| On January 31st, 1945, the day when MacArthur's troops were
knocking at the doors of Manila and had already rescued our companions
from Cabanatuan-we reached the seaport of Moji on the island of Kyushu,
Japan. Less than 300 of the original 1,619 men had survived the trip
from Manila, the last leg from Formosa having taken 21 days at sea.
Japanese port doctors looked at us in horror and then ordered us out of
the terrible hold. We were given fresh clothes, Jap uniforms, and
British army shoes, the latter captured at Hong Kong or Singapore.
While this issue was in progress, five more of our men died on the
ship's deck in the sleet and snow. We were then taken ashore to a
warehouse, where the guards seemingly took pity on us and gave us hot
food, the first we had tasted in weeks. We were divided into groups and
said our farewells. Lew Barbour gave me his West Point ring, telling me
to use it if necessary to purchase food, otherwise to give it to his
wife (or widow) when and if we were liberated. In fact, I did later use
the ring to buy four tins of corned beef; and when Lew's widow visited
me in a hospital in Los Angeles after the war, I anticipated
reproaches, but she knew in advance what I had done and approved it.
Lew's other friends told me of his death. He had seemed in good spirits
until one morning-not long before Japan's surrender-when he suddenly
said, "I just can't go on any longer." Then he lay down on the ground,
closed his eyes, and simply stopped breathing.
So died one of the more gallant and courageous of those thousands of Americans who fought for their country in the battle of Bataan.
I myself was very close to death from sheer loss of will when the Japs took us to a prison camp outside the manufacturing center of Fukuoka. Japanese civilians had stoned us as we marched through the streets of Moji to the railroad station, but we were past caring. At the new camp American, British, and Dutch prisoners who had arrived earlier greeted us. We were given overcoats and installed in a long wooden shack with a dirt floor and raised platforms for sleeping. They issued seven almost paper-thin blankets to each man, a clean Japanese uniform, and gave us a bowl for rice and a drinking cup.
After our weeks in the prison ships, the bombings, the escapes from drowning, the horrors of insanity and murder, we new arrivals were more dead than alive, incapable of much movement beyond huddling together for warmth, two of us combining our blankets and sleeping beneath them in a semi-stupor for hour upon hour. Many more of our men died, and only the growing coolness of their bodies told their companions that they had escaped at last from torment beyond enduring. After two weeks I was able to hobble to the bath on my wounded foot. The Japanese had given me no treatment, and the wound remained open until my liberation, though my head and ear wounds gradually healed.
During the past eight months since leaving Davao I had conscientiously followed the injunction of my friend Captain McKown to keep myself as clean as possible as an act of self-discipline in order to save myself from moral collapse. A single Gillette razor blade, sharpened on a fragment of drinking glass, had lasted me for several months. Many times I had gone without part of my drinking water in order to shave. I had learned to make a little soap go an incredibly long way: and when there was no soap, I shaved without it. But in this camp outside Fukuoka an old-time British soldier, captured at Singapore, shaved us, and I was one of his regular customers. He bandaged my foot as well.
And now the nervous reaction from three years caught up with me, and I could feel my hold on life slipping away. As had always happened in the past, a friend came to my rescue. Captain Dixon kept after me, nagged me until I got out of bed every day, bathed, and shaved. He also kept me from being fatally overcome by a sense of futility and helplessness. "Come on, you bum," he used to say, "get up and get cracking. I'm not going to be the one to tell your brother that you just lay down and died." In fact, I was in danger of doing just that.
About mid-April the Japs lined us up one day and made the gloating announcement that President Roosevelt was dead. They staged a wild, drunken celebration among themselves, confident now that their chief enemy was dead, the war was as good as won. Their conduct gave us what we later realized was a lesson in the futility of aiming propaganda solely at the leader of an enemy state. The Japanese thought their enemy was a single man, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, just as we were taught to think that Tojo and Hitler were our sole enemies and as nowadays our propagandists would have us believe that Khrushchev and his communist cronies (it was Stalin before him)-as divorced from the Russian people-are the only enemies of our democratic system. Of course, we concealed our feelings, but the announcement of the death of our President-much as we had cursed him during the Bataan-Corregidor battles for not sending help and for letting us be taken prisoners-was a terrible blow to us. Along with our remorse at his loss, we harbored a fear for the fate of our nation. It is little wonder that morale was low among our group; for by now poor food and water, wretched sanitation, disease, filth, lice, and starvation, and, of course, the attacks by our own planes had killed all but 150 or 200 of the original 1,619 who sailed on the "Oryoku Maru" from Manila.
I Solemnly Swear
by Robert Morris Brown
Published by Vantage Press, Inc.
eBook available from:
Richard H. Goms Jr.
320 Gordon Lane #E11
Salt Lake City, UT 84107