Fourth Marines Band: "Last China Band"

MIKADO NO KYAKU (Guest of the Emperor)

Chapter Eight - The Setting of the Rising Sun - Page 99-115
Chapter Eight

The Setting of the Rising Sun

What a difference it was helping this old man compared to working for the miserable Hara San, the Terror of the Seven Mines. I don't know where he got that handle but he was the meanest miner I ever ran into. He seemed to enjoy beating on American POW's and had absolutely no patience with us at all. Perhaps he was embittered because of what the war had done to him, his family, friends and countrymen. I was unlucky to be assigned to his detail on two or three occasions; each went worse than the first. The last time I was with three big Hollanders. We were moving empty cars through a switch that was flooded. The piece of track to be moved was almost entirely under water. The big guys handled the cars and I was sent to change the switch. I didn't go fast enough and the cars went off the wrong way and had to be rolled back. Hara came up to me screaming words I never understood. I fished out the long piece of iron track and flopped it into its proper place. The splash showered Hara with dirty water. He knocked me down in it and then took a yard long, inch thick, hardened steel drill bit to my back. The pain shot through my body to the pit of my stomach. It turned and I threw up. I tried to get away from the enraged, maniacal miner who continued with more expletives, I supposed they were. I saw him cock the drill bit to hit me again and I shouted, "No! goddamit, don't hit me again, you sonavbitch."

Those two American cuss words must be known all over the world. More so now, I suppose, but I had no idea he would understand them, or know what they would mean. He did. But it stopped his attack and I never worked for Hara San again. Instead, I got put on report to the Japanese Commander for being an uncooperative worker. Through the Dutch interpreter, Braber ( pronounced BRA-BUR), I was royally chewed out and warned that any further reports would result in me being given time in the Aso, the terrible punishment cell. I might have been this time had it not been for the Skunk recommending me for outstanding worker some weeks before. I was given a prize of a pack of hair tobacco cigarettes on that occasion. It was kind of embarrassing at the time but every body knew that it was because I got along good with the old timer.

We worked in the mines ten hours a day except on Speedo Day, when we worked twelve. Speedo was always the seventh day of the month (Pearl Harbor Day) and a couple of other days a month, as well. We were told this extra effort was to aid in completing the war quicker and getting it over with. Everybody was expected to make extra effort.

We did what we could to retard progress. When possible and we could get away with it, we filled the car bottoms with rock, covering the tops with coal. We stole and buried dynamite, a precious, wartime commodity. We ruined drills by driving them into glass-hard basalt. We derailed loaded cars running at high speed so they would tear up the track and tunnel supports. It would take precious time and material to repair the damage. We tried to be careful so that what we did would not endanger others, but there were accidents.

A major cave-in killed some Hollanders and some of the East Indies Colonials. Guys lost fingers, broke arms and legs, but in many cases these were looked upon as lucky breaks. It meant time away from the mines. Some prisoners were so desperate to avoid going to the mines that they gave away their food rations to brutes who would break their bones for them.

I don't suppose what we did affected the net results one way or the other. It certainly did nothing to shorten the war. But we did our best to neutralize positive effort. We had a great deal of satisfaction doing a little bit to help in anyway we could no matter how little it seemed. We were sure the folks back home were doing their best as well.

Near the end of a Speedo shift, rice balls, boiled yams or Irish potatoes were brought around, one for each of us as a reward for our extra effort, the one and only redeeming factor of it all.

We'd had three or four, or maybe six Speedo days, when a new agony came to us, the cold of winter.

"It will get colder and colder," we were warned at morning roll calls, "You must take care. Do not get pneumonia."

Each morning, out-of-doors, we were ordered to strip to the waist and massage our arms and chest toward the heart with a rag or a towel. This was the Japanese way to keep from getting pneumonia. We did it at night too, with the window open. At least it built up the circulation in our blood. Only the Japanese Commander caught pneumonia, demonstrating the technique!

