Donald Versaw

DONALD L. VERSAW, born June 23, 1921 in Bloomington Nebraska. Joined the U.S. Marine Corps on Armistice Day, 1939 in Chicago. Following recruit training and a short term with the Marine Corps Operating Base Band, San Diego, CA he was sent to Shanghai, China for duty with the 4th Marines Band. After the regiment was evacuated to the Philippines and at the outset of World War II he became an infantryman in E Co. Second Battalion, Fourth Regiment. When Corregidor was surrendered to the Japanese in May 1942, he spent the next 40 months as a POW in the PI's and in Japan.

During captivity he was held on Luzon Island mostly at on work camp near Clark Air Base for more than two years. In July 1944 he was moved to Japan in one of the notorious "Hell Ships" - (unmarked freighter/troop ships) - and put to forced labor in Nittetsu-Futase Tonko Kaisha (coal mine company) on the Japanese island of Kyushu. This company paid enlisted men 5 sen per day for their labor. [(A sen is one one hundredth of a yen)(One yen was then equal to ten American cents)] Deductions were made at the rate of 50% deposited in Japanese Postal Savings Plan.

Following repatriation, he remained in the Corps and married Amelda Gilmore, a union that has lasted more than 52 years ending in her death in October of 1999. They had two daughters, Judith and Denise. In 1950-51 he served in Korea with the 1st Marine Division in a Photo unit. After retirement in 1959 he worked in the aerospace industry for 13 years on the Saturn and Apollo programs. He completed 10 years of Civil service divided equally between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Air Force; he retired in 1984 with a total of 31 years federal service. He is a Life member of American Ex-POWs and served two years as a Chapter Commander and it's Treasurer for a number of years. He is a life member of the American Defenders Bataan and Corregidor, the Disabled American Veterans, American Ex-Prisoners of War. He is a member of the American Legion Post 142 Bloomington, Nebraska, the China Marine Association and Marine Corps Musicians Association.


For more information on Marine POWs, visit this very informatimve page: Appendix A, Marine POWs

Excerpts from
Mikado no Kyaku
by Donald Versaw
POW at Futase Camp #7
(formerly Camp #10-D)


To the thousands of Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought and died that many millions of us would enjoy freedom again.


To all the Filipino people who put themselves in harms way to help the plight of American prisoners of war in so many ways.


To the few Japanese soldiers who occasionally showed great compassion to their captives along with the millions of civilians who had to suffer and die needlessly for all the wrong reasons.


This book is the story of having been a prisoner of war of the Japanese during most of World War II. A great many people -- thousands of them -- endured an almost identical trial in their young lives as I did. A number of us have written books about it and now, in the fading light of our lives, more are doing so. Most have published their work at their own expense. This book is another example.

Not unlike many other offerings, this one was originally titled "Guest of the Emperor." It may have been one of the very first manuscripts to bear that title, the first draft having been typed during the winter of 1945. Some years later, a heavily edited version was hand-published on a Multilith by Arlene Brown and Bill Holly, and a number of Accro fastened copies were run off and given a limited distribution. The editor of that edition was Ruth Reynolds, a professional writer of crime stories for the New York Sunday News.

Early in 1990, Noel and Norma Roberts, both avid readers, became interested in the Reynolds' edited manuscript. They felt the story really prompted more questions than it answered and left them wanting to know more about my experience and in greater detail. I set about doing this. They gave me great assistance with editing and encouragement.

Versaw, age 19I was not yet 21 years old when the island fortress of Corregidor was surrendered to the Japanese. I spent my 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th birthdays in captivity, but the only birthday I was ever allowed to celebrate was that of Emperor Hirohito each 28th of April. The observance was marked by extra long hours at hard labor.

If nothing else, this will serve as a historical record for my descendants, family members and friends who may have an interest in knowing what happened to me in the Philippines and in the land of the rising sun so many years ago.

I have struggled a long time with a title for my work. It is still "Guest of the Emperor" to me and will remain so, but in Japanese -- Mikado no Kyaku, was a phrase used by Japanese officials in the prison camps, where we were often cruelly reminded that was what we then were, "guests". They were hosts of a kind so cruel as at times to be beyond definition. It is only in recent years that citizens of Japan have learned how their wartime government grossly abused thousands of their captives. This story is an account of a luckier one than many.

My saga begins where the experience ended. Enslaved at work in the Kyushu mines, having survived more that two years of confinement in Luzon, Philippine Island prison camps and following a terrifying and horrific voyage at sea in a ship of Hell from Manila to Moji, Japan. I was made to work for food in a coal mine. In Japan they are dark, dank and fearful places. The only thing to help relieve the terror was to focus on the moment and try not to worry about cave-ins, brutal beatings, the pangs of hunger or the hell of tomorrow. This is the condition of the whole matter of being a prisoner of war. You can't wonder if you will ever see the light of day again, if you will ever taste the sweet joy of freedom. You must know that you will, simply because there is a merciful God in heaven in whom you trust all things.

dlv / 1998

Chapter Six

The Nissyo Maru -- A True Trip of Terror

After a light breakfast, which was nothing more than a tiny ball of sticky rice, the big gates of the old prison opened and we marched out into the nearly deserted city street. I was surprised how near it seemed we were from the Manila docks, for we were soon there, standing in ranks. In the distance, we could see Corregidor -- that little black bump on the horizon to which MacArthur had not yet returned. Another large group of prisoners from the Port Area work party was waiting for us. Together in the two groups there were about igloo of us ragged looking, strangely clad, bone thin, weary warriors -- already survivors.

There were many among us that had no idea of what we faced in the mottled, rusty-red transport that's moored to the dock in front of us: the Japanese ship Nissyo Maru. It looked as though it could accommodate no more than half of us. We stood most of the morning in the dock house. The Japanese guard came to us one by one. They asked if we had any knives, matches or pencils; then, made us open any packages, quan bags and the clothes we were wearing to see if we had any of those items. Those prisoners who were found to be carrying cigarette lighters, scissors or razors were beaten on the spot and the stuff confiscated.

In a long single line we then marched over the gangplank, stretched up and over the brown oily waters in a hell ship. I could see some commotion on the deck ahead. I came to a gamut of Japanese soldier guards and recognized one of them as the notorious "Mickey Mouse" From Military Prison Camp 1. He was given that name because of his huge ears and mousey-like personality. He knew and could speak a little English and was curious why he was called Mickey Mouse. When told that it was because he was a lot like a famous American motion picture star, he accepted his "handle" gratefully. But, Mouse was not grateful this day. Rather he was shouting like crazy, "Take off shoes! Throw in hold! Hyyaku! (hurry) All bags too! Now! Go down ladder, speedo! speedo!" He punctuated his urging with shoves and pushes with his rifle butt. The men he struck pushed those ahead and terror struck others close by as they hurried to get into the hold on to ladders as bags and boots bounced off heads and backs of the hapless men trying to get out of the way. We moved on as others poured onto the deck behind us to receive the same brutal welcome. The orders were repeated in staccato. "Air Raid", another even more notorious Camp 1 guard joined the Mouse at pushing, shoving, and hitting the men scrambling to come on to the ship and into the hold.

Subhuman Cargo...

My shock had little to do with the roughness even though I had no idea this was the standard method for loading a Japanese vessel with its "subhuman" cargo. I was more concerned as I scrambled down the ladder to find the hold was already crammed full, as far as I could see, with half naked, sweating men in ragged, beige-colored tatters. The quan bags and footgear had already become a pile twice the height of a man. Nearly 700 men had already entered the hold before me. Behind was another 800 more to come. There couldn't be room for their baggage, much less the men. But our captors kept shaking us down, like one shakes down the garbage in a bag to make room for more. And that's what we were to them -- garbage. I was pushed back away from the opening of the hold. My eyes became accustomed to the half light; under the covered part of the compartment, I could see wooden tiers for sleeping. They stood one above the other, five or six feet high, with an 18 inch clearance for each, like cages for animals in a pet shop. I wedged myself into one of the slots. It was very close even for a little fellow of five feet and six inches, like myself. I found I couldn't so much as raise my elbow and, with more and more men crowding in, there was no escape, no way to back out. I was trapped. It was apparent the guards intended each box in the array made for one person to hold five or more prisoners. I could hear them counting.

