- Historic Sites
During three harrowing years as a prisoner of the Japanese, an American woman secretly kept an extraordinary journal of suffering, hope, ingenuity, and human endurance
April/May 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 3
Mar. 9, 1942—The Chinese babies in camp get no milk, only rice gruel with vegetable juice added, and they thrive on it. None of them are sick, which is more than can be said about our children. Our resistance is soft compared to that of the Oriental, but their mortality rate as a whole is high, not just in camp.
Apr. 8, 1942—1 never expected to sew up tears in paper market bags in order to make them last. I pick out cloth from the trash can for Grandma’s quilt, and cardboard boxes to make fly swatters. Renée watched the cans go into the incinerator one day—six for us, one less than full for the Chinese. That is about the ratio for America and China as to waste.
May 12, 1942—The old guards let the garbage detail go on a shopping spree before they departed, knowing full well that the new guards will be tough for awhile. In our better moments, they liked us and we liked them when not under pressure from above. The gold-tooth boy, the huge fellow with big teeth in an enormous grin—all are gone. The new ones seem small in stature by comparison. Two cars of officers, one looking like the high command, came on a tour of inspection of all the buildings. As he left the grounds, he said to a group of internees, “I am sorry you stay here. Sometime good-bye.”
May 23, 1942—June is drawing paper-doll clothes in the dining room. The fresh sergeant stops to watch it. He takes a pencil, draws kimonos showing the men’s short sleeve, the girl’s sleeve which is shorter than that of a wife. In three lines he drew Fujisan with a cloud in front of it. Later we asked him to draw it on another sheet and he drew it with exactly the same cloud. He showed great distress because the American women wear pants. “Men, boys, yes. Japanese women, no!” He also dislikes the way we push and pull doors, for he gave a graceful pantomime of Japanese women kneeling, sliding the door slowly, quietly, instead of an energetic pull, push. As I watched him working hard over his pencil drawing, I noted U.S. buttons on his American Army coat, which being too long had been cut off at the bottom by scissors or a knife (perhaps the bayonet). The soldier is age twenty-six. How old was the American boy?
June 26, 1942—Rumor now says that Nakamura [the camp commandant] is being promoted to Tarlac Prison Camp, where our Army is located. He is gratified but still asks for a recommendation from our committee, which delights us. Prisoners whose words count for nothing, asked to say a good word for their overlord.
June 30, 1942—Nakamura seemed sorry to go, for he has watched over our trials and tried to straighten out some of the tangled months. We could search far to find one more equable in such an emergency of war and hate. Before he departed he grumbled to someone about wanting to get the women some clothes before he left town.
The truck comes in with Nakamura, his white teeth in a wide smile, on the front seat which is piled with shoes, hats, evening gowns, and coats—““odds and ends from somewhere” they are called.
The gowns are a strange collection for us to carry in piled over our arms. They are not practical for camp wear, even for dressing gowns or housecoats, for the material is too elegant to be worn before the eyes of soldier guards who are curious. The gowns bring the past before us. Their appearance aroused mixed sensations. There before us in smooth, shining black satin, diamond shoulder straps, silver lamé, suave cut, shape, and design, the last word in style before bombs—we have not seen such beauty of line for six months, and it mixes oddly with the barracks mops in kerosene tins, garbage bins, and waitresses. That pile of rich material coming into our isolation and severe war atmosphere makes the other life seem very distant. Frenchheeled slippers, delicate cut-velvet, expensive cloth fashioned into coats soft to touch. The gowns are marked “A.Q” (Aurora Quezon)—Paris, London, and American models of the First Lady of the Philippines. Some announce “original model,” many have scarcely been tried on, not really worn. They were being looted, rescued and sent here, another gift from Nakamura. It is a farewell gesture from one who had only loot to give us.
July 8, 1942—Jerry fried out some pork and he gave me some of the crisp remains. It tasted so good and I was so hungry for it that I cried over it and couldn’t talk. He fried up some rice with the grease, and June and I ate it with our fingers, out of a bowl. Jerry understood how I felt emotionally wrought up over that meat with real flavor, for he says they feel the same way on the hill at noon [Jerry is on the woodcutting crew]—the stomach runs out to meet the food and all the juices start flowing.
July 11, 1942—In some ways I live in a world of my own with these notes that are an outlet, saving wear and tear on other people. Perhaps everyone should keep notes for a healthy mind.