American POWs of Japan is a research project of Asia Policy Point, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that studies the US policy relationship with Japan and Northeast Asia. The project aims to educate Americans on the history of the POW experience both during and after World War II and its effect on the US-Japan alliance.
The following books were written by former POWs of Japan or their descendants. Purchase of these books supports the authors and the work of this blog's editor, Asia Policy Point click on each cover to order
Americans were not the only ones in the Philippines who became prisoners of Imperial Japan. Among the civilians in the Philippines there were British, Czechs, Swedes, Poles, Dutch, and many other nationalities. Civilians of Allied countries were interned and brutally treated. The following newspaper article tells the story of one Scottish family and the multi-generational effect of Japanese internment and cruelty.
Thefull story is told in a new book made from a Scottish mother's diary, Amazing Grace: The unbroken spirit of a Japanese prisoner of war is available on Amazon. All proceeds go to The Samaritans.
Hidden in her son's teddy, a mother's diary of courage: A heart-tugging story of love and defiance in a brutal Japanese PoW camp - rediscovered 70 years on Iain Brown discovered his mother Grace was a Japanese prisoner of war
The candlelight flickered as Grace Brown settled her infant son down for the night. Beside her on a filthy mattress a woman groaned, her face swollen grotesquely with the tropical disease, beriberi.
There were 34 of them in that long, dark, sweltering hut, all in various stages of starvation. Some had been tortured. A few were close to death. Outside, a Japanese guard barked an order.
Somewhere in the room, a child whimpered with fear. Gently, Grace extracted her son’s teddy bear from his arms, and felt within the lining. She pulled a sheaf of papers and a pencil from inside, and, looking around to make sure no one could see her, started to write.
‘I keep saying to myself that certainly never had I expected to make this my home — nor my prison ...’
One cold day in 1992, a few weeks after the death of his mother, Iain Brown started the long, arduous task of clearing out her lifelong possessions.
In her final years, Grace Brown had lived a simple life. A stern school secretary, who lived alone, she rarely smiled, and spent many hours volunteering for the Samaritans. Tucked in a drawer, Iain stumbled across a set of manila folders.
Leafing through the sheaves of yellowing papers inside, he realised he was looking at his mother’s secret diary. He gently packed them away without reading them. ‘
It wasn’t for me to pry,’ he says. ‘I put the papers back in the folders and forgot about them for the next 25 years.’
Earlier this year, his daughter Jackie finally read them. What she found was extraordinary: an astonishing account of the two and a half years Grace spent as a Japanese prisoner of war in the Philippines during World War II — the pages she had risked her life to write by candlelight all those years ago.
From surviving on one ‘maggoty cup of rice a day’ to sucking on stones because she was so hungry, Grace’s diary is a sometimes horrifying, occasionally funny and startlingly human account of life under one of the most brutal prison camp regimes of the 20th century. She makes wry observations about day to day life in camp — ‘if you have ever been starving you will know that sex is the last thing you worry about’, and bemoans being ‘one of the heavier ones’ when she weighed in at just over 7st. Perhaps most remarkable is that the diary, which has now been published ,along with some of Grace’s letters home, exists at all. For her notes survived only because Grace hid them from the guards inside the teddy bear belonging to her infant son — Iain. Today, Iain, 73, has no memory of his time in the Philippines.
Reading his mother’s diary after all these years he has learnt that as a baby he had his milk stolen by prison guards, and spent a week in the sweltering hold of a cargo ship with 150 other prisoners, sharing a single cup of water a day with his mother. That he survived is a miracle.
‘Mother never, ever talked about the war,’ he says. The discovery, 70 years on, of her account of what really happened to his family during those lost years, has set off a whirlwind of emotions. ‘It was like reading a letter from her,’ he says, his voice thick with emotion. ‘You recognise the phrases, the way she would speak, it was as though she were sitting there next to me, reading to me. ‘I was very upset.
I still get that way now.’
Life really began for 30-year-old Grace Brown when she arrived on the Filipino island of Cebu in 1938. She had left the Scottish town of Helensburgh several months earlier on the arm of her Glaswegian husband Caldwell, an employee of the Far Eastern Trading Company, and couldn’t wait to start married life.
Beautiful and outgoing, Grace laughed so much her nickname was ‘Giggles’. Colonial life was in full swing in Cebu and she settled in immediately, spending her days training ‘house girls’ and evenings drinking gin fizzes at the Club Filipino.
In a letter to her brother, written shortly after her arrival, she describes Caldwell as an ‘absolute gem of a husband to have. I think we are ideally suited to each other’. In 1941 Grace became pregnant and designed the perfect nursery for her unborn baby. There were nursery rhymes stencilled on the walls, and handmade furnishings shipped from America.