Others squeezed in to escape the rain of shoes and stuff still coming down like hail from above. The racket from the yelling and shouting was deafening back in the slots. I tried to listen and make some sense of it over the racket. "Oops...What's the matter...He's fainted..." That was just the beginning. As the newcomers jammed into the hold, those who had been there 40 minutes, 30 minutes, 20 minutes began to drop. Well, rather they slumped in their faint. There was no room to fall. Those who still had their wits about them in all that bedlam, sought to push the weak back up to the deck; a thinner outgoing stream of limp humanity met a forceful incoming flood of men leaping downward away from the frantic gamut above. "Air Raid" frantically tried to wear himself out beating at the flow of prisoners trying to move in both directions. He seemed to be inexhaustible. Obviously, he thought, some of the limp were pretending. Maybe some of them were faking unconsciousness; most were not and none was not terrified.

As others reached the fresh air above and were revived, they were redriven back down into an already fully packed mass of flesh and piles of stuff below. The once cool morning had now become a blazing midday inferno as the tropical sun in a cloudless, July sky bore down on the steaming scene of misery in Manila. The old, rusty, converted collier absorbed the scorching heat; it was like being on the inside of a giant steam iron. We cooked and I felt myself being pushed deeper into the sleeping slot, farther and farther away from the air and the light of the opening. The bedlam subsided to a hum in my ears: the hold turned gray. Without orders from the captors, a few brave and desperate men snatched up the hatch covers from beneath them and began tumbling the baggage into the hold below. Doing so made a little more room for those still stumbling down the ladders, but offered little relief for those already crammed into the space not larger than half a tennis court. Even the most ignorant Japanese guard must have known it would be an impossibility to stuff all igloo of us into such a small hold. They tried their damnedest, nonetheless. Outside my crevice-like slot, men were still slumping. We who were motionless and not struggling were still soaked with sweat -- our own and that of our fellows. Water dripped on me from the slots above. I thought at first some poor duffer's kidneys had failed him or that a canteen had broken open. Perhaps so, but most of it was sweat. I sweat! And the stench! God! The stench! "We must have more space! More space! It would be better that we be shot now! We must have more space."

It could have been hours -- maybe it was only a few minutes -- for the American interpreter to convince the Japanese that 1,500 men couldn't be jammed in such a small, hot space and expect them to live very long. But it took long, tortuous hours for our hosts to do something about it. After sundown, the guards yelled down for all men whose numbers were below 700 to climb out and go to the forward hold of the ship. Such a scrambling over each other, and under each other! Finally those left behind found themselves with a little more space; it was precious little. It did make breathing a little easier. Those that went forward tried to scoop up lungs full of cooler evening air before going down the ladders into the slightly larger hold. Again, the guards urged every one along with little less frantic intensity even though they had been at it for hours and hours.

I was among those moved forward. There were no sleeping bays, just solid iron decks surrounding another hatch, covered with huge planks fitted with metal bands and hand-holds, directly beneath the opening overhead. It seemed larger on that account and probably was; there still was not room for all to sit at one time upon the hard decking still warm from the blistering heat of the day. To have enough space to lie down and stretch out was out of the question.

Out of Control...

The noise from all of us yelling and screaming just never stopped. Everything was out of control. Officers and others who tried to get the group to quiet down and organize things were shouted down. Men who tried to claim a bit of space to stand or sit were shoved about in all directions. "This is my spot!" one would proclaim of a square not much larger than his two feet. "The hell it is!" an offended neighbor would yell back as loud as he could. But the sound of his voice could not be heard five feet away as it would be drowned out by the yelling there. Men in one quadrant of the hold would find themselves in the one opposite without having made any effort to move at all. The mass of flesh just seethed around like so many beans in a boiling pot. It was sheer bedlam and pandemonium all through the night. Little by little a tiny bit of order emerged. The few older officers, some of them doctors and chaplains, managed a little control. It was very difficult for them. Chaplain Stanley Reilley's effort is memorable and heroic. He made himself heard and it helped, but there were others who tried.

The following day, enough water was lowered down to us by selected prisoner helpers up on deck so that each man got about a half pint on two occasions. A bigger problem was what to do once it ran through one's system. There were no convenient latrines at all, not until a large wooden tub was lowered on ropes to become our night chamber. It was quickly filled and sometimes overflowed before being drawn above and disposed of over the side of the ship as a growing long line formed around the perimeter of the hold to wait its return. It made a mess around the tub that is beyond description. Those unfortunate souls near it pressed hard against their neighbors to get away from it. The line never ended and stood for the entire seventeen days we spent aboard the Nissyo. The tub was hauled up, emptied and lowered down again, each half hour, 1000 times or more. Some Medical corpsman were detailed to handle the nasty chore in round the clock shifts. There was no shortage of volunteers for the job however, because of the opportunity to be on deck in the fresh air, and out of the teeming, hot mass of sweating bodies below. It was a necessary but filthy mess, particularly for those in the vicinity of the operation. Because of the motion of the ship these prisoners were subject to many unfortunate accidents. A few latrines were available up on deck built out beyond the gunnels, but only a lucky few were able to ever use them once they managed to get topside.

It was a great relief to the men huddled so tightly together in the ship when, after another long, hot day, the ship moved away from the dock. The throb of the engine could be felt as the decks and bulkheads creaked and vibrated. But all shuddered with it. The sooner things happened, the sooner we could get off this terrible vessel. Then, after a short time, we shivered with despair for we heard the anchor chain rattle out of its locker as it was dropped. We soon knew we were standing just a few miles from Corregidor. There the ship sat and sat -- and sat -- for four, whole. hot, sizzling days while we stood and slumped against each other watching the yellow bucket running up and down regularly to and from topside. Our beards growing bristly for lack of razors and water to cut them. The rumor was that our ship was waiting for the formation of a convoy. Men began to work out ways for some to sit a while. In my turns I, fitfully, slept a little. This was complicated by some space ruled off for a "sick bay". In this space, those who were determined to be sick were allowed to stretch out and lie down. This made it ever more crowded for the others. There was some compassion for those still worse off than others -- it was not a lot. Small quantities of steamed barley were lowered to us twice each day along with the little bit of drinking water -- a half pint for each and it was not enough. Men became desperate for water and attempted to trade their little ration of food for water. Those who were too dry to eat soon found someone too hungry to eat. A strange thing occurred. The "dog eat dog" attitude so prevalent within the camps seemed to disappear in this awful, seething mass of men. "Here, Joe, you need it worse that I need it..." was sometimes heard. I saw trembling hands of one shove canteens into another's ghost-white lips.

We heard the anchor being pulled up and the ship moved again. I wish we could say we felt a little breeze coming through from above. The men all joined in a great deafening cheer which grew louder, ultimately growing into a roar -- like a capacity crowd at a championship football game as the favorites come trotting onto the field. There was no place for the sound to go so it came right back at us. God knows why we were cheering, just the encouraging thought and hope that our terror and desolation would end soon. Any change seemed welcome. Had we known what was to happen to the Oroyoku Maru, the Brazil Maru and the other hell ships that tried to come after us, and were even more terrifying and sunk with great loss of life, we would not likely have done so. Again, going on to anywhere was preferred to just laying-to, broiling in the sun. Whatever it was we talked, we shouted, and our ears rang with the sound of our own voices; the confusion went on all night. The Japanese guards wearied of it and told us to shut up or they would shoot, but we didn't and they didn't. You could tell by the roll of the ship that we were out of the bay; out of sight of the black rock of Corregidor that had once been our sanctuary and lost hope of victory. Out into the great, blue, South China Sea. We could only imagine what it looked like and where we were headed -- God only knew where.

Now, as men seem always to do, we tried to build ourselves communities. A few of the inventive made hammocks in the overhead. Others staked out imaginary claims on sitting space. Since there wasn't nearly enough to go around, there were always arguments as to whose posterior was covering whose spot. The men with the larger behinds caught the most hell. There were even some fights. Not because anybody was really angry but, just because emotions had bulged up like balloons, too full of air. They had to burst. After a fight, everybody would sit quietly for a while and then "Hey, you, son of a bitch, who the hell..." "Who's calling me a..." And another fight would begin. The ship plowed on and on through smooth seas, rough seas, choppy seas. The sun rose and the light came through the hatchway and zigzagged wildly around our pen as the ship followed a defensive course to avoid our American submarines. The sun set.

