Sketch by Jack Chalker

FREEDOM

The Will to Live

FREEDOM

 

We were now in the stage of still being prisoners and yet we were free men. We left this last work camp in the first week of September. The ten mile march, carrying our sick, we did cheerfully. There was no beating or jabs with bayonets, no heavy loads, no Japs shouting at us, yes, we began to sing again.

We reached a small village and rolled in trucks into an area containing five large wooden buildings surrounded by rice paddy fields. Our seriously sick were carried into one of these buildings on make-shift stretchers. There were Red Cross supplies in this camp and soon our two doctors, Major Wheeler ( I believe he was a Canadian ) and Captain Seed were busy and happy men. Many of us survived through the tremendous efforts of these two great men. Their dedication went far beyond the call of duty.

To see real food again was a pleasure I cannot describe. The Japs did not tell us the war was over until the middle of September. We were paraded and officially handed over to the Senior British Officer as free men. Somehow a Union Jack materialized from within our midst and it was soon flying in place of the flag of the poached egg. The Japs stood their distance from us, we did not hate these men, there was no room for hate in us, and we had come through too much.

The Americans dropped us supplies by parachute. I remember quite well the first drop was at the door of the cookhouse and was a container of Campbell’s Chicken Soup. The saddest part of all this was that these containers game hurtling through the air and some struck the hospital and killed three of the more seriously sick. We were a very sorrowful burial party that afternoon, burying our comrades in the worst times was bad, but we could say to ourselves,”Maybe he is better off than the way he had suffered.” but burying these men was different. To come through four years of hell and to be so near going home - yet so far away. It is difficult to understand why it had to be.

A few days later the Americans entered our camp. These men looked like giants to me whereas we were nothing but skin and bones. I weighed 72 pounds, less than half my original weight.

Soon we were on our way. Being food conscious we grabbed as much food to carry as we could We realized our foolishness when we saw the Japs, who were now in our shoes as POWs We gave them our food and received many thanks in return.

Finally, we boarded an American aircraft carrier, the USS Block Island, and were on our way to Manila and a hard road to rehabilitation. We arrived home still confused and bewildered. The people we left could not understand what we had been through, so in most cases we stopped telling them and kept our nightmares to ourselves. The abuses our bodies took healed slowly and we thought completely, although the damage to the minds took longer. Yet in a strange way we were privileged. To have survived that experience taught us what few men ever acquire in a lifetime. Faith, hope and understanding was the peaceful destiny we sought. It was not until our new working life was spinning to an end that we realized the lasting damage those nearly four years had done to our complicated bodies. In telling this tale at last I sincerely hope that the world has learned, and from this lesson will teach future generations so that this can never happen again.

 

The End

 

 

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