But on Christmas day, just weeks after the Japanese invaded the Philippines, the couple were ordered to evacuate from Cebu city to safety 60 miles away. Grace, heavily pregnant, was soon in trouble. A local doctor declared she needed a caesarean, and would have to return to the city for the birth. He added that the journey would likely kill her.
‘Little did he know what stout Scots blood could do,’ she scoffs in her diary. ‘I had no intention of dying.’ Instead, she swigged brandy for the pain. Iain was born after days of complications, as rumours swirled of an imminent invasion of the city. Grace remarked: ‘I knew it would be a boy. No girl would cause that much trouble in war time.’
After the Japanese landed on Cebu the family found themselves transferred to a prison, where they slept on wooden benches and constantly scrubbed at the floors, trying to get rid of the thousands of bugs. Every time Grace’s bags were examined by the Japanese guards, she would find her small stock of milk and baby food depleted.
But the horrors of the jail were nothing compared to the cargo ship the family were placed in for the long journey to their camp in Manila in December 1942. Packed in with 150 prisoners, there was hardly room even to stand upright. It was, she wrote, the first time she asked: ‘Can I bear this?’
At first, life in the camp — actually the campus of a university outside Manila [Santo Tomas]— seemed relatively tolerable. Before combat troops took over, the prisoners were allowed to build their shacks. Grace bemoans drily that they had to be open at the front so the guards could inspect at any time — ‘therefore no sex’.
But with the arrival of fighting forces, the camp became more brutal. The prisoners were starving, but would be savagely beaten if caught eating a weed. Grace and other inmates sucked on stones to keep the hunger pangs away.
And one day, Caldwell disappeared.
Grace writes simply that he was ‘taken away’ and that ‘I never knew whether he was alive or dead’.
Reading the diary 70 years later, Iain found this profoundly moving. ‘She just referred to it briefly and then got on with it.
‘It takes an enormous amount of strength to do that.’ Instead she writes about the mundane, repetitive horrors of life in camp.
Given just 700 calories a day of watery, maggoty rice, food became a constant obsession. ‘Everyone could think and talk and dream of nothing but FOOD. They spent their day copying out recipes and poring over cookbooks.’
Grace and Iain slept in a room with 34 others. She wrote about watching fellow campmates deteriorate rapidly through sickness and hunger. ‘They would be confined to bed, could not sit up, nothing but skin and bones and their faces and legs puffed up with beriberi.’
There was a morning roll call each day, and prisoners were forced to bow from the waist to the guards. Those who did not were beaten. It makes her determination to record her experience by writing on scraps of paper, and concealing them in her son’s teddy, bear even more remarkable.
The diary contains no dates or names, and there are gaps, probably because worsening conditions meant there were periods when she was unable to write. Also hidden in the bear was Grace’s wedding ring. It was her one treasure, a little luxury that reminded her of happier times.
Today, Iain wears the ring. Everyone could think and talk and dream of nothing but FOOD And then one day in February 1945 it was all over. An allied plane swooped low over the camp and a pilot dropped his goggles with a message attached reading: ‘Christmas is coming, roll out the barrel, we will be in tomorrow or the next day’.
The joy the following night when American tanks broke through walls at the front, was indescribable. ‘THAT IS A NIGHT I WILL NEVER FORGET,’ she writes. The camp mates went ‘wild with joy and excitement’. But while the camp had been liberated (‘the food has been wonderful — we just can’t believe it — milk and sugar again and coffee and BREAD’), Grace still had no idea where her husband was. She had not seen him in nearly two years.
After liberation, a rumour did the rounds that the Japanese had been taking white men out of hospitals and shooting them. When one morning, Grace’s name was read out on the camp loudspeaker calling her to the office, she was convinced it was because her husband was dead. Yet when she walked in, there he was — like a miracle — alive and waiting for her.
Caldwell had been held in a hospital, and although he rarely spoke about what happened, the family believe he was tortured. Grace writes that on two occasions the Japanese had taken him out of the hospital ‘for investigation’.
In 1944 he survived a horrific massacre in which every other patient except one was killed, by hiding in a cupboard. A newspaper report from the time reveals the Japanese had smashed their way into the hospital without warning, armed with rifles, pistols, machine-guns, sabres and spears, killing everyone in their path.
Caldwell was profoundly traumatised by what he had seen. ‘However,’ writes Grace with her trademark sturdiness, ‘he is alive and that is the main thing these days.
