While loading or unloading Japanese cargo ships, most of the prisoners contributed to the American war effort by destroying and sabotaging cargoes consigned to distant ports. One Japanese ship loaded with lathes was going to Manchuria but the prisoners succeeded in removing vital parts from nearly two-thirds of the consignment.
After the ship sailed and many weeks passed, the Americans expected something to happen but nothing came of it. Apparently, the ship owners thought the factory owners had forgotten to finish the lathes or the ship was sunk by American submarines.
Another time several tons of radio batteries were successfully crushed and damaged while in the process of loading them. The prisoners would also load cargo nets so full of pig iron that on many ships the deck winches were torn from their moorings causing great delay in unloading. Also, cargo booms would sometimes collapse from too great a load.
The enemy was so stupid that they thought the prisoners were not to blame but that it was faulty equipment. So, --breaking wenches and collapsing booms went on all during the war.
Another favorite trick was to put the lifting hook into an eye bolt in the lower hold deck and give the signal for a quick hoist and the wire cables would easily part. Then the Japanese deck hands would have several hours of work to do. Meanwhile, the prisoners down in the hold would rest and take it easy.
A favorite slogan was, "Break her --- break her", meaning, break the deck winches by overloading. On one occasion, the prisoners of war succeeded in putting a 1,500 ton ship out of commission for one week or more repairing winches, boom, etc. The prisoners who worked in foundries also helped the American war effort, sabotaging important electrical machinery by throwing in pieces of rags, metal and plenty of dirt.
One afternoon a great mold of many tons had been made and was ready to go into the furnace. Four or five prisoners were to hook on both ends of cables so it could be hoisted up high enough to be carried halfway across the foundry. They screwed the bolts in a few threads, and figured the mold would drop on more important electical machinery, but somehow the bolts held and the mold was safely carried to the furnace.
While unloading a cargo of pig iron, an English prisoner of war, who was a member of our camp, dislodged a couple of pig iron ingots and about half of the pile started a slide. Before he could get away he was almost buried in pig iron. All the other prisoners worked like demons to uncover this man and succeeded in getting him out. He was quickly brought back to camp badly injured, with a broken leg, numerous body lacerations and shock.
Many prisoners working in factories and unloading Japanese ships were injured and would have a difficult time doctoring themselves as medical supplied were limited. The Japanese doctors would issue only a very small amount of bandages and drugs. Their excuse was that there were many other prisoner of war camps that needed supplies too. We all believed that Red Cross medical supplies were being diverted from arriving at camps and going to Japanese hospitals.
The enemy would always tell prisoners it was of little use giving any men medical care as none of them would ever get back to America. They said the present war between America and Japan would last 100 years and talked like they meant it. Later, they were to cut this figure down to 10 years.
While working in a Japanese Army-controlled lumber yard, several of the men were called over to a Japanese lieutenant just as the afternoon work period started. The Japanese asked, "Do you boys have any news?" The prisoners replied they didn't, as they were not allowed to receive any newspapers or talk to Japanese workmen. "Well", he said, "this war will last at least ten years with Japan as the victor." He also asked if they thought they would still be living then. They said they did not know if they would be alive ten years from then, but they were sure that the Americans would be the victors long before that. Whereas, the Japanese officer said, "I am very sorry for you prisoners, but Japan will win and you will have no country to return to." Thinking, not of offending the Japanese, but the possibility of getting a lot of prisoners beaten, we excused ourselves saying we had much work to do. When last seen, the officer was shaking his head, as if to say, the Americans are very strange people.
Occasionally, Japanese truck drivers would tease the prisoners and make fun of them. But some of the more clever Americans would ease up to several of the drivers and say, "The Japanese have millions of men and arms and they have control of all the South Pacific. Whenever the Americans fight the enemy, they are outnumbered 100 Japanese to one American." The Japanese truck driver would reply, "That is not true --- when the American soldiers fight Japanese, they run tanks over them and burn them alive with flame throwers."
The prisoners would scoff at this and say that all the Americans are still in America and not fighting in the Pacific. To this, the Japanese would reply that the Americans were fighting in an island called Canal, or something like that. (He was unknowingly referring to Guadacanal.) With this information, the maps that had been carried from Corregidor would be scanned and sometimes we figured pretty well what island they were talking about.
We also had Japanese maps stolen from warehouse offices and printing maps from Japanese newspapers which the Americans would appropriate from time to time.
In our camp, which was Osaka No. 1, over 500 men would go out to forced labor at various factories, arsenals, ships, etc. Every prisoner tried to get a little news and when they returned from work at night most of the news were discussed.
In a prisoner of war camp, called Umeda, which was located a good many miles from Headquarters Camp, much information could be had in regards to the warm and information as to how they traded raw rice for an English printed newspaper, which contained quite a bit of news. The newspaper would tell of Americans landing on such and such an island near the Philippines, but they had been defeated and driven away. Or, the Americans bombed certain places near the Philippines, but the enemy shot down 100 planes. From this, we could tell that the enemy was getting the works, but were trying to tone down the damages and mislead the Japanese civilians.
Many times small maps were included in the Japanese war reports and we were able to profit by them. All the information brought into camp by prisoners from different working places helped keep the morale of the camp high. The enemy could never figure out why American morale was so high.