The noise, the din and stench went on all night. We watched the heavens through the hatchway and tried to make them out. But, they skewed across the deep blue-black field like shooting stars, first in one direction and then, as the ship turned, scooted back again. Watching them kept your mind off the possibility of a raging torpedo smashing into the thin hull of the old ship and blowing us into kingdom come. The sun rose and there was light again.

I thought of the times that tourists had paid hundreds of dollars to take this very trip from Manila to Japan in luxury and comfort. The food situation was not ideal, but we had all been in worse situations. Cooked barley, sometimes with a little rice, was lowered on ropes in the same kind of buckets used to lift out the waste. We hoped they were different ones. Each bucket was intended to feed 150 men, according to numbers. Control was just impossible and some men got more than others. The weaker and sicker ones got the least as the stronger ones crawled over them to get a second helping. Some men died, their already weakened bodies unable to bear the stress and conditions on the Nissyo. During the day, their bodies were taken up on deck and slipped into the sea with Chaplain Reilley committing their souls to the Almighty. Several prisoners went berserk and had to be held down until they became too weak to resist.

The first leg of our miserable journey took us north along the west coast of Luzon and then across to the Formosan Strait to the west of what is now Taiwan. Conditions did not improve greatly enroute. The noise, the filth, the smell and the tension went on 24 hours a day in my hold. I expect it did in the aft hold also. After a day or so, a few men were allowed on top deck for a short time. A gulp or two of fresh sea air can be refreshing on any cruise, but on one such as ours it was as precious as food and water. I made it to the top deck several times on this part of the trip and was rewarded with a salt water bath from a pressure hose played on us by some of the ship's crew of Japanese civilian sailors. The only bad part of that was then having to go back down in that stinking hold again.

Versaw in China, 1940I spent some of my time weaving my way around my half-naked comrades trying to find and visit with friends. That is when I was not waiting in line for my bit of rice and water or the other line to get rid of it later in the old scum bucket. I found only a few: There was Technical Sergeant Jack Rauhof, the drum major of my outfit, the 4th Marines Band (more lately known as the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion), Privates First Class Monford P. Charleton, S. W. Stephens, and John P. Latham. All former bandsmen. Another, Leland H. Montgomery, was also aboard but I didn't know it at the time. He was one of the Manila Port Area work detail that had been waiting on the dock the day we boarded the ship.

It was Montgomery who helped me considerably with information about the Nissyo voyage. He remembers details about the ship and the trip, often in a different way than I do. But as he explains it, "Everyone saw his situation from their own point of view...". We do agree that it was a very miserable ordeal from the first hour in Manila to the last moment in Moji, Japan.

The ship had been made in Europe and sold to the Japanese sometime well before the war. Montgomery remembers seeing a bronze plaque labeling the vessel's origin, size, and other details. He thought it was a rather modern ship designed originally for carrying cargo. It was fitted with booms and winches to lower and remove stuff in nets. For sure it was not well designed to carry large numbers of troops at all.

New Friends...

I also made a new friend or two on this not-so-pleasurable cruise as well. Strangely they were staff noncommissioned officers and older than myself but the condition of being a POW had a leveling effect on men, who in normal circumstances, would not become close friends. Staff Sergeant Michael Oss and I shared the same two or three square feet of iron deck for almost the whole trip. He saved my spot for me and I saved his for him when we had to leave it. We slept leaning against one another when we could both get room to sit, otherwise one would sit while the other stood and tried to keep the pack from trampling upon us.

I met Staff Sergeant E. D. Smith who was old enough to be my dad already and reminded me of him sometimes. He was quiet, stiff and had a hard as nails personality. He demanded respect with a bearing that he carried with him despite his terrible degradation. Why we hit it off, I have no idea. We became warm friends until his last days soon after the war. He helped bolster my courage and strength to endure not only the hell ship experience but the remaining year of our captivity.

Our first port of call was Takao, Taiwan. We were surprised and exhilarated by the complete opening of the hatch over our heads and being allowed to climb out and scatter ourselves around the Forward well deck. It was refreshing to see the green hills that formed a colorful background to the port area docks where we were tied up. I tried to imagine what might be going on out there in what appeared to be a very beautiful place. Of course, most any place looked mighty nice when compared to the inside of the ship's hold.

The hatch was opened on the deck of our iron stateroom in order that the crew and some native stevedores could lower many 56-kilo bags of brown sugar into the hold underneath. We spent the loading time watching the boom, winch and net operators hoist the bags up from the dock to which the ship was tied and lower the sweet stuff into the ship. We hungry men wrung our hands waiting for the time when, after we had gotten underway again, that we might get our hands on some of it.

Looking around on dockside, there were warehouses as far as we could see with huge Japanese character writing on the walls -- writing in blue and green that we couldn't understand. There were stevedores in blue denims with little, white towels wrapped around their heads, women in pantaloons and men in shorts, and Japanese sailors and soldiers eating bananas and carrying little boxes on and off our ship -- goodies we supposed, the things soldiers and sailors crave at sea and go wild for when they first get ashore. There was none of it for us. We'd be lucky if we could just get to some of the sugar.

I was fortunate to spend a little extra time up on the deck while the hatches were open and the ship was being loaded. I even had my little ration of rice up there in the clean air -- strange smelling because it was fresh. It was hot -- but it was clean, like Nebraska in summer. Thirst was a problem. No one came around and issued me any water in a canteen cup I had somehow acquired. I crawled beneath the workings of a steam winch that was not being used at the time, more to hide than anything else, so I wouldn't have to return to the ship's hold. I found a valve leaking live steam against the heavy metal and water was condensing off of it. Holding my cup under the drip, I eventually collected about a half cup of water. Except for a bit of oil, it was pure, warm and refreshing. I stayed as long as I dared. As I returned to my place in the hold, I caught a blast of the foul air and of the yellow bucket. It shook me to my bones.

"To the rail, you fool! into the water!" something said inside of me. I shook my head and drowned the temptation.

Considering where I was I didn't have a chance in a million for escape. Furthermore, my effort would have been worse for the 1490 or so others in the crawling mass of humanity that lay below. The shooting rule of 10 for one still held. Maybe this time it would be upped to a 100 to 1.I couldn't be responsible for any life but my own.

"You're insane not to do it." I was saying to me as my feet went step by step down the ladder. "You're not in your right mind to go back."

Then, I was down, with my tortured fellow beings, still talking to myself. Most of us, realizing the futility of battles, had stopped fighting with one another. We tried to play cards. But there wasn't really room for that. And anyway, have you ever tried to hear a bid, or a bet, or a call over the roar of 750 men?

"Anyone with leadership could take over this ship. ANYONE with leadership. You don't have the guts. We outnumber them seven or eight to one. YOU don't have the guts!"

But my sane self answered.

"There's nobody among us that knows how to run this ship!"

Then I felt better.

Some of the men couldn't wait to get into the sugar and went to help themselves. That was a foolish thing to do. Too much sugar dries a person out and there was not enough water to go with it. I had a sweet tooth and the temptation was great to eat all that was offered me; it was all I could do to keep my self control. I didn't want to develop a case of diarrhea either what with the sanitation facilities being what they were. Our hosts had warned against thievery of the sugar and threatened severe punishment.

Fortunately, nobody was caught.

Those of us who could see the midnight blue sky through the open hatch of our hold knew that dawn had not yet come when we were pulled away from the dock and left Takao harbor and chugged northward.

We rolled, we pitched, we moved along in a not so gentle sea, up and down, up and down, back and forth...proceeding.

As our beards grew, we could see the blue sky above the open hatch, then the midnight sky.

It was my turn to sit close under the hatch and look at the deep purple above like a giant television screen filled with the light of a million stars. The date was July 26th, 1944. I had no watch but I learned years later it was nearly 2:11AM. I leaned back against the legs of my new found shipmate, Michael "Mike" Oss.