Then, one bitter day the world warmed for me. I got a letter date lined "Bloomington, Nebraska" - my first in almost four years. It obviously had gone through censors. It didn't say much: the weather was good, they were all well, they missed me, had I got their other letters? But I memorized it and repeated it to myself over and over. Word from home!

That day we were told that one of us, just one, could write a letter home. We drew lots. I can still hear the guy who won say, "But I ain't got no one to write to!" Some "rich" fellow paid him to assume his victory, probably a half ration of his evening meal.

And now, the grim winter was really with us, turning us and the world around us a sort of gray. Our skins had long ago lost their dark, walnut bronze of the tropics. There, we ran around almost naked in the sun. Here, our hides had taken on the pallor which comes from working underground. That is when the grime was wiped off. Our eyes, ever circled with coal dust, looked deeper than they really were.

Roll Call at 5:45...

Every morning during those bitter winter months, at the sound of the 5:45 bell, the day shift jumped out of our huddle underneath the thin, grayish Japanese army blankets and ran into the cold air for 'tenko', roll call at the assembly area in front of the guard house. We lined up by room numbers. Our room leaders would call us to attention and line us up in as much of a military formation as possible for the skin and bones, stooped figures that we were. Then the command in Japanese, "Bongo!" Everything was done in Japanese. We called it "Nihon Go". Each prisoner recited his own number followed by the next in ascending order: Yon Haku go ju!, Yon Hako go ju itchi! - 450, 451, etc., up to me; Go Haku Hatchi, 508, that was my number, my name. Like the first digits of my social security number. What a dumb coincidence! Prisoners did not have names, just numbers, three digits only. Some guys even used them among themselves: "Where'd you get the cigarette?"

"Got it from Go Haku Ju San."

"Oh! yeah, wha'd you have to give for it?"

"Two dikon (white radish) pickles." It went that way sometimes. After all the counting was done and while we stood there barefooted with frost on the ground, shivering with just our rag towels around our necks, the room "honchos" saluted and made their reports to the Japanese First Sergeant who turned and reported again to the Japanese Camp Commandant, Lieutenant Seijiro Yashitsuga standing on the little platform. Beside him was an enlisted aide, or Japanese interpreter and Lieutenant Braber, the interpreter. If the Commander desired to give a pep talk or make any remarks he did so in Japanese while we shivered. Then Braber would repeat all the message, phrase by phrase, in Dutch, while we shivered. Then, again in English while we shivered some more. After that, rubdown exercises which did help to get the blood moving from numb arms and legs but kept us standing in the cold still longer.

After returning to the cold barracks which now seemed even heated by comparison, then the bell would ring for morning meal; and we would rush to the chow hall for an ever diminishing ration of rice or, if our luck was running bad, rice substitute (millet, wheat, barley or, God forbid, soya beans). The noon ration to take to the mines was issued at the same time and the great test of will power to resist eating everything at once then began.

At the end of our building was a round, concrete tub bound with rusty-red metal bands. Leading into it from above were two pipes, one cold water and the other live steam. It would look at first glance like an old abandoned clothes washer of the Thirties. Somehow it was usually filled with almost boiling hot water. Unless the whole camp was being punished for something, we were free to draw water from the tank. Because there was a relative abundance of black tea, we warmed our bodies by drinking gallons of hot tea or just water. The Japanese had issued us some school student type, galvanized tin canteens fitted in a web, carrying harness. For some reason, not everybody had them but, those who did were fortunate. Filled with hot water, they were nice to cuddle with under the blanket and help stay warm for a while. Those few with American regulation aluminum canteens which did not hold as much were not kept as warm but were fortunate in another way. Most of them were beautifully engraved with all sorts of military insignia, names of places and battles fought, and camps and ships survived. Those that still exist today are precious souvenirs.

In late March of 1945, I became quite ill. Something went wrong with my lower bowels. It was real and not faked. The doctors succeeded in getting me assigned to light duty and much lighter rations. I didn't mind the latter because I was not very hungry at first, but I was sent to work during the day tending gardens around the top of Shinko mine. I think I was given some Red Cross medicine of some kind, a sulfa drug maybe that brought me around and I was doing pretty good again. Still, I was able to hang on to the light duty status.

