World War II ended with Japan on September 2, 1945. I was a Japanese Prisoner of War in a slave labor camp on the Western Coast of Japan about 500 miles by rail from Tokyo.
Now to get out and try to adjust to a life that for four years I never thought would happen. My thoughts would drift back to the Bataan Death March. The times that my body was so badly beaten and sick, until I feared that I would not live another night.
Now I can go back to the good old U.S.A. to see my family and friends. To enjoy freedom and not wake up every couple of hours to check and see that things were alright. Maybe, it was to realize that I was still of the living, without the threat of the Jap guards rifle butt slammed against my head. Maybe I would not have to look forward to a small bowl of wormy rice or hear the sound of Jap guards yacking at a fellow POW, trying to go to the slit trench to relieve themselves. Maybe a bath, at least once a week and not six months or so with salt water and no soap.
How will I be able to sleep without the body lice crawling up and down my body? Without them, after three and one half years, it would make me feel all alone. The thought of sleeping in a bed by myself was out of the question.
In the winter, having enough covers to keep you warm, where the circulation gets into your toes and fingers, without sleeping piled up like pigs in a pig pen. Being able to walk into a barber shop and get your hair cut without dull scissors pulling the hair out of your face. Being able to sit down with my family to eat a meal, which at one time, I would have given my life for that one privilege.
Wondering if the girl I left behind was still there waiting for my return. Being able to purchase a clean undershirt or a pair of shoes, without cutting holes in them for my toes to stick out. Oh, how will I be able to handle the fact that I do not have to ask for permission to go to the slit trench or to the bathroom?
No more will I have to guard my spoon so I will have a way to eat the watery rice. No more will I have to shake the one next to me in the morning to see if he had made it through the night. Even just to conceive the reality that I might not be beaten or killed today.
All of these things were so real for us every moment for so long. Then we knew that Allied Forces would have to invade Japan before the end could come. The Jap guards had standing orders, the minute an invasion took place on the mainland, to shoot all POWs. We had accepted this fate long before now. The only thing we had to look forward to was feeling that the Japs would get what they deserved. That their defeat would serve as a lesson to all evil governments that waging a war against others, then treating their prisoners as thought they were animals like the Japanese did.
Now I am told we were going home and we knew the war had changed the world. A little fear for the future ahead crossed my mind.
After the thoughts sinking into my mind, “You are going home, it’s over!” Can I live with freedom after all of this? Can I adjust from the horrors of war and the brutal treatment received as I did while being a POW? Can I lay down my guard and walk with pride and hide the feelings that comes over me, remembering how I felt sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing the land I never expected to see again?
Then the thoughts of how many fallen buddies that were not able to come back brought tears to my eyes. The mothers, dads, sisters, and brothers that would wait patiently at the pier hoping to see their loved ones coming down the gang plank running into their arms. The ones that would wait for months, going back to each arriving ship to wait for their family member to return and never seeing him get off any ship and wondering if he was dead and where his body lay on foreign soil. Never to understand the cruelty of how he may have been treated as a POW. How long will it take me to realize that I am free again? Free to choose where I go and free to do what I want to.
The return to my hometown was such a wonderful experience. Everyone in the whole town turned out to greet me that day. My brother also returned home the same day. His duty was in Europe, and was the first time in almost four years for our own reunion. After seeing him, the reality of the end of the war had finally sunk into my head.
My parents told me my brother had called from Atlanta to tell everyone he was returning home and the joy in his voice knowing I was alive. So for the next few weeks, day after day, we had personal visits from family, friends and people that we had never met that came by to welcome us home.
Many people would ask what I was going to do now and all I could think of was enjoying being free and how good it was. There was nothing but good from all of my family and friends. Things were wonderful, but then came the time to go to my room alone and close the door and get into a clean bed with clean sheets and turn out the lights. The room was dark and I dropped off to sleep.
Soon my mind would go back to the past. When the slightest noise would find me sitting straight up into the bed looking for the Jap guard that may have shot or hit a POW. By now instead of my subconscious mind working to adjust to being free and safe. It went back to what had been a way of life in the past. It was hard to wake up and know where you were and to tell myself that I was home and safe. Sometime after that, the nightmares started and they became a part of my life. It was easy to justify drinking until you passed out. Trying to drink your thoughts away.
When I was in the hospital in San Francisco, I was told by the doctor to go out and act normal and all will be fine. It’s hard to keep that in mind when your dreams were as real as it was when I was actually living in these horrible times.
I would awake feeling lice running all over my body. I would jump up and turn the lights on to examine my clothes because it felt so real.
It was not something you could talk to anyone about since they would surely thing I was crazy. It would be a complete waste of time. Night after night, I would struggle with the problem of readjusting. Each morning when I would awake, I was as tired as though I would have been back in the prison camp. While these dreams were going on, it was a real life experience again. Then waking up trying to go back to sleep without getting back into the same battle for my life. This kept me from getting the sleep my body badly needed.
How could I answer someone’s question, “Are you enjoying being home?” Could I tell them it was, “Hell, no!” so my mind would send mixed signals.
After being trained to fight the war, then having to kill to save my life and others around me, I got to the point that I had believed I had become a killer. I would lay in waiting for a chance to kill a Japanese. And when I did, it filled my heart with excitement. I was proud to be able to kill another and that became a way of life. When a day passed and I missed a chance to kill, I felt like I had failed to do a good job. Then coming back to a small, quiet town where shooting a rabbit may be the biggest thing to happen in a day, it was impossible for me to live a normal life. The nightmares nearly every night would bring back another real life experience. That I could not separate my feelings from the past. It was a time I could see a fine line between killing and not killing. My thoughts would being me to a point of thinking that maybe to kill someone would make things easier. I would think that I needed to kill to satisfy a hidden urge in me and to get that monkey off my back. Maybe if I had been able to kill a few Japs after my prison camp experience and then returning home, it may have helped. It was impossible to discuss this with anyone. It was an everyday fight to keep these thoughts out of my head and there was nowhere to turn to get help. Then going to bed each night knowing that I was going to dace the Japs again, hiding under bridges, running, jumping off embankments into the water, hiding under cars, being shot at, where there was no way to defend myself, the same as I was three and one half years as a POW.
The horrors of the war was with me every day and night for the next twenty-none to thirty years. At times, I wished I had never come home. How peaceful it would be to lay in a quiet place and find the peace that comes only with death.