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
On December 5, 1941, Natalie Crouler, an American housewife living in the Philippines, started a chatty letter to her mother in Boston: the children ‘s cat had died, and she described the tearful funeral. But the letter was never mailed. Within three chaotic weeks, the Crouter family were prisoners of the Japanese, trying to adjust to an internment that was to last more than three years.
The Crouters—Natalie, her husband Jerry, an American who had an insurance business in the Philippines, and their two children, June, aged twelve, and Bede (Fred), aged ten—were luckier than many Americans interned by the Japanese during World War II. For most of their imprisonment, they were at Camp Holmes, a place of great beauty and clean, healthy air, high in the mountains of Luzon, where the internees were allowed to govern themselves within set limits. At first, food was not a critical problem. With gifts from the outside, and what money they had managed to hang on to, the internees were able to supplement the camp diet. But crowding, lack of privacy, and perverse social regulations were onerous. For instance, “commingling” was forbidden. Although families could eat and visit together, men and women were housed separately.
Natalie ‘s aborted letter to her mother turned into a diary that she kept daily throughout the mounting hardships of their internment. To keep such a record—her notes, she called it—was an offense punishable by death, but she persisted, convinced that the diary was preserving her sanity. She wrote in a microscopic script on small scraps of paper—flaps of envelopes, margins of book pages—then wrapped bundles of her scraps in plastic cut from an old raincoat, and hid them in the family food supplies, once coating them in butter, at other times burying them in sugar or beans. The diary became her most precious possession.
Both its survival and quality are astonishing. Natalie Crouler was not a professional writer, but writing entirely for herself, her children, and the children she hoped they’d have, she left an unforgettable record—vivid, honest, and compassionate—of what life was like in an internment camp, for captives and captors alike. Edited by Lynn Z. Bloom, The Internment Diary of Natalie Crouter , from which the following article is excerpted, will be published by Burt Franklin & Company. This book is the second volume of their American Women’s Diary Series.
Dec. 27,1941—The Japanese army took over. They woke us at 11:30 P.M. and kept us standing in one small, crowded room until 2:30 A.M. checking off each one over and over. Finally, they herded us all onto the second story, where we all slept on the wooden floor all night. Mrs. Saleeby was allowed a mattress because of her age. About a dozen of us put our heads on it all around her, our bodies stemming out like rays of the sun. Many did not have blankets, and it was a firetrap. The Japanese officers came about every half hour with heavy clumping boots and sharp staccato talk, would look in, stare at us like zoo animals, then go away. A machine gun was trained on us at the front door.
Dec. 29, 1941—Weak on mattress. Got up to wash, then collapsed. Seemed to have no middle and my head felt queer. They called us all onto the tennis court and told us that if we did what we were told that the Japanese soldier was kind. We must give up all guns or tell where any were hidden. They had already taken all scissors, nail files, and pointed objects the night before. They seemed as frightened as we. They divided the men into one group, children and older women into another, and younger women into a third, and told us we were to walk in these groups to Camp John Hay. We were to carry blankets or what baggage we could. What we left behind might be taken by truck afterward.
Mar. 4, 1942—Annoyances are inevitable in such close proximity and scarcity. One woman who usually loves children hopes not to see any for months after she gets out. Communism or socialism will fail if they disregard privacy. Crowding does not produce efficiency and economy. It wastes too much energy and does not make allowance for relaxation and rest. Men can have barracks if they want them—but give them the children and changing diapers on the floor, lifting constantly, cry, cry, cry, and they’ll change it in a hurry. If it is to be close communal living in the future, I’ll join a real revolution.
Mar. 6, 1942—Tokyo radio says they have never interned or held any prisoners in occupied countries!
Mar. 8, 1942—We are not starving but we thoroughly crave accustomed food. There is a definite unbalance to our diet besides the fact of only two meals a day. We lack enough proteins, sugar, and fat. The children have rice, syrup, and a drink of hot water for breakfast; adults the same, plus weak coffee without milk or sugar. Strawberry jam on a piece of bread for lunch but no soup or tea; a radish for the adults and a piece of O’Racca candy for the children. Gifts from the outside have satisfied my cravings for the moment, but I’m still mad for a twenty-four-hour soak in hot water, in a tub, alone—no fire buckets, no three others splashing cold shower in the small enclosure, all standing on one leg to dress.