A Lone Carrot...

Once or twice I worked at a dairy where there were real, honest-to-goodness Holstein cows. I sure hungered for the milk but there was no chance. Those of us working there had to shovel the heavy manure and rice straw which afforded us only a slight chance to steal a little of the pressed soybean cake meant for the cows. Probably there was little nutrition in it but, there was plenty of fiber and just what I didn't need. It was lucky I didn't get hung up on that detail very long. I did find a lone carrot growing in a small plot of ground that may have once been somebody's garden. Obviously, it was a volunteer, yet I expect more than one person knew about it. Because I felt I would not be coming back to the dairy, I waited until I was not closely watched and harvested the carrot. It was a nice one - county fair quality. I separated it from the green tops and rushed to the cows watering trough where I washed my carrot. It had not been fertilized with night soil as far as I knew; what did I know? I soon had a chance to eat the orange beauty. I took no chance of smuggling it back to camp or sharing it with another who might get caught and then there would be hell to pay. I heard tell that Japan is a land where the birds don't sing, the flowers don't smell and now I learned that wild carrots do not have strong flavor. I relished that beautiful vegetable, the first fresh whole one I had seen for more than three years.

We became hungrier and hungrier as rations grew less and less. The hungriest, was my buddy, Platoon Sergeant E. D. Smith. He was the Marine Corps non-com personified - you'd knock before you entered anything he was in, be it room, tent, or his sleeping bay even though you were both POW's. "Hey! it's Speedo day!" he explained as we walked toward the gardens on the old slag pile. "We get that extra ball of rice!" We went to work on a small terrace of light clay not far from the mine entrance, preparing ground for sweet potato planting. Before 9 A.M., E. D. has slipped away to eat his noon "bento" ration. "You'll be starved by noon." I cautioned. But he ate, anyway. And when noon came he was nearly frantic. Hunger like that is a terrible thing. "Why don't they give us some food!" he yelled, throwing his hands up into the air. I handed him a little wad of my rice and soy beans. He swallowed it in one gulp. Then we both lay in the sun thinking about more food.

Spring also brought on the growth of weeds along the ditches bordering the paths we took going and coming from our work places. One plant that seemed familiar to most of us, we called pig weeds. Eaten raw the little succulent-like plants had a sweet-sour taste and might have been great in a salad with some buttermilk-ranch dressing. I guess I will never know about that but, they were edible and we took some chances jumping out of line to grab handfuls of them as we marched along the footpaths. We found a source of salt at the mines that was used to mix an electrolyte in a heavy electric motor control. It was a bit rusty, but when diluted with fresh water it was good to cook the weeds in when we could get away with having a fire. I think we were found out, but the only result of it seemed to be that all the pig weeds disappeared. The Japs were as hungry as we were and may have found they weren't that bad to eat.

During my light duty assignment, I was taken to a very large green tea farm to work. There we had two tasks: the first was to spray the tea bushes with some kind of a chemical the Japanese called it Ku su dee, the second was to set out some sweet potato slips into ground that someone had already prepared in long, curving, terraced beds. Along the rows were rice straw bags of salty and rather wormy fish. Each was about five to six inches long. We were instructed to place one fish with each slip we planted. If we found any without worms they were set aside and we ate them, chasing the salty stuff with canteens of water.

Most of the other workers on the farm were women. They were pleasant and easy to work with. We were careful not to let them discover what we were doing. At lunch and during breaks, they made plenty of tea. I enjoyed being up on the mountain side in the tea gardens. The air was fresh and there was no harassment or brutality. Not until we got back to the camp. We could hear and feel the Allied air attacks to the west of us on the opposite side of the mountains. They fairly danced but everybody went about their work as though nothing was happening. The terrible horror of war already reached the homeland.

