It was 1943 in Osaka, Japan. I had arrived November of 1942, from the Philippine Islands, where the tropical climate was no comparison to the winters in Japan. My clothes were thin and no match for the cold weather, I had to endure. Working was the only way to stay partly warm.
A normal day was working in the foundries, lumber yards or unloading trains. All of my work I did, would be considered slave labor, no matter what job I was forced to do. Whether I was sick or hungry, I was ordered to work and withstand constant beatings. In addition, the Japanese soldiers used their rifle butts to hit each and every one of us. They would also dip their bare hands into cold water and slap our tired faces at an angle, which made your face swell abruptly. I would then be ordered to get back on my feet and proceed again to work.
One day in particular, I was marching with other prisoners through the roads of Osaka, returning from that day’s work. It was bitterly cold and my hands became numb. I placed my lifeless hands into the pockets of my ragged pants. As I entered the camp gates, I noticed a Japanese guard pointing his finger at me to another one of the guards. During which time, I was counting off in Japanese, along with other American POW’s in formation. I noticed the same guard pointing at me and walking in my direction. He instructed me to follow him. I really didn’t think much about this at first. Whenever a guard decided to beat you, all prisoners were ordered to watch.
I followed the guard into the camp commander’s office, with the interpreter walking beside me. I was ordered to come to attention and bow to the Japanese Major who was sitting at his desk. A few moments later the interpreter came over to me and said, “You were marching down the road with your hands in your pockets and that is a no-no for Japanese soldiers.”
I replied, “I am not a Japanese soldier, I am a prisoner of war!”
After hearing the Major shout in Japanese to the interpreter, I was then told in English by the interpreter, “The same rules apply to all POW’s!”
“I didn’t know that,” I answered. In a faint voice, I asked the interpreter, “Why don’t they tell us their rules?” To myself I thought, if I knew all the rules, I wouldn’t break them.”
The Japanese Major screamed to the interpreter, “YOU ARE AMERICAN SOLDIER AND YOU DO NOT MARCH WITH HANDS IN POCKETS!!”
I responded bluntly, “Why don’t you let me know the regulations and I will obey?”
Next the interpreter informed the Major what I had uttered. With a shocked look on his face, the Major jumped out of his chair and whacked his clenched fist on top of the desk. I knew now, I had provoked the Major.
The manner in which the Major spoke to the translator, I could tell he wasn’t thrilled by my attitude. He arose again quickly from his seat and walked toward me and the guard made me bow once more.
The interpreter said angrily to me, “The Commander does not like your attitude!” At that point, the Major pulled his sword out and nicked my throat. I felt blood rolling down my neck. The interpreter said, “Prisoners can be executed for disobeying orders!”
All I could do was stand still and thoughts of terror were running all through my mind. I stared into the Major’s hateful eyes. I never took my eyes off of him, not for a moment.
All this just for walking with my hands in my pockets. A strange feeling came over me suddenly and I knew this was a very serious matter.
The Major yelled at the guard, “Take him outside, I do not want blood all over my floor!” I began walking outside of the office with the rifle point of the guard behind me pressing into my back. He then ordered me to stop. I came to a complete halt, as instructed. I stood there waiting at attention for the next command, when I began thinking and seeing myself buried in Japanese soil. My mind raced and numerous thoughts ran inside of me with immense fear, but somehow I felt I had a fighting chance.
I heard the Commander and interpreter coming out adjacent to where I was standing. As they were speaking back and forth in Japanese, all I could do was stand still.
I was then ordered by the guard to bow one more time to the Major.
The interpreter announced to me in a muscular voice, “The Major is going to execute you so all the men will know that breaking regulations won’t be tolerated!”
The Major walked out in front of me and pulled his sword out again and put it to my throat. They expected me to beg for mercy. I interpreter asked, “Do you have anything to say?”
“I guess,” I told the interpreter, as I looked into the Major’s eyes. “He can kill me, but he will not kill my spirit and my spirit will lodge inside him and haunt him for the rest of his life!”
I was asked by the translator to repeat what I had uttered. A terrifying feeling came over me instantly, and my blood flushed over my entire body making me feel like I was burning with horror. I said, still staring into the Major’s eyes, “He can kill me but he will not kill my spirit and my spirit will lodge into his flesh for his entire life!” “Americans are coming and any Japanese that kills an American without just cause will have their spirit haunt them forever!”