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.
Instead of church in the barrack room, I went to visit the shop. A list of the things that they have manufactured and that are important to our existence are: a solder holder made out of part of an electric-light fixture; the portable grinder and buffer are made from a windshield-drying motor from an automobile, the pistol grip on it is a piece of carabao horn; a charcoal burner has been constructed from the base of an old road roller, with an Army field safe for a door, a base of rocks and dirt; name plates for camp members and a copper soap dish beaten by hand were made from a whole fire extinguisher; numerous frying pans have come into being from cable reels and parts of old safes; watch crystals have been ground from window glass, old light bulbs, and celluloid—they took a ten-cent glass cutter and ground the wheel so as to cut the glass; the hinge for eyeglasses was made from trophy plates and the fire extinguisher; knives have been evolved from auto springs and old files; the ladle to stir rice was conjured from an old trench shovel, with its handle an old athletic javelin; a knife blade is from a ballbearing cup, the hilt a plate from a National Cash Register, the handle of leather disks from cartridge pouches, the end knob from a rifle cleaning rod.
July 21, 1942—Jim Halsema was announcer for Major Bozo hour, our first Amateur Night, with Concentration Rice the sponsor—“in seven different flavors—burnt, coconut, caramel, perspiration, cockroaches, fish, and syrup.” Carol sang hillbilly songs and yodeled; little Francie sang “Smile Awhile,” each winning first and second prizes, which are said to be a ride on the garbage wagon to Trinidad. Rae recited her concentration version of the poem about the tropics, ending “Oh, how I want to go home!” Mr. Perry fluted and Alice and Gerry sang in spite of an attack of stage fright. There is a new theme song with words and music by Marvin Dirks, “Have you tried rice? It’s the best food in all of the land.” This brought thunderous applause and cheering no end, with the evening a howling success.
Aug. 5, 1942—After the evening lecture came the fashion show with the parade of Concentration Modes, Inc. Much curtain material was in evidence. Delia, Inc., made up two denim work-suit models for the hospital staff that were very snappy.
We had a package from Miss Ramos with a pineapple pie at which we gazed and gazed. There were sausages, lemons, and candy. Daddy came to eat the pie with us on the front porch, with sub-coffee (grounds used more than twice) with milk. We gave the children each a full glass of milk, their second in eight months.
Sept. 14,1942—Toyko rages over our inhuman treatment of internees in America, moving them from camp to camp making a seventy-year-old man work, kicking a thirteenyear-old boy in the stomach, etc. It sounds like our complaints.
Sept. 25, 1942—Jerry’s disposition is certainly not normal. He has no appetite or pep, looks thin, just pushes around and has no hope of any American approach or deliverance. It is low-ebb morale in camp right now anyway. But he is no comfort to us or himself unless immersed in poker, where he forgets the present world of inaction.
Sept. 27, 1942—Jerry brought sub-coffee, fried mush, and pomolo in sugar for early breakfast. I tied my hair back, unbraided, which seems to make me look younger, with Sunday lipstick. I had to do something to take off that ten-year-aging feeling of the past fortnight. It has been the worst time in camp as to morale.
Bedie seemed homesick so we sat on the porch talking till he finally had a cry, which snapped the tension. He said Daddy had a boil now and had had so many things the matter with him—“Remember that first day when we were all so hungry and Daddy gave you and June and Tish and me the last crackers, and when we tried to make him take some he almost cried and said, ‘Don’t be damn fools.’” So Bedie remembers it all too—funny little boy who never seems to be taking in such things. This evening he was feeling full of omissions and sins. We held hands tight, and the tears washed away some of the sins.
Oct. 15, 1942—By chewing on my front teeth I can enjoy one peanut at a time. A number of New England habits have been invaluable in this parsimonious and pioneer existence, habits I didn’t have to acquire. Kidded about them in the past, now they are normal.
Several are showing symptoms of lack of Vitamin B—pains in the hands, numbness of hands and arms as though they had gone to sleep. The doctors give tikitiki. Massage may help, but it is chiefly dietary.
