WWII
Earl Anderson - American POW
1943 - 1944

    Days and weeks on end the routine was eat, work, sleep, and so forth, without one minute to yourself. One of the biggest hardships was the lack of soap to work with. The most disheartening thing wasn’t when the Japs said they would win the war. It was the number of deaths that occurred in the camp. Every day I would come into camp exhausted and after eating my bowl of rice every night, attention would be called and another mother’s son would be carried away. Twenty-nine Americans and fourteen others passed away that horrible winter.

    Spring came on and a man was able to take a few clothes off his bones and get clean again. But the work continued, ten hours a day, with only two days off a month. I nearly blew my fuse in early May with those pesty mosquitoes. They were a plague to us the rest of the year.

    The Japs had thousands of Korean school kids working at this yard and they hated the Japs probably more than us. They were paid mostly in cigarettes, which we used as a medium of exchange. The Koreans were always trying to exchange cigs for whatever we had to trade. I got along very well and carried on many trades with them.

    As I said before, our guards were civilian workers and while we were working at the shipyard, we saw very little of them. I would pick up trade items at camp, take them to the shipyard, and trade them for cigs. There were payoffs to guards, workers, and fellow POW’s. My share was over 50% and I had nothing invested except the risk of being caught. It was exciting, so it kept me going.

    There was a Japanese guard at our camp, who we nicknamed “Charlie Chaplin” because he walked like his namesake. We got along well with him because he was always looking for a payoff. The guards used to periodically inspect us for contraband. They would conduct a strip search, where we took all our clothes off and they would go through the clothing to see what we had. Charlie would come up to me, kick my clothes, and say, “Tobacco?” and I would say, “Yea.” Then, he would walk away without inspecting my clothes. Later, he would come by for his payoff. I would give him some of the cigarettes I got from trading with the Korean kids at work. 

    At the camp, there were five of us that stuck together. We trusted each other implicitly. We shared everything. I did most of the trading. They called me the cocan {exchanger} kid. My best friend was Harold “Pop” Lundberg from West Newbury, MA. The youngest guy in our group was Woodward. He was only nineteen years old. Stan “Ski” Weisnewski was the oldest. He was in his fifties. Stan was always sick, so he stayed in camp and took care of the clothes, bedding, and found places to stash our loot. He was a Chief Radioman with nearly twenty years of service. The other guy in our group was Red Christianson. He was the “jack of all trades” who salvaged the scotch out of the capsized barge in the Philippines. Christianson had been a professional hockey player before the war. For some unknown reason, he migrated down to the state of Washington and enlisted in the Navy.

    Weisnewski had tuberculosis while he was in the camp and most likely gave it to Woodward. After Woodward came back to the states, he also came down with TB. A lot of guys came down with it. 

   The five of us helped each other to survive. We stuck together all the way through.

There were other groups of guys who stood together, but I didn’t know that much about them because I was always concentrating on my group. There were two brothers in camp who stuck together, the Jaeger brothers. They came from DesMoines, Iowa. We called one “Senior” and the other one “Junior”.   

    This camp had 500 enlisted men, of which 300 were Americans from all branches. The other 200 were British, Canadian, Aussie, Norway, and Swedes. Some were civilians called camp followers. We also had 50 officers, about 10 were American. They kept to themselves and had nothing to do with us. They got preferential treatment as POWs. They did not have to work unless they volunteered. Some six of them did. I understand they handled blueprints in the yard. Most of the time they sat around playing cards all day. According to International Law, they weren’t supposed to work officers.

    However, any officers who gave them a lot of problems were sent to a “special” camp, where they had to work. We had a Dutch doctor in our camp who complained about the lack of medicine for POWs. He spent some time at the camp commandant’s office, trying to advocate for us. I remember the little Dutchmen standing at attention by the Japanese commandant’s door, protesting the fact that the POWs had no access to medicinal supplies of any sort. He was a courageous man. He was sent to the “special” camp.

    The Yokohama camp would periodically change commandants. One time, we got a Japanese officer who had lost a leg in Manchuria. He was the best commandant we had.

    Every night our quarters were like a Chinese bazaar. Men walking around swapping this and that. Cigs were used as a medium of exchange.

