Note: Milt's Memoirs are published here with the kind permission of Mr. Zack. The views expressed in the story are those of the Author. [The Webmaster]
The ten of us talked and talked, and we found out from the English man that we were in the city of Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido. Just to show how uneducated and poorly trained we were, none of us knew until then that Japan was comprised of five islands, Hokkaido being the northernmost. Obviously we started trading stories, and needless to say they were fresh in our minds so the details were accurate, not yet warped by memory loss or skewed recollections.
The man who had been captured in the jungles of Burma, who had been down the hall in the military jail that we talked to briefly during the air raid, was a Warrant Officer in the British army. Warrant Officer is the highest enlisted rank in the British army. In our army a Warrant Officer has the same status as a 2nd Lieutenant. His companion had been a navigator aboard a British vessel. His ship had been torpedoed in the Pacific Ocean by a German sub. The Germans picked him up and, for some strange reason, they turned him over to the Japanese. These two wound up in a prison camp together on the island of Hokkaido, and the Warrant Officer had been put in charge of work details. This camp was built on a hill and there was a septic holding tank with a vent pipe at the top of the compound. With hundreds of men suffering from dysentery in the camp, the tank soon filled up and the vent pipe became plugged and started to overflow. Hatrick, who was in charge, took a long pole and pushed it into the overflowing pipe. That caused everything to shake loose and 500 gallons of "bloody shit" came pouring out and running down the hill. He and another man ran ahead and tried to dig trenches to contain it, but unfortunately quite a bit of it landed in a village at the bottom of the hill. The villagers were very put out and came storming up the hill with all kinds of makeshift weapons, bent on beating them to death, but the prisoners were quickly hustled back into the camp before the mob reached them.
He and the navigator decided to escape and spend day after day digging a hole under the barbed wire, and hiding it when not working on it. They stored up any extra food they could get, somehow stole a compass and a watch, and made a copy of a map. Their plan was to travel by night, hop a train using the compass to be sure they were going north and hopefully reach the northern coast of Hokkaido. There they would steal a boat and row to the northern half of the Island of Sakhalin, which was then Russian territory, the southern half belonging to the Japanese. The watch was to be used to tell when daybreak was coming so they could hide.
They managed to get out of the camp, and their luck held for a day or two until their watch broke. They were in the middle of a Japanese village one day at daybreak and were recaptured. It was after their recapture that they were brought to the prison where we were being held. As you recall, they disappeared after a few days from that prison. It turns out they were taken back to the POW camp where they were court-martialed by the Japanese. The commandant said "Hatrick, how could you do this to me? We treated you so well and you did this to me." He sentenced them to be shot because this was great loss of face for the commandant. Fortunately the war ended just in time.
The third British man looked like death warmed over, even worse than us, completely skin and bones. I don’t know where he had been captured, but we did learn that he had slugged a Japanese guard, which was tantamount to a death sentence. But for some reason they just put him in solitary, and he spent his time making gloves for the Japanese.
The Navy pilot had been on a bombing mission, taking off from a carrier. He and his three-man crew had attacked Hakodate, a city next to Sapporo. On the way back from the mission, he discovered that one of the bombs was still hung up in the plane, and he wanted to get rid of it. He saw a big house with a horse in from of it and he dropped the bomb. The house disappeared, but unfortunately he was flying too low when he let it go and debris from the house came up and damaged the wings badly enough so he couldn’t return to the ship. They crashed and all got out safely, but they were picked up by civilians who began to beat them mercilessly. One of his men panicked, pulled out his pistol and shot one of the civilians. He was beaten to death.
The other two sailors had been in the Navy for only a month or two when they were shipped to Wake Island. The Japanese bombed and shelled the island for 10 days before taking it and capturing all the Americans, who they took to Shanghai. From there they took a group to Hokkaido where they were put to work in the coal mines. After about three and a half years of this these two decided to escape. Somehow they managed to get out, reach the coast of Hokkaido and steal a rowboat that had a sail, and set off to sea. I asked them where they thought they were going, and they said that someone had told them that not far away, sort of around the corner, was an American island called Attu. I informed them that that was where I had been stationed, and that it was actually about 1500 miles away through the world’s worst weather. As it turned out, the sail blew away and they lost their oars in short order. They were spotted by some civilians from the shore, who rowed out and brought them back. The sailors claimed they could see American ships in the distance, and when they got to shore the Japanese civilians that had brought them in joined their hands like a friendly handshake and said "America, Nippon". They thought that might mean the war was over, but had a hard time believing it when soldiers came and handcuffed them and took them off to a cell. The irony of this was that they escaped the day after the war ended.
Milt's War - Index
|Getting Into It|
|Prisoner of War|
|A New Home|
|The Beginning of The End|
|Waiting for Liberation|
To Be Continued
Returns to Main Index
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