In Grace's diary she writes they were given just 700 calories a day of watery, maggoty rice, food became a constant obsession.
‘I feel now there is nothing more in life to be afraid of. We will come out alive.’ And they did.
The family were taken to America, where Grace took a job as a secretary. She typed up her diary and sent it to a New York publisher, who rejected it on the grounds she was not American. She never attempted to publish it again, instead hiding it away and refusing to talk about her experiences with even her closest family.
When the family finally returned to Scotland in 1946, penniless and traumatised, everything had changed. The carefree young couple who had embarked on their Far Eastern adventure eight years before, no longer existed.
Grace moved back in with her parents in Helensburgh, took a job as a hotel receptionist and sent Iain to a local school. Tragically, Caldwell was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and remained there until he died in 1979.
‘Mum and Dad lost everything we had. Absolutely everything,’ says Iain. ‘When they landed back in Britain they had no house, no money, nothing.
‘And mother also lost her husband. He lived until he was 71 but never fully emerged from hospital.’
Over the years, Iain, who had a successful career in finance, developed a fascination with the Philippines. In 2005 he visited Cebu and Manila, searching out places he and his parents had been.
Reading his mother’s diary now, he has been able to fill in the gaps, the missing pieces of his own story — and hers. ‘I feel closer to her now,’ he says. ‘I know her better, and I know more about her.’
Grace did not harbour anger at the Japanese, but ignored them and never bought Japanese products. In her later years she volunteered for the Samaritans. She loved being able to help others.
Weak and emaciated in the camp, under the constant threat of torture and death, it was something she had been unable to do. Her resilience had made her an excellent listener, and she was particularly skilled at talking people out of taking their own lives.
Grace’s granddaughter says that on the rare occasions when she did smile, it was radiant, and transformed her face.
‘She suffered a great deal but she realised life has to go on,’ says Iain. ‘We knew we were lucky, because we were still here.
'I had resentment for 10 to 15 years,' former POW Leland Chandler (seated left) said at the event at TUJ in Tokyo. 'My wife and I, when we would both go to church, I would hear the minister say, 'Forgive 'em, forgive your neighbor, forgive!' I looked that preacher in the eye and I thought, 'You don't know what you're talking about.'
On their return to Japan, former U.S. POWs recount struggles to forgive and forget
BY SARAI FLORES, The Japan Times, November 18, 2015
There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time for war and a time for peace. — Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Three-quarters of a century have passed since William Chittenden found himself aboard a U.S. Navy ship sailing for China, a freshly enlisted marine of 19 years old in a time of war of the most extreme and brutal kind.
This young man would be thrust into adulthood in the cruelest of ways — serving in the midst of a global conflict that would cut short more than 60 million lives and see more than 140,000 held in prisoner-of-war camps throughout Japan’s nascent empire.
Speaking at a time of peace to an audience of mostly expats in Tokyo, Chittenden, now 95, demonstrated an alarmingly keen memory as he delivered a message of forgiveness and reconciliation in the country where he had once spent years as a prisoner of war.
“I’ve never carried any resentment,” Chittenden said. “I’m a great believer that the little people — and by the little people I mean the people not in charge, the regular population of the Japanese — are very friendly and very good people. Japan had bad leadership and that’s all changed, that’s all history.”
Every year [since 2010] Japan’s Foreign Ministry invites a group of American former POWs to spend a week in Japan and speak about their experiences during World War II [see HERE for the profiles of this year's group]. Last year’s talk at Temple University Japan had an underlying theme of the horrors of their bitter fight for survival in the POW camps in the 1940s. This year, much of the talk among the nine visitors was of forgiveness.
Chittenden, in particular, spoke of his amazement at how far Japan has come since the end of the war.
“There are several things that have struck me: one, the courtesy of Japanese people — they’re a charming population,” he said. “I’m amazed at the great architecture I see in the country, from their bridges to their buildings. I would just like to say I appreciate the opportunity to return to Japan as I have this week, and it’s been an education to me.”
When Chittenden enlisted as a naive teenager in 1939, he probably did not consider the possibility that his decision would land him in a POW camp along with 1,200 U.S. military and civilians in Woo Sung, China, in February 1942. He would go on to labor in a total of five POW camps during his 3½ years in captivity.
In March 1940, Chittenden’s journey began aboard the USS Henderson, sailing for Peking, where he had been assigned to protect the U.S. Embassy. On Dec. 8, 1941, just after the Pearl Harbor attack dragged the U.S. into the war, the Japanese overran the embassy and took Chittenden and 140 other marines prisoner, herding them aboard freight cars for a four-day journey to the Woo Sung POW camp near Shanghai.