For a time, we were issued steamed bread instead of grain. It was very strange stuff but, at first, a welcome change to the millet, barley, soy beans and what all they gave us as rice substitutes. The bread or Pan, the Japanese word for bread, was quite dense because it had no leavening, no yeast, no baking powder, no eggs, nothing to make it rise. Just flour and water, I suppose. What kind of flour it was I don't think we were ever told. It was not very white for the bread was about the color of peanut butter. And it was not baked in a hot oven but cooked in a steam pressure vessel. One can find steamed breads in the larger Chinese restaurants, but it will be nothing like Futase steamed bread. I can describe it, everything but the taste. Each loaf was about eight inches in diameter and two and a half inches thick. The loaves were cut in half and each prisoner was issued one section per meal, twice a day. You would have thought it was manna from heaven above at first but it was nothing like the fat, browned loaves the bakers cooked on the ships or in the field during the battle.

The bread ration tended to increase bartering. It was a handier commodity than a half mess kit of too firm soy beans. For some, it was their undoing. The temptation to trade off one's meager ration of gummy, doughy bread sometimes won over one's better judgement.

Remarked Changes...

Some remarked changes took place toward the middle of August there was no honcho around on our detail during the noon break. At one o'clock when we were supposed to go back to work, no one showed up to yell at us to get going. At two, we were still resting. Then we heard Dutch and American voices. We looked up as the production shift appeared at the mouth of Shinko mine. "What's up?", someone asked. "Why are we quitting" asked another. It was some kind of a Japanese holiday, that was only cause to work longer, not to rest. "How come no air raid today?" "Gee! the war must be over!" "That's a laugh!" Still, something was up.

There we were all sitting around on the ground and nobody came to beat us. An hour went by. Then another. A young Japanese girl came down Red Rock mountain. Tears were streaming down her face. She went to the mine office. I slipped over to the window to listen. The girl talked fast and excited and used expressions not common to me. My Japanese was pretty much limited to mine talk. I could catch a few words -"radio" - "Nagasaki!" - "terrible bombing." Good! perhaps we had done a little damage, I reported to my fellows. Then others came out of the mine. We stood around, all of us. The miners, ragged, thin and dirty, skeleton-like creatures, their teeth looking white in contrast to blackened faces. The Japanese folks looked puzzled and serious. They marched us back to camp. As we mixed together, we swapped what information we had among ourselves. Little bits of trivial things that never happened before seemed meaningful now. The Dutchmen who worked for the Japanese mining engineer had been asked to hand over equipment, mining plans and keys they were usually allowed to keep in their possession. That was very interesting. And, of course, we resurrected the common rumor that our planes had reduced Tokyo and other big Japanese cities to ruin. We had heard them often, too often to be believed. Yet, as we learned later, they were far truer than we had ever known. "Yeah, well if the war isn't over how come no air raids?" the optimistic asked the pessimistic. And for that we had no answer. Everywhere you could hear the Japanese murmuring, "Bee-nee ju que" (B-29).

Back in camp came a most unusual announcement. "The night shift will not work. We dared not cheer. Next morning, no one went to work, either. The mean and usually miserable Japanese corporal stayed in his lair and made none of his frequent, harassing visits of terror to the quarters of the damned. The wall sentries were unusually pleasant and strangely congenial, but we could get nothing out of them except, "Big men are talking."

"Stoppage of the War"...

The following day (August 21, 1945) the assembly bell sounded. Everyone went to his appointed place in the big yard at the front of the camp. We waited half an hour. Nothing happened. Some tired of waiting and went back to their tatami mats to lie down. A week earlier this would have prompted an ungodly beating and an overnight visit to the hated punishment box. At long, last the Japanese camp commander appeared. His sabre dangled at his side as he mounted the steps of the platform in front of our formation. For the first time ever he addressed us in English. Braber, the interpreter, converted his words into Dutch. "Arrangements have been made for the stoppage of the war." he said. We stood in absolute silence. "Tm very happy for you that my colonel will let me say that you will soon go to a Japanese port, get into neutral ship and return to your homeland."