Now there is said to be a battle going on down in the valley below, machine guns and pounders and fighting. It can be seen from the hospital. It may be just ruthless mopping up of a village. Thunder and guns, which is which; we had both today. By dinner time, it had become landings and battle in Lingayen Gulf. While they fight and die in the valley within our sight, flower-arrangement class adjusts bouquets exquisitely on the porch and the choir practices in the nipa shed. After supper, drama, scandal, made its entrance. Mattresses were seen going to the guardhouse, and the word went around that one of the venturesome, young married couples had been caught out of bounds and commingling, both major offenses at the moment.
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.
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.
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 .
Jan. 1, 1944—It still burns me up that we have no letters, no message of any kind from America as we enter the third year of confinement. They came but have not been given to us. Food is vital, of course, and comes first, but the Japanese could have given us letters for the spirit too. It was in their power.
Jan. 5, 1944—Nida [The Crouters’ former cook] sent us bananas, a pomolo, cigarettes, red radishes, and four baskets of big red strawberries, which we hulled and washed on the spot, eating them with sugar and milk, recklessly. I felt better after lunch than for weeks. Being better, I felt angry and wanted to go home and turn the Japanese out of my house. I hate to think of their navy taking a bath in my tub, sitting before my fireplace, and hate them for intruding. I hate them thoroughly tonight.
Jan. 7, 1944—There are many infections now—thumbs, feet, boils in many areas. Lack of some vitamins is causing trouble with vision for a few who cannot see to read at night even under electric lights. Others cannot see distant objects. Many of the worst cases are getting vitamin shots. Clara has a mouth full of cankers and cannot wear her plate. Her tongue is like mine was and she has to rest a lot. I went to Dr. Shafer about my weight and lassitude. He wants a stool check; due to recent discoveries he wants a check for hookworm. He said my eyes showed a still-low hemoglobin. He prescribed fifty iron tablets, to take three a day. He said I needed a vacation and I said that it was the one thing I didn’t want.
I notice that if my meal is delayed by even five minutes I become petulant, irritable, and could dissolve into tears.
Jan. 10, 1944—Yesterday the four military police left and were replaced by fourteen regular army. In town also the military police have gone, the army is in charge. “Charlie” came around to say good-bye, left the parting word “Watcho!” He is right, for the new guards are everywhere, poking about curiously, on guard in every direction with gun and bayonet, standing in helmets with gun over shoulder in the market truck when it returns. A company of Filipino constabulary marched on the road below us. Trucks loaded with soldiers go up and down the trail. Two bombers cruised around for some time.
“Charlie” always worries about being captured. He told our men that when Americans are captured they could go home later, greeted with cheers, joy, as heroes. When a Japanese soldier is taken prisoner, he is killed when he goes home afterward; his family starves.
Feb. 14, 1944—Damn the enemy. Even Germany permits bags and letters from home. I don’t want these officers killed, I want them isolated and incommunicado in a camp for months on end; no bags, no word from home, just plugging along without any toilet paper, living on rice and cabbage.
Apr. 14, 1944— Special Section on Bill, Gene, and Jim in jail. Bill was strung up by his thumbs four times in four hours. They tied his hands behind him, then tied the thumbs and pulled him up with arms behind him. He could touch the ground with his toes, which helped a little, but the back was bent over and the head down, lasting for about twenty minutes each time. They hit him from underneath, in the face; they beat him with sticks, kicked him in the ribs. Once he told them that Americans wouldn’t treat a dog like that and they beat him unmercifully. The fourth time they strung him up they ordered him to get up on a chair, and he wouldn’t. Five of them jumped him at once, and he ended standing on the chair, where they handcuffed his hands behind him and strung him by the thumbs again. He said he kept hoping he would faint but he is too powerful and could not, so he kept striking his head against the door, trying to knock himself out. They beat him for this too. He said he was not conscious of making a sound until he saw a Filipino crowd gathering outside to find out what was going on. Then the Japanese put a gag in his mouth, and he dimly realized he must have been yelling. Twice his shoulder was pulled out of the socket, and they took him down to put it back in. He has a huge black spot on one leg, another on one arm. He says the Filipinos fed him afterward and he ate like a horse for four days, yet he is twelve pounds less than when he left here even after all the food. He sweated so that he stood in a pool of water. What they wanted to know was where the men went, who took them, and what way they went, how we got the news and who got it. Much of this he could not answer—which made it only worse. At last he lost track and doesn’t remember much. He could only give them a vague idea of the destination anyway. After it was all over they told him they had all the information they wanted anyway after torturing Chicay, the meat seller, and two others, one of whom they caught with a script of news from K.P., a guerrilla.
