Posts Tagged ‘prisoner of war’

Another time four flyers were brought into camp. We were never allowed to talk with them, so we don’t know whether they were from another camp or whether they had just been captured.

With a few exceptions, Shinagow Camp was much like all the other Camps we had been in. We had no work to go to each day which left us too much time to think. This was not good, and it affected us in more ways than one. We missed the men coming in from work and telling what had happened on the job that day. Also, we had no way of hearing any rumors as to how the war was going. In Camp D-1, we based our news on the rumors that came into camp. Our deductions were that a rumor that lasted for over a week was true news. Sometimes we heard that a ship was lost, or a battle was won or got a progress report on a bombing mission. If talk about those died down in a day or two, we knew it was merely a rumor, but if talk persisted, it was usually true. I don’t believe the United States ever made as many ships as the Japs sunk according to the rumors that we got while we were prisoners. It was [three unclear letters, maybe “not”] from the Japanese military that we learned the United States was losing the war, but the Japanese civilians gave us the news about the battles that were lost and the ships that were sunk by the U.S. forces. We could see for ourselves when the ships came in to be repaired that they had gone through a bombing or a sea battle, and we did lots of repair work in this shipyard. I really missed all the talk and activity in the Shinagow Camp.

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It was in December that I got the surprise of my life when they brought a new man into camp. That man was Joe Gear whom we had left behind in Formosa due to his physical condit ion [sic]. It was certainly a day of rejoicing to get together again. Joe was still in real bad shape, as the diseases of prison life had really taken their toll with him. He was about ninety per cent blind and was unable to walk, but he was still alive. He now lives in Amarillo, Texas, and it is a real pleasure to visit him every time I travel through there. He still is not in good health, but he has improved immensely since he left Shinagow.

Due to the lack of close supervision by the Japanese inspector, one group of men working on a detail riveting steel plates of ships together, did not buckle down one hole [sic] plate that was below water line. The Japs launched it in the afternoon, and when we got to work the next morning, the ship flooded and sank during the night. I did not see this, but one of the men on the detail told me about it, and said they really got hell for it.

The swill or garbage bag was used by most all of the men while they were prisoners of the Japanese. Some took to using them a lot sooner than others; as for myself, I was in Camp D-1 for six months before I could bring myself to carrying one. I woke up to the fact that if I was to live through this ordeal that I was going to have to swallow my pride and get any morsel of food I could find. I noticed that the men using the swill bags were not losing as much weight as I and they seemed more healthy than myself. I soon became an old “pro” at hitting the garbage boxes that were in the shipyard, and sometimes got beat up for my efforts, the same as any of the prisoners did. The Japs were really hard on anyone they caught digging in the garbage boxes. One instance I recall vividly happened one day when noodles were cooked in the kitchen. My buddy Sweatman said, “Pierce, do you think we can get the scrapings from the pot?” Now the Japs had men that came around and picked up the garbage, but our hope was to beat them to the scrapings. On this particular day, a Jap went into the galley and came out with a five gallon can that he set down. He went back inside for something else. I noticed an old bucket lying in the trash, hurriedly picked it up and made a run for the bucket of noodle scrapings that was sitting there. I turned the noodle bucket upside down into my can and got about half of them in my bucket. Then I ran with the bucket and hid behind another building that was close by. It wasn’t long until Sweatman joined me, and we found one other buddy. We crawled down into a hole and ate all of the two and one-half gallon of noodles. Boy, were we full! Incidents similar to [sic] happened each day in camp by different men, or we couldn’t have survived. Many of us got caught and were beaten severely, but we risked the punishment in order to get some food.

My buddy, Charlie Sweatman and I became well known in camp for being the spice traders. There was one Japanese civilian in the shipyard who befriended us “stuck his neck out” for us. We would find out what he wouldlike [sic] to have, and then we would have to do a lot of “tall trading” sometimes to get what he wanted. We got a fair exchange for whatever we traded. Thinking back on our trading days, we made one trade that paid us well. Another Jap civilian asked the Jap that we did our trading with if he could get some flints for his cigarette lighter. Sweatman and I went to work hunting some flints, and after two days in camp found a Dutchman who had two flints. By doing dome [sic] hard bargaining, we traded eight cigarettes for the two flints. We took them back to the shipyard and traded them for ten cans of pepper and ten cans of Curry Powder. Our big problem now was to get this “loot”back [sic] into camp. Never before had we had this many cans of spices to take back to camp, so we had to figure a way to conceal them inour [sic] clothes. No sooner had we arrived in camp than the guard in charge ordered us to open ranks; this meant we would have inspection. We always marched to and from work in columns of five. When we were trying to smuggle anything into camp, Sweatman and I would always take the inside rank and march side by side. He had seven cans of spices, and I had the other thirteen. Three cans of spices I hid in my swill or garbage bag and the remaining ten cans were secured on my body. I had found two old sleeve holders in the shipyard, and those I fitted above my ankles and below my knees, so I carried five cans on each leg. When the Japs searched us, they did a thorough job of searching the body, but they never felt between the ankle and then knee, so this is where I carried most of the loot into camp. Also, if I was in the first row to be inspected, I would pass back to Sweatman, and he would pass to me if he was searched first. Through this procedure we managed to smugglelots [sic] of things into camp, but we lost lots of stuff also and suffered punishment for it.