    We were supposed to get a Red Cross package once week, but we never did. All the time I was there, 40 months, I received one Red Cross parcel, which had been looted of all the good things. I also received a package from home, but that was it. So, you can see that anyway you could supplement your diet helped. I still only weighed 100 pounds.

    Often, we were wakened at night for a roll call, called tinko. While we stood outside, the Japs searched our personal quarters and belongings. These sleep interruptions kept us in weakened conditions, and it went on and on, week after week.

     The Japanese ran their trucks on charcoal. They used charcoal burners on the trucks because they didn’t have enough gasoline. There was a charcoal factory behind the prison camp in Yokohama. Someone broke a hole in the fence, so we had all the charcoal we wanted. We had pot-bellied stoves in the warehouse we were in. Of course, we didn’t have anything in the way of food to put in the stoves. Still, we loaded them up with charcoal to keep warm. Sometimes, Japanese guards would come inside to warm their hands by the stoves, without knowing where the charcoal was coming from. 

    May, 1943. A dysentery epidemic broke out in Yokohama. We had to give stool samples to test for this. I thought this was a good chance to get off work for awhile. So, I used another POW’s sample, who I thought had it. Sure enough, he did and I was taken off work and isolated with about twenty-five others in camp. Everything was okay, until they shipped us to Tokyo to a hospital camp called Shinagawa.

    This camp had about 300 POW’s from all over the Tokyo area. There were huts with four rooms. Each room had twelve men. Everyday, we were given medicine, which we were supposed to self-inject. The American Army MD, Cap Weinstein {from Chelsea, MA} told us to throw the medicine away, which we did.

    The food was about a cup of cooked grain and watery soup twice a day. Our ration came from sweeping at a warehouse near us. I know because I was on that detail and swept the floor for our rations once. I weighed myself after being in this warehouse. I was 75 pounds. One of the most important parts of our diet was our bone ration. We got bones from a slaughterhouse and made soup with what was left over and given to us. We were on a bone list, and I couldn’t wait for my turn. I took a half hour to pick out the rat shit, before eating it again, the grain.

    Five months later, we were sent back to our work camp in Yokohama. I could just about walk and that was the time I almost had it. The garbage at the work was a welcome condition and I put some weight back on. I never did get over 100 pounds. When I met my brother, Walter, in Oakland, CA, I had put on about 20 pounds in two weeks. My body was like a sponge.

    Winter of 1943-1944. We worked at the shipyard all winter with very little rest or time off. Most of the Japanese workers were now of the opinion that they will lose the war, but not for quite a while yet. Tanabai has helped me a lot by dealing with me. He says, “American good. Nippon damn.” He believes me no matter what I tell him. Of course, some of it is baloney, but we Americans are a bragging race anyway.   

     In 1944 the Japs had a bathtub built, which was 15’x 15’x4’. We took turns once a week. The ones that came up last, 25 at a time, had some dirty water. I never took a bath as long as I was there. I bathed at work once in a while. I also washed my clothes there.

    The current boss is no damn good. He asked me to shave him one day. I did, but all the time I was tempted to slit his throat. Then later, I shaved myself on the job, unknown to him. He later found out and got pissed, but I just ignored him. He’s a working bastard, but in many ways, I impede his production, although it puts more labor on me. Oh well, I’m in good shape now and I don’t give a damn.

    Spring, 1944. In spring, a young man’s fancy turns to love. Oh, yes, it seems I’ve heard that before, but that was before Pearl Harbor. The boys {American POW’s} rob the Japs blind, out-trade them, and sabotage them whenever they can. I threw nuts and bolts into a big diesel crankcase, broke a gas line, and broke and airline. The war work has slacked off tremendously in the last few weeks, but that is because no new ships have been launched. It takes them at least six months to build a tanker and a year to build a seaplane tender. It is poor work at best. When are the boys {American soldiers} coming to this dump? If they only knew what we prisoners know. The Japs haven’t got anything so speak of and no modern equipment. Their transportation system could be knocked out with a few well-placed bombs.

    Summer, 1944. The normal routine of beatings, night stand-ups, and punishments occur when the least little excuse offers itself. The Japs on my list include “Kotex”, “Pretty Boy”, “Bat Eye”, “Bulldog”, “Black Sleeves”, “the Co”, “Suzuki”, “Gertie”, “Liver Lips”, “Crook-shank”, “Super-stripe”, “Horai”, and all the Jap Army guards and foos not mentioned here.