It is as I surmised. They were trying to trace the type and thought it came from in here. They are sure we have an organization ready to rush when news and orders come and that someone in here is at the head of it. There will be no more news under stones or trees or wherever it was. No one knew who got it, perhaps it was the two who escaped. News was just talked around, starting nowhere. Bill was given by far the worst because he was the strongest and stood firm. Now he hated them when they told him they had all the dope anyway and just wanted confirmation. They showed him a sheaf of records gouged from the two Filipinos.
Tomibe [Captain Rokuro Tomibe, then commandant at Camp Holmes] asked Bill to come into the office and tell just what they did to him. He told them all, showing him the wounds like deep burns in his thumbs. Tomibe said, “No, no, they didn’t do that!” in several places. He begged Bill not to tell it around camp, but Bill said he was going to tell the whole story so that no one else would try to escape, and later on it would all be settled up.
Tomibe went into town in the car this morning and brought Gene back alive. He was taken right down to camp hospital, able to walk by himself. At the top of the steps stood little Terry and Kim. Terry shouted “Daddy” and ran to him. Gene patted his little rear softly, saying his name over and over. Gene is bruised and took a tough beating because he really did not know a lot of the answers, but he passed out into unconsciousness and they had to cut him down and take him to the military hospital. Before he left jail, he says, the Filipinos rubbed his thumbs and hands and arms back to life, or he feels he might have been worse off. All their thumbs were badly cut.
Jim was put in with a bunch of Filipinos and not touched the first night. They advised him to tell anything he knew. Next morning they strung him up at once, before asking any questions. His thumb became infected. He speaks of how wonderful the Filipinos are—Dixson in jail for the fourth time, accused of sending money to guerrillas; Jo in on the same charge but let out now. Konrad is in for listening to his radio. There are only two kinds of prisoners, those in on Buy and Sell, and those sending money to guerrillas. Jim says they are marvelous and keep right on going in spite of jail and beatings. Blanche saw a fellow brought into the town hospital so emaciated he couldn’t hold his mouth together, and it was held by a strap under his chin. His stomach curved in until it touched his backbone. He was a horrible sight, barely alive, mumbling half out of his mind, scarcely human. Bunker says he was probably a victim of water cure. The Japanese seem to know where guerrillas are gathered and other things. Can they do anything about it?
Gene stayed [in the hospital] with dysentery. Bill should have gone there too, for too many talked to him and he was keyed up anyway and finally gave out nervously. He couldn’t eat and was nauseated. They gave him drugs to make him sleep. He is lucky to be still sane, but it will be months before he is normal, and he will never forget the horror of it.
Apr. 18, 1944—Tomibe is very human. When he heard the children call the dog Tojo, he says they can call the dog Roosevelt!
June 1, 1944—[Now] the Japanese turn nasty. They had heard the children call them Japs and complained to Carl. Now the chef, asked where some supplies came from, replies that the Japs brought it in. He is overheard by the buyer and reported. It grows into a major incident. The chef is called to the guardhouse, given a tongue-lashing, nearly half a day tries to explain it is a slang term, but to no avail. He is threatened with three days in the jail room at guardhouse, finally made to write an apology. The committee was called to a meeting about it and about our attitude of fading out when a general comes, etc. They complain that we don’t like them. What do they expect after poor treatment. Denki told them bluntly that as we grow more hungry and tired, ill and nervous, we would grow more disagreeable, blame them, blame the committee, for no food, no housing, etc. Evidently, the general gave them a raking over and being nervy and jittery anyway they pass it on to us as they have done before. This happens to all people.
Sign on the board: “Since the term ‘Jap’ is considered an insult, the Command requests that in conversation when you refer to the Japanese the term ‘Japanese’ and not ‘Jap’ be used.”