Still, there was mostly silence, although some of us looked at each other and others whispered: "What happened?" "How come?" "Shhhh" "He'll tell us more." With a half smile on his face, the captain was saying, "I am sorry for those that died. They cannot share this happy time". We were stunned. We couldn't believe it. One rumor come true! - after thousands that didn't. It wasn't until late in the day that we actually began to talk about it much and even then not very loud. We couldn't let our hopes get too high and out of control. But that night, the guards stripped the camp of all the posters explaining coal mining work and lists of camp rules and discipline. Word came from somewhere to make a huge POW camp sign. We were to put it up on a roof so that American pilots would see it and, maybe, drop supplies. We folded our thin beige Japanese-issue blankets into strips a foot wide. Then we laid them together end to end on the roof of one building, forming letters into a massive P.O.W. sign. Never did so many work so willingly. We tripped over one another in our eagerness. Next day, the guards were outside the camp patrolling the perimeter. "They are out there to keep the natives from molesting us." we were told. And then on August 22, according to our crude handmade calendars, we heard the roar of motors low in the sky. We dashed outside and turned to look up. Close enough to see the lights twinkling in the open, bomb bay doors. We saw the massive "Bee Nee Ju Ques" for the first time. It was hard to accept that something so big could really fly. Out of the openings, like giant hippopotamus mouths, wooden pallets as large as bridges crossing the little Nebraska creeks came tumbling out. Quickly, they blossomed into multicolored parachutes floating down..down. Like flowers tossed at a wedding, red, blue, and white ones. Most landed outside the gates. With one concerted push we, knocked down the 12 foot high wooden fence and forced open the big wooden gates and raced toward the drops. The guards did nothing but watch in great amazement. And then, for the first time in almost four years, we laid hands on great quantities of American stock. More stuff than in our wildest imagination came to us quicker than you could recite a list of it. Food, clothes, medicine. And flea powder (Oh! how we needed that!), packed inside the shoes along with sheets of paper printed in only Dutch and Japanese. Where were the English versions? "What do they say?"

We rushed on to look in other bags and boxes, but were stopped when a Hollander shouted: "It says the Japs have surrendered unconditionally! Hooray!" He was waving the printed sheets and shouting. We grabbed for them. We couldn't read the Dutch words or Japanese characters but our eyes feasted on the print just the same. There it was in black and white. At last! At long last! Our officers confronted the Japanese. They conceded that hostilities were ordered stopped. What a day! What a night! There wasn't anything to drink, no champagne nothing other than tea or fruit juice. Stronger stuff was not needed to toast our impending freedom and the end of the war. We were already drunk with joy. But we ate and ate and ate and grinned and struck at each other, on skinny backs and bony shoulders, until we were sore - and we talked, like chattering magpies, all night long. Smith and I formed our own eating orgy club. We ripped open cans of bacon and fried them on a thick, flat piece of aluminum pounded into a sort of a skillet. We broke up pieces of the fence that once held us inside for the cooking fire. With three-pound cans of cooked, scrambled eggs which we quickly heated on our sizzling grill, we devoured great gobs with gusto. Then followed the feast with a big can of peach halves, each. After we had eaten so much, we could do nothing else but lean back and try to smoke a few strong American cigarettes. They were too powerful and bit the tongue and made our heads swim. It seemed like the proper end to the first real filling and satisfying meal since the early days of the war. We had eaten all we cooked and more food was still stacked at our side. "You know, Don," said Smith, "I used to pass up good food so I could drink more. But from now on, I'm going to pass up drinks so I can eat more."

We had several sorrows in those last days. One occurred when navy man Honeycutt a patient of the tuberculosis ward died in the doorway of our prison ward. He had a massive internal chest hemorrhage. Apparently from overexertion carrying in packages dropped from the planes. The drops continued. We ate, we ate, we smoked. Once we got hunger off our minds, we talked about other things, sex, for one. A subject which hadn't been mentioned much in all the days, weeks and months when we were starving. We joked about our new, olive drab underwear which we all proudly displayed and even wore outside the camp in the villages. The airlift hadn't dropped any trousers at all - at least not where we could find them. Soon, we thought nothing of it and even the natives paid us scant attention.

