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Helen Heightsman Gordon

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First Captured, Last Freed: Memoirs of a P.O.W. in World War II Guam and Japan
by Helen Heightsman Gordon  Edward E. Hale 

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Publisher:  Anacade Publishing Companhy ISBN-10:  1881591123 Type: 


Copyright:  Jan 1 1995

Barnes &
Anacade Publishing Company

Captured on Guam December 8, 1941, eighty US servicemen endured nearly 4 years of captivity as P.O.W.s, but only one died in Japan. Navy vet Ed Hale tells vividly what they experienced and how they survived. Authentic, inspiring memoirs.

Some men would never break though they starved to death, Ed Hale observed, but others would gamble with a starving companion for his food. Hale was one of 80 US fighting men captured in the first battle of World War II following Pearl Harbor, and not freed until September 2, 1945, when Japan officially surrendered. These men endured forced labor, bitter cold, miserable living conditions, malnutrition, diseases, and deprivation of news from home. They kept their sanity with bargaining, sustained hope with Red Cross boxes, and restored their ravaged health with soybeans.

Along with 300 other P.O.W.s they rejoiced when American planes flew over Hirohata in 1945, dropping precious food, medicine, soap, shoes, clothing, and magazines. They made their own US and British flags of parachute silk and colored scraps to replace Japan's "polka dot" flag on September 2, 1945.

Ed Hale tells their story with a keen eye for detail, deep understanding of human nature, and a natural eloquence. He saw saints and scalawags on both sides of the prison fences. He came to respect Japanese civilians who were suffering as much as the prisoners were. When he finished his 20-year enlistment in the US Navy, he penned an eloquent tribute to the Japanese people, who had taught him the virtues of patience and tolerance. 
Excerpt from Ed Hale's letter to his mother after being freed. "Dear Mom: The Japanese people, except a very few of those IN it and those who are wealthy FROM it, hate the army...although they fear it. The [civilian] guards almost always gave us every break, as did several Japanese foremen.... On one or two occasions the soldiers even helped us carry in stolen soybeans and flour ... and kept off starvation for a short time.. . .

It was a bit tough. In March of '43 I weighed 123 pounds [down from 181 in Guam].... We all had beri-beri more or less. My right foot was as big as my head; you could have twisted off a toe and I couldn't feel it. Fifteen men died in four months out of the 480, one out of our group of 80 [Guam veterans].. .

Soybeans were the yellow gold that built us up. You think of auto fenders and steering wheels made of soybeans. Soon America will see about 400 men made of soybeans."

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