|Vol III Issue 3||
2 September 1945
- WAR PRISONERS RELATE TALE
Two British service men who had been confined in Japanese prison camps since the fall of Hong Kong in Dec. 1941, told the story of privations and beatings they had endured from their captors to the Commodore.
John W. Wynn, Royal Marines private, from Flixton, Manchester, England, and Edgar D. Campbell, private, English Army Service Corp of Markinch, Scotland, were confined in a small camp in the Tokyo area where they were employed at forced labor in an oil extracting refinery. They had escaped from the prison camp the night before their recovery by allied forces and made their way thirty-nine miles on feet to the edge of Sagami Wan where Admiral Halsey's fleet rode at anchor.
"We couldn't be sure they were our ships at first," said Campbell. "They were all new to us. The way we finally told was by finding some American cigarette wrappers."
The two Englishmen tried to row a small Japanese boat they found, out to the nearest destroyer but the heavy swells forced them to turn back. The men then began to swim into the bay. An American destroyer spotted the swimmers and brought them on board the San Juan.
As they came aboard in what remained of their clothing, they drew themselves erect to salute the battle flag of the ship and the officer of the deck. Then with broad grins on their faces, the Englishmen went about the deck shaking hands with everyone they could. They were taken below to be given medical attention, food, and now clothes.
"We first heard of the surrender when all the guards and factory hands gathered about a radio for a special broadcast," said Wynn. "Although we could not make out exactly what was said, we knew something big was happening."
Later, their camp leader, a British officer, came to their main room and blurted out in a trembling voice, "It's all over"! The prisoners received better treatment for a few days but no provisions were made for their release.
The immediate reaction in the prison camp was a drinking bout by factory workers, guards, and the camp commander who threatened to kill the prisoners but was restrained by a friendly Japanese guard.
The two Englishmen were in fair physical shape although they had lived mainly on a diet of watery soup and barley. "The only way we managed to keep fit was by stealing some of the vegetable oils the factory made and drinking them", Wynn said. "We also stole some grains and that helped too."
The men were brought to Honshu nine months after the fall of Hong Kong and placed in the Yokohama stadium camp. They were among the first prisoners in the camp but in a few weeks, Americans from Wake Island arrived. This was the first news they had of the heroic defense of the island.
Campbell and Wynn learned here of the brutal Jap manner of questioning prisoners. In another camp across the bay, Japanese interrogators beat their prisoners, denied them sleep, and gave them just enough rice to sustain life until the questioners decided their captives of no further value.
When the Englishmen were moved to their last camp, they found the treatment they received was in accordance with the number of air raids the Americans sent over.
"We were always beaten more when the big boys dropped their bombs", said Wynn. "Once they promised us medicine if the raids stopped. Of course we never got it."
Guards in their prison camp told them of the fate of one B-29 crew shot down near the camp. Two members of the crew were able to free themselves from the plane only to be stabbed and beaten to death by a Japanese mob.
News from the outside world was completely denied the prisoners aside from the letters which occasionally reached them. The only way they received news was by stealing Jap newspapers and translating their contents. Both men studied Japanese during their confinement.
"What licked them finally was the Atomic bomb and the Russians coming in", explained Wynn. "That was all they could talk about toward the bitter last. Until that time they were ready to fight to the end. In one army depot, I actually saw metal blades cut to fit on bamboo poles so that the women and children would have something to fight the invasion with".
After a refreshing shower, clothes and some nourishing food, the two repatriates were returned to their countrymen on board one of the British ships present.
*- SAN JUAN TAKES OVER
It was a tense moment for the men on the San Juan on the morning of 27 August 1945, alert and poised at battle stations as the first glimpse of Oshima, Japan, became barely visible through the haze of the distance. The San Juan immediately hoisted the "sighted land" signal and was promptly conceded the honor by the Task Group as having been the first ship sight "terra firma" on the Jap mainland. The San Juan and her escorts of cruisers and destroyers began to steam neatly into the green water, synonymous with the approach of land, leaving a wake of perhaps a mile visually. But as the San Juan steamed leisurely into Sagami Wan that historic day, her wake extended far beyond the visible distance . . . it trailed almost 300,000 miles of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, lashed together by thirteen major engagements and operations, including the Guadacanal-Tulagi landings, the Battle of Santa Cruz, Occupation of Luzon, China Sea Raids, and the Occupation and Defense of Iwo Jima and Okinawa Jima and punctuated by three trips to the U.S.; spanned all but a bare three-months of the entire period of time spent in our effort to attain what proved to be an arduous and sanguinary goal . . . victory over Japan.