There were only two British citizens in camp 10: an enlisted medical corpsman, and a civilian, able bodied seaman. One or the other of them broke out an English union jack in perfect condition. I don't know how they managed to bring it to Japan and seclude it for more than two years but, they did it. I expect the Japanese were no less surprised than the rest of us. The senior prisoner officers decided that ceremonies would be conducted to coincide the Allies plan to occupy Japan but there were no American and Dutch flags available. A request was made to the Japanese authorities to bring in a treadle-operated sewing machine. Corporal Keith L. Bennett, a marine from Headquarters, 3rd Battalion, 4th Regiment, volunteered to operate it and sewed together American and Dutch flags using colored parachute material and the few clean, white hand towels that could be found in the camp. Forty eight white stars were cut from the towels and hand stitched to the blue field, the red and white stripes added on and, almost like magic, made a beautiful flag. Betsey Ross would have been every bit as proud as we were.

Three flagpoles were erected on the assembly area. On September 2, 1945, the Japanese commander formally turned over the camp to the senior officer, Captain Andraus, Royal Dutch Army. A truck came and took away all the Japanese military troop, except the captain. We never saw the others again.

Allied Flag Ceremony...

The night before the raising of the allied flags over our camp was spent in agonizing discussions about which flag would be raised first, fly highest and in senior position. The arguments were very spirited as I remember them. It was finally settled. The flags were raised in a simple but very stirring ceremony later in the day. There was no band, no bugles but, there was singing in our hearts. Futase Camp came under the command of the Allied Forces.

Bennett brought the flag home and it is proudly shown at conventions and gatherings on occasion. The flag maker has gone to his maker and is no longer living. His patriotic spirit lives on as bright as ever. I watched him do some of the sewing. I ran around the camp afterwards telling others about it. It was an exciting event but, when it was run up the pole at Futasi I can't describe the feelings I got in my chest and throat. It was the moment of climax after 40 months of hoping and praying.

Somehow I had always known that it would happen and I envisioned that a huge tank, bristling with guns, followed by fresh troops would come bursting through the gates. It happened that way in Billibid, and Santo Thomas University in Manila where civilians were interned. I thought I would survive to see something like that. I never imagined it would happen as it did. Neither did I have much of an idea what might have happened to us had the Yanks and Tanks stormed into Japan as they did at lwo Jima or Okinawa. It was only later that I learned how thin the thread was that tied me to this world.

Now we began to visit other camps, and other prisoners came from their camps nearby to visit us. Many of them were worse than ours. A few were better. The same Japanese colonel was in charge of all camps in our district. The difference depended on the personality of the soldiers and the hired help. A few bastards in each camp and in the workplace assured a steady state of misery everywhere. Some of them still working the mines were sought out and beat up. At first, it seemed strange to wander over the country side in just our underwear and armed with nothing but a dull Mieji bayonet liberated from a home guard armory. We found the village, Shin Izuka, and the barbershop with its pretty girl barber. We all had tender shaves and neat GI haircuts. The natives crowded around asking about lizuka bombs. There was nothing we could tell them. We didn't know either. We asked questions, too. We enjoyed ourselves waiting the nearly four weeks it took for us to be repatriated. We were free.

This need to wander and visit other camps proved disastrous for some of our buddies. A truck was commandeered to bring unused supplies from camps that had been evacuated and the prisoners repatriated. Sadly, it was struck by a train at a grade crossing and two men were killed. One was an American and one a Hollander. Andrew Miller was present when they were buried but, a positive identification of the two has been lost in time. I personally can remember the blonde-headed Hollander lieutenant who went along on the foray. That is to say, I can remember what he looked like. It's doubtful I ever knew his name. I often wondered if he was one of the casualties. He had worked in the engineering office at the Shinko Coal Mine and was fluent in many languages and dialects. I have always hoped it wasn't him who survived so many months of such humiliation only to die in a senseless accident.

