Zentsuji/Rokoroshi

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After arriving in Japan, he was sent to Zentsuji Camp which was also known as Hiroshima #1-B. The camp’s POW population was mostly officers. The enlisted men in the camp were captured on Wake Island and on Guam. What is known about life in the camp was the POWs took classes in foreign languages, military tactics, cooking, science, drawing, and sewing and knitting. Medical operations were performed and it is known that POWs had their tonsils, appendixes, and gallstones removed without anesthetic.

In each barracks, 30 men lived in each room. Each man had a space that was 2 feet wide and 7 feet long for his living quarters. A guard came through the barracks every 30 minutes. They often rewarded to punished the POWs by taking away their mattresses and blankets or giving them blankets. The POWs believed that the Japanese code of discipline was based on their belief of saving face.

The POWs stated that the Japanese doctors had figured out how much food each POW had to receive each day to keep the man alive. To the POWs, the Japanese “saving face” controlled everything they did in the camp. When they gave out food like jam, bread, and fruit, it was distributed in minuscule amounts that had no traditional value. If the POWs asked for more at a later date, they were given an answer similar to “We just gave you that six weeks ago.” Unlike other camps, it appears the POWs received more Red Cross packages while in the camp. When the POWs received them, the Japanese would have to save face and give the POWs things they believed were just as good as what was in the boxes. Depending on when the POWs arrived in the camp, he may have received as many as 11 Red Cross boxes.

In the camp, two guards were known for their mistreatment of the POWs. One was called “Leatherwrist” and the other was known as “Clubfist” because both men had right hands that had been injured. The two hit POWs, but since their right hands were of little use, they usually knocked them to the ground and kicked them with hobnail boots. In addition, POWs were often beaten for no apparent reason with kendo sticks, bayonets, and rifle butts.

The POWs worked as stevedores at rail yards and a port. When the areas around a train station and the train yards were bombed, the Japanese locked the POWs in the baggage and boxcars and took shelter in air raid shelters. According to the POWs, American planes began bombing closer and closer to the camp, so on June 25, 1945 – some sources state it was April 25, 1945 – the POWs were sent to the northern part of Honshu to Rokuroshi. During the trip to the camp by train, the POWs witnessed the Japanese command system in action. When they pulled into one station the bento boxes containing the food for the POWs were not at the station. The Japanese prison officer bawled out the Japanese lieutenant who was the station officer and slapped him across the face a couple of times. After he left, the lieutenant called over the first sergeant and yelled at him, and slapped him. The sergeant did the same to a corporal, who did the same to a private first class who called his detail to the station with the bento boxes. The POWs enjoyed their meal.

When they arrived at the camp, they were told that they would have to earn their room and board by working. Their job was to clear semi-fertile mountainsides and planted sweet potatoes and soybeans. One day the POWs were planting sweet potatoes when the phone in the camp office rang. In a sharp clear voice, the person on the other end requested that he be allowed to speak to the ranking American officer. The ranking officer was sent to the office. As it turned out, it was the American command notifying the POWs that the war was over.

The POWs were liberated from the camp on September 7, 1945. The next day the former POWs rode a train to Yokohama, where, they were greeted by an American band playing the song, “California, Here I Come.” Many of the POWs became overwhelmed by their emotions. They were taken down to the docks and stripped off the clothing they had received during the airdrops from B-29s. The clothing was thrown into 55-gallon drums and burnt. They were sprayed with DDT and then showered. Next, they were issued new clothing and shoes. After this was done, they had a meal of hotcakes, jam, butter, and coffee was waiting for them. They boarded a hospital ship and were given physicals. It was at this time that it was determined if a man was sent back to the Philippines or immediately to the United States.