Up to 1944, the International Red Cross sent many English printed newspapers to Prisoner of War Headquarters, but the enemy never allowed the prisoners to receive them. After five or six months, the Japanese commander sold these newspapers to paper dealers. Where the war information the Americans received came from was never solved, as the men receiving the information never committed themselves.
Some war information came in one night in 1943 that a huge pipe line to carry fuel oil from coast to coast was being erected in the United States. Also the names of shipyards on both coasts where battleships, carriers, etc. were being launched were obtained. The exact number of women employed in Brooklyn Navy Yard was given. The report was that 3,000 to 4,000 women were engaged as clerks, welders, electricians and manual labor.
Some of the prisoners thought that neutral countries were relaying news to Japan about the United States. Less than eight hours after President Roosevelt's death, many prisoners in Japan knew of this sad news. Also the prisoners heard that Harry Truman would be the new President of the United States but nobody heard who would be Vice President and this would remain a mystery until the end of the year.
In 1943, the enemy started to get the works and the Japanese militarist tried to tone down the defeats. First, they were defeated in a three day battle in the Solomon Islands. After the battle, the Japanese newspapers gave the story that the American fleet was badly beaten and the Japanese positions in the Solomon's were strengthened. The Japanese civilians believed every word written in the Japanese newspapers.
Every day papers carried glowing accounts of the Japanese Navy and Army. The Japanese militarist gave radio speeches and held mass meetings to keep the people war-minded. They gave orders to the Japanese people to exert themselves more for the Emperor. The enemy got through 1943 pretty good, but the next year would be one that the Japanese militarist would like to forget as the fall of a key Japanese position, Saipan, came. The loss of this island was a very serious blow and Tojo, the Japanese Premier of Japan, was forced to resign and several attempts on his life were made.
All the prisoners in Japan were heartened by the fall of Saipan and the boys predicated that the war would end in late 1944 or the middle of 1945. Some of the prisoners were less fortunate in various parts of Japan, as they did not receive any news at all and therefore, had no rumors to cheer them up.
As the years went by in the camps, many of the older men started to die off, as their morale and strength was at the lowest ebb. As they had various illnesses and no medication, there was little hope for them. The enemy did not like old men as they were unable to do work. According to the enemy, everybody must work in Japan or starve.
The Japanese camp Commandant used to get a large bamboo pole to beat and force all men out to work, regardless if they were sick or well. Many prisoners complained that the old men could not work and that they would like the Japanese Army to keep these men in the concentration camps, but the Japanese Commandant told them to use their own method to get the men to work.
After much trouble, the companies for which these old men worked for, gave them some light work to do and a little food. The hardest thing of the war for some of the prisoners was their failure to keep up their morale. Particularly the older men, as they figured they could last but a few years. However, as time dragged on and on their resistance and morale was very low, and consequently, they met their end. Now the young men kept thinking of the good times and food they had prior to the war and they knew that if they could last the war out, good times and opportunities were theirs again. Their morale was always high.
One of the men in camp was a former boatswain in the U. S. merchant marines. He weighed 245 pounds, but before he was released his weight was about 135 pounds. Probably some of the prisoners benefited during their confinement as there were many heavy drinkers. Liquor was very hard to obtain in Japan, although alcohol was available to those who wanted to risk themselves bringing it into camp, or who had items to trade for it.
The alcohol was used to run Japanese trucks and sometimes would be mixed with other chemicals. A novel method was used to smuggle alcohol into camp in a shoulder pad. Small balloons were taken from Japanese warehouses and these were filled with the end secure and placed inside a small pad used as a shoulder pad to carry heavy lumber. A carrying strap was sewed to the pad and slung on the shoulder. When the Japanese guard searched the prisoners he would look at the pad and sometimes would pinch the ends but nobody was ever caught with loaded shoulder pads.
The most valuable items in camp were sugar, tobacco and soap. and these always had a high price. Some of the prisoners who worked at the Japanese Trading Companies handled sugar and always had plenty of cigarettes, soap and food. The punishment for being caught with contraband was severe and usually meant being beaten and kicked for many hours.
At first, hardly any of the Japanese workmen would steal, for if they were caught they were dragged down the streets by the dreaded Kempeitai (secret police) and subjected to severe beatings and other punishments. They were frequently put in Military prisons to do hard labor.
One morning, as we were going to work at some docks, we saw some Japanese coolies doing heavy labor and they looked like they had been starved for their ribs could be seen. A prisoner asked our Japanese work boss who they were. He said they were Japanese military prisoners consigned to hard labor with little food and eventually, death.
In the camp there were many shake downs where contraband was found and the men caught, were tortured and humiliated. Once when returning from working aboard a Japanese freighter in Osaka harbor, we lined up as usual for the shake down. One of the prisoners had a Japanese Rongo (mess kit) full of raw soya beans and the guard found them and immediately slapped and kicked the prisoner and marched him off to the guard-room.
The duty officer was summoned and he started to shout a lot of nippon wa and sounded like a tobacco auctioneer. When he went away the guards made the accused prisoner eat all the beans which amounted to a pound or more. This was dangerous as these soya beans swell up to three times their size. Amid the swallowing of these beans he was kicked, slapped and threatened with bayonets and swords. After he was released he went to our make-shift sick bay where Captain Roland of the Army Medical Corp gave him castor oil and enemas, which probably saved his life.
After four days, he recovered and went back to work.