- 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
Miss McKim [Nellie McKim, a bilingual American who served as the internees’ interpreter] went to the guardhouse, a relative went there, a missionary, and both of our liaison men. There was a huge flurry and much stewing. After several hours of talk, scolding from the guard, pleas from Miss McKim, whose tact, diplomacy, and comprehension of Japanese intricacy is above reproach—it was decided the culprits were to remain in a small room at the guardhouse for twenty-four hours, without any mattresses, only blankets and a pillow, to sleep on the floor with a guard between.
Everyone is whispering sympathetically (having the same desire to be normal). A crazy world, the center of the great psychosis War! Our people worked till ten trying to abate the penalty. The humble centers of the storm were finally permitted to return to their separate barracks after that.
A new light was on toward the pigpen, and someone asked, “Aren’t the pigs allowed to commingle either?” Apparently only the goats can be normal in a war-torn world.
Nov. 19, 1942—During Special Diet serving, eight booted officers, including a real live general, inspected camp with a bodyguard of eight soldiers with bayonets. These last pressed their faces against the screen to watch the children eat, smiling and laughing. They are so curious, so interested, that often I feel sad for them, fury mixed with sympathy and understanding of their plight, their fate being to fight us when they feel friendly. I can see how their minds worked with the reasons they were given, and for many common soldiers I feel pity and respect. It is terrible involvement for us all, so many killed in our defeat, so many more to die in theirs. We cannot go back or stop, only go on remorselessly.
Nov. 27, 1942—A type of rugged camp humor: One man raved about marriage and his love for his wife, which grows with the years like a flower. Another tough customer asks, “Yes, and how are you managing to keep the flower watered in these times?”
A guard went off with a bayonet in a car. An hour later, without any warning of newcomers, it returned and spewed out five forlorn, gaunt, possessionless Americans. They had been living in the hills eleven months, all from Itogon mine, comfortable and well fed until November 17 when they were betrayed and the soldiers walked in without warning. Our crowd gathered around them, and they were fed as faces pressed against every screen and closed in on every mouthful, talking and asking avidly. Young, sensitive, Filipino Dr. Biason had been with them, his pretty, dainty American wife, who was a nurse, and his sister. The last two were shot in the abdomen, he was not allowed to go near them, and his wife was still alive when he was led away, beaten, head held in a tub of water—all that sadists can think up to do. The two women were cremated that night. The others, elderly Mr. and Mrs. Perles, Tod and Ruth and a child younger than June, were made to go without any mats, blankets, or belongings, walking fifteen miles on empty stomachs, he tied up for four hours, in jail eleven days in a room eight by three feet. The thirty-one prisoners had only two bowls of rice and two glasses of water a day. The Japanese told them that thirteen others were captured and that most of us had gone to the States and they would probably go too. In Baguio they were questioned closely about Mrs. Klappert—the Japanese want her for hostage against her husband. The price on him is high, but she is the one they want to locate, for they can reach a man by capturing his love. Dr. Biason is said to be in Baguio, released, his child with him, a bullet through her middle, but she is alive. He wanted to die, he felt so responsible. They tried to pry much information from him, to make him pay for his loyalty to Americans. These newcomers say that people everywhere are terrified of the invader, for villages are burned, people beaten and tied up, tortured.
Dec. 1, 1942—During lunch, after several days buildup of watching and trailing Mr. Menzies, the guards beat him. They found a five-gallon can and four bottles of gin cached in the grass near the cottages. They stopped all the work and said nothing more could be taken from the cottages for building until the owner of the gin confessed. A guard, Miss Shore, and our liaison man were seen with Mr. Menzies, who claimed he knew nothing of it, wished it were his. An hour later, from our windows, we watched him standing at the guardhouse, taking it. About eight guards standing around him, before our eyes, two beat him with bamboo sticks—legs, back, head, anywhere it fell. He tried to shield an infected swollen thumb and a boil on his head. Finally they closed in, made him lie on the ground, beat him with army belts, a golf club, baseball bats, anything at hand, until he was unconscious. His screams at the last were horrible to hear. It was degrading to see, nauseating to witness, and the children watched. He was taken to the hospital and no bones were broken. He had been warned two days ago.
Dec. 14, 1942—It is a constant struggle to get spoons enough to set the table, bowls in line, to keep track of tins or soap. Once a thing is set down and left, it is never there after sixty seconds. Pails disappear like magic, onion tops are snatched up, the mental process apparently being that it is not wanted and in the discard. It is a wild life of fighting to hold your own, to keep the little you have and not do others’ work way beyond your share.