Suddenly, the "screen" turned red, blotting out the stars and melting the deep purple. Almost immediately we heard it --


The ship shuddered as it veered sharply in another direction. When the stars appeared again they skewed across my view indicating that the ship was taking another heading. Obviously it was being put in a sharply, zigzag motion.

Under Attack...

Another big explosive flash shot across the sky. This time large shadowy chunks of what had once been part of a ship sailed across the field of view. Already our ship's siren had sounded, and guards were rushing about the deck above us, hurrying to cover the hatch in case we all tried to evacuate the hold. Escorting destroyers in our convoy began to discharge depth bombs, some close, some far.

What had happened? Well, obviously, the convoy was under attack by submarines. A nearby ship us had been struck and, my first thought was that it was an oil tanker. Nothing else could have made such a blast. It was many years later that I learned more of the story. In the book, "Silent Victory", by Blair, I found the account of this strike. It had been made by the USS Crevale commanded by Frank Walker; the USS Flasher commanded by Ruben Whitaker; and USS Angler commanded by Franklin Hess. The Flasher fired all six of its remaining torpedoes. One ran through the convoy formation, probably narrowly missing our fragile Nissyo Maru and had sunk the Otoriyama Maru, a 5280 ton oiler.

Not all the booming sounds of explosions that continued during the night were made by depth charging escorts. The pack took another freighter, the Tosan Maru down later in the morning in what must have been a far larger convoy than we had imagined it ever to be. It was an exciting night and one that proved that a super, divine, guiding hand must surely have watched over us.

A few more of our comrades died in the remaining days at sea enroute to Japan. Dysentery, malaria, and dehydration plagued us the rest of the way in our iron dungeon with red-lead walls. Large water blisters broke out on the bodies of nearly everyone, attributed by the knowledgeable, to the closeness and lack of any means to keep clean. Those who had contact with our guards complained and so instructions were passed to count off groups of 20 men.

"Come topside."

It was one of the few orders given by the Japanese that I ever heard cheered.

Up the ladder we scrambled, those of us who still had the strength to climb the red iron rungs. Some did not.

A hose played on us. We shivered with pleasure from a forceful stream of water pumped out of the azure blue sea. I washed my only T-shirt in the salty stuff but, instead of trying to dry it, I rolled it up around my neck to keep cooler when I had to return to the fetid hold. It would dry soon enough. So would our skinny bodies which were then left sticky with moist salt but nevertheless, refreshed.

Probably none was happier about our topside baths than the men on latrine detail. There were toilets on deck, wooden affairs built on platforms cantilevered off the deck over the sea. During the time we were allowed up there -- 20 allotted minutes and if you were smart, an hour and a half -- you could use them. That eased the work of the latrine detail.

Now the air was different. It was hot because it was summer, but it had less of the heaviness of tropical air and more the pungency of the Temperate Zone.

Islands on the Horizon...

When we were topside, we could see a lot of little islands. Little, green punctuation marks in a blue, sea-story book. Those in the distance looked like little greenish dots peeking over the horizon. Some looked too small to have inhabitants, but the larger of them had buck-skin tan, shore lines with slivers of fishing boats beached upon them.

Later, the land fall was continuous and the shoreline longer with occasional interruptions that erased the sands now and then. We knew that we had reached a larger land. Our joy was not unlike that which gladdens the heart of any sailor who has been at sea for a long time and anxious to set foot on God's great, green earth. What we could see of it now surely looked inviting. Imagine our disappointment when, after we had drawn so close, that the ship dropped its anchor. Most of us would have gladly tried to wade or swim ashore, so anxious we were to disembark the terrible Nissyo Maru.

Some in our hold knew that we had reached the port of Moji, Kyushu Japan, the southernmost of Japan's three big islands. The ship was later joined by a pilot and a small, harbor vessel, and pulled into and tied up to the docks. We had to wait all night while a Japanese longshoremen crew came aboard, opened the hatches and unloaded the sugar in the ship brought from Formosa (Taiwan ). The noises of the winches and the yelling of the crew made too much racket to allow sleeping; we waited awake all night to disembark the ship.

Vague thoughts of escaping now came to mind. It might have been easy to slip away in the confusion. One was not likely to be missed and the surrounding area looked inviting, but a Caucasian prisoner of war would have been as conspicuous as a cherry in a bowl of rice. One could not expect to be hidden and protected in the enemy's homeland which had been common for the brave escapees in the Philippines. Recapture would likely be swift and brutally final.

Anyway, were we not guests of the Emperor? Guests in a land famous for gracious hospitality. Pitifully, they tried to make it appear so. Each debarking man was given back some of the clothing worn and carried aboard and dropped so unceremoniously into the hold some 17 long, hot days before. But no one got his own or, necessarily, a good fit. Some of us were handed smashed, gray and blue sun helmets of the old Filipino Army. As part of my "uniform," I received a pair of yellow-green Japanese army trousers, worn, soiled and threadbare, an oversized pair of army shoes and a ragged, dirty shirt that I thought would be better than nothing.

One by one we were marched, or carried, over the gangway. It was not the brutal disembarkation we experienced when we first came aboard. As we reached the dock, a weak solution of some chemical was sprayed on and over each of us so that whatever vile disease we were bringing to the land of the Rising Sun would not infect them. The old technician who sprayed me did not seem very serious about it -- just the normal operating procedure, I guessed. What most of us were suffering was the lack of good ripe apples, hard boiled eggs and fried chicken -- to name a few of the medicines that would have restored and preserved what health we still had.

Other writers such as Manny Lawton, Colonel E. B. Miller and Preston Hubbard have stated that the suffering of prisoners on hell ships was among the worst atrocities of the war in the Pacific. Hubbard writes, "...Hell Ships do not lend themselves to varied viewpoints or contrasting scenes. The damned, dark world of Hell Ships lies buried beyond the reach of memory or imagination." He feels that is the reason there has been no motion picture made of such an experience. There is nothing to compare it to and good art must have contrast. No doubt true in part but, nowadays, with the motion picture industry dominated by the Japanese, it is most unlikely any recollection of this phase of World War II infamy will be so recorded. As Dr. Hubbard so aptly writes, "Unfortunately, they (remembrances of Hell Ships) will probably vanish from the thoughts of mankind when the last survivor has gone to his grave."

As I rewrite the lines of an original draft of this account, written almost 50 years ago, I can hardly believe how we suffered. I am repelled by the memory of the hideous voyage of the Nissyo Maru. I can scarcely believe it really happened anymore. It is not much consolation to consider that at least the torpedoes missed the ship we were in and no bombs from friendly war planes struck us as they did the Arisan, Orokyo, Enoura Marus and a number of others. Many prisoners were killed, drowned and died in these infamous ships. It is almost impossible to recall that among us were those who hoped our misery would end quickly by a torpedo that might mercifully explode into us with a flood of cooling, cleansing water, washing away the terror and the incredible filth and the noise of our teeming mass. It was, chilling as it may seem now, true and I can hardly expect anyone who was not there to understand or really believe it.

The Lord was merciful to our group, most of us, anyway, and we survived. It was not the end of our suffering; we had another year of captivity still ahead. We knew that eventually the real horrors of war would reach Japan's precious homeland. We did not know that it had drawn as close as it had. Neither did we know very much about how terrible the reckoning would be for them.

Now, in the Land of the Rising Sun, captivity as we knew it was a new dawning. Gone were the days where the fence was such a distance from where we slept that days might go by out of sight of even a single, enemy guard. This was true only in the large camps but even at Clark Field, the interface with our captors was often not long or frequent for some of us. It would be different here. From the moment we left the Nissyo Maru, the Japanese would be in "our face" constantly.

