- 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
Dr. Skerl is growing yeast for those needing Vitamin B. Jerry, whose ankles have long been swollen, has been much helped by it. Many with this symptom are on the verge of beriberi or pellagra (B-complex deficiency). Mrs. Tangen brought in the start of yeast. One thing leads to another—she advertised on the board to sell starts to those who are cooking.
The camp News for Dec. 14 says, “This was one of the ‘no’ mornings; no syrup, no salt, no coffee, at times no spoons, no plates; one of those days upon which a person, after a suitable wait in line, is served and sits down to contemplate the pleasure of eating soft rice, completely flavorless, with a fork, seasoning the mixture with what passes for a banana—the kind of a day one realizes, if he hasn’t already done so, where he is and why.”
Jan. 1, 1943—A New Year is here, and we hope again, as we hoped all of 1942, but we are still concentrated, our teeth crumbling, our bodies lacking Vitamin B, still lacking toilet paper and using septic tanks for 517 which were intended for 250. As Dr. Hall says, this camp has 18th-century sanitation.
Jan. 2, 1943—1 sat in the common room waiting for Jerry to make cocoa after checkers. All around were couples, pitiful couples, hungry for each other and kept apart by war and hate and evil minds. Young couples deeply in love, married only a year or two, some with one baby and wanting another; sitting together, a few gazing drowned into each other’s eyes, not daring to touch; others holding hands, quietly, patiently, smiling a little; some flirting openly, with sparkling eyes and speech; some trying to read Bible chapters and not succeeding too well in the uproar. The crowd broke up early, drifting off, away from provocation, wanting to be normal yet helplessly channeled into abnormality, thwarted, repressed, treated like children or idiots. All the suppressions of war were in the atmosphere of that room. They will all want to pen up the invader, make him know the torture of denial, going without normal instinctive satisfactions. This is only one form, for many are built up for revenge. That living body dragged along the road before it was beaten to death, one of their own countrywomen who was married to an American—force, sadism, unmentionable primitive depths and experiences must have been built up in the enemy who does this. Will we want to do the same? Can there be no end, no outgrowing?
Feb. 1, 1943—Jerry made a Parmesan-cheese omelette with the things from [outside] and four eggs, with rice flour to give it body. A taste of cheese after thirteen months—it is the one thing everyone craves! When we get out we want a huge kitchen where we can sit and eat, a beautiful bathroom, two bedrooms, and a small library, and that’s all! We make plans to enlarge our home kitchen, spreading it all over the place. June is obsessed with it and Peg laughs at all of us.
Feb. 27, 1943—The chef is in a bad mood. He gave one and a half stuffed cabbage rolls to the men, which miscalculation deprived thirty-five women of the main food dish, many of whom had worked hard all afternoon preparing the vegetables. They were naturally empty and irate. The chef apologized personally to many, but some won’t let it die.
May 7, 1943—Jerry is still chuckling over an episode in the shop. He was sharpening his small knife on the small whetstone when he was sudden confronted with a long blade headed into his stomach and held by an Oriental hand. He looked up, into the smiling face of a guard who was proudly comparing the size of his knife with Jerry’s. Later, Jerry saw the same soldier turning the grindstone for Jim Bozeman to sharpen his murderous-looking knife! In a short while, he looked again at the same picture reversed—Jim turning the grindstone while the soldier sharpened his long blade with a bone handle. We laughed as we recalled how they took nail scissors, nail files, everything sharp or pointed from us that first, long night.
May 29, 1943—The guards saw Eric and his wife eating together at the shop. They asked if it were husband and wife, and they said yes. A guard said, “All right, eat together if husband and wife. Sleep together—husband and wife make baby, not all right. Soldier cannot do it now. No one can.” A delightfully simple explanation of how they all feel.
July 3, 1943—While Jerry took a long sleep, I went to the handicraft exhibit until he joined me. It is unique. It combined county fair, arts and crafts, shop and garden and artistry, showing the things people can do with little to work with but a mind, some patience, and plenty of time. The enemy should have seen this display before writing an article on American love of luxury, idleness, and softness. At the door, outside, was a handsome white rooster with a red and blue ribbon tied to his leg. He was raised from a Camp Holmes egg, inside the barbed wire, by O’Dowd, Jake, and Bea, who are proud of it. The guard gazed with much amusement at the ribbons on the leg.