Chittenden and 1,200 other POWs labored at Woo Sung until December 1942, when they were moved to the nearby Kiangwan camp. In August 1943 the Japanese put a group of men from the camp on a boat to Kawasaki. Chittenden was among the group that endured that harsh four-day journey across the East China Sea.
Chittenden worked at a steel mill in Kawasaki for two years [POW Camp Tokyo 5-D Kawasaki, which was across from the main gate of a steel mill owned by Nippon Steel Tube & Mining Company (Nippon Kokan, today’s JFE Engineering Corporation)], unloading cargo from freight ships, until mid-April 1945, when U.S. B-29 bombers leveled whole areas of the city.
“I was in a bomb shelter across the street from our POW barracks. It was built under a series of railroad tracks,” recalled Chittenden. “We had a four-hour incendiary night that night. . . . When we went back to our barracks the next morning, we saw that the whole town had been burned to the ground.”
Chittenden and 500 surviving prisoners were then moved to Kobe aboard one of the notorious “hell ships.” In June 1945 Chittenden was moved to yet another POW camp, in Niigata, where he worked as a stevedore until the Japanese surrender on Aug. 14. Weeks later, Chittenden was flown back home, finally arriving in the U.S. as a free man on Sept. 12.
“My thoughts were, ‘Thank God I lived through it,’ ” said Chittenden, “because there were many times when I didn’t know that I would, because every man in the camp had beriberi. We had practically no medicine, we were all starving and we were hungry. My normal weight was 150 pounds (68 kg) and I weighed about 100 pounds when the war was over. And that was true of everybody — everybody lost weight, everybody had beriberi and pellagra and all these diseases.”
Chittenden enrolled at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and graduated in 1949. He went on to work in the men’s clothing department at a Sears store until 1989, got married and had three children.
Fifty years after his liberation, Chittenden published a memoir about his wartime experiences. In the years following his release, he used this writing as a coping mechanism, and Chittenden feels it helped him come to terms with his ordeal while he was still a young man. [ From China Marine to JAP POW: My 1,346 Day Journey Through Hell.]
Sitting a few feet away from Chittenden at the talk in Tokyo was 92-year-old Leland Chandler, another former U.S. POW who, unlike Chittenden, needed a number of years to recover from his horrific experiences in the war.
“When I arrived back in the United States, I was so happy to be back that at that particular time, I did not talk about my experiences very much,” explained Chandler. “Once in a while I would say something, but most of the time it took me several months. With the exception of my immediate family, I did not feel comfortable talking to strangers about it, so I learned how to keep my mouth shut.”
Chandler served with the 60th Artillery anti-aircraft regiment on Corregidor Island in the Philippines. After U.S. forces on the island surrendered to the Japanese in April 1942, Chandler spent his first six months as a POW at Camp Cabanatuan. After that, Chandler and nearly 1,500 American POWs were sent to Japan aboard the Nagata Maru hell ship. More than 200 men perished during the journey. On his arrival in Osaka, Chandler began working as a slave laborer at a steel mill [for Yodogawa Tekkojo, today’s Yodokawa Steel Works, Ltd.] at the Osaka 3-D Yodogawa POW Camp], where says he had to fight to survive.
“People always asked me, why did I survive and how did I survive? And I always said, ‘I’m going to live long enough to come home and get some back tail.'”
Chandler’s next stop was the Oeyama POW camp, where he worked as a stevedore for 10 months at Miyazu Harbor until the end of the war. Several years after returning to the U.S., Chandler married, and he worked as a fire chief until his retirement in 1974.
“I had resentment for 10 to 15 years,” Chandler said. “My wife and I, when we would both go to church, I would hear the minister say, ‘Forgive ‘em, forgive your neighbor, forgive!’ I looked that preacher in the eye and I thought, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’
“About a week later at church, the preacher was talking about ‘forgive.’ I got up in front of the entire congregation, and I said, ‘I forgive all the Japanese people. I will treat them equally, there is no difference between us, all in the past has been forgotten,” said Chandler. “I have felt better to this day and I won’t go back.”
For seventy years I dealt with my PTSD by looking forward, or as I say, “for the next carabao.” This is how I learned to survive the Bataan Death March and over three years of brutal captivity on the Philippines and Japan. It is a lesson I like to share.
After the surrender of Bataan to the Japanese in April 1942, 70,000 American and Filipino troops began a sixty-five-mile forced march up the Bataan Peninsula. We walked in the tropical heat with no food, little water and rare relief. I bear a shoulder wound from a botched beheading.