We survivors of the voyage of the Nissyo Maru were lined up in units of a 100 each. What a crusty, filthy-looking bearded bunch we were. Any patriotic Japanese civilian thereabouts must have wondered what was taking his army more than three years to beat down such a motley enemy. Getting off that terrible ship was immense relief. A detachment of horse cavalry stood by, apparently waiting to board the vessel after it had been unloaded. They were welcome to it, I'm sure, but I know they would not like it, especially the horses. I could not believe that any amount of cleaning, decontaminating or fumigating would make it fit for any purpose after we left it. I was amazed to learn afterwards that the Nissyo survived the war and plied the shipping lanes for some time after the war -- the only "hell ship" to escape being sunk. Except for those who died during the trip and as a result of the stress later, it was a lucky ship and we survivors were fortunate to be in her and not one of the others.

We were marched to an auditorium, a single story, wooden building badly in need of repair. We were assigned to sections and given a meal consisting of a rice ball mixed with a few, cooked soya beans and some kind of unidentifiable leafy vegetable that may have once been green but now was a deep, vile viridian after having been cooked in soy sauce. No matter, it was welcome and delicious but, we wanted water as much as food.

"Don't drink the water in the washroom. It is polluted," we were warned. Nearly dehydrated now, we ignored the message. Our bodies must now be immune to Japan's friendly microbes. After those in the tropics, whatever we might encounter at this time could not hurt us much. Most would take the chance. I did and drank as much cool water as I wanted. It was almost too much to believe. The faucets were left running as men held whatever cup, can or bottle they could locate to catch a drink. Hardly a drop ever hit the floor.

Chapter Seven

Where the Birds don't sing and the Flowers don't smell...

All afternoon we sat, we lay around, in the auditorium trying to talk to Japanese guards, those who could and would speak a little English. One was a rather gnarled, swarthy, older man that we quickly named "Hawaiian Joe." His English was amazingly fluent with hardly an accent. He claimed to have lived many years in Hawaii but had returned to his homeland for retirement. At his government's insistence, he had to work, so he had taken on a job of guarding POWs. He wore the uniform of the Nittetsu-Futase Tanko Kaisha coal mining company and carried a wooden replica of an issue rifle tipped with a sharpened metal bayonet.

"Joe" informed us that our group was going to a nice place where there was plenty of good food and many cigarettes. He was right about the nouns but, as we were to discover, wrong about his adjectives.

There was plenty of room in the large auditorium not like the cramped space in the ship. We spread out so we could sit or lie without touching anyone near. After being pressed against someone else's body for 17days it was just sheer joy to have a little room. Some guys joked about it now, "Hey move a little closer, you seem so far away." Comic relief often follows great stress and pressure.

The great relief of being off the ship began to wear off; apprehensions of what lie ahead for us invaded our thoughts. Of course, it could hardly be worse than the Hell Ship Nissyo but, if the place we were going to really was really worse, then surviving longer would be unlikely. A few men in our group were finding it difficult just to walk and one or two could not at all. We thought it was the dehydration.

In the dead of the night, we half-dead, sleepy, groggy POWs were hustled off to a nearby railway and loaded onto a passenger train. The car I went in was smaller than an American railway car. The seats were smaller and the windows were smaller. Cuspidors were countersunk flush with the floor.

Most of us quickly dozed off or went soundly to sleep not even noticing when the car lurched and the train moved. Those who were still awake got no look at our surroundings or the countryside. "Do not raise blinds!" was the order. I hope it stemmed from a Japanese desire not to have seen their homeland wrecked by our Yank planes.

When we reached the train's destination we debarked onto the platform of a fairly large city. Later, we were to learn this was Shin Iizuka in Fukuoka province. It was early morning and all the shops and places of business were still closed and shuttered. Many appeared to be boarded up permanently. Most of the people in the streets were either older males wearing the peaked caps like the military or school children carrying backpacks. The young boys were all dressed in little uniforms with military-style caps, too. The few women who were about were dressed in light pantaloons and wrapped with a light kimono tied with a sash. Not much attractive about any of them. It had been many months since we had seen any women at that close range.

Take a Hike...

From the rather modern-looking railway station we were ordered to hike -- silly word. Some lagged, some limped because of ill-fitting shoes. Some slogged along the cinder-coated streets barefooted. Those that could not walk at all were carried off and loaded onto trucks with strange looking contraptions affixed to them for cooking charcoal to make engine fuel.

It was not far from Shin Iizuka to the smaller, coal mining town of Futase City -- three or four miles maybe, but the long days in the Hell Ship had done us in. It seemed as long as the Great Wall of China. We finally came to an unpainted, 10-foot tall, wooden fence atop a small hill. The fence was topped with sharpened spikes of bamboo. Two, large double gates, large enough to admit trucks, opened and we were marched in. The gates closed behind us. Welcome to Futase, Camp 10.

Commander's speech at Futase

We were lined up and "bango-ed," the word for counting off. Around us were a number of armed soldiers led by a senior sergeant. Looking us over was a young and rather handsome Japanese officer, a long saber dangling from a belt. His olive-green uniform had a richer, cleaner quality about it and he wore a clean looking white shirt. His peaked cap matched his trousers and was slightly decorated with several blue threads sewn around it from front to back. He took no part in the "welcome" procedure. Several older men wearing gray uniforms the color of dirty putty did. Each was decorated with sewn-on patches of 5 gold stars, each one slightly smaller than the other. We learned eventually that the insignia denoted they were members of the Japanese Propaganda Corps. They may have had a better name for themselves but that is what we called them. There were about six men in that group; two of them had arms missing, one a right and another a left. We guessed they were disability-retired soldiers now pressed into service to handle POW's.

They quickly established the impression among us that they had plenty of authority. They acted mean and angry from the first and remained that way until the very end.

Additionally there were more of the older men like Hawaiian Joe, all carrying stick rifles with fixed (real) bayonets. All wore the same civilian garb: light striped shirts, thin cotton trousers in a gray pattern and the familiar Japanese army peaked cap with small crescent bills and laced in the back to provide adjustments for "one size fits all." A distinguishing feature, however, was the enameled pin fixed in place of the army gold star on the crest of each cap. A large Arabic letter S was framed in a field of white enamel bordered by red and brass decorations. These were employees of the Nittetsu-Futase Tanko Kaisha hired to guard and handle prisoners of war. All of them seemed to be last in the pecking order and rarely hassled or gave us much trouble.

Just inside the gate was a guardhouse the whole front of which was the door. Inside was a table and a couple chairs for the watch on duty. It overlooked the small assembly area, the size of a couple tennis courts. A small, wooden platform with several wooden steps leading up to it was placed in front of the first low, long building that housed the Japanese Camp Commander's office and living quarters. Beyond that, bordering the same side of the square was a larger, one story, barracks-like building that housed the Japanese army detachment of about a dozen soldiers.

The gap between the two buildings led to a large, two story building in the shape of the letter U. It could have been a school or even a barracks in prior years; now it housed some 200 prisoners of war taken in the Dutch East Indies, Java, Sumatra, places like that.

None of the present inmates came forth to greet us with the exception of one Hollander who was speaking what seemed to be fluent Japanese and acted as both a camp official and an interpreter. The comments being made by the Japanese, we learned later, were such things as: "These prisoners are unfit for anything;" "little work they can do;" and "the smell hurts the nose." He became known only as Lieutenant Braber.

After the Japanese were satisfied all were present and accounted for we were led back in to the camp where the building seemed to receive less care. We passed the Aso, the punishment cell. A tiny box of hideous proportions and design. Then, on by the bath house which housed a large concrete soaking tub about twice the size of a farm stock tank. We proceeded under tiled, covered walkways to a long, narrow building that perhaps had been a warehouse. This was to be our home for the next 13 months. The building had recently been remodeled to accommodate the expected arrival of more POWs. Three rooms to house about 40 men had been parceled off a hall leading to the back. Each room had two platforms built off the floor on each side of a center aisle, one above the other. The platforms were covered with the straw mats common to most Japanese households called tatami mats. A single shelf lined the back wall of each platform. At the end of the aisle was a small, casemate window. Except for air entering the rooms from the hall, it was the only ventilation. The first of these rooms was to be my home for the coming year.

The office and examination room was located between our sleeping rooms and the infirmary. A Japanese doctor, "Ishi" we called him, (the Japanese word for doctor is pronounced eesha) was in charge there. His name was Yoshiwaka Suenaga. His hard-fisted medical assistant was the ever-terrorizing Sugi Horibumu. Next and beyond that was a larger room with platforms on either side for the sick. It was called the "Nushisu" or sick room. At the end across the back of the building was the latrine.

