- 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
Among the items were: baby bedspreads with the names of all the camp-born babies embroidered on them; an egg cup carved as thin as china or a shell from wood by Dr. Skerl; Dick Patterson’s dirigible with tiny motors; lipstick made of beeswax from native honey and a dye; handmade dresses with handmade cocorut or stone buttons; tools—bow, saw, needles (from fence wire), wooden drills of bamboo, a handsome Swedish-style pocketknife with fine beveled edge and beautifully wrought handle by Lerberg (it is composed of an airplane strut, carabao horn, ramrod, copper wire, sewer pipe, and pouch fastener); a soup-bone crochet hook for his wife by Palmer, and the braided rug made with it by his wife; food covers from gauze taken off the back of adhesive tape; the prize aluminum false teeth by Fabian, with assistance from the dentist. Jim Thompson’s totem pole, hand carved, was there with his explanatory remarks— “Very rare totem pole, found in ruins of Camp Holmes, date about A.D. 1943. Believed to have been used by prehistoric totem cult; top figure is thought to represent the lamentations of the cult for their squareheadedness for getting in such a mess; the central figure symbolizing their national sickness (pigheadedness); the bottom figure represents the ultimate condition of these people—the rice belly.”
Aug. 1, 1943—June says the little kids stomp about saying “God damn” over and over. Buddy on potty remarks, “I hope God will give me a good specimen today.” Buddy really voices the Dysentery Prayer.
Aug. 10, 1943—High school grads are learning a new song by Father Gowan, not like the usual Alma Mater. It expresses this thought—“We hope it won’t be long before there’s nothing left of her (our Alma Mater).”
Sept. 25, 1943—There were five or six parties, one of about fifty guests for a husband’s birthday. A guard with his nose pressed against the wire watched the party all evening and wanted to know what we were celebrating. Carl had a party in the ironing room with games and much glee behind a rug curtain. The sergeant went in and sat in a corner, watching the whole time. When Hayakawa [the camp commandant] is away, the guards will play.
One went in to visit with Ray, was given a piece of cake, and seemed rather hopeless. He said he left his wife expecting a baby, with three children already, in Japan. All his money goes to her, he has none for extras. If he is taken prisoner, his family will get no money at all. If he deserts, they get no money. If he deserts but kills himself before captured, his wife gets pay. In Bataan the Japanese soldiers who had been taken prisoners by the Americans were shot in front of their comrades’ eyes when they were recaptured after the surrender of Bataan by the Americans. So there is no way out for them except death. They must die fighting, and if defeat comes, all must die.
Dec. 25, 1943—Like spiders crawling in every direction from the center of a web, all of the 450 internees were coming from the bodega with carts, sacks, poles, ropes—anything that would help carry forty-seven pounds or more [for the Red Cross packages]. If only the people at home could have seen it! Morale soared so high that people went out of reach—“exceeded grasp.” Before Jerry even knew the line had started, Bede had been down and carried his own case of forty-seven pounds, stopping only three times to rest between the bodega at the foot of the road and our space, where he deposited it. Dr. Shafer and others carried stretchers loaded with cases. Sacks, poles, wheelbarrows large and small, Christmas carts on wheels precarious for such weight—everyone smiling and sprinting back for the next one or to help others who had no strong arm. As fast as men put them from the bodega onto the counter out front, they were checked off as each was trundled away joyously. One man sat right down in the bodega and opened his box, stuck a cigarette in his face, took a slice of cheese in one hand, a slice of Spam in the other, then came striding up the hill with the heavy box on his shoulder, his mouth busy three ways and a wide grin besides puffs and chews.
Then the fun began. Fathers joined families and all commingling rules were off as cases were shunted about, opened and spread out in piles, stacks, and rows. Counting and sorting occupied the next forty-eight hours. Inventory was taken as each can and box was lovingly handled, felt, and gazed upon, exclaimed over. Exhilaration is not the word!
The box breathed American efficiency, even to the little brown envelopes with can openers. Nothing was forgotten, and the contents were concentrated essence of all we lacked for two years, all we need for now and perhaps three months to come. The care, thought, research, long development and planning that went into it oozed out of every corner. We could imagine every soldier and civilian prisoner in every occupied country opening one just as we were, singing with relief and bounding spirits. Each can is a meal in itself, perfectly balanced. Pride in America stretched out as we realized it was covering the world. No longer are we haunted by fear of famine. The cases stand for Security .