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Brief reviews of four recent POW books of interest to students of World War II, all of these focusing on Americans captured by the Japanese in the Philippines:
Kaminski, Theresa. Prisoners in Paradise: American Women in the Wartime South Pacific. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2000
Kaminski's book covers American women -- mostly civilians and the wives of servicemen, plus a few military nurses -- in Japanese captivity, mostly in the Philippines. Typical of University Press of Kansas titles, this provides an academic approach which attempts to systematically review the experience of American women. Especially intriguing is the cover photograph of two dozen women POW/internees and their babies, taken in 1943 in the Philippines and looking for all the world like a peacetime family reunion, sans menfolk.
Women performed other, less disagreeable duties in the camps as well, jobs that reflected personal or career interests. Besides roasting coffee beans in Bacolod, Bertha Hill also took on the responsibility of working in the camp library, where she established a children's section, taught kindergarten classes two hours each day, and created handmade books for children. In Santo Tomas, Margaret Sherk worked at bookbinding and mending, skills she had used to finance her way through junior college in the United States. She recalled that she "had always enjoyed working on books, so I did not mind my detail," and felt "fairly contented" while at work. These women did not have to deal with the additional stress of boredom on top of their work assignments; they engaged in enjoyable duties for that they had been trained for.
Monahan, Evelyn M. and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee. All This Hell: U.S. Nurses Imprisoned by the Japanese. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000
Although quite similar to Kaminski's book, the authors limit their account to military nurses. Again, the majority of the women covered here were captured and held in the Philippines, but there is also some information on the handful of nurses captured on Guam who were the first American women to fall into the hands of the Japanese. Tends to be a bit less academic and a bit more graphic. (See also What a Way to Spend a War: Navy Nurse POWs in the Philippines by Dorothy Still Danner from Naval Institute Press.)
Although internee deaths were increasing every day, the Japanese announced that the dead would no longer be taken outside camp for burial. Bodies would be collected and buried in mass graves inside Santo Tomas. The rats that had proliferated since the Japanese closed and sealed the rodent control shed in February were also starving and turned their hunger on the dead. One can well imagine the picture those horrors painted in the minds of the nurses. "The people were dying and we were having to keep their bodies in the hospital," Lieutenant Ullom said. "There were loads and loads of rats; some were a foot long, and some were bigger, and that's not counting their tails. Finally we had to have a cemetery right in Santo Tomas, because the rats were eating the fingers and toes off the bodies. It was things like that went on every day--every day."
Gordon, Richard M. Horyo: Memoirs of an American POW. St Paul, Minnesota: Paragon House, 1999
While the two books above are the stories of groups of women, Gordon's book is his own personal memoir. It includes his youth in New York City, his journey to the Philippines, his experiences in the campaign, the Bataan death march, and his years in Japanese captivity. Much painful detail, written in an amateurish style.
...These were the true "goldbricks." Shiftless, unwilling to work, constant crybabies about everything and the scum of the camp, they were in constant trouble with the Japanese and as a result others suffered for their sickening behavior. That Christmas they were not given their parcels in order to prevent them from selling them to others. Time never improved this lot. I am sure somewhere today they are still around, talking about their "heroic" days fighting the war. These prisoners are the ones I call "predators." Basically unfit to live themselves, they oftentimes caused the death of those who deserved to live. Yes indeed: "where is justice?" Of course this leads to the subject of religion. How and why could God permit such sufferings and cruelties? Many lost their faith in prison camps. I may add that our camp never had a chaplain of any type. Our first chaplain, a Catholic priest from Australia, arrived the late spring of 1945. He attempted to hold Mass for Catholics in camp, but almost no one attended. Out of embarrassment he gave up the idea. I am afraid that prison life under the Japanese created many an agnostic and a few atheists.
Mapes, Victor L. with Scott A. Mills. The Butchers, the Baker: The World War II Memoir of a United States Army Air Corps Soldier Captured by the Japanese in the Philippines. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, Inc, 2000
Sergeant Victor Mapes was another American serviceman who served in the Philippines before the war, participated in the campaign, and then suffered as a POW of the Japanese. Co-written with Mills, this is his first-person record of his experiences including the torpedoing of his prison ship en route to Japan during which he was seriously injured, his harrowing hours in the water, rescue by Filipino guerillas, and subsequent evacuation by the submarine USS Narwhal.
The ship's hull began to split apart. I was caught in a cascade of water that poured through the crack and into the ocean. I was carried close to some Japs in a lifeboat who were shooting at floundering prisoners. One Jap aimed right at me, but I turned and ducked under just in time. But when I came up for air, the guy next to me was sinking-- hit by the Jap's shot. Before the Jap could fire again, I ducked under and swam away. He didn't see where I came up. Then what I had read long ago in Lowell Thomas' Raiders in the Deep flashed through my mind: the importance of getting far enough away from a sinking ship to avoid being sucked under with it. I swam directly away from the Shinyo Maru, which was now listing badly.
All four titles are available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the respective publisher.
Thanks to the publishers for providing these review copies.
Reviewed 28 May 2000
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