Diagram of Futase Camp #7

I found myself housed with some members of the original 4th Marines Band (E24) with whom I had played in Shanghai a few years before. My room leader was Technical Sergeant Jackson P. Rauhof, the drum major and leader of my platoon on Corregidor. Others in my room were Platoon Sergeant Felix McCool, Staff Sergeant E. D. Smith, and PFC Edward "Eddie" Howe. Next door were others from the band: PFC Cedric Stephens and PFC Monford P. Charleton. A few of the recently arrived American contingent were housed among the Dutchmen in the big building. Among them were Corporal Franklin Boyer, another bandsman.

Our captors decided that two weeks rest would be enough to restore us before we would be put to work in the coal mines. Many, however, would not recover enough to do so, but some who were fearful of working in coal mines would manage to stay "unwell" enough to avoid it for the whole of our stay.

For two weeks we did not go to work. We exercised in the sun on a field just outside the camp. We were taught certain Japanese words peculiar to coal mining which would be our occupation. We learned a little close order drill using Japanese commands for: forward march, right face, to the rear which our captors believed would build up our strength so that we could work. We were even allowed to play a couple of strange ball games. We did it with little enthusiasm although most of us knew that what we were doing would help get our strength back. It was the purpose they intended to put it to that had us worried. And they gave us food which, by previous standards, we could consider ample.

At the end of two weeks, Captain Roscoe Price, our senior American officer persuaded the Japanese to give us more time. He must have been surprised at the success of that, for the Japs were not easily dealt with.

Unlike camp life in the Philippines where we pretty much governed by ourselves with a minimum of supervision by our captors, this camp was run very closely by the JPCs (disabled ex-soldiers) and civilian employees of the mining company and the military. The soldiers were by far the most brutal, along with Sugi, the medic, who took a sadistic joy in tormenting anybody, particularly sick Americans. His usual weapon was a samurai saber, scabbard and all.

Most of the guards and troop handlers were laid back and didn't bother or interfere with us much. There were a few that were just down right mean and meddlesome all the time. A few more were sadistic. "Right Arm" and "Left Arm" were the two most notorious prisoner beaters. Because they only had one arm each it seemed to please them that they had us where we could not retaliate from the sticks they carried to flail us with. Sometimes they would just sock us with their remaining bare fists. They were the most hated of the JPCs. "Smiley" was one who wore a deceiving grin most of the time, and was generally a mild driver. I was to discover later that he had a pretty good left hook. Whatever his disability was, it did not lessen the power of his punch.

The camp routine was very rigid, of course. There was a time to do everything and many times when doing almost any other thing was forbidden. We ate, smoked, slept and went to the toilet at the sound of a bell. Anyone caught doing the wrong thing between bells was punished on the spot; slapped, punched and kicked if he did not get up quick enough. The fastest response back to a position of a soldier at attention was always the quickest way to halt the attack. It was hard to learn. Otherwise, the punishment was brutal and complete.

One of the more serious offenses was smoking after the bell rang to stop; it was worse yet to begin before the starting bell. It was usually a 15-minute period, long enough if you didn't have to wait to share a part of the cigarette or wait to get your butt lighted. Since no matches or lighters were allowed, someone had to run to the kitchen located clear across the compound and bring back an ember or something. The result was that some fellows did not get theirs lighted until almost time for the bell to ring. Because the guards couldn't be everywhere at once, the period could be over run. Not without some risk and the penalty was severe.

My bunk mate, Eddie Howe and I were caught in this "crime" one noon. The last dying rings of the bell had not even faded away when the Japanese First Sergeant, still limping from his China war wound, I suppose, came bursting in the door. And here we were taking just one last puff. With a raised right and left he knocked us both to the floor. I jumped back to my feet before he could kick me, preferring to take another blow I could roll with to being kicked. Eddie may have been struck harder and didn't get up. He was kicked with a series of blows and beaten again with a stick the size of a riding crop. It took some heat off me, but I stood there with fists clenched wishing I could help him up. Defending him would have sealed my fate and his too, I expect. There is nothing so easily riled to uncontrollable anger as a wounded Japanese First Sergeant. It was not our first beating nor would it be the last, but we boys from the Philippines may have been able to take it better than the Japanese home boys knew. Things like this created a tension which always persisted in the camp.

The day came when we were turned into coal miners on the night shift. I remembered what Professor Clark, my geology teacher had said about the brown, coal mines of Japan. She had hoped I could visit them one day.

And here I was! I'm sure it was not under these conditions that she had in mind. We had been issued a gauze-thin blouse, light cotton shorts, sandals made of rice straw and a black miner's cap made of rubberized cotton with an Indian red, fiber bracket to hold a lamp.

The company we were consigned to operated two mines in this local. The first was a deep vertical shaft called Honko. A huge multi-wheeled lift was built over it; all around the opening were buildings of many sizes housing power plants with huge tall, chimneys, offices, and coal sorting apparatus. Within this complex we called the "Fabrique" was the auditorium decorated with Japanese flags and company insignia. Before we were taken to work underneath we "stood up" for some kind of a formation designed to inspire hard work and safety.

As part of our training for coal mining we were taught a number of Japanese words: Abunai, for danger; Shigotoe, for work; Ebu, for coal basket; Kakita, a short handled hoe for raking coal into the Ebu; and Juji, for pickaxe. Little was said about Yasimei for rest, or Shigotoe awari for stop work. Somehow we had learned those words before ever reaching Japan.

Down in the Mines...

The cars descended, a couple to each lift. It seemed that we were going slowly. The electric lamps connected to our caps bobbed around as the new American crew searched the walls of the pit trying to see where and what we were getting into. The change in air pressure bothered my ears; I had to swallow to restore equilibrium like coming down a mountain. Some said the foot of the shaft was a 1000 meters below the surface. More than likely it was for it took a long time before the lift stop and the gates opened. We stood in a huge gallery or tunnel. The walls and overhead were cemented over and lined with many dim incandescent lights.

When all had reached the bottom, we assembled and later divided off into work parties, some large, some small. I was assigned to one of the latter. We were told what we were going to do but had not yet learned enough to understand. We marched out of the lighted area and through huge, double doors into a much smaller tunnel lighted now only by the lamps on our caps. We hiked along the tiny railway tracks laid in the center. Other tunnels branched off to the right and left of the one we were in. Up ahead, the racket of an approaching Hako (box), an iron tub-like cart was heard. We all had to cling to either sides of the tunnel to let the car pass. Two bent-over bodies were pushing it; who they were we couldn't see but we supposed they were other slave creatures like ourselves.

Reaching our work area, a Horye, we found it was our job to help our work leader, an older Japanese civilian to install shoring along the walls and overhead of a tunnel being extended. We had a pneumatic drill, it's long hose connected to a pipe running along the main tunnel and found a car of pine posts already there to use as shoring. The drill was large and heavy with a hardened steel bit. It took two men to manage it, drilling inch-diameter holes in the rock and coal for setting dynamite charges.

Rich deposits of coal, when found, were blasted out and loaded into cars brought up from the main lateral by another crew. Large rocks were left in the mine to build pillars to help support the overhead. The mine was humid and stuffy. The rugged Japanese miner (honcho) in charge had nothing but contempt at my weakness. I felt he couldn't make up his mind whether to cuff me or get on with the work. Before it was time to eat the little rice and sliced pickle radish we had brought to the mine for lunch, it was apparent to me that I couldn't last the shift no matter what he did. The light shirt and shorts I wore were soaked with sweat. My grass shoes had begun to disintegrate. It was slowing me up and I was already dead tired. I knew the miner would soon start swinging -- at me.

Then fate stepped in. My electric lamp dimmed, its red glow was lessening. The batteries in the metal box hooked to my waistband were losing their charge. It wouldn't last long.

"Hey! My lamp is going!" I called attention to my captor. With a curse, he ordered me back to lift base to get a replacement. Batteries with lamps attached were drawn from a room topside (kogai), but extra charged batteries were available at the lift.