Every prisoner learned the art of trading one thing for another due to the fact that we had no money, with very few exceptions, and those who did have could not spend it. Cigarettes were money in camp, as one could trade them for just about anything in camp. When we first arrived in camp, one could buy or trade fifteen cigarettes for one ration of rice. By the time we left Camp D-1, one could get a ration of rice for two or three cigarettes. There were three prices on just about everything that one bought or traded for. First was the price in camp; then a second price in the shipyard, and then the high price occurred when one took something out of the camp and traded for an item in the shipyard, and then brought it back into camp. The reason for this was that one ran the risk of losing it when he left camp, for we never knew when we would have a “shake down,” and if the Japs found it, they took it away from you, and you got slapped around for trying to get something out of camp. If you got caught trading in the shipyard with the civilians, you not only lost what you were trying to trade, but you got punished by the guard more severely than in Camp. Then the third chance was when we came back to camp. The price then increased about five times, as each time one ran the chance of losing everything that he had invested, plus the severe punishment that the Japs “dished out.”

[Editor’s Note: From this point, the narrative includes few specific dates, and jumps around considerably until it reaches August, 1943. For the sake of this project, it has been broken down into dates based on contextual clues.]

Strange as it may seem, the best thing that happened in this prison was the time that we had smallpox in the camp. This happened in January 1943 and this outbreak gave us some time to get adjusted to this climate, etc. Here we were fresh from the tropics, and in the dead of winter we were slushing back and forth to the shipyard and coming into a cold building without enough clothes to keep one’s body warm, nor enough covers to keep warm after we went to bed. Many of us were sick, but there was a standing order that every person went to work unless his temperature was 102 degrees or higher. I went to work many days with a temperature of 101.7 degrees. Many men went to work sick and through exposure and fatigue got pneumonia and died in two or three days time. We had no medication for this, and I claim that the Camp Commandant murdered fifty men in this manner during the first six weeks that we were in this camp. Then God gave us smallpox. There were two cases of it in camp, and that was the first time that a doctor or nurse showed in this camp. I have never seen a people that were as scared of anything as the Japanese were of smallpox. We were all vaccinated, and then we were quarantined for two weeks, and the Japs did not bother us much during those two weeks. This period of time gave our bodies a chance to become more adjusted to the weather.

Then there was the Saturday night bath. Our bath house was on the east end of the mess hall or kitchen. The room was about twenty by twenty feet square, and in the middle of it was the bath tub. The bath tub was twelve feet long, four and one-half feet wide by four feet deep. The water was heated by a steam pipe that was put over on the inside of the tub. The tub was filled only once every Saturday night and every man had to bathe in the same water. The squadrons took turns being first to bathe; so every twelve weeks each squad had a chance of using the water first, or taking a clean bath, as we called it. After every man had bathed, then we washed our dirty clothes in the water that was left. It was pretty rough, but especially so in the winter months, as after taking a bath we had to go back into the building where we lived and it was not heated. The only fire that was ever in that building all the time we were in this camp, was the fire on the end of a cigarette.

On the second day in this camp we were given the following issue of clothes that lasted us the three years that we were in Japan and working: one great coat, two Jap uniforms consisting of jacket and trousers; two shirts; a gee string; two pairs of under pants; a blue work suit; a cap, and a pair of Jap shoes. One size of clothing was issued every person, so many of the items didn’t fit. We were also issued three bowls like the ones mentioned when we were in Formosa.

We arrived in Moji on November 26, 1942 with 286 of us prisoners, as we lost two more on this thirteen day voyage.

No sooner had we docked until we were put ashore, and after tinko (roll call) we were marched several blocks to a ferry which we boarded to cross to the main land of Japan. Upon arrival we were again marched to a railroad station, but this time we were put aboard a passenger train. We still didn’t know where we were going, and the Japs didn’t want us to see, as all of the windows of the train were covered with heavy shades. It was on this train ride, however, that I got my first look at Fujiyama, as there was a small crack in the window shade where I was sitting. I kept looking also, trying to see the name of the town or city that we passed through.