sources, they have researched and discovered many of the actualities associated with POW life. Even in our recently released book I have purposely avoided many of the possibly inflammatory atrocities but have included a few situations which show examples.
Was it difficult for you to share the memories of your POW ordeal with your sons? And what were their reactions upon hearing your stories?
Yes, it was somewhat difficult because I did not want them to know that anything bad had ever happened to their father. I minimized the effect by giving them an overall picture and answering their specific questions in a matter-of-fact manner
Their reaction was a matter-of-fact reaction as far as I know. Of course, they were pleased that I had survived and they appreciated the fact that this ordeal knit our family into a closer unit. Possibly contributed toward our enjoying camping, travel, family reunions, sharing individual experiences, and togetherness. As far as I can tell, they bear no animosity toward any racial group.
* His third son, Brian, wrote the following:
Growing up in our household, my father's prisoner of war ordeal was rarely, if ever, spoken about. Sometimes an absence of words can teach us more than we realize at the time. We all knew his situation, his part in history, and the fact that he survived physically intact. What we did not know was the extent and severity of his time spent as a prisoner of war. It wasn't until we were all well into adulthood that we finally came to understand the totality of this mans' sacrifice. In retrospect, I now realize that his suppression was something that greatly benefited myself and my siblings. His silence was indeed purposeful.
As it turns out,
the silent omission of his inhumane treatment allowed us to remain optimistic
and hopeful about the people of this world. My fathers' resolve and
determination to never turn his sons against another race of people speaks
volumes about his character. Teaching tolerance to his sons, and therefore to
another generation of young men, demonstrates his true nature. His willingness
to learn tolerance, even when he was shown absolutely none as an impressionable
young man, will forever be carried on to his sons.
I must thank you for your including my essay on my visit to Hanawa in your book. It is a true testament to your character that you are ready to reach out to the present day Japanese people and to welcome them in open arms. What can we do to expand the dialogue between the Americans and the Japanese people so that we can learn the POW history together?
When I think of your trip to Hanawa, and it is often, and what you did for me and what your trip meant to me I think it is one of the prime healing factors of my relations to the Japanese people. I repeat this story to others every chance I get and still am awe stricken by the emotional impact toward you and the Japanese people.
As for your question about future efforts, please refer back to "A Message to the People of Japan" previously posted in your website.
(Mr. Murphy's message to the people of Japan, as well as Kinue Tokudome's essay on her visit to Hanawa, can be found at the end of his POW story.)
with Mr. Kenneth Murphy
How do you describe your feeling toward your father when you learned what happened to him as a POW of the Japanese?
I became aware of my father being a Prisoner of War in World War II some time between 8 to 10 years of age, mainly from perusing a book on the family bookshelf entitled "Heroes of Bataan". I saw my father's photograph in the book among those of hundreds, if not thousands, of other American military personnel. At that age, my brothers and I were too preoccupied with other childhood interests to study or understand the entirety of my father's POW experience. He never discussed it with us in any detail. At the time, we were satisfied with merely having a vague awareness that our father had been a part of a war fought in foreign lands, that he had returned home safely, and that we all seemed to be leading a very normal and happy life.
By the time I reached my mid-twenties in age (late 1970s), my father gave me a manuscript-style booklet called "The Japanese Story" containing extensive information about the medical conditions and suffering these prisoners of war endured. I started asking my father more and more questions about his POW experience, and he provided answers.
As the details of my father's story were revealed to me, my appreciation -- for his strength, for his courage, for his will to survive, for his perseverance, and for his boundless faith -- has been enlarged beyond words. I am filled with awe when I ponder what it must have taken for my father to live day after day under those circumstances, and for the sheer magnitude of the ordeal that he and so many others were subjected to for so long.
You father tried not to instill any adverse feelings toward the present day Japanese people when you were young. Was he successful?
My father was entirely successful in ensuring that there were no adverse feelings toward any present day Japanese people. I think his message of forgiveness, in spite of what he endured, is a testament not only to the kind, considerate and faithful person that he is, but is also indicative of the kind of values and lessons we can teach ourselves and others about our own humanity and the experience of being human, if we have the understanding and the courage to do so.
What was the most important reason for you to write this book with your father?
The first idea about writing the book was to commit to writing my father's personal history, preserving his legacy within our own family. Next, he wanted to get on the record the truth about what happened throughout the way, in his own words, so it would be preserved for posterity and for any historian interested in his account of his experience. Finally, and most importantly for me, I wanted to share his remarkable story with as many others as possible who might benefit from the perspective and life lessons contained within.
Upon hearing more details about the events of my father's experience in captivity as a prisoner of the Japanese, I came to believe this was a story many people would find compelling. I came to believe that my father's story had embedded in it a number of universal themes about life and humanity, and that it could serve to educate and enlighten, if told properly. I believed I could help him tell his story in a unique way that might enable others to appreciate it as much more than a war story. Once I realized this story could be handed down from generation to generation, I felt both a sense of honor to be my father's co-author and also a great weight of responsibility. I understood the requirement to be factually and historically accurate, coupled with the desire to draw out the many essential underlying themes of humanity that were at the core of his experience in a way would be appealing for any reader, regardless of their generation, gender, or geography.
Do you have any message to children of WWII veterans in Japan?
Perhaps we are more alike than we are different . . .
Our fathers fought in a war between our nations that we did not create, that we did not participate in.
Their families--our families--sacrificed and suffered at home and abroad for years during and after that war.
We mourn the tragedy, the despair and the ugliness of war's lingering effects on those who survive--its miseries and nightmares embedded in their consciousness for a lifetime.
We struggle with disappointment, even shame, in man's inhumanity to man, over brutal wartime deeds done that cannot be undone.
Perhaps we are more alike than we are different . . .
We are blessed to live in a nation where we can pursue our ambitions in life.
We live in a complex world where there are great challenges and difficulties, but every day we get a glimpse of our human potential for solving those problems.
We look inward within ourselves for understanding, for compassion, for forgiveness, and for peace. And we look outward toward each other, to all nations and peoples on earth, for the same.
Perhaps we are more alike than we are different . . .
Thank you. It is my honor to be able to introduce your book to my fellow Japanese people. I think it is filled with your love and admiration for your father and your determination to tell his story with many universal messages.
My last question to you was based on my feeling that our generation in Japan, children of WWII veterans, failed to make an effort to tell our fathers' story to our next generation. Fortunately, young people in Japan are now interviewing their grandfather’s generation and trying to record their wartime experiences and their reflections on them. Many veterans, in their late 80s and 90s, welcome this development and are willing to share, often for the first time, their painful memories such as having committed atrocious acts. So I hope your book will inspire many people in Japan.
It is necessary for each generation to pass down a complete and accurate record of the facts and events that occurred in World War II, and that we do so with integrity and honesty, without reservation, no matter how painful or unpleasant those facts are to face.
Only in this way can all of those involved, as well as their descendants, learn every possible moral lesson from events that have come before, so that those mistakes and transgressions--even war itself--not be repeated at some time in the future, should those truths be hidden or forgotten.
It is our hope that the story "When Men Must Live" is shared among many for generations to come.
Order the book "When Men Must Live", by Kenneth B. Murphy and James T. Murphy