POWs, Internees, and Stragglers of World War II in the Pacific


Six riveting, true stories—told largely in their own words—of people who survived the realities of imprisonment during World War II in the Pacific.


This is the story of six prisoners of war—Horyos, in Japanese. They were imprisoned during the conflict the Japanese called “The Pacific War.” As in all wars, the prisoners were civilians as well as military personnel. The selection in this book includes prisoners from both sides of the conflict.

During the Second World War, the probability of death as a prisoner of the Japanese was about 30 times greater than the probability of dying in combat. The Japanese army believed in the samurai code of bushido—“the way of the warrior.” Soldiers memorized this maxim: “Honor is heavier than mountains, and death is lighter than a feather.” It was the soldier’s duty to fight to the death, or, “To eat stones,” meaning to fall dead, face down on the battlefield.

Despite horrible treatment and abuse, the POWs described in this book survived, while others seemed to just give up and die. The prisoners could tell when someone gave up—they developed a “thousand yard stare,” stopped eating, seemed to withdraw within themselves to await death.

Japanese POWs were not tortured, beaten or starved—but suffered from their own perception of honorable behavior. Their first reaction to defeat was to commit suicide. When that was impossible, they suffered in other ways, in some cases remaining outcasts—stragglers—long after the end of the war.

Two of the prisoners were captured on the second day of the war and spent the entire war years in prison camps. First is Garth G. Dunn, who was a 20-year old U.S. marine stationed on the island of Guam and was among the American military personnel taken prisoner by the Japanese the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed. He survived four different camps, brutal beatings, starvation, and work as a slave laborer in a Japanese steel mill. His last camp was a hundred miles from Hiroshima, and he will tell you how the atomic bomb saved his life and the lives of thousands of other POWs held by the Japanese.

Then there is the remarkable story of Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki, captain of one of five midget submarines that tried to penetrate Pearl Harbor during the attack. All were lost, including their crews, with the exception of Sakamaki, the sole survivor. He suffered the ignominy of being Japanese POW number 1, captured the day after Pearl Harbor, and had the further humiliation of being the only Japanese POW for the first seven months of the war.

Simon and Lydia Peters were civilians, European expatriates living in the Philippines. Their story is typical of the thousands of non-combatants captured by the Japanese. Their house and belongings were confiscated and they were separated and placed in different camps. Eventually released by the Japanese, they reunited and fled to the jungle for a harrowing existence in a no-man’s land between Philippine guerilla raids and Japanese counterattacks until finally, on the verge of death, they were rescued by American forces. Theirs is an incredible story of love and survival.

Mitsuye Takahashi was a U.S. citizen of Japanese descent living in Malibu, California. Hers is another story of disruption, dislocation, loss of homes, jobs, and belongings, and love and renewal. She symbolizes the plight of the 100,000 Japanese-Americans who were unjustly imprisoned by America for the duration of the war.

Masashi Itoh was a Japanese farm boy who enlisted in the Japanese army shortly after Pearl Harbor and came to Guam near the end of the war. After the Japanese defeat, he remained hidden in the jungles of Guam, held captive by his own conscience and beliefs until 1960, 15 years after the end of the war.

These are the true stories—told largely in their own words—of a handful of ordinary people who were survivors. It is the story of them and their families, their suffering, their struggles to survive, the small daily triumphs that kept them going—and for some, their almost miraculous survival against the odds in greatly different circumstances.


Key Points/Quotes

·       Excellent further reading for fans who want more after Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken

·       Author Craig Smith travels to the locations of the events and sheds light on the lives of these six long after the war

·       Extensive interviews by the author reveal the upbringing and outlooks that gave these six the strength and the skills to survive

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