From time to time, we passed carabao, the water buffalo that is the national animal of the Philippines, trying to keep cool in swamps and rice paddies. I knew that once I saw one carabao, there would be another one up the road. If I could just make it to the next carabao and then the next, I would make it to the end.
I made it through the March and through the ordeals of the next three-and-a-half years. But we surviving POWs are still looking for the last carabao.
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Seven years ago, on Veterans Day 2008, I found the next one. I had just completed laying the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor’s last memorial wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. As I started to leave, my cell phone rang. It was Japan’s ambassador to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki. He asked to see me.
For decades, I had harbored anger and resentment toward both the Japanese who tortured me and the American government that refused me justice. The Army prohibited me from talking about the horrors I endured, and the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty barred me from seeking redress for my slave labor. Multimillion-dollar lobbying campaigns by Japan and a White House intent on protecting its Japanese ally stymied all Congressional efforts to help the POWs.
It is hard to explain my excitement at the call. Never before had any Japanese official been willing to meet with a former POW. My wife and I took a taxi directly from the cemetery to the ambassador’s residence.
Ambassador Fujisaki met us at the door. In an extraordinary gesture, Mrs. Fujisaki met us with a bow and extended both her hands. She then led us on a tour of her home. She stayed with her husband to listen. A Washington “Japan hand” told me not to smile. That was advice I ignored.
I was not there to negotiate. I was there to tell my story, to share the pain of the Death March, the Hellship and the Mitsui coal mine; to describe the torture, mistreatment and starvation; and to explain why 40 percent of the nearly 28,000 Americans who were POWs of Japan did not return home. I wanted to know why the Japanese government did not include Americans in their $14 million-plus outreach programs for hundreds of British, Australian and Dutch former POWs and their families.
Ambassador Fujisaki listened. He heard that, even for decades after the war, we American POWs had been denied our dignity and humanity. But Red Cross boxes could not be delivered or medicines administered to the dead. Japan could not undo its lobbying campaign or retrieve the $12 million it had paid to Washington lobbyists. But he wanted to know how we could move beyond this and forward together to reach the next “carabao.”
To me, it was simple: an official government apology for all the POWs. For the survivors, a chance to participate in Japan’s POW visitation program. And for all the POWs who slaved at the mines, docks and factories of over sixty well-known corporations, apologies from those companies to restore a measure of dignity.
For the first time, I had been heard.
The next month, Ambassador Fujisaki wrote me that the Government of Japan offered its apology to “those who have undergone tragic experiences in the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island in the Philippines.” By February 2009, a Cabinet Decision [Japanese] confirmed the statement, saying that the government extended “a heartfelt apology for our country having caused tremendous damage and suffering to many people, including prisoners of wars, those who have undergone tragic experiences in the Bataan Peninsula, Corregidor Island, in the Philippines, and other places.” This inclusive statement for all the POWs of Japan is one of only four official, Cabinet-approved apologies for any of Imperial Japan’s excessives and aggression.
In April 2009, my friend Ambassador Fujisaki accepted my invitation to repeat this apology before my fellow POWs at the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor’s last convention in San Antonio, Texas. Not all were ready to let go of their anger, but everyone admired his courage.
That fall, the new Obama administration built on this progress. With the Japanese government, they established a program for former POWs to visit Japan and their former POW camps. I led the first group of seven in September 2010, where we received an apology directly from the foreign minister. The seventh delegation will travel to Japan next month.
My last carabao is elusive. It is an apology from the Mitsui Corporation for forcing me into a dangerous coal mine and allowing their employees to beat me. Baron Mitsui often motored into my camp [Fukuoka #17 Omuta] to examine his Western charges in the primitive, if not primal, confines of his facility. Today, this mine is an UNESCO World Industrial Heritage site. There is no mention of the mine’s history of slave labor.
I hope I can still make it to this last one. On this Veterans Day, my friend Congressman Mike Honda from California has arranged for me to have breakfast at the White House. He wants me to tell the President about my carabao and to not forget World War II vets like me.
Dr. Lester Tenney was a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion on Bataan, The Philippines.The 192nd was deployed to the Philippines on October 27 and arrived on November 20, 1941. Tenney was part of American defensive efforts to hold the islands, but he was taken captive on April 9, 1942. As a Japanese prisoner, he took part in the infamous Bataan Death March. Liberated in September of 1945, Tenney went to the University of Southern California where he received his BA, MA and PhD. He became a professor of finance and insurance at Arizona State University. After he retired as a professor emeritus, Tenney wrote his memoir My Hitch in Hell, about his experiences as a POW under the Japanese.