I started along the mine track. One hundred yards and two curves away from my detail, the light went out completely. There I was, many meters deep in the bowels of Japan, still a couple of miles from a fresh battery. It was pitch black. Just being underground, thinking of cave-ins and Japan's notorious earthquakes was terrifying enough; to be without light in these conditions was very frightful. There was little sound, muffled blasts way off in the distance occasionally. The opposite direction of those was the way to go, feeling along the dank tunnel wall and stumbling over the ties and rails of the car track.

My head struck a low overhead beam.

The little stars were just fading when I heard the clatter of metal wheels. A string of cars was approaching!

In utter ignorance of the width of the tunnel and the clearances of the cars and walls, I hugged the stone as the first car passed. Very closely.

I must have exhaled. The second car caught the battery case on my belt and jerked the connecting cord off my cap. My hand swung out wildly to catch the cap. Another car scraped my skin. I moved tighter against the wall. Each car took its token of me.

The rattle faded in the distance. I wiped the cold sweat from my face, groped about for hat and dead headlight and stumbled on through the darkness. Two hours more and a dozen hard bumps later, I saw a dim glow. It was the lighted tunnel near the mine shaft.

I exchanged my dead battery for a good, hot, fresh one. It was made up of wet hydroxide cells. The caustic electrolyte could cause deep and painful wounds if it spilled out. The covers on some did not fit tight and prisoners would be burned. Later, some men learned to use the battery fluid to aggravate and sustain wounds and sores in order to render themselves unfit for work.

I set out to return to my work place. I don't know how I ever found it and perhaps would not have done so had it not been for some engineers or supervisors along the way who shuttled me off in the right directions. Their lamps had a red circle painted around the lens so they could be recognized. I yelled "Guan Jin" to each one, hoping they would not recognize me as a loose prisoner slave wandering around in alone in the mine. I was not stopped and questioned.

It was a very large mine and large numbers of Chinese prisoners and Korean laborers were worked within its many stapes galleries, and tunnels. Because of the limits of the lifts the work hours were staggered so that gangs would come and go and hardly see anything of one another.

When I reached my detail, the honcho was very much on edge and disgusted with his American miners. They had all eaten their rice and pickle but I was not given time to eat mine which remained tied up in a rag handkerchief still in the little wooden (bento) boxes; one larger, one small but neither containing very much food and looked even less in boxes that could have held more. I was famished but only managed to eat it on the hike back after work time had expired. It had been a long, tiring night.

The sky had begun to lighten slightly when we finally reached the surface after our first ten hours of coal mining. Thankfully, we were allowed to use the company bath to try and wash some of the grimy coal dust from our weary bodies. The bathhouse was a huge room almost entirely filled with a concrete tub, about four feet deep and nearly as large as a tennis court. At several places, pipes from overhead extended into the steaming water-filled pool, injected live steam to heat it. A foot-wide trough surrounded it and a stream of fresh water ran within. Scattered around on the floor and in the trough were dozens of little, wooden buckets bound with darker, wooden bands. The idea was to first wash well from the water in the trough and then, when clean, soak in the warm pool. There was no soap or towel so it was very difficult to get clean. Most of us used the cloth we had carried our bentos in as a combination wash cloth and towel. The bath was not segregated sex-wise and we were mostly amused to see some women using the facility. The few I saw congregated in one corner and kept to themselves. They showed far less interest in us than we in them even though these women were not Las Vegas showgirls. Far from it, in our physical condition only food seemed to occupy our thoughts.

I worked the Honko mine only for a short while, perhaps an entire shift of ten days. I expect the honchos my crews worked for gave up on us in disgust, for I was soon transferred to work the other mine called "Shinko." It was an old, inclined shaft a couple miles further from Honko over the huge, ancient, slag heap mountain. Once closed as unproductive and having once been damaged by earthquakes, it was now opened again for Japan's war effort.

Entrance to Futase mine

The Shinko shaft had a concrete entrance, nothing elaborate or anything; over the top of the arc, in English lettering the word SHINKO had been cast into the structure. Nothing was written in chicken track style of Japanese lettering. The shaft inclined at about 30 degrees with rail tracks down the center and steps leading down along the left side. On the rise just above the opening was a building that housed the motors and winches that lowered empty Hako cars into the mine and pulled those loaded with coal out.

It was not considered safe to ride in the cars to the coal faces below and against the rules to do so. The cables only went so far. Then the cars were unclasped from the cable and handled by prisoners from that point. A Japanese civilian ran the track and cable system using a hook-like tool about a foot long to operate the cable clamps. It was a tiny bit like the cable-car system so famous in San Francisco. The cable Honcho was a wild creature -- always in high gear shouting words and warnings that meant little to us those first, few weeks after starting work in the Shinko.

Walking down into the mine was tenuous and tedious. Crews were made up above ground and assigned to honchos who would escort their work gang of prisoner slaves down into the mine. At the lower end of the main shaft, lateral tubes cut off to the left and right. Each lateral was numbered: Migi Itchi (right one), Hidari Ni (left two), etc. We were told the system of mining was a kind of technique developed in Belgium. The Hollanders knew more about it than any of the rest of us and, some of them, the Caucasians particularly, were assigned to the mine engineer office above ground. The Indonesians were enslaved at "unskilled" labor along with the rest of us.

Usually the laterals on either side of the mine shaft followed parallel courses about 100 feet apart. Within the geology of the earth below, deposits of coal sandwiched with rock and dirt ran between the two, usually at a gentle angle. The coal was blasted out in sections by the drilling and dynamite crew, after which we hoe and basket operators, would scoop up the loose coal and toss it into a conveyor carrying it to a waiting car in the lateral below.

As the process continued, coal was mined during one shift, called "production." The next shift, called "construction" would move all the machinery and extended the laterals, and lay more track. The overhead would slowly subside behind and along the coal faces as everything went forward. Loads of pine poles were brought down from the upper laterals and used to erect support of the immediate overhead. Big rocks were also used to build pillars of slag to help hold up the "roof." These were also used as toilets while under construction. The Japanese forbid it but there were no other places of sanitation. In the course of a few days the tremendous pressure of the earth above would crush the poles and smash the rock pillars (bota maki) to a space of just a few inches. Some spaces along the conveyor would not allow one to stand fully erect. Excavation was limited to just enough to get the coal out and move on. Only along the laterals could short men stand up. Tall men had to look for special places with head room.

Shinko being closer to the surface was cooler than Honko but there were hardly any facilities above ground, no heated assembly room, no bathhouse and no coal processing and sorting unit. The coal cars were fastened to other cable systems and transported over the slag heap mountain to the Honko system. A vertical shaft was located at the rear of the mine for ventilation. We called it an escape tunnel. If there was a ladder in it, I don't know, because I only saw it from topside and I never went close. It gave us a sense of security in case of a major cave-in, knowing there was another way out.

There were other small details performing general maintenance tasks in the laterals. Usually these were better jobs than with the big crews, but they could be worse depending on the Honcho or Japanese miner in charge.

I often worked for an older man we called the "Skunk" because he gave off such a strong smell. I expect we prisoners did not smell ever so sweet to him either, but he was a kindly old fellow and didn't complain about it. He was always in good humor and was never mean or nasty with his crews. It seemed to us that he had once been retired and compelled to work again in order to qualify for larger rations. Working for the Skunk meant starting to work later, longer rest and bento (lunch) breaks and an earlier quitting time. He often asked for "go hako hatchi" my prisoner number, 508. I was always pleased when he did, but never knew why. It was not that I was an eager beaver worker. I doubt that my work ethic impressed him. It may have been that I just talked to him. He taught me Japanese words and how to say them and seemed patient with a slow learner and what must have been a gawd-awful accent.

The Skunk's prize possession was a big, railroad-style, pocket watch. He carried it in his pocket wrapped in about two yards by two inch wide felt cloth. It was his habit to declare a short rest period every night (he always worked nights) upon reaching the work site. Then he would take out his watch, slowly unwrap it, check the time, give the winder a couple twists and carefully wrap it back up in what once may have been an old yellow army legging.