July 28, 1944—A priceless note from Mr. Yamato: “Oh dear Mr. Chairman [of the internees’ committee] and Mr. Denki—In this scientific age of ours we must make things all indistinct, not obscure. The little fences which we have just made yonder is the boundary of the Japanese soldiers and you. They do not go beyond without special business, and you must not cross also. We do not stop the children, but when they played against it and had it broken, please mend it by yourselves. That is the order. S. Yamato.”
July 31, 1944—Bede has brought me some small nasturtium leaves, knowing my hunger for green. He hides them and is almost in tears at finding something for me. I make him promise to pick no more leaves of any kind unless he is sure they belong to no one, for they are green gold now and one might be deprived who has raised it and needs it desperately. Every leaf counts in desperate days. These taste so good chopped into my pate. Both children are inspired over our bamboo and coconut shell gardens. They bring fresh dirt, plant new sprouts. They have seen a nasturtium in the grass and rush to dig it for our garden. Our days are composed of tiny items like this.
Aug. 6, 1944—Poor Bede is so hungry. I told him to come to me when he couldn’t stand it and we would talk but not to ask Daddy for it drives him crazy to be able to do nothing, and we just haven’t enough to keep giving extras. I told him Daddy was a big man who needed a lot, that he was hungrier than Bede all the time because he denies himself for us constantly. I suggested that Bede try to keep busy to forget hunger, but not to run it off. He understood and almost wept but said he would be a soldier. I told him the last few weeks would be the hardest, but it began to look near, so he must tighten his belt another notch.
Yamato’s critique [published in the camp News ] is simply priceless. “Seeing the Camp Hamlet on Sat. Eve. Many years have passed since I was interested in Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Goethe’s Faust . This eve. (Sat) I had the chance unexpectedly to see Camp Hamlet — ‘the tragedic-comedy Hamlet.’ I have not yet acquaintance though I must, with those persons who acted the roles or the writer of the opera or the musician. Though I had already some ‘ahnung’ that it was changed Hamlet from the old drama, I went to see it, from curiosity and ennui, with Mr. Smith, the Camp Engineer. And lo! there the Hamlet was played! Within such limited dining room with little clothing (except those female persons) and, to make the matters worse, with no curtains or backscene, it must need the most skillful actors or actresses to play it’s performance. And then, it was played well, admiringly well, with profound humor. I like best the Cost’s monology, those musical melodies. And when all persons sang together in comical yet mournful chorus, tears involuntarily spread from my eyes. It is ‘Humor’ in psychological terminology. All persons’ roles were performed very well, each actor or actress having individuality and charmingness. The Queen’s garments were very beautiful as well as the nice gesture of Ophilia, King’s comicality and Hamlet’s ‘Voice.’ It took somewhat longer hours, and it made the play more interesting, and all passed smoothly without a hitch, except the carrying of Ophilia and doctor’s treatment. All combined, Camp Hamlet , the masterpiece was born. To conclude, you are very artistic, musical, profound in aesthetics and serene in this living. That is what I cannot help admiring you. God bless you! Good night. S. Yamato.”
Aug. 8, 1944—Jerry says it is funny that three of us should get B-2 deficiency when he hasn’t had it yet. I tell him he has had the other kind, B-I, far longer than we have had ours. I don’t talk about a lot of things but I know them. He looked at me and didn’t say a word, for he had just been examining his swollen ankles, rubbing his aching hands.
June and Bede were still empty when they finished lunch, though the beef broth was good and sautéed radish better than it sounds with Jerry’s pickled onions. What would we do without Jerry’s versatility, his constantly sprouting ideas and practical efforts? I can do nothing but conserve the little strength I have, on a dirt couch, reading Durant on all the Chinese philosophers.
Aug. 16, 1944—One says it is a scandal that Dr. Shafer is giving hypos to some of the officers and guards who come to the hospital—he should give only sterile hypos of clear water. This type of thought infuriates me, not only from the humane standpoint, but from the immediate practical one. We are still in their hands, depend for food and life upon them and their whim. If they should get wind of such a thought, they could refuse to give us any more medicines and take away all that we have. While we depend on the Japanese, and are in their power, we certainly cannot turn them away even though supplies are dwindling. Perhaps it won’t be long. Another side of this story is Marion, whose husband met death in jail at their hands. She feels sorry for the guards who are sick, hungry, panicky. She wishes she could hide them away in a box and spare them what is ahead.