I did not grasp, at first, what I had said. I was prepared to dodge the sword if the Major made a move to swing it at me. I watched the Major’s every move. I never took my eyes off of him. All of a sudden a mysterious expression appeared on the Major’s face. Afterwards, the Major, to my amazement, made three steps back and lowered his sword. I gazed up at the sky and said, “Thank you, Lord.”
The Major then ordered the guard to take me to the pit in the earth, which was used for solitary confinement. This was my first time to see a Japanese soldier back off from an execution. Running at this point would mean certain death. My legs started getting weak. My mind thought of the first time I had to kill a Jap on Bataan.
The guard, with his weapon shoved into my back, was thrusting me towards the 5’x 5’ x 5’ hole in the ground. As the Japanese guard lifted the cover to the hole, I wasn’t sure that this ordeal was finished. He motioned for me to get in the hole. Looking down into the depth of the dark hole, I attempted to get in. I landed head first, face down, after being pushed or kicked by the guard. My face and neck were in great agony and pain, as I wiped the tears from my eyes.
I had had neither food nor water since early that morning. The cover to the hole was shut and bolted down. It became pitch black. My body started shaking all over as I was trying to get comfortable in such a cramped place. Soon, the truth of what had just happened settled into my bewildered and hopeless mind. Everything happened so fast, I was grateful I was still alive. However, I waited with fear that they would come back to end the job the next day.
I laid there in darkness for seven days in my own body waste, hot, exhausted and frail. A small scrap of rice ball was thrown into the hole; I had to squint my eyes from the burning sun, when the cover was unlocked and raised. I remember having a half filled bottle of water thrown down that I kept close to me at all times and sipped cautiously. It was difficult to keep track of the time, much less the days. Each time I heard a sound, I wondered what was coming. When will this trial end? How drawn out will this hardship and suffering have to go on? Dying seemed effortless compared to the torment that was being inflicted on me.
Being isolated in the darkness of my hole, my memory played tricks on me. At times I thought of home and my family back in Alabama. They seemed so far away. I couldn’t remember my brothers’ and sisters’ names. Did I have a family with brothers and sisters, because most of the time I felt like I was in a strange world, far removed from the place I had remembered, that I called home.
Without warning, the cover was opened and I thought, what now? Is this the end? And from the depth of my soul I prayed it was. As the bright sunlight filled the entire hole, I looked, only to see the outline of someone, who turned out to be a guard. His silhouette looked dim. Dehydration was making my body feel unconscious and it was too strenuous to stand on my feet. Each time I tried, I felt feeble, dizzy and nauseated. I finally was able to get one hand and place it on top of the outside of the rim of the hole.
The Jap guard stomped on my hand and screamed at me, “GET OUT!” My legs wouldn’t stop shaking. It was so hard to stand on my feet. But as I placed my second hand on the dirt hole rim, he yanked both of my hands and dragged my lifeless and weakened body out on the ground.
He kept kicking my side with his boot as I lay there somewhat unconscious. I felt my body roll over, with my back on the dirt, after he kicked me so hard. Still shouting at me, he gave me a lick on the head with his rifle butt. I fainted.
I have no idea how long I laid there unconscious. I could see the barracks in the background when my vision started returning. I didn’t have the energy to rise to me feet. As I started to crawl on my hands and knees, I heard footsteps coming from behind me. The continuous screams from the guard, with his forceful rifle butt knocking at my hips, legs and back were so powerful, my body moved with each blow. Merely making an effort to reach the barracks, where I knew one of my fellow POW’s could help me.
Again my sight grew dim. After the grueling pain, I gained enough strength to crawl once more. I had gotten to the point, I could have begged the guard to shoot me. I have no way of telling how long it took me to finally get close to the barracks, when I felt someone pulling me along. I had hopes it was one of the POW’s. Sure enough, I had made it to the barracks at which time I was given a drink of water. What an awesome feeling to have someone do such a simple thing as aid me with a drink of water when I was one breath away from death.
How could Americans have lived in slavery by the Japanese if they had won the war?