In Shin lizuku, we met some Japanese citizens who spoke fairly good English. They described the destruction of Hiroshima, 150 miles to the north, and Nagasaki, only fifty miles to the south. They said these large cities had been destroyed by small bombs only a few inches in size and that hundreds of thousands of people had been killed by them. Apparently they were too shocked to be bitter, only curious. So were we. It was surprising to find most of the people in the towns and cities to be cordial and not at all hostile, not like most of the soldiers and many of the workers in the camp and the mines who had treated us so badly all the time. Later when we learned about the terrible destruction of big cities in fire storm air raids and the deaths of so many people, we wondered how they so quickly accepted us.

I had learned quite a few Japanese words, two of which were: sense warui desu". Simply translated into English they mean, "war is no good." How these words are spoken can impart a wide range of expression, I'm sure. It can be easily assumed that if it was a father who lost a son in battle on some far away island that he might blame the war and not his enemy. I never did notice any kind of hostility among the people after the fighting ended. This is hard for me to reconcile after learning how devastating the war became when it came to their shores.

Some citizens invited some of us to their homes, away from the fleas and the awful smell of the camp. I went to one belonging to a civilian I had been dealing with for live rabbits. It made the time pass fast and pleasantly while we waited for the repatriation team to come and get us. We made some friends quickly by trading the extra things we had or didn't want anymore, such as blankets, parachute cloth and the lines from them. We got some live chickens, rabbits and fresh eggs to expand the menu of canned food we now had aplenty. By this method we also raised a little cash to use in dealing with the locals. One of them, an enterprising fellow with a penchant for dealing, had his wife prepare some Japanese style meals for a few of us on several occasions. We contributed some of our rations like catsup, sugar and canned fruit to help her out. Home cooked food is better anywhere and the lady was as marvelous a cook as she was gracious. Quite a change for us to receive such hospitality, it took not long to become accustomed to.

Mikado No Kyaku: (guest of the Emperor), the Recollections of Marine Corporal Donald L. Versaw as a Japanese Prisoner of War during World War II
Sullen Faced Japanese Soldiers Turn Away as the British and Australian
Soldiers Stream Out the Gate of Their Prison Camp on Formosa After
Liberation by a Landing Party of U. S. Marines Under Colonel A.D. Cooley
Official U.S. Marine Corps Photo
Our Repatriation Team...

Now, a repatriation team arrived. The first friendly armed forces we had seen since capture. We marveled at their wonderful fatigue uniforms, great jackets with the big pockets, strangely-shaped steel helmets, and peculiar carbine-sized rifles and shortie bayonets. "Be patient. You'll be shipped out in a few days," We were told. On September 21st the trucks arrived. The guy next to me asked, "What do you think will happen in the Yank Occupation? What will they do with these Japanese?" "Just make 'em stay right here, that ought to serve'm right." someone answered. We all laughed. Fifty years later it would not be so funny. We clambered aboard the trucks, cheering the sun, the sky, the land and the amazed natives clogging along the streets. We rumbled to the railhead. The waiting train was already loaded with Australians and others who had wildly decorated the big, black steam engine with strips of colored cloth and makeshift flags of all kinds. That was the greatest train ride I have ever taken, before or since. The start of that long, happy journey home! Suddenly, even Japan looked real good. We sang and laughed and cheered as we chugged...chugged... We passed through lovely picture postcard country, green tea fields, and terraces now filled with ripening rice. The country became more mountainous. Great stands of small pine trees spread neatly on either side of the grades. The cool air rushed though open windows of the old prewar passenger car. We drank in great droughts of the clean smelling stuff. Great breaths of freedom. The car suddenly darkened as we shot through the first long tunnel. It quickly filled with the coal smoke from the engine pulling us through. for a few moments, we gasped and choked and tried to find the windows and close them.