Aug. 26, 1944—1 woke with diarrhea and then had bad chills, one after another. My hands and upper lip were numb, ears filled and cracking. I crawled into the dugout with my blanket and pillow, unable to eat the poorly cooked rice, feeling as though part of me had stopped working, wanting only to close my eyes and rest forever. The family hovered anxiously, asking questions I was too weak to answer. I lay exhausted in measureless weakness, calm and peaceful as though suspended, not caring about anything, whether they had food to give me or not. Poor Jerry looked sunk with worry, but I was too weak to care. I did not go to roll call. The doctor came, shook his head, admitted that many were like this and that nearly everyone had symptoms of one sort or another. He finally left saying if I did not improve I could go to the hospital, and he would try some thiamine in addition to nicotinic, also special diet if I wished. He says, regretfully, that the iron pills from the Red Cross have given out.
Sept. 13, 1944—1 asked Miss McKim to please say “auld lang syne” to Tomibe San for me and to tell him I will long remember the two evenings when he conveyed to us the spirit of Japan, and that if each person is, in a sense, an ambassador from his native land, then he has done his country a great service in here. In a way it is a relief to have him go before hostilities for guerrilla revenge will make no discrimination, no concession. All Japanese will be alike to them. In Manila he may escape death at the hands of the Americans, but not among the mountain people, and I would not want to see it.
Oct. 11, 1944—Jerry earns camotes [for extra work details], which help the family meals. He seems to like the garden and has his second wind like Bede. I have mine and wish June would get hers.
I sat up reading pages of my toilet paper — Women in Love . There are many pages of majestic writing.
Oct. 17, 1944—Little Ronnie took the mouse in a trap to the cat, opened the trap, released the little mouse, upon which the cat pounced, then Ronnie ate the bait, which was a peanut.
Dec. 16, 1944—During the complete quiet of roll call we all heard a long sustained salvo of guns, heavy guns, also planes and the rip of bombs. Kaito, who was lounging through roll call as usual, suddenly called out, “Dismissed,” and the entire 450 camp members burst into a din of joy, whoop and Oh Boy, chatter and laughter, as they flocked to the edge of the bank or down the steps to Baby House point. We rush out of the hospital to listen to the sound of battle, which is plain. All past sounds pale before this, which to our ears could be naval guns for landing forces. The spotters on the hill whistle off and on and later blow the all-clear. These signals are phoned to town, it is said, even as we did it four years ago. We are almost worn out already, dashing in and out full of thrill.
Dec. 25, 1944—The dancing and general excitement of the day, not to mention the pitiful overeating (if one can call it that), was too much for Bede. As the last tune died away and he was sure he would not miss any more, he went tearing past us through the kitchen, sending word back by his sister that “I lost it but don’t tell Dad.” I guessed it was the Christmas feast and went out to hunt for him, just in time to hold his head over a Socony laundry tin. Poor kid, I felt so sorry for him, losing all that good food. Weak and shaky, he was soon asleep with a hot brick against his tummy.
Dec. 28, 1944—In the broiling sun, on our mat rolls, we lay surrounded by straw bags, cloth bags, and jumbled possessions, a perspiring, tired, confused crowd. About two-thirty, they announced that trucks would be coming soon, but not as many as before so the trunks and heavy bags must be left by the road under guard till the next day. Of course our hearts sank and we thought it another shakedown, a chance to examine or take from us again. Nearly all of us were sure we would never see any of our baggage again. We had had to leave over half behind us anyway and now felt that this would be looted by hungry Filipinos or stolen by guards.
Dec. 31, 1944—The committee on housing met and thrashed out a plan and map, but when it was posted with locations and a key diagram, there was a furor and whole sections sat down and refused to move. All places seem equal to me, alike as two peas, but the usual barnacle attachment has begun and people are too tired to think of moving. They just squat and defy.