These alert men were grimly awaiting another chapter in the long book of Japanese treachery as the San Juan moved slowly into Sagami Wan (wan meaning bay in Japanese), one of the second wave of a solemn procession of warships, lead only by the distant silhouettes of Admiral Halsey's flagship, the Missouri, flanked by escorting destroyers. This bloodless surrender was just too good to be true, everyone was thinking, but none thought it of sufficient significance to talk about ... too, things like that were better left unsaid at times.
As we neared our anchorage, suddenly, an upper strata of clouds broke away revealing a magnificent sight . . . Mount Fujiyama. Seemingly cut in two by a layer of clouds, her pyramid shaped peak extended upwards to almost 14,000 feet toward the Heavens. It was truly a grand and imposing sight, and left few wondering why it was chosen as an idol and sacred shrine of Japan. The San Juan came to anchor under the evening shadow of Mount Fujiyama - - the "Rising Sun" had set forever.
The San Juan tugged at her anchor for two days before it was lifted and she proceeded on her assigned mission of mercy. Bright and early Wednesday morning of 29 August 1945, the San Juan proceeded into Tokyo Bay unescorted to a certain point where we picked up a Japanese Lieutenant Commander to serve as a pilot into heavily mined Tokyo Bay, before proceeding cautiously past bomb blackened Yokohama. A look through field glasses toward the beach showed a sign, "Three Cheers, Sailors" hanging from a building which was identified as an Australian prisoner of war camp. We had to pass them up though and went farther on up into the bay on our assigned duty.
Soon after dropping the anchor within visible distance of the Imperial Palace, the San Juan dispatched our medical units to aid the sick and weary on the beaches. This party was followed by our landing force group whose job it was to offer protection to our interests if the opportunity presented itself. Up to this moment this mercy work is still being carried on and in grand American style too.
* USS SAN JUAN WEEKLY PUBLICATION *
"TO MY BABY"
--N.H. Molios, Cox (Dedicated to my friend S.M. Rock)
Many years from now you'll look
(Ed. Note: "By Popular Demand")
WHY NOT A TRADE?
A good man with a good trade is never out of a job. He'll have no trouble finding a job, and he'll have less trouble keeping one. Tradesmen are the backbone of the nation.
What are the prospects for tradesmen after the war? Unlimited. Experts in the business world maintain that our big postwar booms will be in housing, plastics and electronics, plus plenty of opportunities in the old standbys, like automobiles, radios, refrigeration and transportation.
The only business that they seem to be shying from is aviation. And their advice to servicemen is to stay out of aviation unless you have a really exceptional opportunity. The reason is that the end of the War shall bring a drastic cut in the demand for planes, and that it will be a long time before the industry ever approaches it's wartime volume of business. On top of that the United States is crawling with aeronautical engineers and technicians, many of them good men. Pilots, too, are a dime a dozen. The situation is currently so bad that discharged military pilots cannot even take an examination for commercial flying license, not to speak of finding a job flying planes.
The field for tradesmen is wide open. The only question is can you hold the job when you get it? If you feel that you can't, then instead of just bluffing your way through, why not make use of your GI Bill of Rights and take a few courses for a year or two at some vocational training school? Such training may mean for you, a better job, more money and above all the assurance that once you land a job, that job will be yours.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MATE ! !
Greetings once again! During this coming week the below named men will have become one year wiser to the happenings in this world!
ARNOLD, W.J., S1c
- NOTICE TO THE SAILMAKER -
Wanted immediately thirteen (13) seabags in any form or size for an (un)lucky thirteen (13) who are Uncle Sugar bound.
- TOTAL -- THIRTEEN NOW -
With the authority contained in Commander-In-Chief's letter P-15, Serial 5305 of 30 June 1945, the San Juan is entitled to one (1) battle star on the Asiatic-Pacific Area Service Ribbon to be displayed for Third Fleet Supporting Operations during the Luzon Campaign. According to the letter, a star is offered for anyone of the below listed attacks of which the San Juan participated in all:
LUZON ATTACKS: 6 and 7 Jan 1945.
As to date, the USS San Juan rates a total number of twelve (12) battle stars on the Asiatic-Pacific Area Service Ribbon and one (1) star on the Philippine Liberation Ribbon.
- EXPERT LOOKOUTS -
During the week, the Second Division Officer, Lt. B.M. Jacobson, conducted an expert lookout examination in accordance with the provisions set forth in BuPors Circular Letter No. 91-45. The examination was given to all Second Division enlisted personnel who stand a condition three lookout watch. The below named men are the subjects that cam through with "flying colors":
The qualified, who meet all requirements for EXPERT LOOKOUT are entitled to wear a designating badge on the sleeve of their dress jumper, as illustrated in Vol II, Issue 3, 17 June 1945 of "The Panther", and a notation of qualifying for a 4.0 spotter will be made a permanent part of their service records.