    Mitsubishi LTD has done the minimum to ease our situation. Here they are, a big, profitable outfit, and they are going to pay through the nose for what they’ve done to us. The personnel supervisor in the shipyard was Udo San {Mr. Udo}. If it wasn’t for Udo San, our lot would be hopeless. He’s nearly as American as I because he spent some time in the U.S. He worked for Mitsubishi in the United States for many years. He had an American wife and three kids back in the states. He did as much as he could for us.

    When President Roosevelt died, Udo San assembled three hundred of us in front of a podium before we went back to the camp at the end of the workday. He informed us that President Roosevelt had died and he said, “Anyone who wants to wear a black armband, I have them here in this box.” None of us took a black armband. We figured Roosevelt was the son-of-a-bitch who put us in that position by getting us into the war and not backing us up in the Philippines.

    I always figured Roosevelt and Churchill let Pearl Harbor happen. It couldn’t have been any other way. It was the only way to get us into the war. There were many warning signs that Pearl Harbor was going to happen, which were blatantly ignored. There were a number of blunders made, but the attack on Pearl Harbor was obvious. Did it make any sense to send the fleet out from Long Beach, California, where they were safe, and relocate them to Hawaii in the middle of the Pacific, where they were exposed and vulnerable? The Japanese were using our fuel for their ships, and if they couldn’t get fuel, they were out of business. They had to knock our fleet out to keep their war effort going. They needed to go down to the Dutch East Indies and get the oil down there.

    At the time, the U.S. had a boycott on giving the Japanese oil and steel. The Japanese were negotiating in Washington to stop the oil and steel embargo when the Pearl Harbor attack happened. Obviously, their negotiations were all a big hoax. No one was ever able to determine who the top guys were in Washington and the military who allowed Pearl Harbor to happen. General Marshal was horseback riding that morning, when they knew the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor. Telegraph messages were sent to Pearl Harbor from the Asiatic fleet, warning them they were about to be attacked. I blame the heads of the Army and Navy at that time. They knew what was happening and they let it happen, so we would be forced to go to war.

    The Navy had radiomen stationed all over the Far East, including Corregidor. Their jobs were to copy Japanese messages. Each radioman was assigned to monitor a specific Japanese ship. During the week before Pearl Harbor, all radio communications in the Japanese fleet went silent. In warfare, radio silence is interpreted to mean an enemy is up to something; planning an attack. This was common knowledge to many of the enlisted men stationed in the Philippines. Later, about 100 radiomen were evacuated from Corregidor before the Japanese invaded the island.  

    Okamato {“Silver”}, the interpreter for the guards, has done his best to make us as uncomfortable as possible. He’s probably a spy and is acting as an interpreter to divert attention from what his actual duty is. He’s got a damn good-looking daughter though, who I’d like to go a few fast rounds with. 

    When are the air-raids going to start? The sooner the better. I know this place will get it, but that will do my heart good. We were aware of the progress of the Naval war in the Pacific from flyers that were taken from prisoners from time to time. Sometimes we received an English edition of the Nippon Times. All we had to do was turn the news around 180 degrees and that turned out to be the truth.

    Around Thanksgiving day in 1944, an air raid alarm went off at about noontime. Myself and several other POW’s were outside and looked up and saw four vapor trails very high up. We watched a Jap fighter plane diving on a B-29 bomber, but it missed. We now figured the end of the war was near.

    On February 22, 1945, early one morning, an American dive-bomber appeared. They bombed Yokohama Bay and sunk five ships, one of which was an aircraft carrier. On March 8 and 9, 1945, the B-29’s flew overhead starting at 10pm. We could see the sky aglow in the distance. An hour later, the main force came over and set everything on fire from Yokohama to Tokyo, a distance of 25 miles. I saw 29 B-29’s shot down right over us.

    Two days later, we went back to work. Everything around the shipyard was gone. There was nothing but rubble left. Then, during late March, we were at work when we were ordered out of the shipyard to the area outside the yard. 125 B-29’s flew over in formation, led by a B-24. They dropped leaflets and flew on unopposed. Now, we knew it was over. No bombs were dropped!

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