Jan. 25, 1945—Everyone is making Modernage-type chairs out of the twisted scrap iron in Bilibid. They bend the rods into shape and then slip a cover over it made of straw sack, gunny sack, canvas, hammered tin, strands of rope, sections of wire netting, or anything else that will let the weary human form relax in a chair. Our forms haven’t had a chair for over three years. How wonderful not to have to sit on a bench, a stool, or a bed!
Jan. 28, 1945—Yamato brought in a piano, of all things, and it stands by the front gate. It is a big help to the children’s rhythm band. Yamato asked Mrs. Greer to play him the “Moonlight Sonata” under the moon tonight, and she retorted, “I told you I didn’t want a piano. You go trade it for a carabao and bring us some meat.” He is quoted as saying, “The Americans will come soon and you will be free. They go slowly because they save men and protect their behind.” What a wonderful little man, so homesick and pathetic, wanting a piano in the middle of all this. Something has happened to his glasses and he can scarcely see without them. He has very poor eyes, squints them much. I shall almost miss this odd little man.
Jan. 30, 1945—We lie on the bed or sit on Daddy’s while he draws plans for our ideal house in Baguio or Shenandoah Valley. There is no food to prepare, no books to read, no strength for anything, so we all plan various futures, talk about the future and the past in order to forget the hunger and food and the monotony of living from day to day, waiting—.
Bede wants to talk about food all the time—how he will raid the icebox. Bread and butter—oh! says he—with chicken or ham or cheese on it! When we get under the net I let them talk food for an hour every night, then they must not mention it again. I can only stand it that long every day.
Feb. 3, 1945—At dusk, we saw a silent line of Japanese in blue shirts creep from the gate to the front door. They went through the long hall, upstairs, and out on the roof—of all places—with machine gun and bullets, grenades and gasoline. This made us extremely nervous, to put it mildly.
A flame thrower tore through the building next to the men’s barracks just outside the wall, and the building was a seething mass of flame immediately. It made me sick to see how quickly it happened and to wonder if any people might be inside. Fires began to rage in all directions. The sky was ablaze all night. The oil-gray pall has hung over us ever since, some of it a greasy brown color. At sunset, the sun was a copper disk in the sky, as it is during a forest-fire time at home.
Everyone went around talking about whether it was or wasn’t the American army. It wasn’t very long before we were sure. Some of the usual nervy, hardy camp members went up on the roof to see what was going on, and when the tank went by outside our walls, it stopped and they heard a Southern voice drawl, “Okay, Harvey, let’s turn around and go back down this street again.” Another pair of tanks was heard “God damning” each other in the dark. There was no mistake about this language—it was distinctly American soldiers! The Marines and Army were here! And they had caught the Japanese “with their pants down.” There couldn’t have been good communication or the Japanese would have had time to leave.
A fire broke out just behind us to the north, and the flame piled high and bamboo crackled and popped like pistols. I was so excited all night that I almost burst. I would doze off, waken with a jump at some enormous detonation. Win and Jo and little Freddie came down to our cement floor space for the night. I was up most of the night, going from one end of the building to the other to watch new fires that leapt into the sky. Jerry, who was tied to crutches (legs swollen with beriberi) and to his bed, scolded me—“You darn fool, go to bed. You’ll be dead tomorrow if you don’t stop running around.” He was right but I didn’t care and just answered, “I don’t care if I am. This is the biggest night of my life and I’m not going to miss it.”
Feb. 4, 1945—About 10 A.M. we saw Carl go out the gate to join Major Wilson in receiving orders and release from Major Ebiko and Yamato, who at last satisfied his correct soul by turning us over with all the proper formality. About noon Carl came back and we were all called into the main corridor. We crowded about the small office space, then someone said, “Gangway.” We all pressed over to one side as the clank of hobnails and sound of heavy feet came from the stairs. The eight soldiers had received their orders to come down from the roof. This was the most dramatic and exciting moment of all. It pictured our release more vividly than anything could. They had been persuaded to withdraw so that our danger would be less. They were giving in that much and were leaving Bilibid. They filed through the narrow lane we left, they and we silent, their faces looking sunk and trapped. The corporal’s fat face was sullen and defeated. One short, beady-eyed, pleasant fellow looked at us with a timid friendly grin—a good sport to the end. With machine-gun bullets and grenades in their hands, they trooped out the door, joining the still jaunty Formosans at the gate. They all went out without a backward look, and the gate stood open behind them. We were alone—and turned toward Carl who read the Release. We cheered and then Carl took the hand-sewn Baguio American flag out of the drawer and held it up high. The crowd broke up and began to move away singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.” I went out the front door and around in our door at the side where June was trying to tell Jerry, who had his face in his hands, his head bowed. I put my arm around his shoulders, and the three of us sat there with tears running down our cheeks for quite a long while, not saying anything.