A - PRAYER
Each night, before I close my eyes
I see the flash of lights that blind
I always think that I won't pray;
But, as I toss, I realize
--- Carrie Tonnis
All the present draftees will soon be happy DISCHARGEES.
*- SAN JUAN WAR RECORD -*
As previously announced in the Plan of the Day on 31 August 1945, the ship plans to sponsor a booklet entitled San Juan War Record, and which, upon completion, is to be distributed to the crew, a copy for each man. The cover of this gift is to be especially attractive since a picture of the San Juan with Mount Fujiyama over shadowing its sleek form is to be displayed thereon. (Similar to this week's title page of the Panther.) The original idea was derived from the photograph taken by our esteemed ship's photographer, W.F. Rohloff. From the picture, Mr. Preston, Art Editor of the Panther, took the bulk of the work on his shoulders and came through (as usual) with an elegantly designed cover. The book is to contain a complete history of the ship.
On 29 August 1945, several members of the ship's company had the rare privilege of seeing one of the most beautiful sights that man has the honor to see. To state the fact, "several hundred prisoners of war were liberated from the Tokyo area on Wednesday, 29 August", is a masterpiece of understatement. Those men were given freedom. That was the magic of it; the precious thing that this war has been fought for . . . the freedom of man as an individual.
The air was permeated with that contagious emotional sensation that these men felt. We too felt in some small measure that overwhelming sensation that made them jump into the water and swim for our landing boats; made them shout and laugh; made brave soldiers and sailors stand, unabashed with tears streaming down their cheeks; made them want to touch us to get a sense of reality that we were really there!
We had lumps in our throats as we saw this stark emotional display. It was something to see, that oddly clothed cheering crowd proudly holding aloft the secretly made flags of the United States, Great Britain and the Dutch. We were so proud to be there. It made us feel that it has all been worthwhile and our efforts so insignificant. We were jumbled by their magnificent courage.
As we pulled into land, the men gave us all the help they could. They wanted to touch us. We were the essence of freedom to them. Hundreds of heart-touching dramas were occurring each second. One's hand was grasped by all within reach. Words were quite useless to them during this wonderful moment. Most of them gave their name and told where they were from. Nothing needed to be said. Those four years of waiting, wanting, starvation, and imminent touch of ever-pending death were gone in a flash . . . really gone. Again, they were free Americans, free British, free Dutch, and above all, free men. No more stealing food, cigarettes, any little comfort that was so highly treasured. Today they could throw away a cigarette butt a full inch long. No more following a Jap to pick up his butts to be carefully rolled into a hoarded toilet paper for that one secret puff after his meal. It was, indeed, a rare privilege to behold!
As we moved into the camp, the first moment was over and the group became individuals. We talked with them, mostly about the excitement of the food they had had for three days, the treatment they had received, how they existed, and when they were going home.
There was a strange bond between them. They were a little worried about being separated from the members of that strange little society which had been able to do better than the Jap in his own land. They well miss that mass ingenuity of their little band of freedom loving souls, pitted against a diabolical, depraved enemy.
They could still laugh, even about being caught and being beaten for it. Many little things were funny, pathetically funny to us, as one described a little incident of having the head of a stolen fish pop up from his collar when he bowed to the sentry.
The paucity of their ration was unbelievable. As one said, "When I get back to the states, I can live on five cents a week and have four cents left". That is more truth than fiction. The basis of their diet was a soup made out of the leaves of some vegetable such as tomatoes and some type of grain such as millet, barley or rice, but most often broom corn, referred to as chicken corn. Occasionally, a few soy beans were available. Had it not been for their opportunity to pilfer, these men would all have been dead long ago.
The evacuation went off without an incident. These men were too shrewd to chance their past four years of suffering on that moment of pleasure they would have gotten by slitting a few necks. They had reason enough and pent-up hatred for all this time, but their restraint was admirable. Strangely enough, many pitied their captors. They understood them as little infidels, carrying out their orders with medieval, moral sense. Those pitiful yellow devils did not know the beauty of "love thy fellow man".
Before we finally got to sleep most of us had been going for about 24 hours, but we did not feel that normal deadening from loss of sleep. We were still carried away with the beauty of humanity. We felt so small, so glad we were AMERICANS!
(We would like to thank Doctor R.B. Berry, (MC), USN, for his permission to republish this article. Commander Berry was one of the first to hit the beach at Tokyo. Thus his narrative is written from actual experience.)
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