During the course of the night I would sometimes ask, "Mo nonji desu ka" (what time is it?). Most often he would stop what he was doing and break out his watch, unwrap it slowly and then say, "Ema kuji han desu." (nine thirty or whatever it was). We got a little extra rest that way, but he never worked us hard. He usually took about three of us to his task. That was mainly repairing rotten or crushed overhead timbers in the main laterals. The old ones were removed and the rock and shale cleaned up around where they had been. If there was any coal found, it had to be loaded into his car, tagged with his metal ID tag, and new supports cut and put into place.


by JOHN B. GIBBS 31 July 1946



This camp, on the crest of an ancient slag and rock pile, was located between the villages of Futase & Iizuka, approximately 50 miles from Moji on the north and 45 miles from Fukuoka on the west. Nakatsu, on the Inland Sea, was approximately 35 miles northeast of Futase. The coordinates of the latter are 3326'N., 13105'E.

Size of compound was 300' x 300' and was surrounded by a 10' wood fence. Bamboo pilings sharp ends up and pointing inward, had been fastened into the barricade at the top. An alarm system had been fastened in the fence.

The project was mining coal in the mines of Honko & Shinko Mining Company. It was a typical mining town. The power plant of the Mining Co. was located here and was topped by 4 smoke stacks said to be about 100 feet high.


A detail of 200 American prisoners from the Philippines reached this camp on 4 August 1944, the Senior Officer being Capt. (now Lt. Colonel) Roscoe Price. A Capt. Corrigan was of the officer detail, and Capt. Barshop, Army Medical Corps was the Camp Surgeon whose associate was Capt. Sidney Vernon, Army Med. Corps. The American personnel was divided among the service groups as follows: Army 75; Navy 65 and Marines 60.

This installation was first occupied by 350 Dutch and 2 British prisoners in 1942. The total of 552 reached after the arrival of the American contingent remained about the same until the camp was liberated.


The first commandant was 1st Lt. Seijiro Yashitsugu who was succeeded by Tsuyoshi Sakai. Camp doctor was Yoshiwaka Suenaga whose assistant was Sugi Horibumu. Two guards merely indicated by nicknames as "Gorilla" and "Blackjack", along with the medical assistant, were extremely cruel in their beatings of the prisoners, and in the most of the cases the prisoners themselves did not know the cause. See further under the sub-heading of "Treatment."


(a) HOUSING FACILITIES: There were 2 barracks, light frame structures, unheated and very poor lighting. One barracks, rectangular in shape, was 120' long by 40' wide. The camp hospital and a latrine were located in this building, which also contained prisoner sleeping quarters divided into 3 rooms with double deck bays for sleeping. The larger barracks, divided into 14 rooms, was built in the shape of the letter "U". Each wing was 120' x 40'. The enclosed end of this building also was 120' x 40'. This structure was divided into 15 rooms, each holding from 20 to 40 prisoners and was equipped with 2 elevated sleeping platforms, one being 8" from the floor and the other at an elevation of about 6'. Neither of these barracks was insulated. The floor in the larger building was concrete. The smaller building was floored with wood. The roofs were of leaky tile. The barracks were filthy and infested with vermin of every kind. The other buildings for the prisoners in addition to the barracks were 3 for storage; 1 bath house; 1 combined mess hall and kitchen and 1 carpenter shop. A covered outside latrine had been erected.

(b) LATRINES: A single latrine was in the smaller barracks and at the end thereof. Two were in the larger building and a separate latrine had been provided in a disconnected structure. Holes were cut into and flush with the floors with receiving pits underneath. Straddle type. The latrines were emptied by the prisoners, equipped with buckets, at least twice weekly. Concrete urinals had been installed in the latrines.

(c) BATHING: A separate bath building had been erected and it was entirely inadequate. The bath was equipped with 3 concrete tubs, 2 of which were 7' x 10' x 4' and one was 4' x 7' x 4'. The water was heated by steam but the building was not heated.

(d) MESS HALL: A rectangu1ar building with 2 ells making out from one corner and one end. It was equipped with tables, benches and dishes for feeding the prisoners. The size and equipment of this structure enabled the seating of 400 prisoners at a time. The two ells evidently contained the kitchen and a store room. The building was constantly filthy, and was unheated and unlighted. Because of leaky roof the building could not be used when it was raining.

(e) FOOD: Rice, as usual, was the staple item of diet ranging in amount per man per day of 260 to 350 grams. Soup made from vegetable tops and vines and sea weed, poorly prepared, was also served as well as small portions of fish, both of which were consistently putrid. The cooking was done by Dutch prisoners using steam heat. No meat was served. The rice was of good quality. The menu was varied from time to time but the quantity of food in these words: "hunger will drive one to eat most anything."

(f) MEDICAL FACILITIES: Capt. Barshop, Army Med. Corps, was the Camp Surgeon, but worked under the direction of a Japanese Army officer who willingly shifted his responsibility upon the shoulders of the American officer who by temperament and medical skill is credited with saving many lives and boosting morale under disheartening conditions. Little or no medicines could be obtained. There were no hospital facilities. Capt. Barshop also protected the prisoners against the imposition of work decrees issued by the Japanese camp physician when they were too weak to stand on their feet for even a brief period.

The sick prisoners were bedded on filthy bags in sick bays located in the smaller barracks. Proper food could not be obtained and no cooperation could be obtained from the Japanese officers.

(g) SUPPLIES: (1) Red Cross - Y.M.C.A. - Other relief. Three 10-pound Red Cross food parcels were issued, one at Christmas 1944, one in Feb. 1945 and the third one after surrender. These parcels constituted the entire issue by the Japanese from Red Cross supplies.

(2) Japanese Issue: The Japanese issued to the American prisoners shortly after their arrival 1 cotton summer uniform, shorts and shirts made of flour sacks and one coverall suit. Canvas shoes were given to the prisoners. Winter clothing issued in Nov. 1944. After Nov. 1944 no further clothing was given out.

(h) MAIL: (1) Incoming: None. (2) Outgoing: On 2 occasions the prisoners were allowed to write 25-word cards. Letters varying in length was a privilege extended to a few of the prisoners.

WORK: The job was mining coal in the mines of the Honko & Shinko Mining Co. From the time of leaving the barracks in the morning until the return of the enlisted prisoners at night, the working period was 11 to 14 hours. The officers were assigned to work in the camp such as mess detail, service in the library, morning muster and physical drill. Enlisted men too sick to work in the mines were assigned to emptying latrines and other menial forms of work. Working conditions were very bad. The mines were wet and the air was suffocating. One mine was 3,800 feet deep and the other had an inclined shaft 200 yards long set at an angle of 45. No safety measures had been installed. Inadequacy of food and frequency of mistreatment by Japanese soldiers and civilian mine workers impelled one prisoner to state that "this life is possible only with the knowledge that to tough it out would some day mean freedom."

(j) TREATMENT: Proclaimed to have been brutal with variation. While no charges of cruelty were lodged against the commandant, it is apparent that he condoned the constant beatings. The officer medical assistant is charged with doing the "dirty work" of the Japanese medical officer in engineering some of the punishments to which the prisoners were subjected. Reference is made to the medical assistant and 2 guards under the sub-heading "Guard Personnel". The testimony of 4 prisoners of the U.S.M.C., 2 of the Navy, and 1 of the Army declare that the beating of the prisoners, frequently into insensibility, were administered for the slightest cause, generally unknown to the offender, and that they were so cruel and damaging as to require hospitalization.

(k) PAY: (1) Officers: From 20 to 50 yen per month.

(2) Enlisted Men: 15 sen per day. Sergeants and Master Sergeants 20 and 25 sen per day respectively.

(l) RECREATION: None provided. Even had facilities been furnished the prisoners, by reason of their weakened condition, could not have indulged in any forms of physical exercise beyond that imposed by their work detail. Incidental mention is made to a library probably furnished by the Y.M.C.A.

(m) RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES: The first camp commandant would not permit religious services. As the time of American victory approached some limited religious services were conducted. There were no chaplains in the camp.

(n) MORALE: Fluctuating according to food and "grapevine" news.


This camp was liberated 16 September 1945. The prisoners in several groups were taken by train to Nagasaki from which port they embarked on American steamers via various routes to the United States.

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