Frank Nichols Jr.
Interview by Center for Research
February 18, 2000
Interview by Roger Mansell - Director
The morning the war started, I was on a painting detail at Sumay. We were painting the barracks getting ready for a big party when the Jap planes flew over and the bombs started to drop. I was surprised as hell. I was on the upper level of the painting scaffold and in the rush to get off of there, I knocked over a gallon of paint, dropping it right on the head of the Marine just below me. We all ran and scattered into the jungle surrounding the camp. The Jap planes bombed everything, the first attack hitting the radio shed and the barracks. I remember seeing the basketball backboard tumbling over and over after a bomb blew it over. Even at the time, it seemed as if were happening in slow motion. On the second, day, it was the same thing. We hid out in the jungle, away from camp, while they bombed. I have no knowledge of anyone taking a position in the rifle butts. There was a guy killed in the radio shack in the first raid. I can't remember his name. [Anderson]
The morning of the actual invasion, I was with a group of 5 men, ready to attempt to defend ourselves when a Navy sailor came in (in a jeep?) and told us we have surrendered. We disassembled our rifles and threw the bolts into the jungle. We gathered at what was left of the barracks in Sumay and awaited the Japs. They came in later that day. The next day they took us by truck into Agaña where we joined the other men inside the cathedral.
I heard right away about one Marine [Marine Pvt. Kaufmann] who was bayoneted by the Japs. I was told that he apparently mouthed off to a Jap by saying, "F you." Unfortunately, the Jap seemed to know what it meant and he ripped into Kaufmann's gut with his bayonet. He died on the spot.
When we left Guam, we were marched down to the Piti Navy yard and put aboard barges. We were taken out into the harbor and put aboard the Argentine Maru. After being counted a few more times, we were taken below decks. We first passed through a huge lounge, covered with a plush red carpet. From there, we descended down a number of passageways and staircases and finally crammed into a forward hold. There was barely enough room for everyone to lie down so we spent most of the time half standing and half sitting or lying down. Each day, the weather became colder and colder. We knew we were heading to Japan. There was constant talk about overwhelming the crew and seizing the ship but the officers refused. After a few days, we arrived in Japan where it was extremely cold. We were loaded aboard a large barge of some sort and, dressed only in our summer clothes, we darn near froze to death in a blowing snow. A couple of guys were so cold they tried to climb over the gunwales and kill themselves in the water. They were stopped but I do remember how bitterly cold we were. I shivered constantly for days.
Coming ashore, they put us into a steamy room with all sorts of people taking our pictures. We were finally sent off to a camp called Zentsugi.
I was there about 6-7 months when they levied a bunch of us- about 100- and we were taken by ship to Osaka. There, we stayed under the seats in a stadium. From the stadium, I was with a group of men sent to Hirohata to work the docks of the Seitetsu Steel Mill. We were later [Nov 1943] joined by at least 400 men up from the Philippines. These men looked fairly healthy but they were dying rather fast from infections, malnutrition and dysentery.
I think the worst thing I saw in camp was one very bitterly cold day in late February, 1944. During a shakedown inspection, about 8 to 10 men were found with food. The Japs stripped them naked and lined them up, standing in the snow. There they stood with their arms at their sides, literally turning blue.
Three Jap soldiers, one with a large hawser type rope, another with a length of hose and the third with a wood stick, proceeded to lash the men across their bare buttocks. Within a few minutes, their rumps looked like hamburger meat. After ten minutes, the men could no longer feel the pain of the lashes.
The Japs stopped the beatings and made the men sit in the concrete tubs of water scattered about the camp. These were supposedly for fighting fires started in air raids but were really useless. However, the Japs assumed this would restore feeling to the buttocks of the men so they sat for a few minutes in the freezing water. Again, they were hauled out, stood into one rank and the beating continued. After a hour, the men were dismissed and returned to the barracks.
As they entered, they all smiled and said, "We'll do it again tomorrow, only not get caught this time!" In a perverse way, this sense of humor kept us all going. The Japs insisted, under the pain of such punishment, that the prisoners [should] never steal, lie or gamble. For the POWS, this was simply accepted as a challenge and challenging the Nips is what we did at all times.
My bunk was on the top level so we had a little more headroom. I made a set of "dice" by shaping two cubes out of wood and made the spots by burning with a piece of "red hot" wire. We would shoot craps for cigarettes, the currency of the camp.
For the last year, I was fortunate as I got to work in the galley. We knew the war was coming to an end with all the bombing in the area.
On the morning of 15 August 1945, the Jap guards had fled. We were left alone. A few days later [Aug 29th], the B-29s started dropping food and supplies. I was standing on the road outside the compound when one of the drums came down, minus a parachute. It missed me by inches and exploded on the road, its contents of hob nail boots splattering everywhere. I think we lost about 80% of the first drops into nearby rice paddies. By the next day, the local Japanese were starting to bring in the scattered contents. We had so many supplies we could not use them all. A bunch of guys started to use them for trade with the locals.
A buddy of mine, Clint Crichton, decided we weren't going to wait around. We had a local civilian make us an armband that said, in Japanese, that we were the occupying forces. As we entered downtown Hirohata, we hijacked a bicycle off a Jap civilian and headed out of town towards Kobe. We stopped a truck coming in, forced him to turn around and made him take us to the Kobe train station.
In Kobe, a train to Yokohama was filled with Japanese soldiers. We made them clear out an entire car just for the two of us. When we arrived in Yokohama, we had no idea where to go or what to do. We ran into a jeep filled with four reporters from the "Stars and Stripes," the newspaper for the overseas military. After a short time, I said, "I'm tired of answering questions. Can you take us where we're supposed to go?"
Finally, we made it to an Army area where they took us in. We were deloused, given a hot shower, new clothes and freedom at last.
Regarding McNulty- Crichton was in China before Guam. He said that in China, McNulty was caught with a shoe box full of opium (aided by a yoeman) and asked to resign. That's how he wound up in Guam. On Guam, he met every PanAm plane, hoping to woo the ladies aboard. We called him "Clipper McNulty." No one had any respect for him. He was due to retire in January 1942 but the Japs changed his plans.