Feb. 5, 1945—1 was awakened by feminine shrieks of delight and men’s cries of “Hooray!” Little Walter came rushing in calling to his mother, “Mummie, come, come! Do you want to see a real live Marine? They are here.” I was too worn down to go out and join the crowd, so I just rested there letting the tears run down and listening to the American boys’ voices—Southern, Western, Eastern accents—with bursts of laughter from our internees—laughter free and joyous with a note in it not heard in three years. I drifted into peaceful oblivion, wakening later amid mosquitoes and perspiration to listen to the rat-a-tat-tats, booms, clatter of shrapnel, explosions of ammunition dumps, seeing scarlet glare in every direction. There is battle all around us right up to the walls; two great armies locked in death grip. Today we watched flames leap and roar over at the Far Eastern University building just two blocks away. It is the Japanese Intelligence and Military Police Headquarters. The building was peppered with bullet holes Sunday morning, and a dead soldier is slumped out half across the window sill of an open window.
George Wood gave Jerry some cigarettes and from then on there was no more saving of stubs, for the boys showered their rations on us. George gave us three K-type ration boxes and four C or No. 2 type, containing crackers, a tin of cheese with bacon, a candy bar, four cigarettes in a small box, a piece of gum, and four packages of powdered citrus juice. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy was all we could say, over and over.
George had come up from Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Munda, and tore down with the first group from Lingayen. Three groups were converging, all trying to get to Manila first, in a terrific rivalry! They didn’t expect to find us alive and were racing with time to catch us before anything happened. The officers knew that we internees and the American soldiers were in Bilibid, but the enlisted men did not. They were just looking for a place to spend the night when they started breaking down the barricade at our front gate. Major Wilson and Carl and some others began to hack it down from inside, and when the soldiers heard this they thought it was Nipponese inside and put their hands on their rifles all ready to mow us down. They called out, “We order you to surrender!” and our men cried out, “We can’t. We are American Prisoners of War in here.” The answer from the outside was, “The hell you are! Not now—we’re here!” And they broke the door barricade and came in laughing with relief at finding us alive and not having to shoot their way through a nest of Japanese. There were not many dry eyes among our men, who were laughing with relief too. Some of them said that Tokyo had said over the radio that they would take us out and shoot us and this started their rush to Manila for a quick rescue. It worked, for they came through ahead of expectation or communication.
Our old friend George was only the first—for we have seen thousands now: huge, husky men, almost overpowering in their health and energy. They have such an American look in their eyes, even when tired from lack of sleep. It is a forward, eager, hopeful look—above all, secure and well fed.
After hunger, saving, scrimping, worrying, no news, the only kindness shown us required to be hidden from those high up, to emerge into all kinds of news, boys heaping kindness and attention on us, food in every direction, new avenues of life opening every hour—the mental and spiritual chaos is beyond expression. Like a rush of waves, a mighty sea breaks in and we swallow huge gulps of efficiency and freedom that leave us breathless and gasping on a new shore.
And so the ordeal of internment was over. Natalie arrived in the United States very sick with dysentery and pernicious anemia and spent three months in a Boston hospital. She is now eighty years old and lives near her daughter in Cleveland. The children, who each had been desperately ill with dysentery in the camp, suffered no long-range physical effects. But Jerry, his health permanently impaired by malnutrition, died in 1951 after a series of illnesses.
As for the diary itself, Natalie managed to hang on to it through the removal from Camp Holmes and the battle for Manila, only to have it taken from her by U.S. Army Intelligence for its potential value as evidence in war-crimes trials. It took the Crouters a year and a half to find it again, “in a huge Army warehouse in Kansas City”—unopened.