A minor panic erupted in the dim light of the few lamps that were burning. It was like my first night deep inside old Honko. foul air, dark and a little scary. Visions of that terrible time flashed across my brain. In spite of that we didn't lose our enthusiasm. We finally emerged from the last short tube, and after getting a few breaths of fresh air and wiping the cinders from our tearful eyes, everybody was in a joyful mood again. And then we saw it. Nagasaki! Or really what had once been Nagasaki. Across the great valley was a big bare spot where the city had once stood; now, except for around its fringes, it was no more. We saw the big, blue bowl that was Nagasaki harbor as the train rounded a bend and headed down toward it and the place where a railway station had once probably stood. The train began to pass acres of what had once been factories and shops. They were like skeletons in a graveyard of monster animals. The steel frame-works of row-upon-row of buildings were pushed down, all in one direction, their metal sidings stripped off and blown away. As we came closer into the doomed city, the degree of destruction increased. In a short time, there were no remnants of buildings at all. Rather, there were rows and rows of machines lined up in perfect ranks arranged within grids of what must have been streets, reaching from railside into the distance in every direction. An occasional bent chimney could be seen standing like a downcast and forlorn sentry watching over the desolation. The tools must once have been housed in shops that had been blasted away. They now stood naked in the sun scorched, burned and already rusting orange-red. Shortly, even they were gone, apparently vaporized by the second atomic bomb ever dropped in anger. We stopped our singing. Quietly we watched and wondered. Could just one bomb have done this? We were stunned. The Japanese conductor tried to tell us what had happened, the story most of the world already knew - without bitterness he told us that it had brought the war to an end. Could it be that this small bomb with its terrible power had resulted in our now being free? Many of us thought so then. There is little doubt now, even though firestorm bombing by conventional incendiaries did far more damage and took many more lives. We left the train near one of the less damaged docks. We could hardly believe our eyes.

Mikado No Kyaku: (guest of the Emperor), the Recollections of Marine Corporal Donald L. Versaw as a Japanese Prisoner of War during World War II
Real American Food is Given Two American
Prisoners of War Liberated by U.S. Marines on Formosa
Official U.S. Marine Corps Photo 
There we were greeted by sailors, marines, and Red Cross people wearing neat clean uniforms we had never seen before. They gave us milk and ice cream. Ships carried us to island airfields and we boarded planes and their engines sang, and we sang and they took us home. On the way we thought of our friends. Wouldn't it have been great if Claude and Charley could have lived to see this great time!? And Chaplain Trump, he wanted to return to Columbus and his little family waiting for him there. I wished he were there to say the words of thanks; he would have been able to better say what we all felt. The best I could do was, "Thank God. It's over." And there were others. Far too many others. The battle casualties of a long and hard fight to survive. I won't forget them - those with whom I had once been so proud to serve. That is one thing I must try not to do. Another is to remember to be grateful for the thousands upon thousands who fought and died and set us free.

Why the atom bombs? This question will come up year after year until the end of time. There will be those who will think they were excessive and unnecessary. Few of them will be former Japanese prisoners of war and not many will be the survivors of those who lost their lives in the fighting. If using the bombs shortened the war it undoubtedly saved millions of lives on both sides. One thing seems very certain in my mind: no prisoner of the Japanese would have likely survived had the atom bombs not been used. The massacre at Palawan Island proves that. High command Japanese orders were to destroy all prisoners of war to prevent their being repatriated.

I don't relish the death of innocents in war. Sherman put it well when he said, "...war is hell." He believed that the citizens had to be made to feel the horror of it all before their government is compelled to give it up. The blame for all the death and terror wrought on the homeland of Japan must ever rest on their military regime who failed to consider the wrath of the peaceful giant they struck, without warning, that should-have-been, peaceful, beautiful Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, a day of infamy that Japan must be responsible for forever.

Next: Epilogue - Full Text of MIKADO NO KYAKU (Guest of the Emperor) Please Click Below for:
1. Introduction to Slavery Page 1
2. Our New Home in Bongabon Page 15
3. To the Shade of Mount Penatubo Page 37
4. Bilibid Prison Again Page 55
5. Cabanatuan "Revisited" 1944 Page 59
6. The Nissyo Maru. A True Trip of Terror Page 67
7. Where the Birds Don't Sing and Flowers Don't Smell Page 82
8. The Setting of the Rising Sun Page 99
Epilogue Page 117
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